Fast Food Fiction
Volume II, Issue 01
© Larry Michael Garmon Swain
All Rights Reserved
Started at 1700
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Because His Eyes
“Hey, you in there?”
I snapped out of the gray alcohol hazy stupor and looked around. Smoke slithered through the air, irritating my eyes. Somber lights highlighted the dirgelike ambiance of the small bar. People trudged through or sat at the bar sipping their liquor thoughtfully.
A gorilla of man stood behind the bar. His head was bald and scarred, reflecting the dim lights in a patchwork puzzle. Thick Celtic tribal tattoos wrapped around his Arnold Schwarzenegger biceps, pulsing with each movement. At least, the Awnold of The Terminator days. With large ape mitts that could smash the granite bar top, he gently wiped glasses clean, gazing about with black irises and piercing pupils sitting in a face that showed no emotion.
A spindly man scooted up to the bar and grunted as he sat down. The bartender sat down the glass he’d been whipping, and, without a word from the man, reached under the bar and slid him a bottle of beer. The barkeep resumed his wiping. The thin man grabbed the bottle and held it tightly as if afraid someone would tear it from his grasp. He raised the brown tall boy to his lips, his eyes closed, and gulped the beer, savoring every cool particle of his drink. That seemed to be the theme here. Everyone had an aura of eagerness and thirst about them.
“What?” I said. My concentration broken, my eyebrows furrowed,, and I pursed my lips.
I turned to look at the speaker and was confused.
Fantastic. Of all the people in the world I would have expected to see in that bar, none of them would have been Dax. Months of avoiding him had now just all gone to hell.
I drank from my mug, and then said, “What am I doing here?”
“You’re with me.” He gave a playful smirk.
“Why?” I frowned.
“Because.” His eyes smiled at me.
A flash of light caught the corner of my eye, and I turned towards the large flat screen television hanging on the wall across the bar. Some show about cars. For a moment I thought it could’ve been one of those programs showing police in action, but there wasn’t a car chase. Just a large white delivery truck with “Thomas’ Hot Tater Tots” painted on the side. It turned left onto a four-lane street, staying to the left side, and caught up to a few cars idling at a red light.
“Something interesting on TV?” he asked. “One of your trashy fake news shows you used to watch instead of going to bed with me”
I sighed and shook my head, twirling my beer bottle and watching the foamy head grow inside.
“Then why are you watching it instead of talking to me?”
“Why should I? It’s not like we’re friends or anything.” I tried to sound malicious and mean, but even I didn’t believe me. I sat back and folded my arms over my stomach.
His eyes flattened like a sheet of steel. He sat across from me, snapped his fingers in the air, and a waitress appeared. The hairs on my arm prickled my skin and stood on end. A buzzing caromed inside my skull. The waitress looked like any other woman who walked the corners between Columbia and Argyle streets. Something odd about her, the way her body trembled, her tray pressed just under her rib cage, a melancholy expression on her face as she waited for Dax’s order.
Dax beckoned with a finger for her to bend down to him. She hesitated, then she bent over. For a few moments, she was frozen to his words, and then suddenly rose up with a reddened face. Whether from flattery or embarrassment, I didn’t know. With Dax, it didn’t matter. She dropped the tray to her side, and I caught sight of her shirt: black tee with ocelot cat stripes in cheap gold print and bold white letters setting parenthetically between her breasts–The Waiting Room.
She spun and hurried off. He strained his neck, and his hungry eyes followed her swaying butt until she disappeared behind the bar.
“Enjoying the view?”
He gave an enthusiastic bobble-head nod.
“What kind of place is this?” I said as he turned back to me.
“Just a place,” his eyes grew a little wide. “Why do you ask?”
“Just curious ’cause I’ve never heard of a bar called ‘The Waiting Room’ in Junebug.”
Again. “What am I doing here?”
He was about to answer when a flash came from the TV across the bar. The large white delivery truck swerved into the middle lane, butting a little bullet-gray car. The little car tried to move to the outside lane, but a large blue pickup sandwiched the smaller car in. The delivery truck swerved again, smashing the sports car’s left side and slamming it into the pickup. The tiny gray car became even smaller. The sports car crushed . . . crushed like a pop can. My stomach lurched and spun as the small car was reduced to a wrinkled mass of metal.
Then I noticed the area looked familiar. Store signs, trees, edges of housing districts–the same ones I passed everyday.
“Who was that? Was that someone we know . . . knew?”
He nodded and sank into his chair, weighted down by the knowledge of a truth he didn’t want on his shoulders.
I shuddered: Dax’s tone began the process of transferring his heavy and dreaded truth squarely upon my shoulders. His flirtatious smile disappeared. His lips, his cheeks, the small wrinkles on his forehead and at the corners of his eyes grew pale as though icicles had formed in his pours and forced a fearful cold expression. The soles of my feet, my toes and fingers, and the tip of my nose numbed with an Arctic blast. The murky light of the bar darkened, strangling the surrounding noises. The bar began to die.
The twinge grew into a painful tension gripping my chest, making air scarce.
“Look again,” he said, eyes staring at the table, avoiding my questioning eyes.
I did. The pickup truck’s door was opened. A small object dangling from the rearview mirror waved for my attention. It was Dax’s lucky purple Mardi Gras beads. Today was the day their luck ran out — his luck…?
I looked at him and said, “How?”
His blue-gray eyes rose, a small storm brewed within them. My heart caught in mid-beat, and I stared in horror. Only once had I seen his eyes like that. I couldn’t remember the exact day or what else happened then, but I remembered his eyes. Fierce, sad, so . . . much of what I loved . . . had loved.
“You look fantastic, stunning in fact. Like the last time I saw you. You don’t have a single scratch.” His face faded. “But, I’m not,” he said so softly the words took a second or two before I understood them.
I was consumed by a thousand questions, but the waitress popped back over and placed two mugs of beer on our table. I then realized Dax had one already–I have no idea where it came from, but half the mug was empty.
“Why do you need another?” I asked, frowning.
“I need a way to get through this,” he said as he picked up his fresh mug. Putting it to his lips, he quickly tipped back his head to get every drop as fast as his insatiable throat could muster.
On the screen now, EMTs rushed to the little gray car. They broke the front windshield and one EMT plunged into the pulp of metal and dragged out a blood-covered body. Her arms were bent in several places at unique angles, and her face wore a misshapen frown. Still, the man pulled her out and hurried her to a stretcher.
“God,” Dax whispered.
“What?” I said, my lips and face numb.
“I….” A storm within his eyes rose to a climax.
“What’s wrong? Are you feeling well?” I reached for him, knowing I shouldn’t have, but I couldn’t stop.
He turned those eyes onto me, not speaking, but pleading with me to understand.
Finally, he spoke. “I’m fine for now. But you aren’t.”
“What do you mean?”
“I know you’ve been trying to forget me. I know the pain you feel every time you see me. But you don’t have to. I can’t understand how you won’t be happy. I feel that it’s my fault sometimes whenever I see you look lost and scared.” He shifted in his chair. “Abandoned. But don’t do this to yourself. Don’t take on the fault of what happened between us. Don’t take it from me.”
I couldn’t say anything. How could he say these things? I never said anything to him that let him know how I felt. How could he know how badly he broke my heart when I never spoke a word of it? I pretended it had never happened. How could he know?
“I’m sorry. I know it isn’t enough. Words mean nothing in this world or anywhere. But know that I always regret it every time I see you. Know that I had it just as bad. Hopefully worse than you did.”
My throat choked with a heavy sob. A cutting pain began to flay me into a pile of meat. My body shuddered, and I swallowed the sob. The pressure of these words and his eyes pounded on my heart. I couldn’t speak because if I did, I wouldn’t control what came out.
I cleared my throat, took a drink of my cold light beer, and changed the subject when I had control over my voice once more.
“What happened? Why did you lose control of your truck?”
“I didn’t lose control.” Anger bled into his voice. “I meant to crash into you.”
“You meant to kill me!”
His eyebrows pinched above his nose, his face gaunt, remorseful. “No. Never.” He looked at me as though I said something outrageously insulting. He looked over at the half-empty mug and took it up. He downed it and gathered himself. “I didn’t mean for you to be there. I was driving to work when I started thinking about my life. How much it wasn’t much of a life. Just a bunch of half-remembered nights and nameless people who never cared to stop to notice who I was. It was all just one fun ride.” He laughed out the last two words.
“I had no reason to change. I had no reason to live an actual life. I just kept drinking and taking anything to forget, to run away, to not feel anything. I didn’t want to go on . . . I know most people think that somedays. Then the next day they find a reason to keep going. But there was nothing. All I could see ahead of me was all the same as what was behind me. So, I decided to end it all. I closed my eyes and let go, hoping that fate would make it so.” He clutched the empty mug and glared down into it. “None of us are as unique as we think we are. Especially me.”
“Dax?” He looked up, his eyes now dark with guilt. “You have a reason . . . if no other, I will be your reason.” I slid my hand across the table towards him.
He stared at my hand and said, “You can’t be. I’m past reason and second chances.” His face went blank, hiding himself, and looked back at me. His next words were soft. The lousy acoustics of the bar with its beer-drunk vocal drone and the hissing of the TV all but drowned out those two words. I had to think about them for a few moments before they registered: “I’m sorry.”
He stood and turned.
“Where are you going?” I stood and started around the table after him.
“Home? But we’re . . . dead.” I touched his arm. Felt solid, real, tangible.
“Land of the Free,” he said. “Home of the Damned,”
“No,” I whispered, “not yet.”
He turned and grabbed me, pulled me into his circle of arms, and held me, soaking up every little bit of me he could as though he would never again. “You have to go now,” his voice strained to get out, “someone is waiting for you.”
“Wish it were you.” I looked into his eyes, and they faded away.
Then the bar, the waitress, the people, the TV were all gone. Dax, too. Only intangible blankness surrounded me. Neither darkness nor light. No smells of people’s habits, no tastes of digested food in the air, no sounds of emotional tones, no feeling of a crowd’s warmth nor sight of an interested glance. I couldn’t even perceive myself.
A deep, fatherly sigh blew into my mind. I could feel that I was becoming something from the sensation of the sigh caressing me. “Welcome,” it said.
“I am the caretaker.”
“But I was just there.”
“Yes, but that was a different waiting room.”
“This is the Waiting Room for neutralization to go onto another life.”
“Neutralizing? Do you mean I have germs or something?”
“No, this is a place to cleanse you of the past so you can start anew. Refreshing, is it not?”
“I guess?” What the hell did the voice mean? The voice had a familiar gruffness to it. The image of the bald gorilla bartender strobed through my conscience. “But where did–”
“He’s beyond your reach.” The voice sent silence through me.
I couldn’t see anything, not even myself. Ultimate dark and white all in one. Finally, “Why?” I pushed.
“Because,” the voice scrubbed my–what word do I want to use now? Consciousness, Soul, Psyche, Being?–with what he called ceramic alumina, rubbing my whatever raw.
I was silenced.
“Why worry over the damned when you have someone waiting for you?”
“Don’t call him ‘damned’.”
“Why deny facts?”
Again, I was silenced. He had always argued that point with me when we were discussing issues: Why deny facts?
An echo synced with the sush-sush-sush-sush of the scrubbing: Don’t worry about where you’ve been or where you’re going. Worry about where you are.
As the quiet grew, I lost myself into the nothingness of the black-white as I waited to be fully “cleansed.”
I couldn’t though, because his eyes wouldn’t.
Finished at 1745
2395 Words–I went a bit over with the extra ingredients