“You need to laugh more,” she said, while she hovered behind the bar; her long dark hair caressing her back, taunting my sleepless brain. I watched her fill up my pint glass, but said nothing. Despite the emptiness in my gut and the occasional psychedelic waves in my eyes, distorting my sight and further draining me of all words and meaning, I was sure about one thing; she was growing to like me, beautiful bartender Katie.
My eyes wandered around the bar, from the old boys at the far end, the grey-haired regulars, to a couple at a booth, sharing a plate of nachos, leaning into each other’s eyes. The clock behind the bar said it was half past noon. I felt myself sobering up. I was remembering things again; remembering why I was there, my emptiness turning to shame…I remembered the Facebook message I’d gotten some weeks ago, from a courteous fool, which read, “Hey man, just wanted to let you know that Anthony killed himself last night. Fuckin jumped off his balcony!” I remembered holding my head, curling into a ball. I remembered the shivering emptiness, the nauseating flutter of butterflies’ wings in my gut, the disbelief. I remembered drugging those butterflies to sleep, but now, we were all sobering up.
I turned to my pint, my stomach growling, my eyes trying to hide from Katie, all the while remembering that we had kissed a few nights ago; a drunken kiss in the alleyway behind the bar, I remembered. And there we were, playing our roles. There she was, working her shift, pouring pints. There I was, sharing my aches and pains with the bar stool and trying to forget. There she stood, with what had to be love in her eyes, telling me that I should laugh more; and I said nothing…
I never responded to that message on Facebook, but I pictured Anthony, day in and day out, climbing over the railing and letting go. I pictured him falling backwards and staring at the sky. I remembered his laugh. I remembered how he’d offered me a home when I had none. I tried to remember how it all fell apart, how we lost touch…? His eyes in my head told me it was time to go numb. I got up without a word and walked to the single-person handicap washroom at the end of the pub. A part of me hoped that Katie was watching me.
I emerged from the washroom, a few brief moments later, while the few remaining bumps of cocaine in my pocket, clumped together in the sad little baggy of forgetfulness, were now trailing through my nose and dripping into my throat. I emerged from the washroom, thinking about her lips.
“Are you alright?” She asked as I planted myself back on the bar stool. I glanced at her, nodding my head and reaching for my pint. My muscles were awake again, buzzing. My dilated pupils bouncing about; her lips on my mind… “Any plans tonight?” She asked, crossing her arms, scanning the bar and turning back to me.
“Nope,” I muttered.
“Wanna have a drink with me? I get off at five.”
“Sure,” I said, leaning forward, wanting to say something more. I wanted to talk to her, to confide in her. I wanted to leap over the bar and hug her, all the while remembering that dreadful Facebook message; Anthony’s eyes in my head, asking to be sedated again. I felt like crying. So many thoughts, but no words; so much sorrow, but no tears…I wanted to acknowledge her, to acknowledge the affection that I knew was there; the affection staring at me, arms crossed concerned, asking me to laugh more. None of it was fair. She deserved better. I downed the rest of my pint, summoning my strength, letting go like Anthony on his balcony, and said, “Please, don’t fall in love with me.”
“Don’t…fall in love with you..?” She said. The subtle curves of a confused smile emerged at the corners of her lips. Goddamn, she was beautiful! “Why not?” she added in a different tone, playful, teasing, as she collected my empty glass and poured me another pint.
“I’m very lost.”
“I’m all over the place. I’m not…”
“I don’t know,” I sighed, submitting to my emptiness once more. I had nothing to say. I tried to look away. I tried to smile.
Falling backwards, staring at the sky, he must’ve been crying, I thought. I would have cried. Katie’s eyes caught me in midair, her smile offering me an escape. “You really need to laugh more,” she said and walked on down the bar to the old boys.
It wasn’t a sudden crash. It was actually a rather gentle landing. A breath of air…My emptiness turned to shame, my shame to anger and my anger to flames that blew out ever so quick. I saw my sadness, sitting hunched over, under the weight of a thousand sleepless nights. I embraced it, casting my eyes down the bar and finding Katie. I stared at her, smiling. There was beauty in the world; beauty that wanted to see me laugh, beauty that made me want to be a better man…