Drake sat with his elbows on the bar and his mind thirty years back, picking at the scabs of memory. He took a sip from his beer and lit a cigarette. The cigarette made him cough, but he stopped, closed his eyes, willed calm into his lungs, and the next drag was deep and thick. The smoke trickled out of his nose for a moment until he blew it all out in one gigantic dragon-cloud.
Drake had been thinking and drinking for most of the afternoon. He had started with a few double bourbons. He was on his seventh beer. He had not eaten that day, and his stomach was a squalling child, grumbly and asking are we there yet? Drake downed the beer in front of him and his stomach quieted. A new beer appeared and Drake nodded his head. Almost there.
Drake had stopped writing when the newspaper folded. He had enough money. He was old. These days, he was content to spend his days in the bar, visiting with all the parts of his life he had not had time to really contemplate at the time.
Drake had never done anything note-worthy. He had been a husband. He was still sometimes a father, but his children were grown, and he didn't like the fact that the humble sportswriter was now nothing but a way to keep the dust off a bar stool. He thought of them.
He closed his eyes and pictured Hank when he was six years old. Blond hair and a missing tooth. It was a glitch in the timeline of his life and he thought about it often. Hank was six. He had broken a window playing catch with his friends. It was the first thing Hank heard when he got home from work. He had had a bad day. His editor was an asshole. His team was an embarrassment.
June had been very calm when she marched Hank in front of his father. Hank was a defiant child, but his heart was pure. In fact, the purity bred defiance. Drake knew this. Instead of admonishing the child, however, he had slapped him with the back of his hand. He had slapped him so hard his hand turned crimson. Hank was so surprised that he didn't even cry, but there was blood on his reddening cheek.
"Fucking go to your room, Hank."
Hank looked at his mother, then back at his father. There was pain in his eyes. He was confused.
"You heard me."
Hank's head fell to his chest and he slipped out of the room. Drake sat heavily in his chair. There was complete silence in the house for thirty seconds.
"Drake, would you like to explain what the fuck just happened? Are you out of your goddamn mind? You DO NOT hit my children!"
Drake wanted to say that he had never hit a child before. He wanted to assure his wife that it would never happen again. He wanted to hold his son and promise him that the window was bullshit and that the slap had been his fault, not Hank's. He wanted to think that Hank would forget about it quickly, that it wouldn't live in his mind, sneaking out at random times for the rest of his life. He didn't say any of those things. He glared at June.
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry I'm not as fucking perfect as you, OK? I'm sorry I can't be fucking Gandhi. Alright? You're fucking perfect. I'm a fucking asshole. Fuck this."
Drake had turned to look at his wife before he slammed the door. She had the same face, same look. It was like he had slapped them both. He drove to a bar and got too drunk to walk and somehow woke up in his car.
They never spoke of it. And flashing back to the future, to the bar, to Drake's dew-dappled beer, he knew that had been what had broken it. They pretended it never happened. He and June had divorced soon after. It wasn't all because of the slap, but it had been the camel's straw. He saw the kids once a week after that. It was broken. He didn't try to fix it. That had been his final mistake.
Drake was drunk, and he thumbed his cell phone. He wanted to call Hank. But, as was always the case when he got drunk enough, he could not work the phone. He cursed it and took another pull off his beer. A man at the end of the bar smiled at him and Drake ignored it. Then the man stood up. Drake felt a warm hand on his shoulder.
"Hey bud...free country, but you're gonna be in a world of hurt if you don't quit now."
Drake smiled at the man and ordered a shot of bourbon and a beer.
"That's the fucking point, Ace."