On my elbow, trussed and truculent, I tap the bar with the corner of a card and try to smile. The smile is rusty, jagged like a torn stop-sign. The barkeep knows I’m waiting, but he likes to toy with me, his kitten, with this ignoring schtick, his piece of string. He knows that I am a barnacle. He is not afraid of losing custom, he just likes to mess with the old drunks - the ones he knows will never leave.
I pour the whiskey past my teeth and shudder, kick one leg out until it hits the rail. There is an old song playing, but I can’t place it. I sing snippets of lyric and try to make them fit. The young woman two stools over watches my mumbling lips and turns her gaze to the construction workers drinking loud draft beers at the other end of the bar. She is not looking for company - she is looking for something to stare at while she drinks. Something that is not me. I
t has been so long it’s fuzzy, but I remember who I was before I came into this bar. I was a married man. A father. I had a woman who loved me. Kids that drove me crazy. Until they were gone, and drinks at home turned into… this.
I drink because I am a coward. Drinking is easier than suicide. The cycle of hangover depression gives me something to do. Something to think about. Something to run from. The loss I feel turns into a coat of melancholy: old, worn, familiar. It protects me, or lends the illusion of protection. The loss and the drink are married in a death spiral that will outlast everything but me.
On some future day, I will lay down my glass and die. And, with my last breath, I will thank the drink, the only constant friend I ever had.