Paying Your Tab
Another fight. We broke up. I’m at the bar drinking like a fish. Same ol’ story, different day.
Lizzy, god do I hate that fucking woman. She’s like a piece of steak stuck between my teeth. I obsess over her and try get rid of her, but my attempts are all half-assed. And if I did get rid of her—finally unstick that hunk of half-chewed meat—a part of me would miss her. I got used to her always being there. Clay and Lizzy, through thick and thin. Ha! Yeah, right.
The fight was about something stupid—don’t even remember to be honest. I didn’t plan to remember much after last night, either. It’s become a weekly routine. I fight with Liz, go to the bar, get shit-faced, barely make it home, then forget everything that happened so I can start the next day with a fresh slate. It’s an unhealthy cycle, I know it—and my body’s starting to show it, too. I’m only 36, but I’m starting to get a beer gut and wrinkled skin. Oh well, I don’t give a fuck. Or at least I didn’t, until last night.
I’d been at Double D’s drinking whiskey and beer for an hour when the pipeliner came in. Big fat guy, bald, dressed like a lumberjack—he sat right next to me. I knew he was a pipeliner because that’s how he introduced himself. No name, just “I’m the pipeliner.” Then he started talking. It was a long night after that.
“What got you down in the dumps, boy?” His breath smelled like an open sewer with his brown teeth hanging onto his gums for dear life.
“C’mon. I know that look too well,” the pipeliner took a shot of Jack and washed it down with a swig of beer, “Lady troubles, am I right?”
I wasn’t in the mood to entertain this clown. “The fuck you know?”
“Easy there big fella. I ain’t tryin’ start nothin’,” he downed another shot, “Just sayin’, I’ve been in your shoes. You gotta remember—”
“Ain’t none of your business. So why don’t you just beat it?”
The pipeliner clenched his brown teeth together and I was sure they were going to crack and start to fall over the bar. “Boy, you ain’t nothin’ but a punk. When you get to be my age, you’ll really find the value in treatin’ a woman right.”
“Who said I was the one treatin’ anyone wrong?” I don’t why, but something about the guy seemed familiar. Something inside told me to trust him. But I wasn’t giving in that easy. “Maybe she done treated me wrong, smart guy.”
He laughed loud and hard. It was the kind of laugh that sounded like two donkeys fucking in a cactus patch. “Boy, don’t kid yourself. We all know if you was in the right you wouldn’t be comin’ here every week, drownin’ your sorrows like those sad ol’ drunks.” He pointed to the corner where a bunch of old men were sitting, drinking by themselves.
“I never seen you before in my life, mister. How the hell you know how often I come here?”
He laughed again. This made the whole bar stink like his disgusting garbage disposal breath. “I know plenty. Like I know you need to treat Lizzy a lot better. She’s a real good woman and you’re too stupid to see it.”
I slammed my fist down on the bar. This guy must’ve been stalking me and Liz! “How the fuck do you know Liz?
“Easy, compondre. I said before I ain’t tryin’ to start nothin’.” He downed another shot of whiskey, his sixth since he sat down. “Foget I said anything.”
“Now, you just wait a minute. You brought up Liz.” I was steaming mad. “You need to tell me what your game is, right now.”
That goddamn laugh again. It echoed in my ears like a fire alarm. “Nevermind that, boy. All I said is you need to treat her better. Else—” he pulled out a white handkerchief and started hacking uncontrollably into it. There were spots of red stained all over it, “Else you end up a fat ol’ drunk like me.”
“Okay? But you better explain how you know ‘bout me and Liz or—”
“You still harpin’ on that? Look, you too foolish to see the forest from the trees. All you care—” the pipeliner broke into another coughing fit. This time I was sure blood was coming out onto the handkerchief, “all you care about is yourself and controlling your woman. Hell, you gettin’ all riled up ‘bout an ol’ fart like me mentioning her name.”
“Well, I…” I couldn’t respond. He was right. Most of our fights were about me being too controlling and too selfish.
“Ain’t too late to change, boy.” He leaned against the bar for balance. I couldn’t tell if he was too drunk or lightheaded from the coughing, but he wasn’t in good shape. “You don’t need to become me.”
“Okay. And what exactly is your story, mister?”
This time his obnoxious laughing was cut short by his gutteral coughing. “My story is like any other. Had a great girl. Did a bunch of dumb shit. Didn’t treat her right. Drank my life away after that.” The pipeliner got up like he was going to leave, but quickly sat back down again after wobbling uncontrollably. “Shit, boy, I think I had too many.” He started laughing again. But there was a deep sadness attached to it. And I could see that same sadness in his cloudy eyes.
“I’m goin’ to the pisser. I’d like it if you weren’t here when I came back,” I said. The pipeliner just stared at me with a stupid grin on his face. He was piss-drunk but I knew he understood me. I don’t know what it was, but something about that guy just didn’t feel right. Talking to him felt too… familiar.
I was gone for maybe five minutes. And sure enough, the pipeliner wasn’t there when I returned. I was relieved. After all, it’s not cool for a guy my age to get into a drunken bar fight with a man who’s easily in his 60s.
I sat back down and finished my beer. I thought over what the weirdo told me. He said I needed to treat Lizzy better. And he was right, I do need to. But how did he know? How did he know about us?
Instead of drinking until close, I decided to call it an early night. I figured it’d be a good change of pace to go home and make up with the old lady. Ha, I’ve never tried that before. I called the bartender over to close my tab, but she said I already did.
“What do you mean I closed It? I always pay by card.”
The young bartender furrowed her brow in confusion. She was new, so she probably didn’t know who I was.
“My card’s right here.” I pointed to the name on it. “See, Clay Mickles.”
The young girl began to look around anxiously. “Yeah. Yeah, you. Well, you paid Mr. Mickles. I mean, Mr. Mickles paid. I ran his card already.”
“I don’t understand. Is this a trick or…” I couldn’t do anything but wait silently for a reply.
“No. The old man you were drinking with. He gave me his card to pay for both of you. He was your father, right?”
What? No. Why would you think that?”
“Oh, well, you two kinda look alike. And his name was also Clay Mickles.”
“Bullshit! I never met that man before in my life.”
The girl stepped back and was shaking a little bit. “I saw his ID. Clay Mickles. Born January 12th, 1981. And his card ran through fine.”
“That doesn’t strike you as odd?”
“What do you mean?”
“January 12th, 1981? That’s my birthday. That means that ‘old man’ would be 36 years-old.”
“But, but I. He paid, though.”
I couldn’t help but laugh at the insanity of it all. The whole situation was completely ridiculous. I noticed the girl’s face as I was laughing. She looked startled. Then I realized, I was laughing like a fucking donkey.
If you like this, you should check out some of these other cool short stories.