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The Ledger

by Jackson Bradford about a month ago in fiction

Your name here

It’s midnight again at the Black’n Blue. The novelty of the first few beers was passing. Neon from behind the bar sprays over me, my dilated pupils drink in the colorful, dead light. The headache behind my eyes has already started.

“You good, bud?” The bartender points at me.

I look at my drink, just a couple of fingers left in this beer. “Uhh...yeah, I’ll uhh, I’ll take another.” The remaining beer slips down my throat as I pass the empty glass back to his side. “Was supposed to start saving this month.” I say shaking my head.

“You and me both, bud.”

There is still some life left in the bar. Sporadic, loud laughter accompanies whatever music is raining down from above. Pool balls clatter behind me as geometers measure trajectory with chalked sticks.

“There ya go.” A coldly fizzing beer appears before me, bubbling with new life.

“Thanks.” I nod to him and slip my last spare dollar bill into the carafe on the bar. It crumples down onto the layers of monetary sedimentation, dimes and quarters, a few one dollar bills, and a proud Hamilton disgracing everything else that falls in.

I look up as the front door opens, hoping for some kind of midnight magic. A young couple comes giggling in, bringing with them a cold wind and the smell of cigarettes from the gargoyles patiently puffing from the patio. I look back to my beer and drink greedily from the foam surface.

“A Stingy-Jack please.” Says a man in a black suit who sits down next to me. He looks my way, ice blue eyes and a finely trimmed black and grey beard. “Actually, make that two.” He flashes a grin and a wink my way, he holds up two fingers, a gold watch uncovers itself from his jacket sleeve.

The bartender looks at the man quizzically. “A what?”

The man in the black suit looks back to the bartender. “My apologies, I’m a little old school. Shot of Irish whiskey, glass of Irish stout, please. For the both of us.”

I stare at my barely touched drink and back at the stranger. “Uhh…”

“Hope you don’t mind?” He gestures at me, a silver ring on his finger with a red, eye like-jewel staring my way.

I shake my head. “Nah, no yeah, thanks man.”

“Yeah, I had a beater of a day.” He slaps his hand lightly on the bar, his ring clanging against the bar. “Fucking stop loss order was way too low.” He says looking around the room, as if talking to the air itself.

“Oh, yeah, sucks.” I nod in agreement.

“What about you? Make any money today?”

I laugh and shake my head. “No...well I mean, I went to work.” My hands cradle the beer in front of me, condensation leeching from the glass to my fingers. “Told myself I was going to cut back this month, try and save a little, ya know?” I shake my head. “But, well, here I am. Not my fault though, my work told us today they’re no longer matching our 401k contributions.” My fingers drum against the wet glass. “Actually, what they said was, We can no longer afford to match.” I smirk. “And then our stock price went up today.”

“Sounds like you need a drink, friend.” As if on command two shot glasses and two dark beers appear before us. The man in the black suit grabs a shot of whiskey and raises towards me. “To Stingy-Jack.” He then drops the shot into the dark abyss of the beer and quickly gulps down the whole concoction.

I watch gleefully and grab my own whiskey. “Yeah, to Stingy-Jack.” I try to replicate his smoothness but splash dark beer onto the bar and feel it run down my shirt while woefully chug. After one respite I manage to finish the whole thing. I look back at the stranger and don’t see a drop spilled. “Wow, you sure did that cleaner than I did.” I say as I burp up something ghastly.

“Practice.” He pulls out a clip of cards and a small wad of cash, grabbing a one hundred dollar bill from it and laying before the bartender. “Thanks, boss. Keep the change.”

The bartender’s eyes widen and his face softens. “Oh. Hey. Thank you, sir!”

I watch the exchange through newly blurred eyes. The weight of the Stingy-Jack settling in my bloodstream. “Nice.” I say with my head bobbing forward.

The man in the black suit laughs. “They say money can't buy happiness. But you know who says that? People without money.” He waits until the bartender has stepped away. “I guarantee you, friend, I just bought that man some happiness.” He says pointing his red eyed ring towards the bartender.

I nod my head enthusiastically, grasping my old beer for support.

The man in the black suit continues. “It sounds like you’ve had an unfair day. I’d like to buy you some happiness too, my friend.” He reaches into this jacket and pulls out a small black notebook. He slides the notebook across the beer soaked bar until it’s in front of me. Pulling at a red velvet bookmark he opens it halfway in, a list of names are signed into the book, some are neatly written others just scribbles of lines with one legible letter. “I’d like to buy your name.”

I laugh too quickly and snort. “Wh-what? Buy my name? Why? How much did these clowns sell for?” I jokingly point down the list of names in front of me.

“You’d be surprised.” He reaches into the otherside of his jacket this time and produces a few clips of cash, he grabs one clip and puts it in front me. “That’s twenty thousand dollars. Feel free to count. I’d like to buy your name for twenty thousand dollars and all you have to do is sign here.” A pen seems to appear in his hand and is laid down on top of the cash.

I sober a little at the sight of the money. The headache behind my eyes starts pounding at the door again. “H-hey, what’s going man? If this is a joke then it’s not fucking funny.” Tremors run through my legs. As if it’s my only defense I reach for my wallet and pull out my debit card and signal it to the bartender.

“Don’t run away from opportunity. Just because you haven’t gotten a break in your life doesn’t mean you can’t get one.” He taps his finger on the cash. “Look. I’m an investor. I’m investing in your happiness.”

“If you want me to be happy then why don’t you just give me the cash?”

He shrugs. “Eh, where’s the fun in that?” An ice blue eye winks my way again and points to the names of other signatures in the notebook. “You know what all these people had in common? These names had gotten them nowhere. It saddled them with the debt of whoever named them. It’s not like you’ll have to move to a new country or anything. I’m not asking for your social or passwords...just consider this a fresh start.”

I run my hand through my hair. “Fuck.”

The man in the black suit holds up his hands and chuckles. “Hey. My apologies. Got a little intense there. Honestly, it’s just a small social experiment. Couple guys around the office have a pool going. Sounds crass, I know, but the money is yours if you want it.”

The bartender comes by with a receipt in hand and grabs my debit card.

I shake my head. “God damnit.” The pen feels heavy in my hand as I shakingly sign my name into the notebook.

“Wonderful.” The man in the black suit closes the notebook and gently takes the pen from my hand. He slides the clip of money closer to me and takes back the notebook. “Enjoy that happiness, friend. I’ll see you around.” He winks at me once more before disappearing out into the cold night.

I blink dumbfounded at what just happened and hurriedly count the money, realizing I had skipped this vital step. It’s all here. A sigh of relief runs through me and I smile sheepishly.

“Hey bud, your card didn’t work.” The bartender slides my debit card back towards me with a beer stained receipt attached.

“Oh. Shit. Sorry man.” I fumble through my wallet but then instead pull out a one hundred dollar bill from the clip. “It’s your lucky night.” My face is beaming as I hand him his second one hundred dollar bill installment of the night.

The next morning I wake up headache free and late for work. I take my time. The worries of the world don’t feel as bad with almost twenty thousand dollars in your pocket.

I pull up to my bank’s drive-thru and plop my money, driver’s license, and my debit card into the pneumatic tube and send it rocketing to the bank teller. I lay my head back and rest. Weary from the hangover but not hurting. A soft breeze fills my car.

A loud thump jolts me awake as the pneumatic tube returns still full of money.

“I’m sorry sir, it doesn’t look like you are a member here. Is there some other kind of identification you would like to try? Or would you like to open an account with us? If so I’ll need a different, readable, form of identification.”

“What!” I grab the contents from the tube and pull my cards out. “No. I’m sorry but I’m a member here. Have been for years, let me just…” My body shudders as I turn over my debit card. There’s no name on it. Numbers, expiration date, but my name is gone. “The fuck…” I hurriedly flip my driver’s license to see a fragmented name, broken letters, illegible. I can see a face on the card but it’s as if I’m staring into the sun, I can’t focus on it, can’t see myself in it. What the hell is this? That guy, that guy stole my cards? My mind is a steam engine, hot, chaotic, and painful. I can’t focus on a thought long enough before it puffs away, replaced by some new horrible thought.

“Sir? Is everything okay?”

“No! No. No you see I have an account here. I’ve had one for years. My name is...my name is…” Oh God. Oh God. What is happening? “I’m a member here, I know I’m a member here. Would you please just check your accounts to find me?”

“Umm sir, I’m s-sorry but if you don’t have a valid identification card, I cannot help you. I should also let you know, if that identification card you have is a fake I’ll need to report it to the police.”

“No! No, no. Please it’s not a fake. I-I my name is...fuck!” I push the gas pedal forward beating the steering wheel with my palm. “No! No! No!” Focusing through tears at my debit card. No name, only numbers, almost twenty thousand dollars squeezed into my hand.

A few years later, it’s midnight again at the Black’n Blue. The bar is lively and the air outside is cold. A lone shadow presses against the glass from the outside looking in. A worn coat, long beard, and searching blood shot eyes. The bartender points his way yelling something and the shadow backs away, fading into the darkness and the cold.

fiction
Jackson Bradford
Jackson Bradford
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