Walking along the busy street, the sun has sank over the horizon, the towering skyscrapers along with grey clouds block out any moonlight. I have only a few destinations to get to tonight, bar, food, and ending the night at my old apartment. I had just moved out of my current place, which is why I’m walking down this street looking for a place to drink. I spot a place up ahead that seems like it could work perfect. Before I walk in I breathe in the city around me. The air is stale and the city looks grey.
The bar was moderately busy, 5 people at the bar that sits 15. There’s 4 booths filled with a random mixture of everyone. A bachelorette party on one, drunk college kids another, last two were just people of non-descript. I walked to one of the stools where there wasn’t another person next to me. The bartender walked over to me. Tall slender guy, with a hipster flair, beard with the mustache twirled up, flannel, and the perfect pompadour hairstyle. The ladies with the bachelorette were all swooning over him. I ordered a scotch on rocks, the Johnny Walker. It’s a cliché writer’s drink. I’m not a writer any longer though.
I walked over to the jukebox as he poured my drink, I put in a 20 and turned on some light indie music. There was a glass of scotch waiting for me when I sat down. I took a swig. It tasted like shit, but Johnny Walker always does. I took another swig.
I reach into my pocket and pull out my cell phone, 4 missed calls, and a dozen unread texts. The name read the same each time, Fancy Nancy. My old land lady, probably pissed about me moving out all of a sudden. I opened some of the messages and a summary of the messages is that she’s not giving me back my deposit and that I need to be out be the weekend. I send her a quick reply, “I’m not worried about the deposit and the unit’s ready in the morning.” I’ve never really had much stuff so it was all easy to move out. My only explanation to her when I first told her I had to leave was that my last book didn’t sell as well as expected. It was a fine book, maybe a little long in the tooth, but fine nonetheless. Of course I still have plenty of money from my first book, but it’s been a long year and it’s time to go home. Far from the lights of New York City, of this small Manhattan bar.
I look at my phone some more. I have very few contacts on this phone, it’s mostly just for family, close friends, and important business prospects. I’ve had this phone since college so I still get random phone calls from girls who read my book and knew me back then. Unfortunately, those girls aren’t the exact one I’m hoping to hear from one last time. Unfortunately, I’ll never receive that phone call in my lifetime. I also have very few social media apps, those were deleted along with my other phone, my “work” phone. I turn my phone on silent and put it back in my pocket. I must have had a look of distress on my face because the bartender comes my way.
“One of the ladies over there wants to know if you wrote The Stranger’s Game. If that’s true then mad respect, I love that book man. When Tony killed Charlie, I almost cried.” He reached over to shake my hand and I gave it a firm shake in return.
I looked around and leaned in close, he followed suit, “I never tell anyone this but Tony loved Charlie, more than just a friend.” He pulled away and the look of shock that came over his face, was exactly the response I was hoping for. I’m always surprised no one ever caught that before, I had written that ending with that specific feeling in mind. In a way I hope this random bartender at this random bar in Manhattan, tells the whole world what I had just told him, because I never will.
The bartender pours me another glass and tells me that one’s on the house, I thank him and he goes back on his way. I finish my first glass and set it aside. I look up at the tv and there’s a Knicks game on, they’re losing the game but at least it’s close. I wave the bartender over and ask him if I’m allowed to smoke in here, he nodded his head. I reach into my breast pocket and grab my pack of cigarettes, there was only 4 left. I put one in between my lips, flick open my grandfather’s old lighter and start inhaling. The lighter has a long history in my family, grandfather bought it when he was overseas fighting world war 2. He then passed it to his son, my dad, and when he passed away my father gave it to me.
I lift the glass to my lips and take a short sip, shit. Took a long drag, and another bigger sip, shit. The Knicks aren’t fairing any better and the weather outside is doing the same. I finish the cigarette and
the scotch, wave the bartender over. “Can I purchase those ladies a round of drinks, whatever they would like? Also for me another scotch please.” I don’t know why I bought them the drinks, maybe it’s my small way of saying congratulations, or that I’m almost jealous of the life the bride and groom will be sharing together. The bartender hands me the scotch then walks over to the ladies and gets their drinks.
The game on the screen is heading into the third quarter. At this point I don’t give a damn either way if the Knicks win or lose, they haven’t won much this season and the other team in town is just as dreadful. I’ve been a fan since I was a little boy watching Patrick Ewing and John Starks work their magic over the Garden, lately that magic has faded.
The door to the bar opens, in walks an older gentleman, I’d say around the age of 50, hair grey, eyes grey, just like everyone else’s in this city. Maybe it’s just me seeing these things, but this time of year has everyone looking grey. The man walks to the opposite side of the bar, close to the bachelorette party. I turn my attention back to my drink in my hand. The glass is half full, I’ve only taken one drink from it so far. My head is only feeling slightly blurry. I’ll probably take it easy on this glass.
As the game on the tv winds down, the bar does the same, the party of girls is still at their table and the grey man is sitting staring them down, slightly fixated on the bride to be. He keeps buying her drinks. Of course she’s not going to turn down a free drink or two, but the guy is a creep and I’d stop accepting them soon. I finally finish my third glass and ask the bartender for one last drink. I get up and head to the bathroom.
Restrooms at bars aren’t the cleanest places to take a piss, but the one here is actually well kept. Stalls all have their doors, no graffiti or shit on them, floor isn’t sticky and the mirror is freshly cleaned. I walk over to one of the urinals, there’s three there and I take one of the corner ones. I reach down, struggle with the zipper that’s been slightly broken since…. I can’t keep wearing these jeans, they always bring back memories. The grey man stumbles through the bathroom door, he’s only been here 20 minutes and he already smells and acts like he’s been drinking since noon the day before. He staggers to the urinal, right next to me. “Hey min, cin I ask you, should I fack the brood?” His breath smells like vodka and throw up. I tell him to “fack” off and leave the bar. I try to finish the process in some semblance of quiet, but the man keeps breathing in my face. I want to punch that mouth, but I’m not in the mood for a fight. “Whot did you jus say to me, fack head?” I finish, politely flush my toilet, zip up, wash my hands, and walk out the door. As I reach the door the man is right there, obviously skipped all of the steps I took and tried to piss on me. I push him to the side and he falls to the ground. Thank God he didn’t piss on me.
I reach my seat and tell the bartender about what had happened. He quickly calls the police and they say they’ll have someone here in ten minutes. I take a small sip from my glass, on the napkin underneath it though is written a phone number, I look over to the table with the ladies and one of the prettier ones is smiling at me. I give her a nod and a small smile. There’s only two minutes left in the game, Knicks have no chance of coming back. I grab another cigarette. The music playing on the jukebox right now is the kind of music saved for a high school prom, but obviously the girls are loving it. I take a small sip of scotch, gasoline, then a long drag. The girl whose number I’ve recently came to acquire starts to stand up and walk toward me. She’s barely walking straight and I can tell she’s obviously had a few drinks.
“Thanks for the round earlier, let me buy you one last drink eh?” She sounds so confident in herself, which comes from her obvious beauty. She sits in the stool next to me and starts to light up a cigarette too. “Can I get two scotch’s please?” Her auburn hair, emerald green eyes. She reminds me of my mom in that sense, also the way she smokes her cigarettes; between her middle and ring, takes a small drag, coughs ever so slightly. The bartender sets the drinks on the counter.
The door to the bar opens, two fairly big police officers enter. The bartender points to the bathroom. They both slowly walk towards it, head in and bring the grey man out with them. The bartender thanks the officers.
“Did he pay his tab out by chance?” One of the officers ask the bartender as he shakes his head. The other officer reaches into the mans coat and grabs his wallet, pulls out a $100 bill and hands it over. “That should cover it.” Which it barely did. They walk out into the cold.
“The Knicks are awful this year, have been since they traded for Melo.” She knows her basketball. Actually they had a few good years after getting him. The bartender puts his two cents in, “They haven’t really been good since the 90’s, except for a few random years here and there.” There we were, talking about what everyone else in New York is talking about, how awful the Knicks are.
A few minutes passed, I finished my two glasses, she wandered back to the table after telling me to give her a call later that night. Despite the few similarities to my mom she seemed like a really cool girl. This point of the night I’m starting to really get too drunk. Not to the point of blacking out, but it’s starting to approach that point.
I look down at my watch, the time is 10:43. Seems late, but at the same time too early. Too early to end, but every night has to end at some point. I know how this night’s going to finish, and that line isn’t approaching anytime soon, if I had my way. “How much do I owe you for all the drinks?” I ask the bartender slurring my words ever so slightly.
The bartender walks over to his register and adds up all the drinks. A minute later he brings me a receipt and I reach for my wallet. “Are you planning on writing another novel anytime soon?”
I grab two hundreds and set them on the bar. “Well, besides my last failure from 6 months ago, I spent the last five months writing a little something that I’m really proud of and I’m just about to finish up.” That last little bit isn’t true, I finished the novel and already sent it to my publisher. “Keep the change by the way.” I stand up and start to head out.
“Thanks brother, but that second book you wrote didn’t seem like you wrote it from the heart. I hope this next one you poured your soul into it.” Those words were more real than anything I’ve heard in a long time. All I had left was put into the book.
I grab my phone and go to Yelp to see if there are any café’s open. Luckily for me there’s one around the corner that’s open all night. I make my way over there, only stumbling slightly. There’s a homeless man a few doors down, he’s bundled in a blanket with a can that only has a few coins in it. I stop in front of him and get down and a knee, “Hey can I offer you a meal?” He lifted his head and his eyes lit up. I reach out my hand and help pull him to his feet, his body is frail and his blanket falls to the side. His jeans are tattered and dirty, same with his coat. “What’s your name?”
“My name is Brian Stanford, you know, nobody has asked me that in over 20 years.” He looked to be about the same age as the grey man, but this man is less grey. “What about you son, what’s your name?”
Nobody ever really asks me that either, but for a different reason. I tell it to him, and he didn’t recognize it, good sign. We get to the café and as soon as we enter the four people sitting look over and immediately turn the nose, either from the smell or because they’d never expect to see a known writer entering that café with a homeless man. The waitress comes out from the kitchen and the same look comes to her face. “Sorry for my odor ma’am, I haven’t had a shower in over a week.” Brian’s face turns bright red. The waitress takes us to a booth in the farthest corner. Brian thanks her then takes his leave to the bathroom.
I know he’s going to try to wash up a little, which will help a little. “Can I get two coffees?”
She nods her head then goes behind the bar, grabs two cups and the pot of coffee. “What brings a man like you to a place like this, with a man like that? Some sort of charity, PR stunt?” She’s not a friendly woman. Makes sense all things considered, she seems like a college age girl, probably has a kid or two at home. If I was in her position I’d be in the same mind.
“I saw that man on my way here and offered to buy him a meal, nothing more.” I didn’t have to explain my reasons for wanting to do something good for another human being.
Brian makes his way back to the table and starts to look over the menu. The waitress promptly left us. He grabs his cup of coffee and takes a long sip. I add some sugar and cream to mine and take a drink as well. The coffee tasted old, but the man in front of me didn’t seem to mind. He probably hasn’t had a cup since he last showered. The waitress comes back shortly after and takes our order.
After she leaves, me and Brian start to talk at first, it’s mostly small talk. “If you don’t mind me asking how did you end up living on the street?” I’m pretty sure all stories of that nature have a similar plot line.
He takes another drink. “It’s a long story obviously, but I’ll give you an abridged version. When I was about your age, you seem like you’re about 25, I was doing really well for myself. I was a stock broker on wall street, had a wife and a nice apartment on the east side of the city. One day I was on my way home from work when a police officer’s car hit me. Now normally that wouldn’t cause a man to end up homeless, but unfortunately the doctor gave me an almost unlimited prescription for some pain medicine and I ended up abusing. About a year after the accident, I’m unemployed, my wife ended up committing suicide.” His eyes start to turn red and a tear starts to roll down his eye. That was basically his life story, turned to selling his meds for money, ended up in jail, then when he got out got clean, he had nothing to turn to. “I’ve thought about killing myself almost a million times, but thought that if I do I’d tarnish my memory of Judy.” He finishes his cup of coffee and the waitress comes around to refill it. She tells us that our food will be ready shortly. “What about you, what led you to being drinking at that bar and asking me to join you for food?”
I laugh a little, “You know our stories aren’t all that different.” I begin to tell him a story of what has transpired over the last year and a half. As I started though, the waitress comes by with the food. Brian starts eating like it’s his last meal, who knows maybe it will be. Life is funny like that. I eat as normal, and my buzz is starting to fade. The food is great, very fitting. I ask the waitress for two slices of pie with ice cream. She brings it along with the check. I put a hundred on the receipt. I stand up and offer Brian my hand, he shakes it. He has a firm grip. I hand him a hundred as well, “Look, I know this won’t bring back Judy, or change all the bad things you have to deal with every day, but get yourself a motel room.” Tears came to his eyes again.
The air is cold, the snow is falling slightly. Midnight has come too quick. I start walking, nowhere in particular yet. I get out my phone, nothing of note. I look up at the sky, grey. Snow is gradually starting to pick up. I finally decide to go to the park; the one that’s very close to where I was living when I first moved to the city. The park is about half a mile away. The walk starts off slow, I enjoy my time in the cold. It starts to bite, so I pick up my pace a little.
The park is small, there’s a little slide, a few swings, and two trees with carvings. I even have a carving on that tree, its small but I still remember when I carved it. I go to one of the swings, and pull out my phone again. There’s a message. It’s from one of my good friends back home. ‘Hey man, just checking in. I know these past few months have been really rough, but I want you to know everyone here is backing you. Your parents would be proud as always. Let me know if you ever need something. L’ Leo was always a good friend, ever since high school when we met. I consider texting him back, but at this time of night he would know something is up. I grab my pack of cigarettes and start to light. These things will be the death of me.
I never used to smoke, she’s the one that smoked. Not a pack a day, but it was too much. She was beautiful and that was the only thing a disliked about her. Everything else I loved. Her smile, the way she laughed at me whenever I said something wrong. I even loved her through her depression and intense anxiety attacks. Never did she have to deal with it alone, except for the one time of course. The one time she needed me and I wasn’t there. I was off drowning myself in liquor. To me the world looked like a black hole, but I never imagined how my point of view affected her point of view. My disdain for living had a negative effect on her well being. I should’ve known better, I’d still have her with me if I tried harder.
I wipe the tears away. They had finally stopped after all these months but now they’re back. I go through the pictures, I always have to go through the pictures. We were happy, even through the bad times. She was always smiling, even when she was falling apart. She smiled because she knew I loved it. The second I first saw her smile when we were five years old, I didn’t want to ever see her unhappy. I mad it my personal mission to always keep her happy. I utterly failed that mission six months ago. I failed it in the biggest way, because now I’ll never see that smile outside of these pictures. It feels like she’s a million miles away, but she’s only five.
The goddamned tears. I look down at my watch, 12:40. I give myself another second to finish the cigarette. The snow is falling even worse now. I put out the cigarette and stand up, stretch a little bit and head over to the apartment. I still have a key to the building because technically I still live there for another month. I had to get another apartment after she left though, too many memories, but I couldn’t bring myself to cancel the lease. I put the key into the front door and turn, for a brief second I thought it wouldn’t fully turn and I’d have to call it a day. It did turn though, and I step through the gated entrance and head up the stairs to the seventh floor. The elevator hasn’t worked in months, maybe it does now but there’s nothing wrong with a little exercise.
I finally reach the apartment after a solid 10 minutes of climbing. I put a different key in, and take a second before crossing the threshold. The place smelled stale, like it hasn’t had anyone visit in six months. Everything was dusty, the pictures on the wall, the tv. I brush a finger across one of the pictures while turning on one of the lights. The light is dim. I walk around the apartment, memories of her flood my brain. I start tearing up again. I walk over to the window with the fire escape. I open it and go through, I made the same movements six months ago to climb up to the roof. I look down at the street below, the street lamps were bright behind the snowy background. The stairs to the roof were icy and slippery. I took it slow climbing up them. As soon as I reached the top six months ago I saw a broken woman crying to someone on the phone, this time there was nothing but snow and grey.
She wasn’t acting her normal self on the roof top that night. She’s always bright and bubbly, even during her stretches of darkness. Not here, not this night. She had let the darkness consume her, I had let it in and I didn’t help her fight it off. She was alone in the world. Not even the person on the other end of that phone call was there. Not even me as I stepped toward her, arms stretched out. I wanted to hold her and tell her everything was going to be alright. All I can hear her say were the same words over and over, “Can’t go on like this.” I had come to my senses too late. I was waking up from a black out when I heard the yelling out the window. I hadn’t been sober in 7 days, since my agent told me about how terrible the book did and how I had to make the money from the previous novel last a while. It just about destroyed me when I heard that, I thought the second book was going to be great, I had built it up in my heart as some wonderful masterpiece. I knew it wasn’t as good as my first book though. Nothing I could’ve wrote would ever come close to that. I think that’s where I had gone wrong.
I just want the snow to cover me. I don’t like what this grey is doing to me, I’d rather have the white of the snow or the black of the pavement. I dedicated this last book to her memory, no matter what the sales numbers reflect, this one wasn’t for that. This one I wrote just in case she would read it and think of me, even though I know that’s not possible.
That night six months ago I could’ve saved her, I should’ve grabbed her and never let go. Instead I grabbed her and she just pushed me away. I didn’t try hard enough. Her tears should’ve been the fuel to my fire, instead they broke me down and left me for the sharks. When she saw me on the ground and I looked up, I knew I lost at that moment. She hung up the phone and walked over to the edge, she dropped it and I just watched it. She said something in that moment but I couldn’t hear, nor can I remember. Right after she dropped her phone, she looked down at the ground then back at me, tears in her eyes. I jump to my feet, 1…… I run toward her, 2…… I jump toward the edge with my hand out stretched, 3…… I look away, up at the black sky tears streaming down my face. I sobbed like a child for the next four days, went to her funeral, then stopped drinking for good. I was lost but when I went
through her things one day and found a pack of cigarettes I found inspiration. It was the inspiration to write one last time.
I stand at the edge of that same building, looking down at that same street that she looked down at that night, at exactly 1:15 in the morning exactly six months ago. I put the last cigarette in my mouth and light it, 1….. I look down at the time on my watch, 1:14 AM, 2…… I look up at the grey sky, 3…..