I’m back by the pool table in Shank’s, a dive on the wrong side of downtown, trying not to yawn or stare at the chest of a girl in a tight T-shirt babbling about her ex-boyfriend. Suddenly glass shatters, louder than “Freebird” wailing on the jukebox.
A hulking lug with a blond mullet is brandishing a broken beer bottle. It happens so fast I don’t have time to be scared. Fistfights are one thing, a goon waving jagged glass quite another. Entertainment is compromised when you’re worried the next new stain on the floor might be your own blood and a Neanderthal in a #69 football jersey is slashing the air with a lethal weapon. A stringy gnome in a tank top faces him, pool cue on his shoulder, a Little Leaguer hoping he’ll draw a walk and not have to swing.
The girl clutches my arm, pressing against me. I’m fine with this as long as it doesn’t imply responsibility on my part.
“Hey!” the bartender yells. “There’s people barefoot in here!”
The man with the bottle looks down and realizes he’s one of those people.
“Fuck me,” he philosophizes, adjusting his stance. I can read the name on his jersey, only partly obscured by his mullet: D. GENERATE.
“Lonnie, we cool?” inquires Mr. Generate.
Relief shines in the scrawny dude’s face like he’s just been thrown ball four. He nods, relaxes his grip on the stick.
“We cool, Darryl. I don’t know why you was so pissed anyway.”
“I wasn’t pissed, you fuckhead. It pisses me off when you say stupid shit like that.”
“He reminds me of my ex,” the girl says. To my surprise she’s still holding my arm.
“Who’d come in this place barefoot?” I ask.
“Why are we here at all?”
I pause to reflect whether she means Shank’s, or the universe: location versus ontology. The smart money’s on Shank’s.
“Damn good question,” I say.
“You’re funny. You’re like my ex-boyfriend.”
Do I know her name? Not that I care, unless of course she told me, which could prove awkward later. If she enjoys slumming at Shank’s, she might not mind my hovel (christened The Swamp, its name earned fair and square). This afternoon I changed my sheets and scrubbed the toilet just in case. I even considered vacuuming, but there are limits to my hospitality. I compromised and vacuumed my room; the archipelago of orange candle wax on the carpet is permanent.
What it would it be like to have D. Generate come to the door to pick up your daughter? Would he call you “sir”? Would she beam and say, “Daddy, this is D. He has a green Camaro and can bench-press 260. Isn’t he dreamy?”
I decide to take the plunge. “Do you want to maybe get out of here? I have a bottle of Mateus in the fridge.” Actually it’s my roommate’s, but close enough.
“Unopened?” she asks. I have no idea if it’s open or not.
“Of course. What do you take me for?”
She’s still on my arm. Odds are decent she’ll stay that way when I walk. I wonder how old she is, whether she got in with a fake I.D. Not that Shank’s is famous for checking. I wonder what my mother would think if she saw me right now, three weeks shy of my thirtieth birthday.
A waitress approaches with a dustpan and broom, but we’re already heading for the exit. Glass crunches under my feet. I don’t look down.
Tom Hazuka has published three novels, The Road to the Island, In the City of the Disappeared, and Last Chance for First, as well as a book of nonfiction, A Method to March Madness: An Insider’s Look at the Final Four (co-written with C.J. Jones). He has edited or co-edited six anthologies of short stories: Flash Fiction; Flash Fiction Funny; Sudden Flash Youth; You Have Time for This; A Celestial Omnibus: Short Fiction on Faith; and Best American Flash Fiction of the 21st Century. He teaches fiction writing at Central Connecticut State University.