Down at Al’s Pool Hall by Robert Garner McBrearty

I keep waiting for good news. But no one calls.  No one knocks on the door.  Maybe tomorrow. 

We’re all sleepy here in our town.  We slog around in the summer heat, waiting for something to happen. At night, I open the window of my furnished room and lie in the heat and hear the town buzzing like a fat, lazy bee.  

My friends here lack gumption, lack get up and go. Some went to college, some didn’t, but we’re all stuck in dead-end jobs, or no jobs at all. We hang out at Al’s Pool Hall and all we talk about are girls, but the girls are sick and tired of waiting for us to come out of Al’s Pool Hall and do something with our lives besides drink and play pool. 

It was different when Al was still here. He gave us pep talks, told us to go out in the world, to expand our horizons, to find our dream, to do more with our lives than our parents had. If someone was down on his luck, Al was always there to listen. If we were out walking, he’d drive by in his big red pick-up and honk and wave. Just seeing him cheered us up, gave us a sense of purpose. There’s Al, we’d say, let’s go see Al.  

On one of his adventures, to a game refuge this time, he sent back pictures and cheerful and inspiring articles for the local newspaper. One night, a lion broke into his tent and clamped Al’s head in its teeth.  It dragged him out of the tent and into the brush. But we know that through it all, Al would have kept his upbeat attitude. This happens all the time, he would have told himself.  They maul you a little and move on.  

We still hang out at the pool hall, but we’re lost without Al. The new manager chews us out if we hang out without spending much or if we get too loud. One night, Al’s sister comes in and walks over to the pool table where we’re playing. They used to live together, brother and sister. She starts crying, so I put my arms around her and hold her and she cries into my chest and tells me I was always one of Al’s favorites. 

A couple of days later, there’s an envelope in my mailbox. I open it and there’s a key inside and a message on white unlined paper that says: Al’s pick-up. Take it and go. Find your dream. You’ll need to charge the battery. 

I’m already packing. I won’t leave much behind. Tomorrow I’ll drive Al’s pick-up down to the pool hall. I’ll honk for the guys to come out.  No more waiting around. I’m leaving town. Anyone who wants can come with me.

Robert Garner McBrearty‘s stories have been widely published including in the Pushcart Prize, Missouri Review, North American Review, Narrative, and New England Review. His flash fictions have appeared recently in a number of journals including Brilliant Flash Fiction, the Cafe Irreal, Posit, and Literary Juice. He is also the author of three collections of stories and the novella The Western Touring Society.

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