Walking into the bar, Benny the barkeep is sweeping up broken glass with a broom. Quickly scanning the room, it is an absolute mess. Glass everywhere, pictures dangling off the walls, lemons and limes littered on the floor.
“Did hurricane season come early?” I asked Benny.
“That’s rich coming from you,” he answered, keeping his back to me. “You were the hurricane last night, or do you not remember?”
I sat on a stool attempting to recall what had happened. Scattered pieces of the night were coming back, but I couldn’t explain the mess that Benny was currently attending to. “I’m sorry Benny, really. Whatever happened last night, that wasn’t me.”
Benny paused his sweeping to look at me incredulously. “That wasn’t you,” he replied sarcastically. “This is you every single night Van. Your imagination gets the best of you, and every night you end up destroying everything around you.”
“Benny…I’m sorry man…I…”
“That’s the problem Van,” he says. “We’ve had this conversation over and over. You come back in the morning with an excuse and I continue to forgive your behavior. Look, you’re my best friend, but I can’t keep doing this. It’s affecting my business and patrons. Shit man, look what it’s doing to you.”
My hands on the bar, I rest my forehead against them staring at the floor, seeking solace in the darkness. Head pounding with a hangover, my mind craves a drink to take the edge off. I take a deep breath in and blow it out slow. Benny emptied a dustpan full of broken glass in a garbage bin near me. The sound intensified my headache. “Can you get me a beer,” I murmur my head still down.
“I can’t keep doing this Van. Week after week this has been happening,” Benny says frustrated. “We aren’t kids anymore, the booze will catch up with you and it will kill you.”
I raise my head out of my hands, staring back at Benny. “About that beer?”
“Jesus! What the hell is the matter with you,” he shouts. Shaking his head he walks behind the bar, sliding open a cooler. He pulls out a cold beer, pops the tab, and sets it down in front of me. “After this, I’m done. No more free drinking, you want to continue down this road, you pay.”
I quickly grab the beer, downing half in one swig. I hold the cold can against my temple to reduce the drum-like pounding inside my head. I lock eyes with Benny then turn, staring at the carnage I created in my best friends bar. Shaking my head, I turn back to him, “Benny look…we’ve been friends a long time. You know the shit I’ve been through. Now, I’m not good at a lot of things. But this.” I point to the beer. “This, I’m good at.” I finished the beer and put a five dollar bill on the bar. “Give me another.”
He sighs, taking the bill and retrieves another can from the cooler. Popping the tab he sets it down in front of me, his hand still holding the can looking at me. “This is exactly what happened to your Pops. I don’t want the same to happen to you. Don’t you want more out of this,” his hand gestures around. “Life isn’t meant to be spent on a bar stool.”
I feel bile rise in my throat as I rip the can out of his hand. “You know, that’s rich coming from a bartender. Your business is run on drunks, so you’re welcome. I know what happened to my Dad okay, you don’t think I know that? Shit man, you think I’m happy my Dad didn’t even see age 50?” Shaking my head, I take a hearty sip.
“That’s exactly what I’m saying Van. You’ve got a demon in you, like your Pops did. I’m your best friend and I’m telling you, that can in your hand is your worst enemy. Keep drinking it, it will eat you from the inside out,” he said looking at me solemnly.
“You know…,” I say staring at the can, twisting it back and forth. “This can be my best friend and my worst enemy. It makes me feel good, comforts me any time I need it. But when that feeling is gone, I feel hollow. Left out in the cold, alone to fend for myself. I can imagine myself quitting, and it seems easy, but it’s even easier to just keep drinking and find that feeling of comfort again. That’s how strong this is,” lifting the can up to show him. “You would think after losing my Dad to the drink I’d avoid it but, somehow, I couldn’t stay away.”
Silence fills the air as two best friends stare at one another. The tension is broken when the bar door opens and a young woman walks in. Shocked by the disarray she asks, “are you guys open or should I come back later?”
“Yeah we’re open,” Benny replies. “Just tidying up a bit if you don’t mind. Take a seat, I can grab you a drink.”
I stand up from the bar stool, pull out a one hundred dollar bill from my wallet and set it on the bar. “Let me know if anything needs repairs,” I say as I nod to Benny and walk past the woman towards the door.
“Van,” Benny says as my hand hits the door. I turn to look back at him. “If you need help let me know man, really,” he says earnestly.
“Yeah maybe, I’ll see you around,” I reply walking out the door into the sunlight of the afternoon.