by Eric DeLee
Elton John's classic song plays an important role in this story.
|This is from a writing prompt at the beginning of the year. I hope you enjoy it.|
Chuck looked at the wrinkled lump of a man sitting at the end of the bar, and shook his head. He supposed that it was time to wake him up now that the frisky couple had finally left the bar. He smiled at them when they had left, both too giddy and whispering entirely too much to NOT have been up to mischief. He figured it was a good show at least for a little while. It's amazing what some couples will do out in public when they believe no one can see them. A smile crept across his face thinking about the thirty odd minutes that the couple shared in the back booth, "If only they knew about the mirror," he said aloud and tossed his rag on handle of a beer tap labeled as Bud Light.
Instead of waking up the man who was now drooling on the bar and mumbling something about a ballerina, Chuck ducked under the bar and looked at the mess that he was supposed to clean up. 'Happy New Year' and '2003' confetti was strung across the floor. Crepe paper flowed from the ceiling in dangling loops and in some places was torn to shreds or soaking some unmentionable spill from the floor. There were party hats everywhere, shot glasses tossed about, and even a shoe left by the piano. How someone had left without his shoe (as far as he could tell, it looked as though it belonged to a male. Besides, most females dress-up for New Years', and in New York that usually means wearing pumps or even the fuck-me three or four-inch heels that were ever so popular. At least that has been his experience.) was beyond him, but then again he never did drink, so he had no experience to possibly think of a good scenario to begin with.
The piano was still playing, but its volume was turned down by some partygoer right before the stroke of midnight. Chuck clicked off little portable CD player that was plugged in, and then shut off the piano entirely. It was amazing what they can make these days he had thought. A piano that played CDs and all you had to do was push play. Amazing, indeed. The man at the bar snorted, stirred a little bit and then flopped his hand into the pretzel bowl. This of course sent the bowl flying upward, and scattering pretzels everywhere, but what of it? It's not like Chuck was planning on leaving the bar ever again anyways, or clean it up for that matter. As soon as he got rid of Mr. I'm-So-Drunk-I-Think-I'll-Just-Sleep-Right-Here he had a matter to take care of himself. He had saved a special bottle of chardonnay that he bought somewhere on 11th Avenue just for tonight. In a little more than two hours, he’d sit by the piano, perhaps tickle the ivory a few times and once the chardonnay was finished, he’d finally get to see how the end of a pistol will taste in his mouth. Happy New Year and good fuckin’ riddance.
He walked to the back booth (where the couple had departed from), kicked a party hat to the side, and chuckled aloud. The woman in her sleek, black dress left a little souvenir for him. He picked up the panties, just a normal Victoria Secret style that you would see on any given TV commercial, and reveled at its silkiness. His wife has-had a pair like that. That was before cancer had pried open the window of their life and snatched her away like some thief stealing a DVD player from someone’s home. The thought of his wife soured the moment. He sat down at the booth, still warm from its previous occupants, and replayed countless memories in his mind. That was all he had left of her, memories that hung around like the stench of mothballs in a cedar closet. Some of these memories, these movies that played within the reels of his mind (where admission to the theater sometimes came at a tremendous price), were pleasant. Most of those were at the beginning of the marriage when they would spend hours on the east side of Central Park discussing their dreams and ambitions. One particular memory that liked screen time was the one where they had spent their first Christmas dinner at her parent’s house. She had convinced him to follow her into a bathroom, right before everyone was to congregate into the dining room for dinner and prayer (for some… it was a staggering effort. Let us not beat around the bush. A fine bottle of brandy always made its rounds in the living room amongst the men). As soon as he had opened the door, his wife was standing there in all of her beauty, beckoning and wanting. He had not denied her of that, and it was just one of those moments that stood out a little higher than most. But with the good, comes the wretched. Another favorite film played within Chuck’s theater was the first doctor visit that reeked of bad news. Why he would think of this while holding onto a pair of a stranger’s panties is beyond him… and all reasoning… but he supposed that was the cruelty of life at times. Sometimes life handed you ocean water without desalinizing it first, right when you are dying of dehydration. But what of it? There was nothing you could do about it.
It was 1998, and it was supposed to be one of the happiest days of their lives. But instead of the doctors and nurse being able to find a heartbeat of a baby, they found nothing. Just an eerie silence that buzzed out of the speakers at the women’s clinic. Just for icing on the cake, the film kept showing how the doctor had found something suspicious. A lump of something that stood out in the ultrasound. Something foreign. CANCER.
Chuck banged his fist against the top of the table, and stood up fast enough to make his head spin. He tossed the nameless woman’s undergarment aside and started walking towards the bar. His feet at first felt as though they were going to fly from underneath him, kind of as if he had slipped on a bar of soap in the shower, when he steadied himself and stopped in the middle of the dance floor. Hot tears stung his cheeks and he wiped at them furiously.
His whole life was snatched away from him and yet here he was, still a bartender of a small piano bistro in the middle of New York City. He guess there could be worse things, he could be a bartender in New Jersey. He chuckled at the thought, and was surprised to see the drunk staggering at the edge of the bar. He had gotten off of the bar stool, but he had not yet trusted his sense of balance yet to let go of the counter’s edge. In a way he looked a little like a baby first learning to walk.
Chuck pulled himself together, cleared his throat and put on his friendly New York charm, “Time for you to get the hell out of here, man. Party is over.” The man looked at him and smiled. It was one of those ear-to-ear grins that you couldn’t help but to smile back at.
“Balereeena! Mus’ of seeeeen her.” The drunken man slurred along, and to Chuck’s surprise was fairly accurate to the tempo and pitch of Elton’s classic song. He belched, staggered a little and looked as though he were going to fall when Chuck came behind and steadied him. The guy reeked of the cheap whiskey shots that he lined up earlier in the evening. He never had a chance to ring-up the man’s total, but figured by the way he dressed he was probably someone living on the streets anyhow. Call it charity, call it what you will, but Chuck didn’t care. For at least one evening he was able to bring joy to someone.
“She was dancin’ in the sand. Now she’s with me, always in me, tiny dancer in my heeeaaaddd!” The drunk continued as Chuck escorted him to the door. The bell above the door clanged and banged against the door’s frame as he held it open. The singing man was a little more steady on his feet (Alcohol made lions out of us mice, Chuck thought) and seemed to be dancing a jig right there in front of the bar in the middle of a littered wet sidewalk. He smiled, watched and couldn’t help but to think about the choice of songs this drunken man sang less than an hour or so before he joined his beloved wife.
“Hand,” Chuck said.
The drunken man stopped dancing and turned around. He reminded Chuck of an older (and more eccentric) version of a southern Baptist preacher. All he needed was a bible and beads of sweat on his forehead. For a second, he looked as though he were about to stumble off the curb and become one with the sidewalk when he steadied himself once more.
“Hand. The song you were singing,” Chuck suddenly felt a little nervous. Suppose this guy had a gun, he surely didn’t want to go out like that. He didn’t want to feel any pain. He wanted to simply close his eyes, perhaps (hopefully) watch one of those films of his wife when life was all roses and cherry blossoms and just pull the trigger. Lights out and Happy New Years. He didn’t want to be shot by some drunk in front of a bar waiting for an ambulance to come while his blood mixed with some congealed mess on the sidewalk. He cleared his throat and started again, “The song you were singing. It’s supposed to be ‘Tiny dancer in my hand.’ Not head.” He trailed off on the last two words.
“Oh!” He still looked confused but the smile never left his face. “Thank ya’, and Merry Christmas!”
Chuck shook his head at this and told him to have a good New Years’. He slipped back into the bar unnoticed, slid the bolt into its resting spot as the man sang and danced. He turned off the neon sign and went for the bottle of chardonnay sitting in the ice container behind the bar. He opened the bottle, grabbed his pistol and went to the piano. On his way, he noticed something on the bar, where the drunken man was sleeping. It was a small gold coin, very tarnished with handling, and yet very light. It was the size of a casino chip at any given card game. Looking at it closely, he noticed what it truly was, just an old Chucky Cheese token that kids pour into video games. Even so, just the thought of that a homeless man would leave him something as a tip, made him feel wonderful. He placed it in his pocket, and walked over to piano once again.
He sat down and played a few measures of the song the man outside was no doubtingly still singing. Tears stung his cheeks again, but this time they did not make him furious. They hit home and ripped open the very depths of his heart. He looked at the pistol, sitting on top of the old baby grand and unfolded with tears he laid his head on the keys, he could feel each of them pressing into his face, and cried heavily. After a few moments of vacillation he began to sing. He struggled with it and was nowhere in the vicinity of being in pitch but continued anyway:
“Now she’s with me. Always in me. Tiny dancer in my hand.”
Maybe the drunken bastard had it right, Chuck thought. It makes more sense the other way around. “Now she’s with me. Always in me. Tiny dancer, in my head.”
Outside the bar, the drunk was still dancing a jig and New York was finished ringing in the New Year. Everyone was home or on their way home. Some were with their loved one, some were missing their loved ones, and yes, some were on the way to see their loved ones.