High Anxiety

My ass hurts but, determined to stay put, I jam my feet against the notch where the wall of the bar meets the dirty green carpet. Still, I become one with the water in my glass. The clamour in the joint tonight is loud, like fireworks igniting in my eardrums. It’s perfect, a celebration.

Before I got married, these barstools were my thrones. I was the master of those left dwelling when the lights turned back on — leading my people outside, down darkened streets toward more dim bar lights to saturate themselves under. These days I savour each drink like the affair it is: hot and fiery elation kept from wife and child. I rule over tap and keg part-time, but tonight, almost four years after solidifying a lie of sobriety, I want to be King again.

Across the bar I see the barman, Giorgio, roll up his pinstriped sleeve to the elbow. Tonight is his second anniversary. He’s got no kids, yet, and has no drinks, ever.

“Adler,” he calls.

“Ay boy,” I say. He comes over and leans across the bar on his elbows.

“You’re a good man,” he says.

I give him a nod and hug my glass with my right hand. It’s cold, but the feeling warms me. It’s a feeling so familiar it makes Ana’s voice seem far away. Our daughter, Lauren, is only three and her curly hair is unruly but the ringlets are perfect — faultless golden spirals, natural and mathematical. Sometimes, I slide my fingers through them to see if they’ll flatten but they always bounce back.

Tonight I am here, drinking only water with lime squeezed into it. Lime because there are, ‘No more lemons,’ says Giorgio. Just water, because before the night quiets most of the motion outside my kingdom, I inhabit the body of a man who doesn’t lie.

But then, I smell the whisky in the laugh of the man grabbing two shots off the counter beside me. He drops his change and raises a glass to me. I don’t recognize him but I take the shot and turn around to get more water from Giorgio, blocking the empty shot glasses.

He eyes my water glass thumps me on the shoulder. He says again, “Atta boy! You’re a good man.”

I’m not a worrier or a fixer. I’m just here and around and I try to get out of bed in the morning and back into it that same night. Between bedtimes I’m a father, sure, a husband, like I said, and a drinker. But we’re all drinkers. We’re all addicts; all just existing between bedtimes. Lauren drinks apple juice and my energy. Ana drinks promises and deadlines.

I think Giorgio doesn’t like me on lemons and lied, because beside me I see a glass with a yellow wedge floating in the water. I really can get lost here in still drinks. Some people watch fire and fix things and I watch still water, still drinking.

Giorgio is shaking up something sweet for a blonde with a tight topknot down at the other end of the bar so I can’t ask him whose lemon water this is. I wonder for a moment if it’s mine, and there’s a lime in the glass in my hand because the last lemon wedge is right there in the glass beside me. But Giorgio is down at the end of the bar with the blonde.

I swivel my stool around and stand up. Steadying myself on the bar I think about how long I’ve been sitting. Maybe long enough to use up all the lemons.

With my eyes closed, I hum to try and focus. It’s noisy enough in the bar tonight that I know my hum is inaudible. It helps me remember.

Hummmmmmm, one note — a drone like when Ana meditates.

“You’re a good man,” I hear, but it’s not from Giorgio and it’s not for me.

Hummmmmmm.

I’m sure I’m meant to be reading Lauren to sleep tonight — is it Wednesday?

A glass falls and hits the tiled floor beside the bar. The sound cuts through the party clamour.

And then I see it. I remember, and I see it sharply and I feel it. I feel it like a horse being branded with a hot iron straight off the coals. I hear Ana scream and I hear Lauren cry and I see the broken chair and I see Lauren is sad. She has these big sad eyes and I hear her say, ‘Daddy.’ I hear her say it again, “Daddy!’ I feel Ana hit me in the chest. She’s pounding on me boom, boom, boom like a wild ape and she’s losing her mind, pounding on my chest and then she’s crying too and —

Hummmmmmm and I hear, “Again?” I hear, “You promised,” and I feel fist on flesh and —

Hummmmmmmmmm

And —

And a double shot of tequila is down my throat and I don’t remember how to hum. I forget about the lemons and another tequila is getting a hug from a hand that is attached to my body but is not my own.

I hear, “You’re a good man,” and again I look up for Giorgio to smile at him but my vision is hazy and maybe it’s not Giorgio, but then I see him and he’s thumping another fellow on the shoulder and I am no longer the good man.

Featured image by Vanessa Gentile