Last Call for Alcohol

Copyright Ken Brady. No reproduction without express permission from the author.
(Originally published in DAILY CABAL, 2009)

Guy walks into a bar, says to the bartender: “Give me three drinks.”

Bartender says to Guy: “What kind of drinks do you want?”

Guy waves dismissively. “Don’t matter. First drink takes the edge off today, helps me forget. Second drink helps me prepare for what’s next. Third drink opens a portal to a new world, a new life.”

Bartender looks at Guy. Hasn’t seen him in here before, then again he has. There’s always someone they remind you of. Always someone whose words sound like someone else’s. Spend enough time in bars and you know everyone.

Guy sits at the bar but doesn’t remove his coat or hat, just waits patiently for his drinks.

Bartender pours him a beer, says: “It’s almost last call. You gonna drink three drinks before you have to leave?”

Guy smiles. “No problem.”

Bartender looks around the bar. Thursday night, not very crowded, a few tables with some quiet conversation, nothing he has to worry about. He glances back at Guy, who has already downed his beer.

“Where will you go?”

Guy looks up. “Dunno. Somewhere else. I just want to start over.”

Bartender mixes a Long Island and sets it on the bar. “Maybe this’ll help,” he says.

Guy drinks for a bit, then pauses to say: “How about you? Where would you go?”

Bartender shrugs. “Hadn’t thought about it. I’ve never been to Russia.”

Guy finishes his drink, says: “Then give me a shot of your best vodka.”

Bartender pours a shot of Jewel of Russia, and sets it on the bar. He turns away, begins organizing his bottles, prepping for tomorrow. Then he says: “What if you don’t like your next life any more than you like this one? What if you jump from life to life and find that, no matter where you go, no matter what you do, everything in your life is exactly the same? The same problems, the same regrets, the same obstacles keeping you from reaching your ultimate goals. What if it doesn’t matter where you go?

Guy snorts. “Happens to everyone,” he says, as his empty shot glass hits the bar.

Bartender turns around to ask what he means, but Guy is gone, and a confused-looking Russian soldier holding a bottle of Budweiser sits in his place.