Originally published in The Evergreen Review Issue 114 in 2007.
Bill drove up to the job site alone. He was two hours late but there was no one else there. He parked next to the superintendent’s trailer and got out of the truck. It was clear and warm out. Seven o’clock in the morning and it was already almost ninety degrees. He lit a cigarette and walked toward the half finished building. It was a little wood structure that would eventually be a chain sandwich shop. Bill was there to pipe in a fire sprinkler system. All those years of sweating his ass off, hungover and strung-out, had finally come to something. The company put him in a truck. A work truck with a gas card, a stereo with c.d. player, and all the tools and ladders and pipe strapped right to the back of it. He had to work by himself, without an apprentice, but Bill preferred to be by himself. The company only put him on these small jobs, but he ran them himself. He could practically miss a whole day, and as long as he worked extra hard the next couple of days, no one would know.
Bill missed at least five days of work each month. He wasn’t always late, but it happened often enough that people said he was always late. Yet, somehow, they had decided to put him in a company truck. Probably, mostly, because he had never had a D.U.I.
Nobody, especially Bill, understood how he had never been caught driving drunk. When he wasn’t working he was drinking. He even drank sneaky beers while driving the company truck home from the job site. Everybody knew that Bill had very bad luck. When they spoke about his drinking they always said it was just a matter of time. “He’ll end up killing somebody” they said.
As he was about to step into the building he heard a loud voice.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing, boy?”
He turned and saw a short, bald man standing in the doorway of the super’s trailer. All of the supers on these small jobs looked and spoke exactly the same way. Too much sun, bald, and short. Too much dust and too many cigarettes. They all acted as if they were building the Taj Mahal. They were always angry. This is what puzzled Bill the most. How can people be angry all the time? People were always angry and always called him “son” and “boy.”
Bill was thirty six years old but didn’t look a day over twenty one. That and never having a D.U.I. was the only thing he had left.
“Don’t you dare step on that floor son!” yelled the super.
“I’m the sprinkler guy” replied Bill.
“I know, my alarm didn’t go off and I kinda’ overslept…”
“Not YOU boy, your company. You guys were supposed to be here last week.”
“I just go where I’m told.”
“Well you ain’t going in there. I just got that slab sealed and nobody’s so much as breathing on that motherfucker for at least twenty-four hours.”
Bill took a drag off his cigarette. His hand was shaking. The super walked back to his trailer. “Looks like you got the rest of the day off!” he said.
Bill pulled into a drive-thru liquor store a couple miles away from his room. Drive-thru liquor stores are the best thing in the world, he thought. He ordered a pint of Jim Beam and a twelve pack of High Life. Starting in at seven thirty in the morning Bill knew this would not last until he passed out, but he thought maybe he would hit a bar. He didn’t have the money for a bar tab but he felt like talking to someone who wasn’t his landlord, a super or a Mexican day laborer. At the first red light he opened the bourbon and had a small sip. He wasn’t satisfied with that and had another. He drove through the intersection enjoying the booze burning its way down to his belly.
He had missed the last two days of work because of a bender that stretched itself from the weekend into the beginning of the week. Screaming and jabbering on and on at someone’s house. Someone he had met at the bar and could not remember now, and would probably never see again. Life stories and hilarious anecdotes that amounted to nothing except missing two days of work, and now this. An extra day off which only meant that there was no way he could make up the last two days, so the company would find out, and he would not get paid for a total of three days. Next weeks paycheck would have sixteen hours if he was lucky. He dug into his pocket for the pack of cigarettes. It was empty. He pulled into a corner store.
Bill walked in and asked the clerk for a pack of GPC in a box. The clerk asked Bill for I.D. He couldn’t have been more than eighteen. Bill noticed a couple of long hairs the kid had missed on his cheek while shaving. Everybody asked him for I.D every time. He wasn’t angry; he reached into his back pocket. Shit. There was no I.D there. He remembered. He had left it on the bathroom counter this morning. He had been rushing because he was late.
“I guess I forgot it this morning” he said.
The kids face twisted into a slight grin. He said “Well I can’t sell these to you then, dude.”
“I’m thirty six years old” said Bill.
“Sorry dude, I’ll lose my job if I sell to you without I.D.”
Bill looked at the missed facial hair and sighed. He walked out of the store.
Bill started the truck and put it in reverse. He started to pull out of the parking space and then stopped. The truck wasn’t rolling. Even before he noticed that the truck was lopsided he knew he had a flat tire. He put the truck in park and shut it off. This was the third flat tire he’d had in two weeks. Later, when he told people that, they didn’t believe him.
He got out of the truck and looked at the back tire, drivers’ side. He walked over to it and crouched down. He saw the piece of metal right off. A big piece of silver metal, probably an inch wide, was buried in the brand new tread. He had changed this same tire not more than four days ago.
Bill pulled the lever to push the driver’s side seat forward. The various parts of the jack were there behind it, along with some coins and High Life bottle caps. He brushed the bottle caps to the pavement and made a mental note of the change. He would definitely need those coins next week. He pulled the pieces of the jack out and brought them to the back of the truck. He set them down and walked back to the open door. This type of thing requires a drink, he thought. He took a short pull off the pint and then ripped open the twelve pack of High Life. He bent down as if to examine something on the floor board and took a long pull on the bottle. It wasn’t exactly cold but it was still nice. He stuffed the opened bottle in between the seats. He went back to changing the tire. No cigarettes, which is what a man really needs when changing a tire, but just think how good the first next one would be.
Bill was wearing work clothes so he cleaned his hands by rubbing them on his pant legs. He hopped into the truck and started it. He was feeling just fine. No flat tire is gonna’ bring me down, he thought. He finished the rest of the opened beer as he drove home.
By the time Bill pulled into his parking space his bladder was about to burst. It was less than half a mile away from where he had changed the flat but he was already bursting. He ran to the side door that was his entrance and in one motion, stuck the key in the deadbolt, turned it, and broke the key off in the lock. Shit! He looked around, he was in full view of the parking lot, but it was the middle of a work day, most of the parking spaces were empty and he saw no one around. He stepped behind an oleander bush that barely came up to his knees. At least he was facing a wall. He pulled out his pecker and started to pee. He wasn’t looking around and he wasn’t worried about anybody seeing him. The whiskey had started to work already.
He heard a door slam and saw his neighbor Beth digging in her purse. She was looking for her car keys and hadn’t noticed Bill. The pee would not stop. Bill sunk his head into his chest and started chanting to himself, don’t look, don’t look. Beth said “Hey Bill!” and he looked up. She was waving and walking to her car, but not looking at him. Thank God Thank God he thought, and shoved his pecker back in his pants. He pissed down his leg a little.
Bill rented a room from a retarded, middle aged man from Japan. His room was the only one at the top of the stairs, and it had a bathroom attached. He hardly ever saw the owner of the house, and when they did meet they barely spoke. When Bill answered the ad about the room he told the owner he liked to be alone, drank a lot, and was quiet. The owner knocked a hundred a month off the rent and asked him to move in. He hardly spoke, worked opposite hours of Bill, and didn’t drink. It was perfect for Bill. He was mostly alone and didn’t have to worry about anybody drinking up half his booze.
Bill opened the tool box on his truck and pulled out channel locks. It only took a couple tries to turn the key to open the door, and pull the broken piece out. He put the beer in the refrigerator and walked upstairs to his bathroom, holding the pint of bourbon.
After a shower and a few beers Bill decided to head up to the bar. He was already tipsy so he decided to take his car instead of the company truck. He knew one day he would be busted driving drunk and did not want it to happen in the company truck. He drove an old Buick coupe, primer gray, and lowered. It looked like a chollo’s car because it once had been. Bill bought it for five hundred dollars from a guy on a job site who was on his way to prison. It started only half of the time. Bill had spoke to numerous people about what was wrong with it, and how to fix it. He stopped trying after someone told him to hit the starter with a hammer. He had crawled under the car one morning and swung his hammer at the starter, it bounced back and the claw end hit him square on the top of the head. He was bleeding profusely and the car didn’t start. Today it started on the first try.
Bill walked into the bar and was heading to an empty stool. The bartender looked at him and said “Hey Bill!” He straightened up and almost stopped in his tracks. How strange he thought, that she would remember me! This girl, who until now was very average looking, immediately became beautiful in Bill’s eyes.
“Oh, hi” he said. “How are you?”
She looked at his face as he sat down on the stool. “Excuse me honey?” she said. She looked over his shoulder and said “Right here Bill. I’ve been saving this spot for you.”
Bill turned to look over his shoulder and saw an elderly man shuffling towards a stool at the end of the bar.
The bartender took her time coming over to him. She was busy chatting with the elderly Bill. When she finally came over the first thing she said was “Got I.D.?” Bill showed his I.D. and ordered a shot of bourbon and a beer. The bartender served the drinks and went back to the other Bill.
He sat at the bar ordering and drinking for a couple of hours. He spoke to no one. Even the bartender stopped asking him if he wanted another round. She would just bring it over when his bottle was close to empty. He was very drunk by now. He called the bartender over.
She walked over.
“Listen,” said Bill “I think you are very rude and excruciatingly average looking. Gimme’ my tab.”
She stood blinking at him. “Fuck you” she said.
Bill paid his tab and walked out the door into the bright sun. It was very hot but he felt great. “I really told that bitch” he thought. He was laughing to himself as he got into his car.
He turned the key and the engine turned over but nothing happened. The car was trying hard to start but not quite making it.
“Come on, baby” coaxed Bill. “Come on.”
It was no use. Bill stepped out of the car. He was pouring sweat and cursing. He saw the bartender standing outside. She was staring at him. She flipped him off and laughed. She disappeared inside. He started the long walk home. It was only a mile, but it was over one hundred degrees out, and he was drunk.
By the time Bill made it home he was very angry. His mouth felt as though it was full of dust. He was cursing under his breath and when his mouth moved his dry lips stuck together. He went to the refrigerator and pulled out a bottle of beer. He opened it and had a long drink. “Nothing ever works” he said to the refrigerator. “Nothing ever fucking works!” He finished the bottle and tossed it into the trash. He took two bottles with him upstairs.
Bill stripped down to his boxers and turned on the fan he had set on a folding chair. He pointed the fan at the bed and lay down. The breeze from the fan shot up his underwear and made him hard almost immediately. He set his beer down on the floor, pulled of his shorts and started masturbating furiously. It had been at least nine months since he’d been with a girl. He turned on his side and ejaculated on to the sheets. They were very dirty anyway. He scooted away from the mess he had made and reached for his beer. His hard-on was still there. He looked at it. Bill masturbated so much lately that his dick stayed hard long after he finished. There really wasn’t any satisfaction in it anymore. He took a long pull at the beer and slowly fell asleep.
Bill woke up when he felt the wetness underneath him. He thought he had pissed himself, but he had fallen asleep with the beer still in his hand, and spilled it. He dropped the bottle on the floor and looked around. It was almost dark outside. Bill went to the bathroom to piss. He wanted a cigarette badly. He noticed the half empty bottle of bourbon and had a small sip, just a test. It didn’t come back up so he drank a little more. He pulled his pants and shirt on and headed downstairs to smoke. The landlord didn’t allow smoking in the house, and every time Bill tried to get away with it the guy would come home and ask Bill very seriously, “Bill, you haven’t been smoking in here have you?”
“No, no, not at all.”
“Well, I swear I smell smoke.”
Bill would shrug his shoulders and retreat upstairs. It made him feel like a little kid, and he hated that. He would have to take his chances outside.
Smoking outside was risky because people in this neighborhood walked. There was always someone out walking. Walking the dog, walking for fitness, or just walking around. Bill had struck up drunken conversation with a lot of these walkers, but he never remembered any of them. Sometimes when he was smoking one of the walkers would walk up to him, they all acted very familiar and this of course made Bill very nervous. Some even made jokes about how drunk he was the last time they met. He didn’t remember any of them. He was a black out drinker by now, and most times he was happy about that. There were no walkers out tonight, and Bill had two peaceful cigarettes in a row. He stepped back inside and went to the refrigerator. There were six beers left. He took them all upstairs and sat on the edge of his bed. He opened one and started drinking. That was it. No television, no music, no company. He sat on the bed and drank. He got up once to retrieve the Jim Beam from the bathroom counter. There was a sliver of light coming through the curtains from a dim street light. Otherwise it was very dark, inside and out.
Bill hadn’t eaten anything and was drinking fast. By the time the Beam was gone, and he was drinking the last beer, he was drunk again. He had started muttering to himself a few minutes ago, and was now talking into the darkness of his room loudly.
“Hello Bill!” he sneered. “What a bitch! What a dumb whore! I’ll go back tomorrow and get my car started. I’ll stroll right in and order a beer like nothing happened. She probably won’t be there… Because nothing ever fucking works!”
This became his mantra. Bill spoke of the unfairness of his life to the darkness and ended every lament with “Nothing ever fucking works!”
Now he was out of beer. It was almost nine p.m. and he had to work very early the next day. Bill thought of the nap he had taken that day and convinced himself he had plenty of time to get more beer and still plenty of sleep. He was bending over to pull on his shoes when he tipped forward too far. He couldn’t stop himself as he fell forward. He hit his head on the closet door. He laughed it off as if some one in the room had seen it. As he stood up he flipped on the bathroom light. He kicked at the closet door and missed. He grabbed it with both hands and slid it open as hard as he could. It slammed against the frame with a disappointing thud. Bill was breathing hard, he was about to rip the door off its tracks when he thought he saw a gigantic bottle of Heineken.
It was true. Right there in the closet, half covered by dirty sheets, was a bottle of Heineken two feet tall. His old roommate had bought it for him as a going away present, and after moving in here Bill had forgotten all about it. He pulled it out of the dirty sheets and examined it. It was very heavy, and corked like a champagne bottle. This was perfect, now he had at least two feet of beer and did not have to drive to the store. Bill was humming "Auld Lang Syne" as he went downstairs. He put the bottle in the freezer. It wasn’t easy; he had to move a few things around to make room. The bottle was about two and a half times bigger than a magnum of champagne. Bill closed the freezer and stepped outside to smoke a cigarette, he was very happy again.
Bill couldn’t stop thinking about the giant bottle of beer. How in the world had he not remembered that? What a stroke of luck! He sucked at his cigarette greedily, the beer would take over an hour to get cold, but he knew he wouldn’t wait. He couldn’t wait. He tossed his cigarette away and went back in the house. The bottle had only been in the freezer for five minutes, but the glass felt cold. That was good enough for Bill. He closed the freezer and quickly climbed the stairs to his room.
He shut the door, flipped on the lights and sat on the edge of his bed. Bill instantly recognized the absurdity of his situation when he noticed the decorative wrapping on the cork of the bottle. He was thirty-six years old, poor, and obviously alcoholic. The happy occasion of finding the Heineken took on a solemn air. He unwrapped the festive foil from the cork and slowly worked it out. There was a tremendous “pop” and white foam that smelled like a skunk cascaded down from his lap to his bare feet. He looked down at his feet, then at the giant bottle. He held the bottle in front of him with one hand. He thought about making some kind of toast, but decided against it. He brought the bottle to his lips and turned it up. He took a long pull. He drank so long that he took a deep breath when he finally stopped. The beer was room temperature. He felt the warm bubbles in his throat and gut. Little streams of saliva started to spring out of some place behind his wisdom teeth, and fill his mouth. Bill sat very still and took long deep breaths; he tried to think of something other than puking. He was a pro, and knew that deep breaths and a distraction were the only things that could prevent puking once those little streams of spit had started. He looked across the room until his eyes rested on a framed photograph of Muhammed Ali, hung on the wall at the foot of his bed.
“You think I’m gonna’ puke Ali?” he screamed. “You ARE a puke Ali!”
Bill stood up and shakily walked to the picture. “AAAAAAAALEEEEEE! Why did you change your name? My name is Bill! Not Billy, not William, but Bill! Right there on my birth certificate. Bill! Can you get more generic than BILL, Ali?”
He stopped and took another long drink. “What the hell was wrong with Cassius?” He asked quietly. “Sounds like a cool guys name to me. I guess you’re cool Ali.” He put the bottle up to Ali’s mouth. “Care for a drink, Champ? No? Well, no need to be rude.” Bill walked back to the bed and sat down. He took one more long pull on the bottle, set it down and curled up in the top corner of the bed. He was asleep instantly.
Bill was awakened by the sound of his phone ringing. It was still dark outside. He found his phone in the sheets and answered it.
“Billy boy, what happened yesterday?”
It was his boss. “Good question” he replied.
“What the fuck? Are you still asleep? Get up and go finish what you couldn’t finish yesterday. You gonna’ be done this week?”
“I hope so boss, I missed some time Monday.”
“Really? Well, I appreciate your honesty, but I spoke to the super yesterday and he said you’ve missed a little more time than Monday.”
“A little, yes. But I’m planning on making it up.”
“We’ll talk about that later. Just get to the jobsite, now!”
Bill hung up the phone and quickly fell asleep.
Bill drove up to the job site alone. He was two hours late but there was no one else there. He parked next to the superintendent’s trailer and got out of the truck. It was clear and warm out. Seven o’clock in the morning and it was already almost ninety degrees. He lit a cigarette and walked toward the half finished building. There was no sign of the super. Bill quickly unloaded his tools and ladders. He carried them into the building as fast as he could. He had a terrible headache, serious diarrhea, and his hands were very shaky, but he could not stop. He had to make up as much time as possible. He had to work through it.
Neither the super nor Bill’s boss showed the entire day. This was great news for Bill because despite the hangover he accomplished much more than he thought he would. If the boss showed up the next day, Bill might even keep his job. It was four o’clock and one hundred-ten degrees by the time Bill packed up to leave. The hangover headache had been replaced by a headache caused by overheating. He was dehydrated, dirty and sweaty when he drove away. He drove straight to the bar.
Bill walked into the bar and sat down. There was only one other customer sitting at the bar, Bill recognized him and froze. It was the old Bill. He looked around for the bartender. She was at the jukebox picking out songs. It was the same one from yesterday. Bill decided he was in no shape for this and stood up to leave. It was too late. The bartender spotted him and said, “Oh, you, what do you want?” She was teasing him. She wasn’t mad at all. Bill hesitated.
“Just a Jim Beam and coke, please.”
“Are you in a better mood today?”
“Oh, yeah, yeah, sorry about yesterday. I’d been drinking.”
“Don’t worry about it.” She placed his drink in front of him. “You’re just lucky you’re cute.” She smiled and walked back to the jukebox. Country music came blasting out. Bill hated country music, the bartender started to dance. Bill took notice of this, but did not take heed. She had called him cute and he had not been laid in nine months, who cared if she liked shitty music? Not him. She danced over to Bill and fixed him another drink.
“Thanks” he said.
“I get off in five minutes, how about buying me one of those?”
“My name’s Chloe” she said, holding out her hand.
Bill shook her hand. “I’m Bill” he said.
“I know” she replied. “I gotta’ count my tips, I’ll join you in a minute.”
He remembered his car. He went back outside to check if it was there. It was. He hadn’t even noticed it on the way in. He went back to his stool.
Bill lit a cigarette and watched her walk away. She was far from beautiful. She was about five feet tall and a little fat. Her face was heavily made up and her ankles were thick. She was wearing a baggy red t-shirt and brown men’s shorts. Her hair was brown and in a greasy pony-tail and she wore glitter on her face. All of this mattered little to Bill at the moment, he was happy with the attention and through experience knew the booze would take care of the rest. Chloe came out from the back room and around the bar. She sat down and asked Bill for a cigarette. He gave her one and she ordered her drink from the bartender. Bill had six more drinks while Chloe had three. He didn’t feel as though he was drunk enough but took Chloe to his place anyway. She was getting very drunk and if he didn’t act fast she would be too far gone to lay. They had sex twice that night. Each time Bill was careful to use a condom. That’s about all there is to tell. Bill thought she was average looking and at best a mediocre fuck. Still, he felt lucky. He went outside to smoke after the second time. When he got back to his bedroom she was asleep and snoring loudly. Bill took a hot shower and crawled into his bed next to her. He put his arm around her because that is what he was told girls wanted, Chloe moaned and pushed his arm away. He fell asleep quickly.
Bill woke even before the alarm went off. The moderate booze last night and the stranger in his bed made it easy for him to get up. He touched the girls arm and whispered, “Chloe, wake up. I have to go to work.”
A quiet “no” came in reply. Bill took a quick shower and tried again.
“Chloe, get up, you can’t stay here.” She was sleeping on her side, with her back to him.
“Why can’t I stay here?”
“Because I just rent this room. My roommate doesn’t even know you’re here.”
She turned to her back and smiled at him. “I think he probably does, after all that noise last night.”
“True, but get up, I have to go.”
He thought back to last night. Chloe was one of those girls who think a good fuck is a loud fuck. Fun for a while, but it gets obnoxious quick. She got out of bed and started to dress. She wasn’t very fat yet, but Bill estimated in less than five years she would be. He watched her pull her clothes on and at five in the morning thought how nice a drink would be. He was thinking about breaking his streak of not drinking during work when she spoke.
“You should move in with me.” She said. “This place sucks and I have a nice apartment.”
“We just met last night.”
“We fucked last night, we met the day before.”
“I know, but I’m a good judge of character. We could split everything down the middle, no, wait, I’ll pay more than you because of the kid. I have a daughter. Do you mind kids?”
“No, but I’m happy here. I like being alone. How old is your daughter?”
“Twelve. She’s a brat, but I’d make her leave you alone. Think about it. It would be cheap.”
“I like it here. Me and my booze, we don’t need much room.” He switched off the light and closed the door.
He arrived on the job site only thirty minutes late. He had dropped Chloe off at the bar and she drove his car back to his place, where her car was parked. It was a long hot day but some how by the end of it he had finished almost everything required of him. His phone rang. It was the boss.
“Hey boss, I’m about wrapped up here. Probably another half day and we’ll be complete.”
“Great Billy, just great. Listen, I hate to do this over the phone, but I can’t make it out to you. You need to turn in your truck and phone to the shop tomorrow. We gotta’ let you go.”
“Yeah, and don’t ask why either. You know why. Get your shit together and stop drinking so damn much. Lemme’ know if there is anything I can do to help. And don’t forget to bring your uniforms, clean, or you won’t get your last check.”
“Okay, bye” was all Bill could say.
He lit a cigarette and then threw it away. Then Bill did something that he would wonder at for the rest of his life. He started to clean all the tools that belonged to the company. He started with the smallest hand tools and worked his way to polishing the machines. He carefully organized the truck as he loaded it with the clean tools. He drove to the car wash near his house and spent almost ten dollars in quarters scrubbing, buffing and vacuuming the truck.
As he pulled into his parking space his phone rang. It was Chloe.
“How’s it going?”
“Not good, I got fired today.”
“Oh no! Why?”
“I’m not sure. Something about the price of oil.”
“Hmm, do you want to come over?”
“No, I’m just going to sleep.”
She screamed into the phone, “You little brat! Get your ass back in that bathtub before I take a hairbrush to it!”
Bill needed a drink in the worst possible way. “Lemme’ call you back tomorrow” he said.
“Okay, whatever, bye.”
Bill checked the refrigerator. Seven bottles of High Life and an unopened bottle of cheap white wine, Chloe had brought it from work. He hated white wine but grabbed it first. Bill always believed in saving the best for last. He took the plastic cork out of the wine and started to drink from the bottle. It tasted like dry acid but it was very cold. He stood in front of the refrigerator and drank until it was gone. It only took him five pulls to finish the bottle. He started to feel the creeping warmth after only the third pull. He dropped the bottle in the trash and took two beers upstairs. He stripped down to his boxers, opened one and started drinking. That was it. No television, no music, no company. He sat on the bed and drank. When he had finished his beers he took the empties downstairs and threw them away, taking two more back up with him. When he finished the last beer he was ready to sleep. It had been a long hot day and he was very tired.
He woke up to the sound of his phone ringing. It was Chloe. She wanted to know if he was coming over.
“My grandma is watching the brat “she said. “We’ll have the place to ourselves all day.”
“I have to drop off my truck at the shop, can you pick me up?”
She said she would and Bill gave her directions. He told her to meet him there in two hours. It was nine in the morning and he was very tired. He had to jump out of bed at least five times to try and walk off the terrible leg cramps that had been jolting him awake all night. He knew it was dehydration from the work and the drinking, but he also knew a beer would make him feel better. He rolled out of bed and went downstairs. He knew there was no beer left but when he looked in the refrigerator he was still disappointed. He went upstairs and showered.
The shop was empty when he arrived. He put his keys, uniforms, and phone on his boss’s chair and went to stand outside to wait for Chloe. She was almost an hour late. He stood down the street from the shop, trying to use a wooden telephone pole for shade. He was drenched with sweat when she finally drove up.
“Why didn’t you wait inside?”
“They fired me. I didn’t want to talk to any of them.”
“Shit” she said, “you’re all red and soaked with sweat. You’re making me feel guilty for being late.”
Bill said he was sorry.
“I need a drink” he said. “Let’s hit a bar.”
They pulled into a bar that didn’t look open. Bill was pleading with someone in his head. Please be open. Please be open. He got out of the car and tried the front door; it was open and he waved to Chloe.
They were the only customers and a woman who looked exactly like Bill’s mother was tending bar. They both ordered vodka seven’s and settled in.
“She looks exactly like my mom” whispered Bill.
Chloe went to the juke box and picked out songs. The first one was “Mother” by Danzig. Bill laughed so hard he started coughing. "Maybe this chick isn’t so bad” he thought. But that was it for the music. Chloe put five dollars in and spent all of it on country. She very much enjoyed how much this annoyed Bill. He started drinking very fast, like he was thirsty and vodka was water. Chloe put her hand in his lap and whispered to him, “Don’t drink so much we can’t… you know.” Bill ordered a pitcher of vodka seven’s.
He woke up the next morning and stared at a beige wall. It was covered in crayon scribbles and he was lying on carpet. There was the whirring and rhythmic squeaking of a ceiling fan above him. He had no idea where he was. He closed his eyes tightly and opened them again. Crayon scribbles on the wall; he was at Chloe’s place. The scribbles were from her kid. He heard a low growl and turned his head toward it. He expected to see a medium size dog but was shocked to see a skinny girl with food on her face and a tangle of red curls atop a giant head. She was smiling at him and growling. He propped himself up on an elbow.
“Hi there” he said.
The little girl opened her mouth wide and let out an incredible scream. Bill jumped up and stood with his back pressed against the wall. She was still screaming. He looked around for Chloe. He was in a living room. Couches, television, toys on the floor, but no Chloe. He suddenly realized he had morning wood. There was a terrible bulge in his jeans. He looked down at it then up at the little girl. She stopped screaming. She looked down at his crotch and then back up at him, she started another incredible scream. Behind the girl he saw a shower curtain through an open door. He bolted past the screaming head to the safety of the bathroom. He heard Chloe screaming at the kid, “Stop screaming you little brat! Stop! No breakfast for you if you don’t –what the fuck is on your face? God damnit, go to your room!”
He heard little footsteps and muffled sobs fade to the back of the apartment. There was a knock on the bathroom door.
“Are you in there Bill?”
“Yes, is everything all right?”
“Oh yeah, she’s just acting up. She’s fucking retarded and I guess she was afraid of you. She’s such a fucking brat!”
Bill came out of the bathroom. “ Is she actually retarded?” he asked.
“Oh yeah, serious downs, I told you last night. You don’t remember?”
“I don’t remember leaving the bar.”
“I told you last night” she repeated. “Her dad was a real tweeker. We all think that has a lot to do with it. You want a Gatorade?”
“No, I think I’ll go get a bloody Mary.”
“I have all the stuff for bloody Mary’s here. If you’ll drink a Gatorade for me, I’ll fix a bloody Mary for you.”
“Why a Gatorade?”
“Because you need it and I worry about you.”
The strangeness of this sudden caring was not lost on Bill, but he agreed. The Gatorade was ice cold and delicious, and the bloody mary was heavy with vodka. He felt much better after the combination.
The kid came creeping around the corner into the kitchen where Bill and Chloe were sitting. Chloe tried very hard to introduce her but she was very shy, Chloe said it was because Bill was so cute. She was only this shy around people she liked.
“Does she talk?” asked Bill.
“Yeah, mostly when I don’t want her to though.”
Bill spent the next three days at Chloe’s place drinking and laying around. She had cable and would fix him drinks and cook for him every night. She wasn’t very good looking, or very nice, but she went out of her way to make him feel comfortable. And when the kid was around, between day care and spending time with grandparents, she left him alone and played at who knows what in her bedroom.
On the fourth night at Chloe’s Bill got very, very drunk, and did two notable things. First, he agreed to move in with Chloe. Second he went on-line and sent his newly embellished resume to a large construction company applying for the job of project manager. The next day Chloe left him a long note before going to work. She wrote how much she liked having him there, how great things were going to be, and that his share of the bills was $678.13. That same day, in the afternoon, the phone rang. It was the human resources department of Ivy Construction. He had an interview scheduled for the next day, at seven a.m.
Bill got to the interview on time. He had been drinking all night and decided to just not sleep. At about five a.m. he switched from beer to coffee and was somewhere between hammered and wired when he arrived. The office was very nice and a fat woman at the receptionist’s desk told him to have a seat. He had brushed his teeth twice, showered and chewed gum but was still very nervous about smelling like booze. He wasn’t really worried about the interview, he was already pretty sure he wouldn’t get the job. He noticed his hands starting to shake and was just about to bolt for the door when a very skinny man of about sixty appeared from around the corner. He had short cropped silver hair and wore glasses. He approached Bill with his hand extended.
“Mr. Bill I suppose?” he said gripping Bills hand
“Yes, yes sir,” replied Bill. He gripped just as hard; he knew this handshake very well. It was the office handshake. Men who wanted to come across with a firm handshake but didn’t have one squeezed your hand while shaking. It was a stupid little trick that Bill hated, and when he gripped this mans hand as hard as he could he realized he was still drunk. He saw a grimace of pain cross the old mans face and loosened his grip suddenly.
“Art’s my name and building is my game, come on back to my office.”
Bill sat in the first chair he saw. He was feeling a little nauseous and taking deep breaths to keep the vomit down. Art started talking about his construction experience and didn’t stop for thirty minutes. By the time he addressed a question to Bill, Bill was feeling much better. Although he hadn’t heard anything Art had said he knew he had just been asked a question. He had to wing it.
“You know, Art, I think that is my favorite thing about this business. Every time I turn around I’m meeting new people and learning new things.”
“Damn right!” said Art. “If you don’t have a passion for this shit you may as well hang it up.”
Bill said he agreed.
“Passion” he thought. Who the hell has passion for work? He always thought that being a rock star or even an astronaut would start to be a fucking bore after a while. His thoughts on this subject were interrupted when Art rose from his chair and stated Bill was perfect for this job and when could he start.
“Well, I’m entertaining a few different opportunities right now. I would have to have an offer in writing.”
“You got it. Have a walk around the office and meet the people here: They are a good group. You will fit in like a glove. I’ll write you up an offer.”
Bill walked down the hall and found the bathroom. He went in and locked the door. He always hated introducing himself to people, especially half asleep, and still half drunk. He waited in the bathroom for about five minutes, then went back to Art's office.
Art handed him a written offer. Bill had never seen one before, but it outlined a salary of sixty-five thousand per year, 401k benefits, health insurance and two weeks vacation every year. Bill tried desperately to look bored.
“This is looks very competitive” he said.
“Eight percent raise in six months if you work out. And you can charge expenses, gas, lunch with clients, so on.
"Hmm," said Bill.
“Just not too many strip clubs!” laughed Art. “Go on, think about, but give me an answer within seventy-two hours.” He gripped Bill’s hand again and slapped him on the back on the way out the door. Bill got into his car and it started on the first try. He drove home in a strange fuzz.
Chloe was waiting when he got home. “So” she asked, “how’d it go?” She was sitting on the couch in baggy gray sweat pants and a dirty blue tank top. Bill noticed that the bottom of her feet were almost black with dirt.
“I got it.” He said.
“What? Wow! How much?”
Bill handed her the written offer and went to the refrigerator for a beer. He heard her squeal, she jumped off the couch and ran to him in the kitchen. She threw herself on him in a big hug.
“I’m so proud of you!” she said. “Do you think we can move in to a bigger place?”
“I don’t know” Bill replied.
“My God” she gasped. “Do you have any suits? This job will require suits.”
“I don’t even know how to tie a tie.”
“Let’s go shopping! I’m so happy for you! Sixty-five grand, wow!”
“I’m gonna’ hit the shower” said Bill. “I didn’t sleep last night.”
“I know. You know you’re going to have to stop that now. At least reel it in a little, your drinking I mean. This is a real job.”
What the fuck? he thought. I barely know this girl. She acts like we’ve been together for years. The retarded kid came around the corner and hugged her mother’s legs.
“Do you think I can buy those shoes she likes so much now? I was afraid I couldn’t afford them along with the rent.”
“Sure, sure, go ahead. I’m gonna’ shower.”
“Do you mind if I leave her here? You know how she acts in public.”
Bill said he didn’t mind. She just sat in her room and watched “Aladdin” over and over again anyway.
Bill went into the bathroom with a fresh beer. He sat down to have a long shit but nothing happened. He undressed and stepped into the shower. After washing his hair he decided to masturbate. He was stroking away rhythmically, he started to come. At the exact moment of his climax the shower curtain was ripped violently open, Bill turned in shock just in time to shoot a full jet of semen onto the face and forehead of a smiling retarded girl. He stood stunned; she stood still, the smile slowly fading away from her face. He started to say he was sorry when she looked down at his pecker. He covered it with both hands, she looked back at his face and let out a terrifyingly loud shriek. He wrapped the shower curtain around his bottom half. It wasn’t a long scream, but a quick shriek, a sound she repeated at short intervals as she ran away, back to her room. He slowly pulled the shower curtain closed and stood under the water. It started to run cold.
He thought about how to explain this to Chloe. He could still hear the girl;
He thought about having a good job, a real job that required suits and plenty of sleep at night. Meeting people in offices and buying suits. He thought about Chloe. Bill reached down and grabbed his disposable razor. He put it in his mouth. He bit the end of it so the plastic broke. He felt the sting as the blades sliced open his lip. He pulled a blade free and cut his left wrist lengthwise, from his hand halfway up his forearm. He dropped the razor and for what seemed like a long time nothing happened. His skin was wide open, but there was no blood. Then, in one great gush, the length of the gash flowed with dark red blood. He felt dizzy and sat down. Then he got very cold and wanted to lie down. Before he did, he wrote the word “sorry” on the tile wall with his blood. For some reason that made him feel better. He lay down in the tub and closed his eyes, the water pounded his belly and felt like cold glass. He opened his eyes to see that the water had washed away most of his message, “so” was all it said. He closed his eyes and started to cry. He had forgotten that tears tasted like salt.