The Salvation of Nathaniel Oliver Xavier
Tilting his tumbler in his nicotine-stained fingers, Nathaniel Xavier noticed how the faux lead crystal tumbler, golden brown bourbon, and ice (fractured by the sudden change in temperature from the cold freezer to the room temperature liquor) could capture the most diffused light and create a rainbow. The pinks, purples and reds refracted through an alcoholic prism and created another entry on the list of things he had never noticed before. When he finished the drink, the effect disappeared and he placed the glass down on the bar. Now, the glass magnified the chaotic swirl of the well- polished wood grain. It was amazing - the things he noticed now a days.
As ‘Joe’ the bartender refilled his glass, Nathaniel felt the urge to relay his discovery to his fellow patrons. He could preach on and on about the little things they were missing in their lives. Three things prevented him from standing up on the barstool and proclaiming the glory of the mundane. First, he would need to drink his second tumbler of bourbon in order to become that adventurous of a socialite. The bourbon, like the sudden observance of detail, was a new addition to his life. Generally, Nathaniel was a man of habit and he been a three beer man his entire life. Three first names, three beers, three hours - that his been his mantra since his indoctrination into the holy order of bar flies at the ripe age of eighteen. Second, no one would really care because they could not understand. It was like trying to point out a face in the clouds; unless that face dominated the sky, it would be impossible to point out to someone else, no matter how much it looked like Fidel Castro. Finally, no one else inhabited the bar. It was just him
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and ‘Joe’. The absence of patrons was odd for this time of day - 11 o’clock was prime drinking hour.
“‘Joe’” Nathaniel tried anyway. ‘Joe’ was a bartender, damn it, he was supposed to notice the little things and appreciate the bitter taste of old salt stories about broken dreams. That’s how he earned his tips and Nathaniel had been tipping him two dollars a day for the past twenty years.
“‘3’, don’t call me ‘Joe.'” The bartender admonished with all the excitement of a catholic schoolboy saying the rosary for the hundredth time. This little exchange was almost ritualistic in quality, ever since Beth the waitress, whose shift started at one, had started calling Nathaniel the “man with three names.” Nathaniel had retaliated by swearing he would call her “Susan” and the bartender “Joe” from that day forward. He did too, because he was a man of habit. He called them their names and they shortened his to “3.”
Nathaniel watched Joe go about his daily rounds. He was always cleaning this damn little hole in the wall bar and it paid off. The meticulously polished bar, department store glasses, and humidor filled with cigars that no one ever bought - these little things transformed the bar and drew a somewhat classier clientele. At least, it created the aura of an upscale joint, which was enough to keep the disruptive college kids out, when they returned home from break and broke up everyone’s routine. Of course, the classier clientele didn’t see ‘Joe’ open the tap on the ice trap and hear the mixture of melted ice and spilt alcohol piss out into a one gallon bucket.
“Tell you what, you stop calling me ‘3’ and I’ll stop calling you ‘Joe’.” Nathaniel tapped the bar like he was arguing at a UN Summit. His mother always said he could
argue down the moon. He’d solve the world’s problems in no time flat, especially when he noticed the little things people neglected.
Abruptly, he changed topics. ‘Joe’ would always call him ‘3’ and he needed to tell his story, “Joe, I ever tell you about the night?”
“The night of…?” Joe waited for ‘3’ to finish his thought. Sometimes it was worse than trying to coax cold molasses out of the bottle or the occasional gallon of coagulated gunk out of the trap after a hard night of syrupy mixed drinks. While he waited, he bent down and flicked the sputtering tap closed and left the bucket there. It wasn’t even half full of slop and he had other things to do to get the bar ready to officially open.
“No, no, no. Not any particular night. Well, it was on my birthday, but not on that night. You know, the night after sunset night.” Nathaniel explained and ‘Joe’ figured he did not get tipped enough, no matter how he sliced it.
“Oh, you mean when it’s dark out…” ‘Joe’ played along. Nathaniel was
harmless. ‘Joe’ had seen his type a thousand times before. But, Nathaniel was a little different. Normally, the washed out single, divorced, or widowed middle-aged men drank until the pain of misspent life ebbed a little, but Nathaniel had always had three drinks over three hours, even when his wife was alive. The switch from beer to bourbon was new, but nothing major. Despite Nathaniel’s thriftiness, ‘Joe’ opened the downtown hotel early, just for him. He would only wander around outside anyway, like the other
crazy guy in the town who plagued ‘Joe’ on a weekly basis. ‘3’ in the bar and the ‘prophet’ screaming on his street corner - he definitely did not get tipped enough.
Joe nodded as Nathaniel continued, “Yeah, the dark. You know most people describe the night as big, and empty, and still, and quiet. But, they are wrong. Let me ask you something. How would you describe the dark? Properly describe it.”
“I dunno. Dark, I guess.” The bartender answered and went about his Nathaniel tsked like an angry mother and waved his finger in the air.
“No, nothing like dark, or night, or black… You have to describe it properly.” “I dunno, ‘3’, why don’t you tell me about it.”
“The proper way to describe the night is…” Words eluded him until he found
them at the bottom of his bourbon glass. He made a big show of draining it and slamming it down on the bar. “The proper way to describe the night is, well, heavy. It’s so heavy it drips with things that really don’t want to be seen. It’s like a big wet blanket that wraps around the earth. Fuck, it’s kind of like some giant creature has its big heavy arms wrapped around you, blocking your view of what’s really going on.”
“Is that so… Sounds kind of weird, Nat, you feeling okay?” Nathaniel nodded and not to answer the question. He didn’t even notice that ‘Joe’ had not called him, ‘3’. He nodded with self-approval. That was a damn proper way to describe the night. But, he couldn’t make Joe see the cloud unless he put it in context. “I met a woman during the night. Walking home from here, as a matter of fact. Strange woman. Never saw her
around in my entire life. And you what these small towns are like, can’t scratch you back without bumping into someone you know.”
Nathaniel looked over at Joe who was moving warm bottles from storage into the coolers. Granted, Nathaniel had drunk his second bourbon a bit quick. It was only the start of the second hour. But breaking a routine was no excuse for shoddy service.
Fortunately, ‘Joe’ redeemed himself by at least feigning interest when he asked, “I didn’t know you had a woman, ‘3’. Not, since, you know, your wife and all.”
That caused Nathaniel to narrow his eyes a bit. He didn’t like to be reminded of his former wife, Sally.
“Strange woman,” Nathaniel resumed after he decided to let the reference slide, “She was all hard curves and soft angles. Ever see something you just can’t
describe? Like a cloud face or your very own constellation, one that you can’t point out on a sky chart? Well, kind of like that, but more like those little goblins that dance on the edge of vision. The ones that disappear after you swear you just saw something move?
“That’s what she was like. Real hard to describe. All shadowy, almost blending into the night. And, she was bottomless too. Why, she had her pussy exposed for everyone in the world to see. Strangest thing. Well, we got to talking, mainly about her lack of pants, and she told me things. Dark things that slithered into my ear like a cold wet bug. And, when she kissed me…”
The bartender stopped listened when the conversation got weird and when he heard a familiar voice creating a commotion outside. That crazy man who everyone called ‘the prophet’ was outside, right on schedule. The local special care home really needed to restrict their day passes. Letting Nathaniel ramble on about some hooker he met in the alley, ‘Joe’ headed for the door of the bar. The town’s self described soothsayer stood on the street corner and shouted grim tidings at the local business men who were starting to muster for lunch.
Opening the door, ‘Joe’ waved to Doctor Shively and Matt Thompson the lawyer, who were heading down to the park for their weekly game of outdoor chess. He had started keeping a broom by the door for this very purpose, because a few stiff whacks were enough to send the nut job down to another street corner. The ‘prophet’ was drawing fancy circles in the dirt along the shoulder of the road. Then, he started to hop around the circle when the doctor and the lawyer walked passed. “Have you seen the yellow sign, brothers? The King is coming!” the man hissed as the two dignitaries crossed the street to a safer strip of sidewalk.
Cocking the broom, ‘Joe’ said simply, “The only yellow sign people see is when they write their name in the snow…”
Nathaniel glared at his empty glass and at the glass door leading out of the
bar. ‘Joe’ had disappeared outside and had neglected to fill his drink. Three names, three
drinks - he had a reputation to maintain. While Nathaniel was seriously considering just helping himself to the bottle on the speed bar, he heard even more commotion outside.
Shouts rang out, followed by a few muffled thuds. Then, there was a screech of car tires punctuated by a sudden gunshot. It sounded like one of those little cheap pistols you could by at the sporting goods store two towns over. Those guns were sold by teenagers trying to earn some pocket change and were bought without requiring a background check - nothing to stop a non-violent whacko from buying something to turn violent with.
Nathaniel watched the door and saw ‘Joe’ stagger up to the glass. The bartender took his bloody hands from the sizable hole in his chest, slammed against the door, and slumped down to the front stoop. As he fell dead to the ground, he dragged his bloody palms across the glass, leaving long red smears.
Without leaving the barstool, Nathaniel reached over the bar. If he stretched, he could just reach the phone or the bottle of bourbon. He grabbed the bottle and filled his glass till the alcohol splashed over the top. Then, he continued his revelations to no one in particular. “She kissed me all heavy like and then we made love there in the
alley. Really easy because she didn’t have any pants. I swear she was on the rag though, cause I came out of that alley all bloody. Anyway, she told me about how big changes were coming. And, you would only notice them if you looked real hard. She told me some more things, like how big changes were happening to old Nathaniel Oliver Xavier. Before I could ask her how she knew my name, she started screaming and was so loud I was worried the cops would find me fucking some girl in an alley… Sally’s death was suspicious enough, who knows what they’d think…”
Trailing off, he reflected how Sally’s name didn’t hurt so much when he spoke it and how that girl had been right. How she had been so heavy around him as he lifted her legs in the air and pounded into her. Three first names, three bourbons, and three hours - that had been his mantra since they had found that out of town woman dead in the alley - raped and with her throat slashed by broken glass scavenged from the ground. The night was too heavy and dangerous - that’s why he only drank during the day.
As he quickly gulped down the over full tumbler of bourbon, his ears perked at the sound of the prophet screaming. The crazy man was so loud, that Nathaniel could hear him shout, “Have you seen the yellow sign?” Right before the town cops did their civic duty and gunned the prophet down in the street. Nathaniel left his two dollars on the table and went out the backdoor. He watched another cop car zip by to reinforce the officers engaged at the front of the bar. “23” marked it as the same cruiser that had taken Nathaniel in when his wife had died and had taken him back when he had been proven innocent. The night was so heavy it was spilling out into the daytime. Big changes, indeed.