It’s the hottest night of the year. An Indian summer in late September. Eli parks his truck outside the bar and sits for a minute with his hands on the wheel, watching how the red and blue of the neon signs flicker across his fingers. Crickets chirp outside. He winds up the window, leaving it open a crack, and gets out. The sun has almost set.
Inside, a young couple are kissing over their drinks at a table by the door. Two men are playing a game of pool in the corner. One of them rubs chalk on the end of his cue as he looks over at Eli.
Eli takes a seat at the bar. ‘I’ll have a scotch and soda,’ he says.
The bartender nods and finishes rubbing a cloth around the rim of a glass before fixing the drink. ‘Here you go,’ he says.
Eli downs it and grunts.
The bartender frowns. ‘You got troubles, bud? You don’t seem too good.’
‘I’ll have another,’ he says. He takes his wallet out and throws a fifty down on the bar. ‘Just keep them coming.’
‘Got it,’ the bartender says.
An old man at the other end of the bar gets up from his stool and drops some coins into the jukebox. Some old country song plays over the sounds of laughter and the clink of pool balls.
‘Good tune,’ Eli says.
‘Yeah,’ the old man says, climbing back onto his stool. ‘One of the best.’
Eli runs his hand over his sticky forehead and then over the back of his neck. ‘How about this heat?’ he says.
The old man fans himself with a folded-up newspaper. He shakes his head and sighs. ‘They say we’ll have at least two more weeks of it. At least.’
‘Yeah. Still going strong into October. Who knows. They’re always saying something.’
They sit in silence. When the song finishes, the old man waves his newspaper at Eli and leaves. Two drinks later, a woman arrives. Eli turns when he hears the door swing open and looks away as she approaches. She sits a couple of seats down from him.
‘Good evening, miss,’ the bartender says.
‘What’ll it be?’
‘A vodka. Thank you.’
‘Let me get that,’ Eli says.
‘No, it’s okay,’ the woman says, looking through her bag.
‘Please. I insist.’ Eli looks at the bartender. The bartender nods.
‘Oh. Well, thank you,’ she says. She closes her bag and hooks the strap over the back of the seat. She pulls at the sleeve of her dress, but it doesn’t hide the dark patches at the top of her arm.
‘A pretty young thing like you out here on your own?’ Eli asks.
‘Oh,’ she says, blushing. ‘Oh, please.’
‘The name’s Eli.’ He raises his glass as if making a toast.
‘Well, nice to meet you, Rose.’
The two speak for a while. The bartender watches and listens. Eli tells Rose about his work at the garage. She tells him how her evening class at the college is going. Eli tries to sound interested. The young couple behind them get up and leave. The bartender walks around to clear the table. Eli leans over to Rose and says, ‘How are the kids?’
Rose looks at the bartender, then back at Eli. ‘They’re okay,’ she says in a low voice. ‘They’re staying with
Beth tonight. She dropped me off.’
Eli smiles. ‘I’m sorry.’
Eli touches her wrist and she flinches.
‘Let’s go home,’ she says.
‘Just one more drink.’
‘One more.’ He smiles again and touches her wrist again and holds it.
The bartender comes back around the bar. He looks at them. ‘Everything okay, miss?’
‘Yes,’ Rose says.
‘We’ll both have another,’ Eli says.
When the bartender has his back to them, Rose turns to Eli and asks, ‘Will you be okay to drive?’
It’s just past eleven o’clock when they get into his truck. The roads are quiet and the sky is clear. His driving is slow and careful. They don’t talk. After a few miles, he pulls over and gets out.
Rose stretches her head out of the window as he walks around to her side.
‘Everything okay?’ she asks.
‘I’ll just be a minute,’ he says. He stands near some rocks with his hands on his knees as he vomits on the dirt. He wipes his mouth on his forearm and waits until the feeling has passed.
He drives back to their trailer. Inside, Rose lies on the couch with a groan and kicks off her shoes.
Eli drinks a glass of water by the kitchen counter. ‘Warm out,’ he says.
‘Maybe we can pick the kids up in the morning. Save Beth the trouble of coming over. Take them to the pool or something.’
‘Sounds good.’ Rose closes her eyes and adjusts her head on the cushion.
Eli puts the glass down. He gets down on his knees beside the couch and puts his hand to Rose’s face. ‘I’m so sorry,’ he says.
She touches his hand and moves her face against it. He rubs her feet, then his fingers creep up her legs, over her knees, and under the hem of her dress. Her eyes open. Her hand goes down to his. ‘Take me to bed,’ she says.
Afterwards, when Rose is sleeping, Eli goes out onto the porch in his underwear and unbuttoned shirt. He leans against a wooden post and lights a cigarette. Moths dance around the lamp that hangs beside the front door and he watches them for a while. He wonders why they fly so close to the hot bulb. He looks out over the flat landscape and sees another trailer in the distance with the lights still on, and he thinks about what might be going on inside.
About the Contributor
Spencer Chou is a writer from Nottingham, England. He is the Editor of The Nottingham Review.
Things To Make And Break - May-Lan Tan
There is a definite sense of loss running through this collection of short stories, where the relationships of a diverse range of lonely characters are explored with precise and poetic language.
More from Issue Four:
- Ghosted by Max Dunbar
- Daisies by Sadie Nott
- Rasp by Hazem Tagiuri
- Greenwood by Clyde Liffey
- Exit Vania by Myriam Frey
- Cwtch by Jane Roberts
- Starfish by Lorette C. Luzajic
- Awshukh; Disease by Dipika Mukherjee
- Gabriel by Hannah Stevens
- Footprints in the Snow by Louise Mangos
- Changing Rooms by Ian Dudley
- Crow-Light by Sean Burn