Things Fall Apart

This is a change of pace, but I’ve taken to writing short stories. I hope you enjoy this – and I’d love constructive criticism. This story includes strong language.

The Second Coming 

Turning and turning in the widening gyre 
The falcon cannot hear the falconer; 
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; 
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, 
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere 
The ceremony of innocence is drowned; 
The best lack all conviction, while the worst 
Are full of passionate intensity. 

— WB Yeates 

°°°

FRIDAY IN BROOKLYN 

He remembers when New York was perfect – clean, vibrant, joyous. That was when his father was alive – a burly, sure man on the gym floor, spot checking machines and joking with customers. Those were the years of Christmas Eves at Rockefeller Center and days at the skating rink. When the snow stayed white even on the ground. 

Dan wakes up early today. Unlike his father, God rest his soul, Dan cleans every machine thoroughly, starting from the top and working his way methodically down across the weights, the pads, the springs. He mops the floor and re-mops it. Because there’s time left he goes into the locker rooms and patiently cleans each locker, using an old toothbrush and a cleaning solution in a spray bottle. 

Then he sits at the front counter, waiting for customers. Dan is used to waiting. Nobody comes in today. 

At 5:00 pm Dan goes into a locker room, showers and puts on a shirt and tie. He meticulously polishes his glasses with special solution and returns the solution to its storage place. Then he turns off all the lights in the gym. He locks the front door and walks to Jerry’s. 

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Jerry’s is the opposite of Dan’s memory of New York, yet also a cornerstone, because it exists exactly as it was when his father was alive (In fact, it’s where his father gave him his first beer, a rite of passage). It’s among a dying breed of New York bars, those with dusty windows and Budweiser on ice. Christmas lights and shamrocks strewn across the back of the bar in the least festive way. The first twenty dollar bill taped to the cash register and covered in dust. A sign reading, “No tabs.” It’s the kind of bar that would be ruined by thorough cleaning. Dan starts adjusting a stack of Miller Light coasters so they’re perfectly aligned, a tower with straight edges. 

“You’re driving me nuts with that,” says the aging, yellow-haired bartender, whose name is Sharlene. 

“Sorry. I want things to be perfect. I’m meeting a date.” 

“Here?” 

Dan orders a Budweiser. Why did he tell his date to meet him at Jerry’s? He hadn’t thought about it. Maybe he wanted her to know something about where he comes from. Still, he decides he’d better plan something more impressive than straightening coasters. He takes out his phone, thinking he’ll check the Village Voice to see if there are any events today. Instead, he finds himself at the website where he met the his date today. No new messages. Dan feels deflated. 

“Oh, this motherfucker don’t got my number saved… It’s Tiffany, but how come you don’t got my number saved?” 

The young woman at the other end of the bar is with a friend but talking to someone on the phone. 

“Hon, take that outside,” Sharlene says. 

“You wouldn’t say that to a white person.” 

“I treat everyone the same as long as they pay their tab.” 

“Whatever.” The young woman pays her tab and leaves.

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It’s true, Dan thought – Sharlene wouldn’t say that to a white woman. She’s pissed, though. She only calls people hon if she dislikes them. Sharlene takes a pack of Marlboro Lights from inside the cash register and begins to pack it against the palm of her hand, one, two, three, four taps against her wedding band. 

Dan suddenly feels as though he’s covered in hot, dirty, sweaty rags. “Excuse me,” he says to Sharlene (Sharlene doesn’t respond), and he walks to the men’s room, where he checks to make sure his fly is aligned with his tie and shirt buttons. He splashes cold water on his face and combs his hair again. When he returns to his place at the bar he feels like he’s seeing and hearing the world through a layer of water. 

This date is going to be a nightmare, Dan thinks. 

Television: “Grant… consistent improvement in the off-season… twisted ankle last March. He could really… most valuable free agents out there… you can’t top Grant for… Stay with us. Coming up: my top 10 free agents…” 

“Another fucking commercial,” Sharlene muttered, removing the unlit cigarette from her lips. “Just tell me if my Giants won.” 

Dan offers to look up the game on his phone and Sharlene threatens to cut him off. “Hearing it from the sportscaster is part of the experience. Looking it up on your damned gadget, that’s no experience.” She recovers the cigarette. “I’m going for a smoke.” 

Television: “…get lean and fit the easy way with AbCruncher. Join millions of…” 

“Can you turn that thing off please?” Dan says. “Machines like that are why people have stopped coming to my gym.” 

“I’ll change it,” Sharlene says. “…authorities say he was a lone wolf acting without the support of a terrorist organization…” “…ran a populist campaign where he energized his supporters with a constant stream of Twitter updates…” “…latest update from a blogger…” “Give me a vowel, Alex.” “There,” Sharlene says. Then she leaves. 

“Just missed the bartender,” Dan says to a man who walks into the bar and sits down next to him. “Sorry.” For some reason he feels genuinely at fault. Why is that? 

“No pasa nada,” the man replies. “It’s OK.” He takes a pouch from the pocket of his loose flannel shirt and begins rolling what Dan hopes are cigarettes. 

“Are you just getting off work?” Dan asks with effort. 

“I make my own hours.” The man drives for Uber, does landscaping and makes furniture. He has big rough hands and a bushy mustache; he is a man. 

“I’d hate to have to do so much.” 

“It’s better that way. If I had to stay in one place all week I’d go crazy. Unfortunately, business isn’t good these days.” 

“Everything was better in the past.” 

The man with many jobs believes nostalgia, like religion, is a crutch for the weak. That just as there is no God, things were not really better in the past. However, he does not know how to put this into words so he only shrugs. “No pasa nada,” he says again. 

Sharlene comes back and gives the man a Corona. Dan finds himself straightening the stack of Miller Light coasters again. Sharlene picks the coasters up and moves them to the opposite end of the bar. 

“I remember my first date with Jerry,” she says, resting a hand and dish rag on her hip. “My girlfriend Molly set us up. She tells me, ‘‘There’s this fella from the neighborhood who’s seen you around and wants to meet you. I think he’s an asshole. Real player.’ He’d just gotten back from Vietnam; I figured he’s entitled to be an asshole. Still, I thought I’d better be careful, not go to any unfamiliar places with him, just use common sense. But the moment I see him he says, ‘Come with me. Just come with me. Trust me.’ He’s wearing a suit and tie and he’s got this big dopey smile. It turns out he set up a big Italian meal on the rooftop of his building with candles and paper plates on a card table. I knew in that moment that I’d marry this man.” 

Something about the story strikes Dan as beautiful. Two people meeting and falling for each other; two souls in a complicated world. He asks for another Budweiser. 

It’s 9 o’clock. Dan says he doesn’t think his date is showing up. He’s relieved but also disappointed, and anxious as he anticipates more online messages and more first dates. 

Sharlene gives him the beer on the house. “Plenty of fish,” she says.

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