Mark sat down at the bar next to no one, the day overcast. The wind pushed against the window. The television almost questioned him. Even the lushes waited until five to roll in with their rusty trucks, cut up jeans, and wrinkled skin. Their sympathetic eyes drown into themselves, not caring much about Mark. They grunted at him and wanted him to pay their bills due to the nice clothes he wore. Unlike them, he kept himself neat and clean, a somebody, maybe? The bar girl figured he’d soon be a nobody, like the rest who washed up in her mother’s bar. Toya took the job to pay for school. She didn’t care much for the place or its company. She decided she was slowly assassinating them. They all got what they wanted in the end.
Turning his attention to Toya, Mark ordered his first beer, the most expensive kind they had. Of course, Mark enjoyed luxury and didn’t want to be trashy, not like his daughter’s mom. He’d never been dirty. His mom used to iron his diapers even, set out his toddler shoes, and he would rest in her arms as she stroked his hair.
“My sweet, little boy. Don’t worry about what they say. You’re special,” she said.
“Here you go,” Toya said.
“You know, you remind me of my daughter. She’s a kid, about your age.”
“Hm,” Toya said back.
“Yeah, she’s in school, too. She goes to Stanford. It wasn’t cheap for me, that’s for sure.” Mark let his finger travel to the bottom of the glass as a thought about Stacy came to mind, but he quickly packed it away.
“I’m paying my own way through school, and I’m not going to Stanford, just going to be a humble accountant,” Toya said as she picked up a glass to clean. Toya detested pay without work. Her mom taught her this lesson at a young age. It makes people weak. If you don’t work out muscles, they become gobs of useless flesh.
“I wouldn’t have paid if she didn’t get into Stanford. That was my deal, all or nothing,” his voice went higher to convince Toya.
Some of the old regulars came in with dirt on their hands.
“You know, when was little, she was into every inch of dirt possible, always had scrapes on her arms from climbing trees. She always trashed our home.” Well, when her mother was around,” a tear rolled down his cheek. “I lost her to another man. I forgive her. Some are weak. I am strong because I’m a survivor.”
Toya cleaned another glass.
“That must have been difficult,” she said. “Would you like another beer?”
“Yes, and thank you. So few in this world care about others,” Mark went on. “Forgive them father, for they know not what they do. You have to turn the other cheek,” Mark went on.
Toya gave him his beer. Then another. Then another.
The others in the bar already recognized Mark.
Mark blurred his speech a bit. He took out his phone to call his daughter, to make sure…
“Hello,” a voice said on the other end.
“Hi, Stacy. It’s dad,” his voice vibrated, “I’m sorry I wasn’t a good father. I love you more than anything in the world… I just failed.”
“Dad are you on a sleeping pill again?” In Stacy’s mind, that meant sloppy-ass drunk, trashed, and crazier than normal, which was already an achievement.
“No, I’m at home with Roe. I love my family. I love the lord. You know, it’s the end times. Are you a Christian?”
“Jesus,” Stacy said back.
“I want to take you up to heaven with me to meet the Lord. It’s the end.”
Stacy woke up a bit to this.
“Do you know what black people have done this country. We should hire gorillas. They are smarter and more peaceful. Don’t even get me started on the democrats. It’s all propaganda. The republicans are going to win, you see. This is just like 1960. I love you.”
“I love you, too, dad,” she was worried he might go off of a cliff and upset her grandma, or kill someone else in rage if she applied any pressure. She had the weight of the world was on her shoulders when it came to him. He didn’t even comprehend this. The joke was between her and divinity.
Toya took the glass away.
“Hey, Toya, I’ve got 10 million dollars in the bank. Stacy is lucky to have me as a father.”
“I’m sure.” She smiled.
“Do you want me to buy you a necklace?”
“Thanks, but no, I have a boyfriend.” She looked at his wedding ring.
“My kid doesn’t have a boyfriend. I spoiled her, you know? I forgive her.”
“I lost my job a couple of weeks ago, but I always find a new one. They want to hire me, come crawling to my door.”
“Well, it’s time to close the bar.” His kid was about to experience Paradise Lost.
Yup, Toya thought. He’s old and soon to be in jeans and a t-shirt with sympathetic eyes drowning into himself like all the others.
A vision of his mother came to mind as he staggered into the parking lot.
“You’re my special little boy,” she said. “Don’t let anyone tell you differently.”
Stacy rolled out of bed and stood up.
“Dammit,” she said.
Just another night in paradise.