Photo by Ron Janoski
A magenta sun inched downward in the dusty twilight sky as Joe the bartender shined a beer mug with his spotty rag. The last of his day customers, office workers and shoppers, had gone; and soon the night owls would wander in, asking for beer and steaming fish sandwiches or a plate of oysters. At first, he didn't spy the mop of red hair at the bar's edge. Then he noticed two disembodied hands spread wide next to an empty, leftover mug, while a head bobbed up and down like a jack-in-the-box as a little girl, standing on tip-toes tried to lift her face up into view.
"Excuse me, mister!"
Joe bent forward to look over and spy the munchkin.
"Can I help you?" He laid the mug and rag down and offered a hand to hoist the little girl onto a stool.
Settled, she folded her miniature hands in front of her, studying Joe with huge brown eyes that questioned.
"I came to ask you a favor," she stated.
"Well, okay." Joe rubbed his chin while he looked the girl over. She appeared clean and not too shabby. Well, a little shabby. Her tiny dress had a button missing and a stain on the collar.
"Could you please not serve beer to my father?"
She looked back with a hopeful expression. "He comes here every Friday night. He gets all dressed up in his Sunday suit, and he comes here."
The wide, brown eyes darted back with a determined glare. "He comes here and he gets drunk." She paused and looked to the floor before returning her gaze, this time with a tear trickling down one pink cheek. "He gets drunk and yells at my mother...and hits her."
Joe shuddered, taken aback by the remark. His eyes scanned her face for bruises. There were none. Thank God.
His silence was broken by the sudden sound of fresh rain swishing against the windows, next to run in shimmering cascades coating Market Square in a lustrous sheen. The weather had changed suddenly and without warning.
"Get out of here, kid! You're bad for business." He shot her a deft wink, evincing a smile on the little girl's face. She crawled off the stool and skipped out the door.
Three hours later, he came. The suit showed signs of wear and tear...rough treatment, careless treatment, the knees scuffed, a tear in the elbow, small blemishes apparent only to eyes that study...and know the whole story.
"Gimme a beer."
Joe glared at him. "Wouldn't you rather have a ginger ale?"
"No, dammit! I said a beer, and I want a beer. Are you nuts?"
The bartender's face flushed, growing redder with each rugged heart beat. He leaned forward, pushing his face close, their noses almost touching.
"Get the hell outta here!" It was a growl, not a whisper.
The fella backed off, looking at the barkeep as though the proprietor was not merely cantankerous, but dangerous. Without words, he turned and ran for the door.
"Go home and take care of your family!" Joe yelled.
They were the last words the drunkard heard as he pushed through the door. He stood outside in the rain, hands like ice, heart pounding, as the words sunk, the words laced with anger. Slashing, crashing anger it was, an ire that extracted a pint of flesh with its meaning, painful, bleeding, ripping, until a piece of him was gone.
He turned on his heel and headed home. It was a bad night out to go drinking anyway.
Copyright 2008 JO Janoski
A WordCatalyst Workshop Prompt