Thomas was a sluggish, hulking twenty-eight year old man with slightly hunched shoulders and a slow air about him. He had always housed a disquiet teen within. The teen was pernicious. And though Tom should have known better, the young teen's compulsive ideas and acerbic sense of humor put him in crap situations repeatedly.
It was the teen's fault that Tom lost his girlfriend in a dart game. Patsy had sat at the bar, drank her beer, and pulled at the long strands of her brown hair that she wore swept back from her face. Her red nose should have let Thomas know she was cold, but he kept playing darts. Perhaps he didn’t even notice her nose; he was encapsulated by her heavy handed application of ocean blue eye shadow and bubblegum pink lip gloss.
There were a handful of people playing darts, some Thomas knew, others were just lingering in the bar and looking for a game. Patsy tried to act interested. When it was his turn, she would turn to watch him throw. When he was successful, she clapped. When he missed, she was quiet. She would arch her back in a stretch, pushing out her greatest feature, her deep chest. While some thought this was flirtatious, the fact was that her back was sore.
When Thomas wasn’t throwing, she turned back to prop herself on the bar and talk to the other girls from the club across the street. This was where the seams of their relationship dissolved, and Thomas would tell you it was the fault of the teen.
In the middle of the game, while another player threw darts, she sat on her stool, temporarily engrossed in conversation. She may or may not have been aware of it, but her low rise jeans on her narrow hips gave an inch of butt crack – a penny slot. Thomas took position behind her and pretended to pour his beer down the back of her jeans. The neck of his bottle came dangerously close to her exposed skin.
The teen goaded him on while Tom waved at his crowd, pantomimed pouring, laughed and rolled his eyes, anything to elicit laughs or encouragement from the circle of people around him. But he got none. This didn’t dissuade him. He continued to pretend to fill her butt crack with beer while dramatically holding his other hand up to his ear as if trying to hear the response.
One of the girls silently motioned for him to stop. The guy throwing darts quietly turned to tell him to be cool. Even the bartender came by to shake his head. But the teen had him laughing.
"Fill her up," the teen yelled. "She's a quart low!"
Tom laughed and repeated the line to his friends, "I think she's a quart low!"
The beer tumbled out slowly, splashing and foaming against her white skin, dampening her thin shirt, darkening her jeans--her reaction was emphatic and immediate. She exploded in tits, tears, and elbows - swinging and hitting people with all three on her way out as she ran out of the bar. Her friends followed, glaring back at Thomas.
But it wasn't his idea, although he did think it was funny. And the teen assured him she wouldn't get that mad over a little bit of beer. The teen was wrong. This is how Tom lost his girlfriend during a dart game.
But she shouldn't have gotten so mad over a little bit of beer, the teen said. She was supposed to drive him home, and now she was gone. But she shouldn't have been so upset. She overreacted, the teen reasoned, and so what? There would be no more darts? There was always one more beer.
It was there, searching for something in his own face in the mirror above the bar, Tom recognized the teen was on a horrific losing streak. All of his ideas were terrible - each floating into his head like a delicious float in some twisted parade -- grotesque Mardi Gras drag queens with nice asses.
Get help! That's not right! Get with a professional!
One doctor had suggested Thomas remember that he was older than the teen. He was smarter and more responsible. He had to be the adult, discipline or outsmart the young man. Put him in his place.
It didn't work.
Another doctor prescribed physical exercise: join a gym, take up running, buy a bike. Tom lost some weight and felt a lot sharper, but so did the teen. This actually made things worse.
So Thomas distracted the teen with drink. It was the one thing they both liked to do. But what a dangerous game. Alcohol! It then came to one more drink versus no let's go - one more day and we'll slow down tomorrow, we'll quit next week, the new year is coming up and I think this time we can really make some meaningful changes. How many days in a row of drinking is too much, and who the heck is to say?
The teen didn't care. He was always up for one more round, regardless the circumstances. Night before work, let's drink. Morning before work, let's drink. Lunch time at work, let's drink. Thomas consistently gave his action to the kid's thoughts.
So the bar had thinned out. The dart game was over. His beer-butt girlfriend was gone. He called her and she answered. She told him not to call anymore, and then she hung up.
But she shouldn't be mad, reasoned the teen. She ruined perfectly good beer by filtering it through her junk and jeans. No one would want to drink it now.
The bartender set one more beer down. Tom scooped it without paying and quickly walked into the dark night. The lone light in the parking lot illuminated sheets of rain coming down in columns. It was perpetual and consistent. He willed the drops not to fall on him as he approached his car, but it may not have worked. Once inside, heater a blazing, he set off to drive home in the rain.
"More wet on the inside than the out," the teen said. He laughed and it clouded Tom's mind like the condensation inside the windshield, wet inside and out.
The lights of the bar scanned over the car as it moved out of the parking spot. Neon lights excited Tom's mind; he took a swig from the beer he smuggled out, jammed it back into his jacket, and then pulled the car clumsily into the roadway. The traffic was light, but everything seemed too dark. He wiped his hands on the front windshield, but it was still too dim.
"Lights," the teen called out. "Headlights!"
"Headlights," Thomas repeated. He reached down and turned them on. It seemed to illuminate little besides the falling rain. There were familiar street signs and blurs of various stores that Tom was known to frequent. It was his neighborhood and he was driving in autopilot - steering from the seat of his subconscious.
Bleak lines in the road and heavy raindrops on the windshield merged into a New York memory of sitting in the back of the cab - watching life pass by on the sidewalk. All these people were going somewhere and someone would cry if they died.
But then there was a huge flash - not in New York - but right there in crappy Carmichael, California. Did lightening strike? Was there something on the horizon? The lights flashed and flamed, there was a swirl of color and then water smearing the front window. Flashes of yellow. Flashes of youth. Rain coats and white lips; young eyes in the road had appeared, panicked, and abruptly disappeared. The teen within laughed and they continued to drive into the night.
Two blocks up, there was a stop light and a car slowed down next to his, but the other car wasn't concerned with him at all. Everything was fine except the sky was completely dark and the air completely still. The rain continued to attack. The traffic light turned green and he drove on, it seemed that no one cared for God had not said a word.
But for the swirling confusion and blond hair caught in the wiper, it was a decent evening. Until his beer was empty and he threw the bottle into the back seat.
Three blocks from home, he realized that there was only one beer in his refrigerator at home. He did want to get more beer, and the teen suggested the liquor store by the tire store. It wouldn't take very long to go in and get a twelve pack. Tall ones. The store is right there.
But for the blond hair caught in the wiper and the police vehicles flying by in the opposite direction with stage bright lights and screaming eagle sirens. Waves more of emergency vehicles lit up the sky as they fractured the night with both light and sound. It was time to get off the road, but the teen wanted beer.
The liquor store was on the left, but Tom didn't signal. He saw more sirens and lights rushing down the street and he wanted to get off of the road for the night. He wanted to scurry into his little corner.
"The store is right there!"
They passed it. Thomas drove on and rumbled into the alley leading to his garage. Then a piercing scream caused an explosion of pain between his temples. For a moment, Thomas lost his mind and hit a trash can, which slammed over and seemed to explode.
"Stop it!" Thomas yelled, briefly regaining calm within his own head. "We are going home."
The teen repeated the scream and the car jerked to the right and snapped a parking sign in the alley. The car contracted violently, but continued roll through the darkness. Thrice unlucky, Thomas eventually found refuge in the garage - neatly parking - the electronic door closing behind.
"I want beer," the teen said calmly.
"I'd pray for you if I thought God would listen to me."
Tom popped the trunk, got out of his car, and pulled the tire iron from the back. Since the light in the garage was out, Tom kept the trunk open for the light it emitted.
"You have nothing but bad ideas! I'm tired of it," he yelled and poked the side of his head with the tire iron.
The garage was a collection of old furniture and discarded boxes. There were spider webs strewn across a variety of bikes and garden tools. It was a typical space, except for the back storage unit with a hefty lock. Thomas fumbled for the key to the lock and finally opened the door.
The rotten teen was there, literally. Propped up against a sea bag and computer box, the decomposed remains of the young man seemed to lazily lean back and smile. He really had no choice but to smile.
"You have nothing but bad ideas," Tom repeated. He grabbed the collar of the kid's shirt and roughly pulled the body slightly out of the storage unit. He held the tire iron ominously over his head, ready to swing forward. "Say something! Anything! You still want a beer? Say you still want a beer!"
There was no reply.
"I'd pray to God for you," Thomas pushed the body back into the unit and closed the door. "But I don't think he'd listen to me."
Tomas fumed, slammed the door, and fixed the padlock. His arm was low, but grip on the tire iron still strained. His jaw was so tight it ached.
He walked back to the trunk of the car and dropped the iron back inside. The storage unit came back into view as he shut the trunk, and he shook his head and thought of the young man inside.
Yeah, now you want to be quiet! Now? Terrible idea after terrible idea and now you want to be quiet? He wiped his greasy hands on his jeans, walked out of the garage and realized it was time for him to get another teen - this one was terrible! Obviously he would have to do a better job picking one out. After all, Thomas had always housed a disquiet teen within.
I have been published in “Sanitarium,” “Infernal Ink,” “69 Flavors of Paranoia,” “Night to Dawn,” “Not One of Us,” “Literary Orphans,” “Surreal Grotesque,” “Bewildering Stories,” and the Daylight Dims anthology. I currently teach composition at Folsom Lake College.
More information is available at www.ronjcruz.com