Cecil tended bar in an apron – bar in his basement and he his one customer. His mother’s aprons lay pressed and folded in the drawer of the dry sink. Behind the two doors sat all the liquor, nothing top shelf. Cutty Sark. Slutty spark. Slit, spit, curt, cart. Haunted and hunting and blue, he cruised his own blood.
Cecile pulled a fleece jacket on his arms and went to cruise the bars at College Corner, encountered Major’s Place, the usual pickled regulars inside there, the shriveled swine, who looked through him and his transparency, his negligibility, to the co-eds who followed in behind with their perfume, their giggles, shrieks and smoke.
Regulating the flow, Major stood shiny as an apparatus, giving off an aroma of deKuypers and dispensable advice: “If there’s a baby in your dream, the baby symbolizes you, the dreamer.”
“Now look, we got a Freud,” somebody said.
Clank clank clank rang the beer mugs and shot glasses on the wood plank bar. The bar had a crowd of cat-callers, commentators, a chorus.
“Walk the plank,” somebody said.
They said it to a girl on her way to the Ladies’ they turned to watch.
The Ladies’ had a bucket to catch what leaked from the valve when toilets flushed. The Mens’ floor, sticky and puddled, was a flotilla of cess Cecil forded. They ran rings around him, these girls. He was his own circus, circling one, then another, alert for errors on alabaster skin. He held back the urge to mar some smooth plate, fisted it like a pocket knife.
He laid foundation with her on how to mix a proper Rob Roy until the bomb ticking in his glare-eyed glee ran her off. She spread her virus, her inside scoop. It traveled the room, front and back, up side walls, leaping the pinball and the video, the bank of tv’s. That guy’s a freak. The co-eds, singly and in pairs, made end runs around him. On their way to the leaky bathroom, they locked their eyes away from his.
“I’m just drinking to exist,” one guy said.
“I’m just breathing to exist,” his crony chimed in.
The archives are waiting to exist, the archives of your heart, Cecil’s heart beat to Cecil’s brain.
“Fuck you, you fucking romantic,” someone yelled.
And yelling back, another someone: “Romantic, my ass.”
Seven men at the bar swiveled their stools, watching a girl on her way to the back.
“It leaks,” somebody called.
They, in unison, spit their mouthfuls.
“She’d be a mouthful,” one said.
“I’ll take her mouth anytime,” said another.
“Watch your mouth,” Major ordered, mopping their mess off the wood.
The snivelers and the cringers eyed their drinks. The rock bottom levels of amber brought a moment’s silence. Everyone bit their lips, even the girls, but they were biting for different reasons. They were working out attraction.
Cecil watched his mouth in the mirror behind the bar. He made it bwap bwap, fish-like. His whole bar neighborhood was underwater, the bar was an aquarium, filled with plant life and fish life, sand and a castle. Pretty rocks. His eyes filled with water. The pretty rocks behind the bar sparkled in the mirror. They duplicated, they halved, they multiplied, they photosynthesized, were made whole.
“Shut your hole.”
A fight ensued over some stupid thing, and Cecile watched the wave of it come and go. Osmosis and ketosis and scientific experiments on the bar room floor.
“This bar is an experiment.”
“The world is a fucking experiment.”
“And so is our Major,” somebody laughed.
“I’m God then,” said Major. “Major God.”
Someone complained, “God, shut up and pour.”
“Put up or shut up.”
Now they talked, as one scary crowd, to one of any of the girls on her way to the leaky faucets.
“I bet that girl’d put out.”
“You’d say anything to get her to, wouldn’t you?”
“I would.” Was Cecil who spoke, who made seven heads swivel.
“What the fuck you talking about?”
Cecil fingered where the frills of a short apron hem would shield his lap. He wore an apron in his basement where no girls lingered, where lonely beat his head in. No one here had a bead on him, a hard-on for him, no good or bad intent, no ambush. He inspired nothing in no one. In his mind he supplied ask and the answers: I am a cipher. I suffer. Insufferable. Able. Able and willing. Any one of those girls.
Out loud he said: “All it takes is an ask and a prayer.”
The bar sitters were on his side, they dripped with sentiment and banality and banal sentimentality. They were easy, they came around to his view, every one of the stingers, the stingies, the stinkos.
“Prayer to the almighty,” one said.
“Pray, you motherfucker, pray to the almighty.”
“The almighty dick.”
“The almighty cares dick about you and me.”
“Ain’t that the truth?”
“Nothing but the truth.”
“So help you God.”
“Anybody’s help. Any of those young lovelies over yonder.”
Inflamed by their talk, Cecile felt ready to strike down every sassafrass ass at the bar. Instead he tailed the last tail out, the last in her group, the last in her league, not a mark on her. Flawless flower she was, her face beaming up to the night, sucking in cold air like a carburetor. Ignite. Run, run.
Her friends paused and called, “Catch up, Janice,” trusting she would.
She wore a skirt short as an apron, frilly, flouncy hem. God didn’t work in signs more explicit. Cecile gained his sea legs, aquarium vanished in the gloom. In her fruit-
filled wake he walked the starlit earth. She would stagger with him. Prophesied, vilified, bonafide, amortized.
Drunk, she said, upon meeting him, “Are you the janitor?”
Through two-faced night, the tilted door, the guttered passage, the knife in his fist jumped the curb, the curve, the carve. The spring in its blade hummed flesh, flourish, shush. Janice lagged, she flagged, she bled. His brain carried on its singing. Cecil, Cecil. Cease. Still.