He walked in with his face all cut up. His eye split open and bleeding down his cheeks. A fat man yelling curse words at him. Both cooks at a bar downtown that serves greasy and good food you’ll regret eating, but not until the morning.
I was on the patio drinking beer and listening to Mac tell stories about Nassau, about Fox Hill, the Bahamas. I was eating a cheeseburger I knew I’d regret come morning.
He walked in with his face all cut up. His eyes going in opposite directions. Too drunk to notice. From the way he was walking, stumbling, rather, the pockmarks on his pale skin catching blood like a thousand tiny pools.
Down the block a man covers his face with a black handkerchief, a pistol in his hand. The girl next to him has her face covered too so you can only see her eyes, green, and nothing else. They pass the all-night diner, Mickey’s, with their eyes on the street ahead. I don’t want any trouble. A police car will be passing soon, but what will change?
Lily is home asleep and I should be there with her. Safe and sound in the warm bed we bought together. What am I going to do on these crazy streets? What am I doing with this beer I don’t need, looking up at neons overhead that blur and focus and blur again?
Mac next to me smokes cigarettes and they stink. Everyone outside is smoking cigarettes.
A homeless man shuffles by, his long overcoat dragging on the ground and he asks for change through the mangled mess of beard on his face.
“I’m a veteran,” he says. “Help me out with a little something.”
“Just a little something. It’s Memorial Day, after all.”
Mac shakes his head, smokes, exhales, breathes, says, “Memorial Day is for the soldiers that died. Wait for Veteran’s Day. That day is for you still alive.”
The man shrugs his shoulders and his coat shakes. He limps away, shuffling to ask the next person for change or whatever they have in their pocket. A cigarette will do.
I don’t want this beer. It’s getting warm in my hand. I’ve had too many. Royal gave me a shot of whiskey and I took it and now I don’t need another beer or anything else.
Music from a club down the street spills out onto the street and I can feel the bass in my chest.
I should be home with Lily.
But then I remember that she kicked me out and I can’t go home to her anymore. She has someone new that will sleep next to her and that’s just the way it is.
I used to slip silently into bed and try not to wake her. But I wanted to wake her every time. Kiss her over the eyebrow and hold her close. The streetlights glowing on the street I could see from my pillow with my arms folded behind my head. Lights turning on and off in the building on the other side. Sometimes the sirens of police cars and fire trucks and ambulances could be heard bouncing between skyscrapers like opera. Sometimes they stopped right at the front door for some old lady who left her stove on or had a heart attack. Voices all the way up to our apartment high on the 17th floor. The sounds of the city, the noise of a downtown personality. Not quiet like where I live now, alone.
I would stay out and drink beer until the bars closed. The streetlamps would breathe and the air smelled like darling, but there was only once place I wanted to go back to. For some reason the street called louder than the warmth and comfort of my apartment where Lily was getting ready for bed without me.
Mickey’s Diner blinks neon with Deco lights. They serve breakfast 24-hours so sometimes we would go there after the bars closed and it would be even later (earlier) by the time I got home. I don’t go so often anymore. There’s a different diner in my neighborhood now and I don’t really stay out that late anyway. Not anymore. But it’s there for those nights when I can’t sleep, when I know people are still out roaming around and I can get pancakes or a grilled cheese sandwich and someone to talk to. I don’t feel the same way about my futon as I do about the bed and soft sleep I shared with Lily before.
There’s a large tree outside my window now, green in the summer, and sometimes I think about climbing it.
I fall asleep to bats. I wake up to birds.