Check out the animated show Bat out of Hell on YouTube!

Bird’s Nest In Your Hair

Last Chapter

Diana was miserable. A customer she’d known for several years had recently committed suicide, something that would be awful for anyone, but was especially awful for someone with Diana’s history. And he wasn’t just any customer, really, but something closer to a friend. Someone with whom she’d traded jokes and bought drinks for. Who’d bought an extra shift beer or two for her.

Of course she’d found a new friend in Jeb, maybe something more than a friend, but here her feelings were somewhat confused. He obviously liked her. Did she like him in the same way? Was it love, for him or for her?

As if all this wasn’t enough, images from the pornographic movie kept assaulting her. It seemed as if the harder she tried to banish these thoughts from her mind, the sooner they returned. Not only that, but this same pornographic movie had been filmed in the very church she had stopped attending just a few weeks before. For a long time she’d been divided about whether to continue going, but she thought that after carefully looking at the evidence she would be able to make a decision once and for all and be free of that sense of internal division. But here it was Good Friday and she’d never felt more divided. She was truly wretched.

So it was a good thing that as the afternoon wore down and before it got too busy in the bar, Allen came out of the back and asked her to run an errand.

“The kitchen is out of lemons, so it looks like someone needs to make a run to the store,” he said.

“Someone?” said Diana.

“Someone who’s been working all day and maybe needs a break anyway.”

“Well, it’s actually perfect timing,” said Diana. “We’re running low here behind the bar as well. I was just wondering if we should go out and get more.”

“Can you go?” asked Allen, though it wasn’t really a question.

“Can you tend bar?” asked Diana, which was.

“Sure,” said Allen.

The truth of the matter was that he really couldn’t tend bar, but business was pretty slow at 4:00 in the afternoon and they both knew he could probably handle it for the half hour or so it took Diana to run the errand. Allen had become a manager after working as a cook for a few years, and the fact was that he hadn’t been very well trained in other areas of the restaurant. He was a little enthralled with the idea of tending bar, considering it the glamour profession of the restaurant world. Happy to step behind the bar, and as if to show that he was serious about it, he grabbed a towel and started wiping down the counter as soon as he could. Diana took off her apron and gave it to him, then took a twenty out of her till to pay for the groceries.

“How many do you think we’ll need?”

“Four dozen to be safe.”

Diana thought about this for a second, tried to calculate the cost of lemons, and then grabbed another twenty.

“Back in a few. Don’t have too much fun.”

She made it to the store quickly enough and had no trouble at all getting the lemons. She took a little extra time to order a smoothie (it was one of those new grocery stores that offer gourmet cooking and other such amenities at the deli), and then wandered the aisles for a few minutes and tried to think of things she might need at home. She thought it was a good a time to take care of a little personal shopping as well, and picked up some pasta and a few non-perishables for herself along the way. By the time she got out of the store half an hour had already passed.

When she got back to Queequeg’s her parking spot was gone and she had to park three blocks away. She separated her personal items from the bread and the lemons and then made her way back to the bar. She was walking past the strip mall when she saw someone standing in the middle of the sidewalk outside the barbershop, thought she recognized him as a customer, and started to say something. Then did a double take before deciding that it wasn’t worth it. For reasons she didn’t understand, the close encounter had left her feeling a little spooked and put her back in the strange mood she’d been able to shrug off while walking down the aisles of the store.

Back behind the bar it had started to get a little busy, so she got right to work catching up on some drink orders since Allen had fallen behind. Allen stayed and cut up the lemons before getting ready to open up the dining room. A couple of her usual customers had come for happy hour and offered condolences for Pete. This was certainly thoughtful, but it also made her a little sad. She looked around the bar and saw that as usual, most of them were men. None of them Pete.

Thinking of the advice her mother had once given her, she thought it might do her some good to get herself a man. Why not? She needed a change of some kind, and some sort of release seemed to be called for. She wasn’t so sure she wanted to share the rest of her life with someone, but everybody needs companionship. These feelings were perfectly normal, after all, she knew that. She was no exception. But it wasn’t just companionship she was after, and she knew it; she kept thinking of the video, and when she did she realized that what she really wanted was to act on that deepest of all instincts, sex, no matter what the consequences, so that she wouldn’t feel so anxious. And then she didn’t feel anxious; what she felt was the familiar trap of self-destructive thoughts.

After thinking about self-destruction in a general way, she went back to thinking of Pete. Hating herself for serving him that day and overwhelmed by a wave of guilt, she turned to an especially destructive thought, which was to take the bottle of 151 proof bourbon on the counter by her right hand, turn it upside down, and drink it down to the last drop. And since she understood that even this probably wouldn’t be enough to obliterate herself, she was overtaken by an even worse thought: instead of drinking from the bottle she would empty the bourbon all over herself from the head down, toss the bottle, and then spark up her Zippo lighter – somewhat in the manner of Buddhist monks she’d heard about, committing suicide as a form of protest. It would be her own form of protest, or at least she tried to think of it that way, even if she couldn’t say exactly what it was she would be protesting.

All this occurred within the space of a few seconds. Realizing just how ridiculous these fantasies were in front of a bar filled with people, especially the last thought, she considered once again, as she had so many times before, how life had become impossible. Where had all these thoughts of violence come from? Why? When had this come to pass? How had life become some awful? She had no idea. Her father had chosen not to exist; couldn’t she choose to do the same? Then she considered whether what she was considering at that moment could be called evil. Then she began second guessing herself and wondered where evil came from, and (rather absurdly, she would certainly admit) whether the Devil really did exist, and if he did, whether she had taken too little account of his power. Can the Devil exist if God does not? Doesn’t evil just boil down to bad luck? She just didn’t know, and she realized then that she probably never would know. Then she started to cry a little, though not very long, and not very hard, as she had always been wary about public displays of such private emotions.

She looked away from the bottle of bourbon and reached for some of the dirty dishes Steve had left stacked up on the bar. A pair of cigarettes, one with lipstick, had been stubbed out in the leftovers of a pork sandwich, and she looked away in disgust as she walked it over to the bus tub at the other end of the bar. When she walked back she was able to look at the bourbon without feeling overwhelmed by the urge to drink it, so she grabbed it by the top of the neck, flipped it up with an artful turn of her wrist and grabbed it by the bottom. Then put it back on the shelf just above her head. As she did, she took a glance in the mirror and saw the enormous crowd building up on the other side of the bar. She felt herself beginning to cry again, so she kneeled down to pull some of the bottled beer out of the refrigerated cabinets below the counter. Steve had been able to handle everything so far, but with a new set of orders from the wait staff he began calling out to Diana for help.

“At least take care of some of these customers,” he said, as urgently as he could while trying, somewhat paradoxically, not to sound too impatient. Allen came out at the same time and informed her that a toilet in the woman’s restroom had backed up. Could she take care of it? No, she could not, or would not. Not then.

She stood back up and set the beer on the counter, not yet wanting to turn around to put the bottles in the bins filled with ice. It was then that she heard the song playing faintly underneath the noise of the crowd. More Bob Dylan, this time actually chosen by someone other than herself. Not one from the Christian years, but from one of the earlier albums, Blonde on Blonde, now some forty years old.

Queen Mary, she’s my friend
Yes, I believe I’ll go see her again . . .

For reasons long since forgotten by her now, Diana had always thought of Mary, Queen of Scots when she heard the song. It probably had something to do with the manner of her death. Poor Mary: dethroned, imprisoned, and finally beheaded. Diana no longer even shuddered when she thought of the gruesome event, but this time she did try to think of something else. Of course she wished she could hear the song more clearly, but the melody was enough to give her a little more of the lift she so badly needed.

Meanwhile the din in the bar grew louder. It was dark now outside, but the neon signs seemed to burn all the brighter for it. Smoke billowed all around her, and as if to defy the coming laws against cigarette users everywhere, Diana took a deep breath in solidarity with them. More plates were stacking up at the end of the counter, and now not only Steve but regular customers as well were beginning to call out her name. She didn’t have to look in order to know that the incoming crowd was pressing tighter and tighter against the bar, squeezing in between the customers actually seated there, holding out bills at arm’s length and even waving them to get her attention. She really wished she were somewhere else entirely, although she would have settled for being on the other side of the bar. With a gentle toss of her head she flipped her ponytail onto the other side of her shoulders and turned to the person directly across from her. She cleared her throat with a quick cough and even managed a wan smile as she asked,

“How can I help you?”

Comments

  1. Seems an inconclusive end, but I suppose that’s the point. I will have to read the earlier chapters some time.

  2. almostgotit says

    The thing with the bourbon bottle is neat, finally flipping it one last time… to put it on the shelf.

  3. Quin Finnegan says

    Thanks, Almostgotit, I think you’ve got something there. Thanks for reading this and other chapters, I much appreciate your taking the time.

    Thanks to you as well, Anon, and they’ll always be there on the cybershelf.

  4. It was a nice mix of story, poems and ideas. A good novel. Although I never did really understand Diana. Thank you for letting me read it.

  5. And it was fundamentally decent.

Speak Your Mind

*