The document mocked him from its honorary perch on the bookshelf. Alex swore he heard it laugh while telling him it was worth more as paper than his entire existence. Twenty-five thousand dollars to be paid to the beneficiary upon death.
“I’m worth more to them dead,” he whispered. He took a long pull from the cheap cigarette and extinguished it among a hundred others in the overflowing ashtray. Marijuana roaches, booze bottles, and a rejection letter from welfare, drowning in a puddle of alcohol, resided beside it — a microcosm of Alex’s life.
As he reached into his sweatpants’ pocket for his future, he thought back to his past.
* * *
Alex opened the glass door to the Melon Café. A large black man on a stool eyed him up and down, pondering whether to ask for identification. Alex, almost thirty and looking every day of it knew an ID check would only be to hassle him. If it happened, he would just go somewhere else. He only wanted one drink.
Just one drink to make the world better; forget the asshole foreman and his time clock; steel himself for an interview in the morning. Just one drink to feed his confidence. Just one more drink to keep going.
The bouncer’s eyes left him and returned to the two women at the end of the bar. His big, bald head nodded up and down, without enthusiasm, to the thump of loud rock music wailing from the jukebox in the corner. Shifty eyes never ventured from the oblivious pair of females. Apparently, he was more horny than ornery at this point of the night.
Alex walked past and strode to the bathroom at the rear. He glanced to his left through latticework into an adjacent room. He saw four rough-looking drunkards playing at a very serious game of eight-ball at one of the three pool tables. The other two were unoccupied on this Sunday night.
A pale round woman in her fifties tended bar. She leaned against a counter in need of a serious scrub down. Alex wouldn’t have been surprised if she decided to lay on it and fall asleep. Her sagging eyes, hollowed from years of ungrateful servitude, looked right through him.
He pushed open the men’s room door. Standing at the urinal trough, he pissed while looking in the mirror in front of him. He used his left hand to sweep strands of fine, blond hair from a youthful face. Blue eyes looked back, penetrating him with judgment. Roadmap red cracks reproached him for the drinking binge of the last week.
When he went back out, the bartender was at the far end of the bar, chatting with the doorman. Alex sat down two stools away from the women at the end. They glanced at him and put their heads back together in hushed conversation.
The women looked to be in their early twenties, hardened by tough lives. One was tall, with flame-red hair. Her arms and legs were pasty and skeletal. An obviously padded bra declared itself dark blue through her fluorescent yellow halter-top. Blue veins stood out against white skin, face smeared with cheap makeup. Blood-red lipstick and glow-in-the-dark blue mascara made her appearance nearly horrific.
Her friend was brunette, average height, and giant breasts threatening to tear a faded gray tee resting on the bar. She was scrawny and that made those monster balloons stand out even more. Her skin was equally wan as her friend’s and the veins exposed on the tops of them looked ready to burst with blue fluid. Alex forced his eyes away and nearly jumped at the bartender’s presence directly in front of him.
“What ya want, other than those fuckin’ tits?” she spat out in a grizzled smoker’s voice.
“Just one drink.”
“And did ya wanna gimme a friggin’ clue what it will be?” she sneered.
“Sam, uh, Adam’s,” Alex sputtered, taken back by the woman’s hostility.
She turned to the taps and poured him a tall glass of warm beer. Alex gave her a five and told her to keep the change. Her mood sweetened, but the smile was too weak to break through the years of facial wrinkling.
“We got a Sunday night shooter special, ya know,” she said.
“Sure, why not?”
“We could use a drink,” a voice soothed behind his right ear. He looked back as the two women slid in stools to either side of him. He didn’t know which spoke or how they crept up on him.
“Sure, why not? I hit a scratch ticket tonight, “Alex laughed. It was only for ten bucks.
“Here ya go. Two shooters for you and two Chivas for the ladies.”
She put the drinks down, spilling some of the whiskey on the counter. Alex raised the first shooter to his lips and downed the small drink. It burned in his throat and he noticed a faint taste of cherry.
The women slammed their empty glasses to the table in unison, wiping their lips with wrists and giggling. It was an orchestrated move from long practice. Alex was stunned. Those were double shots. He quickly downed his other shooter, determined to show some masculine bravado.
“I’m Dawn,” the brown-haired woman announced, holding out her hand.
“Alex.” He shook her outstretched palm and his eyes fell to her chest. He turned to the redhead as she intoned her own name — Lindsay or something.
“Another round, Alex?” Dawn crooned. Alex turned and saw her face for the first time.
Her face was perfectly round. Acne scarred all the places where it did not currently reside. She smiled, baring four brown teeth with advanced gingivitis. Alex gulped to suppress a shudder.
“Ok, one more then I have to go,” he lied. There was nowhere for him to go. He lived alone and had no job since being fired last week from the warehouse.
“Drink a real drink this time,” Lindsay snorted. He ordered three Chivas to the now attentive barkeep.
Alex downed the drink in one slug. He choked on the burn that rose from his throat and nearly vomited. The sniggers of his new friends shamed him and he measured his breaths to fight the urge. His watery eyes went to the bar where the women had three more drinks waiting.
The night progressed into a drunken stupor. Drink after drink decorated the bar, grabbed and guzzled by the three sad souls. He remembered saying no only to find himself minutes later with another in hand.
He stumbled out of the bar with his new friends steadying his pace. He remembered the bouncer punching him in his eye. He even remembered entering their apartment.
He could not recall the act of sex with them. He knew it happened — the DNA tests ordered by family court proved it. His two children, same age but not twins, were a constant reminder.
He cared for his children as he felt a father should. Monthly checks and holiday cards mailed, sometimes with a twenty in them; most times not. He found work again, but remained poor and broken. Medical bills for his daughters ruined him. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome left both children in need of regular medical attention.
* * *
The insurance policy continued to ridicule him from the place they could easily find it. He took his future from the pocket, remembering that one night as he poured the bottle of sleeping pills down his throat and followed them with a guzzle of Chivas Regal.
Just one more drink.