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Sunday, November 2, 2014

2. The Hall of the Valkyrie (JR’s)

A song to listen to while you read.

The name of the bar today was JR’s. The place was worthy of the name, with a floor more gum than linoleum.  An old man sitting at the bar nodded at me. I ignored him.  A middle-aged man with long hair who still thought he was good looking saw me and said, “Hey, Snow White.” I ignored him too. Then I sat at the end of the bar and the barkeep was already there. Looked like he was twelve, must have never shaved.
“I didn’t know boys could tend bar,” I said.
He said, “I’m not a boy.”
I just laughed.
“What are you having? It’s on the house.”
“Oh? What’d I do to earn that?”
“You walked in here. Look around, we’ve got a sausage fest going on.”
“Ginger ale then.”
He said, “We got a lot nicer options.”
I said, “I don’t drink. Beside ginger ale.”
“That’s a shame,” he said.
“No, it isn’t,” I thought.
I wanted to go ahead and have some more thoughts but another drinker was leaning into my space.
“The bars already got my drinks.”
“Let me buy you a real drink.”
I turned. It was the middle-ager with brown and gray streaked long hair and two days of stubble. I said, “Look, no offense but I want to be alone.”
“Why’d you dress so nice then?”
I could have told him a lot of stuff, but he was just a human, so why waste my time. If he thought I was dressing nice so he could touch me with his greasy hands, he was too fucking deluded to talk sense into anyway. Since when did a tank top and jeans become nice? Nice is now a way of saying he can see that I’m a woman?
“Fuck off,” I said.
There was a time when I dressed in sweat pants and hoodies, hiding the fact that my body was female. At that point I wanted to be free from my body. When I first died, everything I wore was allure and promise, the body half in, half out. The whole deal with drinkers is the drink has to come willingly. It’s not right if you just fall on people between the alleys, or whatever. They have to want it, to say, “Come in,” or nod when you say, “Let’s go,” follow you into the alley. And when I was done with all that, I said, no more clothes like that. Sweats. I didn’t want to look like a girl. Cut my hair short, just a buzz.
But then they still talked, “Yo, dike, let me show you what a man can do.”
“Why’d you steal my sweatpants, baby?” It was like the fact that I didn’t dress how they wanted me to was some sort of crime. So I came around to thinking that I may not be in the drinking game, but I’ll wear what I want. I like to look in the mirror and see my forever twenty one complexion. It’s not like I have much else to hold onto.  
Grabbing my wrist. It was the half-dead greaser. “Fuck off? How about fuck on?”
I twist, hammer him in the balls, and let another elbow flow through his head. Nice audible knock like the UPS man. Everybody in the old dirty bar looked over. “Excuse me,” I said, “he was getting a bit fresh.”
Greasy Hair was crawling around on the floor like a deranged dog. The old man started clapping, junior behind the bar looked kind of nervous. I dragged Greasy Hair to the door, stood him up, where he wobbled for a moment before I sent a sneaker into his ass, propelling him into and through the door. It slammed back after letting in a gust of cold. Cold felt good.
I went back to my seat. Don’t know why I came here. JR’s. Game was going on a tv small enough to be from another century. They didn’t sell food, the sign behind the bar said. It’s scribbled in pen, “Order pizza, we got no food.” They should have written they only have drink. Didn’t matter, but I’m explaining, “Shit place.”
Then I knew. It wasn’t a drinkers’ hunting ground. The kind of place to find drinkers is where the young people, the promise-full, love-hoping, dream-believing are at night. Beach parties, down by the fire, with a cooler of cold ones. The trendiest clubs where they go, looking to make a connection. Bars with cover charges, anywhere that the young and hopeful drink, that’s where we drink.
Not JR’s. Another iteration of Joe’s Bar. “I’m looking for a break,” I realize. “I need to figure some stuff out. It started just as desire to kill the drinkers. But now I know everything I’ve been doing, it’s nothing. I can kill these young ones all day—or night—but we’ll still have the problems. It’s the old one. And I’m not equipped to kill him. Hustle, passion, some ju jitsu, it’s nothing against the old one.”
Not again, “No thanks,” I said, not even looking up. It’s another technique. If you ignore them they sometimes leave. Not always. Not usually. Sometimes I just want to go back to the old days and take them outside and open up their necks like I was eating a watermelon.
“You look like you’d be so good at drinking.” The voice, delicate, cultured. The tongue caressed the word drinking, like saying a prayer.
I look up, and see the curtain of hair hanging across his face, the bright lips and the piercing eyes. Traces of a long fine nose. Short break.
He asked, his voice as precise as the ticks of watch, “You want to go outside again? Take a little jaunt around the alley and see if you can stick me with that bit of oak you got in your pocket?”
I knew I was outclassed. Not only that, I remembered the knee, the pain. The not healing.
He responded to my silence. “Worried about your knees?”
I looked at him. I was wondering if he’d slide his hand along the bar and touch me and my joints would unsling themselves and jangle like broken rubberbands.
“The one knee seems to have healed. Tell me how that happened?”
I shrugged. “I don’t really understand it.”  
“You will tell me, though.”
I could hear some actual passion in his cultured voice, and realized that he wanted to know. At least he couldn’t read my mind.
I said, “My business.” I took of ginger ale. So sweet. I wanted to spit it out, but I managed to swallow it.
He laughed, a bell like melody. JR’s clientele looked up, startled. He said, “So tell me, why are you killing your brothers and sisters?”
“They suck.”
“Haha. A bit of word play. You also suck, though your way of sucking, is sucking at sucking. Drinking old blood? Blood without the hunt? Don’t you notice how flavorless it is, how it curdles in the mouth?”
I said, “I don’t drink.”
 “Just so,” he said. “Listen, I like your energy. I can show you new hunts, more complicated targets. The game is afoot, and you sit here, in JR’s.”
I said, “I think it’s pretty obvious where I stand on that.”
“Of course. Well, I’ve decided to double my kill for every night you don’t hunt. You know, so that you know your abstinence isn’t saving any lives.”
Great. “Don’t put yourself out for me.”
“Oh, it doesn’t put me out. The exercise will do me good, and of course, a beautiful lady such as yourself is worth every extra effort.” The things he said were stupid but somehow those hundreds of years of life made them sound important and clever. And then he walked out to go and kill his quota and mine. Not that humans were a big deal, no offense.
I looked at the ginger ale, fizzing meaninglessly on the counter, shrugged, and walked out after him.

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