Empty Totem (Cold Jukebox)

The room was cold and silent, or so he said. They had enough wine to last until Sunday, and it was only Monday.

“Let’s go out,” he said.

The door creaked open. A bottle of wine ran out the door. They chased it. It ran down the street. Now it would last until Saturday. That was all they needed.

“Another paragraph,” he said, “another paragraph and we’ll go out.” It was not to be.

The door creaked open. Bob Marley snuck in, along with Private Ryan holding a flashlight out in front.

“Where is this place, Bob?” Ryan asked.

“Me don’ know, but Oh Yeah!”

“Gentlemen, would you care for a glass of wine?” he asked.

“No thanks,” Ryan said, “I’m waitin’ for my brother.”

“Me belly full.”

“Suit yourself.” He cracked a seal and drank directly.

The world dawned anew. He had forgotten and now he remembered. Bob pulled a spliff from his pocket and fired it up.

“Jah, mon.”

Bob pulled another spliff from his pocket. Private Ryan pulled a weathered flask from his thigh pocket, halfway down his leg.

It was lit, and another day opened the door and ran down the street.

Forever young, forever more. Almost there.

“At my sister’s wedding,” Ryan began, “she threw flowers to the families. Whole baskets of flowers. No roses either, soft petals. Then it was evening, sundown, and she wandered alone into the garden, pulling the cat’s tail and making it scream like a soul. Everyone came running but the cat ran. Came back with a rat in its jaws. That fucking cat. I loved him. They never cut his balls off so he stayed a man. You know what I mean Bob?”

“Jah, mon. You story, it make me fookin’ won cry.”

He hit the tab and they moved on to another paragraph.

“Wot you say mon, we hit dis little mo’ den free weselves.”

“Yea sure. Hey, Bob,” Ryan said, “you ever feel like you’re gonna die, I mean like right now?”

“Yea mon, wot you tink I’m livin’ fo’? Ain’t no such ting as roadblocks.”

“In the Army we just blow ’em up.”

“Dey ain’t no blowin’ ups on my side, dats a crime, say Oh Yeah!”

“Oh, yeah.”

“Wot you livin’ fo’, Mista Ryan.”

“I’m not sure. Girls…and beer maybe, but since I been in France, wine maybe. My Ma always askin’ me that, what I wanna do. Don’t know really. Guess that’s why I joined the Army.”

He stopped typing, sipped something. Probably wine. They would soon be out. He could feel what they were saying but he couldn’t hear it. They would all be out. The neighbors began whistling, what for, no one knew the what for. He stopped typing.

Bob pulled another spliff from his pocket. Private Ryan pulled a weathered flask from his thigh pocket, halfway down his leg. Ryan unscrewed his cap as Bob struck a match and lit his. Ryan drew deep while he waited. Bob’s eyes never was red, even though he was understood.

“Don’t wonder too much, kid. Flowers don’t wonder, and neither do barstools.”

The mailman knocked on the door, said he had a delivery. Parcel post. His name badge said Henry.

“Hank, you want a sip?”

Ryan held the flask aloft.

“Don’t mind if I do.” Hank sucked long and swallowed, stepped back and lit a smoke. Hank was a poet, but we had to drag it out of him. Working on a novel. Bob passed the spliff to him.

“Thanks. Hey Baby, time’s in a bottle, let’s go out and crash it.”

They hit the bar halfway down the street. It was karaoke night, a trap.

“It kills the pain,” Hank said.

“What’s your pain,” Ryan asks.

A piano played from across the room. Lines crossed the room that no one could see. They forgot about themselves for a minute, like the flu, but the acid music smell was still there, waiting for a supernova. Bob drifted away and shot a game of pool.

Renaldo Zimmerman showed up.

“Well I don’t know if I’m a comin’ or I’m a goin,” Zim said, the smoke from his cigarette lingering in his face. “I could be inventin’ or destroyin’. Sometimes I know what I’m sayin’, sometimes my mouth gets dry as cotton. You drinkin’ white?”

“I’m drinkin’,” Hank said.

“I’m wishin’ I was back home,” Ryan said.

“Where’s home?” Zim asked.

“Iowa, or Kansas, I can’t remember anymore. We used to go down to the town square on the fourth of July for hot dogs and soda pops, me and my brother….you ever wonder? You know, ’bout things?”

Hank motioned to the barkeep, then said:

“Don’t wonder too much, kid. Flowers don’t wonder, and neither do barstools.”

“Or guitars,” Zim added. He dragged his smoke.

A man across the room hollered “Who needs some inspiration!?” The jukebox was cold, that cold electric nose sniffing for another quarter to keep it alive four minutes more. The man held a diamond or a dime above his head. Hank got up and rolled his sleeves back.

“You shouldn’t take it so personal,” Zim said, touching his arm. Hank grabbed a red from behind the counter and smashed it on an edge.

“Alright you motherfuckers, who needs to feel some shit here tonight?” He turned to the crowd, shaking the broken bottle.

“Hey man,” someone called, “what about karaoke?”

“Let’s finish this off, right here, man,” Hank said.

“Enough blood,” Ryan said.

“He’s guilty!” someone shouted.

A man walks out in the dark, and sleeps on park benches for the fun of it. He buys six packs for drunks with apartments in the historic district where people stay up all night and still have to go to work the next day after seven minute songs and two minute lyrics. People still laugh at them, explain them away to their friends.

But the totem watches until the bottle is empty, and the bottle is never empty.

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