patrick trotti — happiest hour

Cobb stood in the parking lot and looked at the empty storefront. The city bus zoomed off toward its next stop before he could swivel around and get back on board. A rumble in his belly began to move northward towards the back of his throat. It was similar to the feeling he got when he started to drink Jagermeister after a day full of knocking back cheap domestic beers. Beer before liquor, never been sicker. Conversely, liquor before beer, you’re in the clear. You’d think that after twenty years of daily drinking he’d learn. But if Cobb had been prone to malleability and able to break routines, then he wouldn’t be in his current predicament standing outside the Elbow Room at ten in the morning wondering where the owner was or why the obnoxious neon sign wasn’t sporadically aglow.

Even though he was a regular at the place, as much of a fixture as the rest of the dingy stuff that adorned the oddly mismatched bar, nobody knew for sure if Cobb was his first name or last. To be honest, nobody cared enough to inquire. Cobb was notoriously cheap. He never met a special he didn’t try to haggle down in price and a bar tab bigger than most people’s mortgage payments. He also had a knack for being politically incorrect, even by bar standards, except for when he had a drink in hand. Then he became so engrossed in the magical liquid in front of him that he was the epitome of a jolly drunk.

He liked to read Beat generation literature while drinking. Something about the decadence, the limitless exploration of it all, appealed to him. He came across a Kerouac quote that morning that applied directly to him. It read “My fault, my failure, is not in the passions I have, but in my lack of control of them.” He even spilled a drop of wine on the line itself, seemingly impervious to the irony of it all.

He was an older gentleman who had nothing of real value in his life other than a sturdy, impenetrable liver and a nice collection of twentieth-century literature. Everything good around him he repelled.  Cobb hadn’t seen his daughter Cameon in a couple of years, ever since she laid down an ultimatum about his drinking. He had to be stone-cold sober if he wanted to spend time with her. No excuses, not even a hangover.  But Cobb couldn't string two consecutive days together without a drink so the time between visits just sort of expanded until it became years without so much as a hello.

He’d drunk text her, knowing full well that  he couldn't hide his drunkenness with a regular call. She’d surely sniff out the beer soaked into his voice and hang up on him. He couldn’t even manage to text soberly – he’d misspell words and his vulgar vocabulary would autocorrect to the weirdest of combinations. But that was all in the past. Of course, Cobb’s main problem, other than drinking, was his inability to live in the present, to get beyond revisiting the past and making a proactive plan for the future. He didn’t live; he mired, he dwelled, he existed and persisted, somehow.

Thankfully it was a nice enough day out that he didn’t mind standing outside for a little while. He approached the front door and found a note stapled on it. Vague and foreboding, it read: "Construction starts soon. Closed until further notice. See y’all on the flipside."

Cobb scratched his head, which messed up his quaff of hair. Why hadn’t anyone said anything just the night before? Chances are they had but he was so blasted that he’d forgotten. He had developed a knack for blacking out recently. He’d lose entire nights in a swirl of dark lagers piled up around him, consumed like he were a parched athlete coming off the playing field.

He took out his cell phone but realized that he had no one to call. At least, no one  who would be willing to answer if they knew it was him on the other end. He shook off the depressing thought and decided to snoop around the building some more. The bar was on the corner lot of a larger building. On one side was another business, a Chinese restaurant. To the left was an empty alley that led to a back parking lot and an entrance in the rear. Empty cans and broken bottles, discarded cigarette butts, and used condoms littered the alley. Cobb felt a slight tingle run down his right leg, goosebumps really, as he could smell a faint whiff of the debauchery that  had been had.

Cobb knocked on the back door and leaned up against the glass window to peer inside. A streak of light connected the front entrance to the back, but there were no other signs of life. He took one quick glance around the parking lot and when he thought it was clear he picked up a rock and shattered the glass door. There was no alarm that went off, no neighbor that came out to see what the disruption was, nothing. Just a pile of shattered glass on the ground: that was all that stood between Cobb and all that booze.

Gin and whiskey and vodka and beer and wine were all but a few steps away. Cobb stepped through the rubbled mess that he created. The first thing he did was create a barricade to the now open doorway with a couple of barstools. He then approached the bar and took his place behind it. He’d always dreamed of being a bartender and today was his day to bask in the glory or serving his favorite customer: himself.  As if starring in his own demented, pathetic episode of Cheers.

He hit the hard stuff first, taking gulps right from the bottles on the top shelf. Drink the real good stuff and then, when tipsy, cap it off with the cheap alcohol to finish it off. As he switched from one brand to another he knew he was missing something. Cobb ambled out from behind the bar and turned on the jukebox and played the Talking Heads. As he went back behind the bar, looking for a lighter to enjoy a cigarette with his next drink, Cobb came across a gun stowed within reach, out in the open. With the light of the jukebox now aglow, Cobb could convince himself he wasn’t drinking alone anymore. He gulped down a vodka and Red Bull combination as Byrne screeched out his vocals.

But the feeling of loneliness persisted, even with the music blasting and the booze flowing. Cobb took out his phone and texted his daughter. He knew she wouldn’t answer unless he gave her a good reason to. In the space between albums, the few seconds of quiet that rang out its own noise throughout the bar, Cobb came up with an idea to reel Cameron in.

Cam, it’s me. Please answer. It’s a matter of life and death. I’m at the Elbow Room. I need to talk to you. I have a gun.

Before the next song hit the chorus she was calling him. He waited to pick up until the third ring. Let her dangle for once, he thought to himself. He was a sick, petty old man when he drank.

"Cobb, what the fuck are you talking about?"

"Hello to you too," he said with a slight smirk.

"Where are you? And what’s this about a gun? I thought you hated guns!"

"I do hate guns, but this isn’t about that. This is about you and me, young lady."

"Are you drunk?"

"Of course I'm drunk. Would I call you sober?"

"If you're drunk I’m calling the cops. They can deal with your drunk ass."

"I see a cop I’m going down shooting. Is that what you want to do to your father?"

"Father? Ha! You lost that title the day you chose the booze over me and mom." 

"Sure, yes." He stopped and drew a long, deep breath. Like it had been years since he had last breathed.  "I have been derelict in my duties as a father in the past, yes. But can’t we turn over a new leaf?"

Cameron was silent on the other end. She hadn’t hung up, though, which was a good sign to Cobb – a sign that somewhere deep down inside of her she still cared about the old man.

"And you really have a gun?"

"Yes. I really have a gun."

"Just don’t do anything stupid. I’ll be there as fast as I can."

Cobb gulped down a finger full of the best whiskey he’d ever tasted and focused on the jukebox. He scrolled through the catalog and chose The Doors, his favorite, ready for whatever it was that would come his way that afternoon. A part of him, although losing his tenuous sense of sobriety by the minute, realized that this was his last stand. Things were closing in on him, mostly due to his own actions, or inactions. He was almost sixty years old. If things ended now, he’d had a good run. Cobb realized that he’d reached the precipice where his thoughts went from euphoric bliss to the macabre and depressed. It happened almost every time he drank, especially over the past few years. Ever since he shunned his only living family member, he’d grown more irritable.

By the time Cameron arrived at the scene he could already hear the sirens. He’d be surrounded by cops in a matter of no time.

"Daddy, it’s me, Cameron. I’m coming in. It’s just me."

Cameron forced her way through the clumsily built barrier and headed towards the bar. Cobb knew he had already achieved something by her calling him daddy. The last time had been  nearly four years ago.

"What’ll it be?" Cobb asked.

"I’m not doing this. I refuse to enable your drinking," Cameron said as she took a seat at the bar.

"For once just have a drink with your dad, will you?"

They both looked down at the gun in his right hand.

"Fine. I’ll have a wine spritzer."

"That’s more like it. Now, isn’t this lovely. Father and daughter having a drink like a civilized pair."

"Get rid of the gun and we can talk all you want, okay?"

"I wish I could," he said. "But I’ve already gone too far. Afraid I’m going to have to ride this one out, you see."

"What the fuck are you talking about? What’s the point of all this? If you’re looking for attention then you’ve succeeded, okay? You’ve got me here. Just say what you have to say and let’s get on with it."

"Do you ever dance?"

"Excuse me?"

"You heard me. Remember how you used to love to dance when you were younger? Do you ever dance like that?"

"That was ages ago. I was just a kid."

"Share a dance with me. Just one song. And I won’t bother you again."

"You got  half of the cops in the town here just to dance with me?"

"I figure I’ll never get to have that first dance at your wedding. So this’ll have to do," he said with a faint whisper of finality to the statement.

As Jim Morrison cooed soulfully and quietly about the end  the two shuffled their feet, hand in hand. Cameron noticed the wrinkles on her dad’s forehead for the first time. She gripped his left hand tight and kept her right hand free, just a foot or so away from his, which still held his gun. She saw the cut marks on his right wrist. They were new enough that they hadn’t quite healed completely and scarred over. She brushed it off and tried not to look her bum of an old man straight in the eyes for fear that he’d sweet talk his way into another drink.

"That was nice, wasn’t it?" he said when the song was over.

"Yes," Cameron said. "It was, I suppose."

And for that brief moment, with his one and only child, it was the happiest of hours that he’d had in a long, long time.

"Now what?" Cameron asked.

"That’s it, I’m afraid."

Cobb turned the gun on himself and let out one shot to his right temple. He was dead before he hit the ground, before he could hear his only daughter cry out for him.

PATRICK TROTTI is a writer, editor, and Oxford comma enthusiast. He’s publisher of LEFTOVER Books.