Weekly Wednesday Flash for Wednesday, January 15, 2020.
The Terminal Bar
“There’s a ghost tending bar. Zombies wait the tables. The cook’s a werewolf and the manager, she’s a witch, I’m sure of it, even though she looks pretty normal, compared to the others.”
I give my brother a slow look, one that, when we were little, would make his face look as if my gaze was burning a hole in his right cheek. His right eye would narrow and blink and twitch, and he would look quickly away at anything to hand: his bare feet, a clean pink wrist, a interesting sight somewhere far over my left shoulder.
But he doesn’t get that look any more. He keeps his gaze on me, eyes wide and clear—maybe a bit too wide and clear. His feet are encased in day-glo orange sneakers, his wrist scarred with cigarette burns, and the interesting sight at the moment is me.
We’re standing under the sign of the Terminal Bar. My brother, who moved to this neighborhood a year ago after his last hospitalization, loves the place and seems to be functioning as normally as possible.
“Benny, you’re conflating the name of this bar with dead things. Ghosts, zombies. Yeah it’s called the Terminal Bar but that’s because it’s across the street from the old Greyhound Bus station.”
A smile pricks the corner of Benny’s mouth. “Yes, I get that. But you’re not catching me, sister. This is a bar for the dead. Only dead people are allowed in.”
“Then how do you know the bartender’s a ghost? Are you dead? Did you die and forget to let us know?”
Saying this twists a small needle in my chest. Benny jokes all the time about slitting his wrists. As far as I know, he never tried it. But there are more subtle ways to self-destruct.
My logical brain is my sin, my burden. I try, every time, to point out inconsistencies to the insane. I say, “If it’s only for dead people, how come there’s a witch and a werewolf? I thought those kind of people never died.”
“Everything dies.” Benny smiles as he says this.
He takes a step up onto the threshold. A couple walks past us, huddled and close, almost hurrying, as if we were secret police.
From the other direction, a clown walks past, along with Ronald Reagan. Oh yeah, I remember. It’s Halloween, thus why I am standing here with my brother in front of the Terminal Bar.
“This is the one night,” Benny says, his glance following the figure of a woman dressed as a Rockette, “when people who are still alive can go in.”
All Saints Eve, soon to be Dies de los Muertes. The night when the veil softens like butter, and everything, living or dead, intermingles in the shadows.
“I went in last year,” Benny tells me, and not for the first time. “The beer is dyed black.”
“Does it taste good?” As much as I would like to get off the street, I’m not sure I want to go inside.
He lays his palm on the door, clad in black vinyl with rivets.
My heart stops, then I feel it beat again. It’s always a scary feeling—will it stop forever one day, and I will drop down dead?
“You all right?” Benny frowns. He knows about this heart-stopping thing I have. I have fainted from it before.
I nod, fiercely annoyed. “Let’s go in”
I shove the door, and Benny tries to grab my arm. He makes a sharp noise—it might be my name.
“What?” I ask him.
“It’s not time yet. You have to wait for midnight.”
That doesn’t make sense but I keep quiet. This is the Eve. Tomorrow is the Day. After midnight, all the dead must return through the veil and the living are left behind to grieve.
I face my brother. His skin is like milk under the streetlight, his eyes round shadows. A lick of hair sticks up off his head. I like to see it. His hair has grown out nicely.
No, I think. I’m not going to humor him tonight. We’d have to stand out here for another thirty minutes in the cold. If I give in to him now, I will never be free of his baggage.
So I break free, push the door. It swings wide for me, and I gulp in the odors of bars, spilled whiskey and antiseptic bathrooms, varnish and pepper.
Inside are shadows softened by yellow lamps. People hunch over tables and at the bar. Figures move in the gloom. There’s an empty table near the window, and I move toward it.
I look back for Benny.
And he’s not here. I see him through the still-open door, standing on the sidewalk, a stricken look on his face.
He’s saying something, lips moving but I can’t hear him. There’s music, a steady beat, something from the 80’s.
I motion for him to come in, to follow, but he shakes his head. What do I see there, in the night-lamp glow, the streak of a tear on his cheek? It glistens like a ribbon of silk.
There’s a witch at the bar, a werewolf serving black beer. It’s nice here, endlessly warm and bathed in bliss. They call the beer Bliss Ale. As far as I know, Benny is still standing out there, crying for me.
I think of all the tears I shed for him, as he tried to cut his way to the Terminal Bar. And I got here on my own, by merely stopping my heart.