When he looked around the balcony, bar lights warming the awnings, girls in white
dresses flowering around their partners, the faraway skyline glowing into the
sky, Paul saw more people than he guessed would’ve been out. While his posse was off discussing computers
and their phones in a bubbly haze, Paul stayed alone at the top of the wooden
stair, looking down over bar and to its side, the labyrinth of back alleys and
parking spots gutted into the block, no doubt for the sake of the workers all
about the town. There was music, but
the roar of a happy crowd overpowered it.
He felt immersed in the world.
quickly though, did the immersion escape him.
Looking around to the men, all dressed suitably, all with haircuts that
fit the time, all strong of arm, all tantalizing women, he was relieved that
only a few gave him puzzled looks, responding to his envious glances. All others were relatively pleasant. One even talked to him about the view. Not bad people—just a bad feeling. And the ladies—oh, the ladies—they waltzed
and stalked along the railings behind him, they queued patiently at the bar, they
danced as they sauntered, and they all had eyes that were meant for
loving. Not in the bedroom but in talk;
their minds were crops waiting for a harvesting.
and chaps alike, they all run to the bars to forget the aches and pains of
working and existing, and they dress as best they can, or as their own image
demands, and they bustle around as Paul sits aside them, waiting for something
to happen with a smoke in his mouth.
wandered around for a while, genuinely interested in looking for undistinguished
scenery. The towers of ivy, the
splatters of woodchips from sore spots in the fencing, the make and model of
the cars that mosey by in the nearby street, the colors of the shirts the
people all wear—not red, blue, or green, but auburn, robin-egg, and teal like a
lake—Paul tries to take it all in.
knows, though, that he hasn’t spoken in hours, and the boys knew he needed his
time to reflect, so they left him alone.
But here? Out in the town on a Saturday night? He could’ve been home,
smoking and drinking the night away without raucous company, not needing to
take in the details or to contemplate anything at all really. Or he could’ve been thinking more seriously, more
reflectively, productively, which is unwarranted by the simple demand of being
that what life is all about though?
your time and pick a good time. I’ll
meet you anytime, anywhere. Hit me up on
X Y Z and we’ll figure out a time, we can pick a place at the drop of a
hat. Let me know when you’re free.
Remember that time when—when we used to see each other. Help me help you, I don’t want to be lonely
the nights you spend alone becoming old, Paul?
Or do you take solace in the fact that you do love, and you feel loved,
but Loneliness has crept into the door again and sits there around the bar,
staring at you with cold eyes that transform as the sun goes down and the bar
lights fade from diamond to gold, and he won’t let you leave until you look at
him straight in the eye.
had met him before. He was shadowed all
around; a cardboard cutout, a silhouette, a man. He would sit caddy-cornered from Paul and
wait patiently for him to notice. The demon in all black, idling in the middle of everybody, the one spot where no
one stood, and Paul would see that he was suddenly amiss in his own
company. He would have no idea where his
buddies were, where the pretty birds flew to, or what he was even thinking
about moments ago.
his thoughts hone in. They clench and
siphon the light. He’s focused on
himself, like he’s looking in a mirror, and he wonders where everybody has
friend he had when he was young, Tyler.
The ‘bestest friend in the hole world’ as they had put in writing, was probably
called something else now. His
sweetheart from a month ago blocked him on all her social media, just for the
sake of operating in the modern world without reminders of lost romances. His brothers were wandering the world
elsewhere, becoming themselves as they should, and they rarely texted him,
because they all knew that the trials they faced were important for their
independence, their identity, and the actualization of their storytelling,
which makes brotherhood all the more satisfying. Paul understood this as well as they did. His mother and father were sleeping soundly at
home in this early eve. Paul knew he
would do the same one day when he was long of tooth and silver-haired. His folks considered him deeply, he knew, but
the conversations with them dried faster as he catapulted into life, into the
seemed that none of those people were here.
His buddies were, sure, but he frequented the night with them anyways,
and they minded their own business as all men do. And he knew his friends bounced fluidly
around the field, taking numbers from lady and gentleman alike, sending
pictures online for their lovers and friends and relatives, meeting new faces
and learning new things. Paul envied
them so and pitied himself. He curled
up, he shelled, and he withered. He
when he was frozen, seeing the shadowed Loneliness across the bar, he felt
despair. The alcohol inside swarmed up
into his throat, and the muckiness tickled his tongue and his teeth. Sprinting to the bathroom, trying to look
casual with his bloated cheeks, he whirled the door open and thank goodness the
stall was open, because when he wretched, he knew that he had saved the day by
not tossing himself onto some white-dressed flower out there, or some suited-up
groom-to-be. The happiness of the crowd
was still louder than the beats playing over the speakers, but Paul suddenly
was hearing only his wretches and his deep pulls of breath, trying desperately
to get it out rather than staling the process and rotting away in the bathroom
until some wisecracker wised up to send an employee and escort his limp, puking
body out into the street.
it passed quickly. He hadn’t wasted more
than three minutes before he cleansed himself in the heavenly sink water and
rubbed the gunk from his chapped lips and eyelids. He suddenly felt so tired, but when he
checked his phone he was disappointed to see “10:02” on the screen. Four more hours until the bar closed, and
four more hours that Loneliness would be staring, juxtaposed to the dancing
people and the joy they screamed.
when he finally moped out of the bathroom, he saw someone he didn’t think he
would see in a million years. Standing
under the dusking bar lights was Samantha, her hips tightly fitted to the
striped dress that cut above her breast, revealing her slender and unblemished
shoulders, the cloth hanging over her legs excitedly in the wind. Her glistening black hair clamored in a
breeze. She had dimples and a smile that
no picture could perfect.
Paul’s first love; his first girl. How many
years has it been?
walked up to her and, not noticing she was alone, waited for her to see him,
avoiding again the urge to speak. Not
but a few seconds passed before her eyes found his, glowing like all the
others, waiting to be loved, and she took his hand and walked him to an
abandoned corner of the fenced-in patio two steps down by the street. She whisked her drink around and smiled
generously, waiting for him to say something.
Her onyx hair glistened in the light of the night.
of hello, or asking about her, asking how old she felt or who she had seen and
what she had done, his focus turned on himself again, and he was contemplating
the reason he had gone out at all, when he could have been contemplating at
said hastily and honestly, “I’m so glad that you came.
Do you need anything? Can I get
you a drink?” He found two cushioned
chairs sitting nearby. Then, “Will you
sit with me?”
did, and her body moved flawlessly about as she arranged their chairs. She turned to him again, nodding her head to
the last question, ignoring the offer of drink, and then he felt the words
coming faster than he wished. “Sam, my heart’s been bruised. It won’t lose its slow tune. But now that you’re here, will you hear me
smiled and nodded meekly. He felt tears
welling in his eyes, his throat pulsing in and out with the sour taste of vomit
and lager crawling around one another.
I’m… I’m caving in. I’m running out of
options. I’m trying to catch my
pace. I sometimes feel like there’s only
splinters and glass in my hands. I feel
cradled and used at the same time… I’m drinking myself into a hell of a blue,
y’know? My spine’s crooked. I’m growing unkind.”
he spoke he stared into the cemented ground, weeds poking up around her
sandaled feet. Ashamed, he rubbed his
neck and his hands together, regretting that he was talking to the floor instead
of the beautiful woman, his first love, whom had taken him just at the right
time. The words were correct but
untimely. Too strong. And when he looked at her, Paul found that
her generous smiles had gone. Her eyes
were sullen and full of tears too. Her
jeweled hand rolled over her temple, trying to get a grip on him. She looked not annoyed but complexed and overwhelmed,
just like him.
me I’ll be fine,” he heard himself say, the words choked and wobbly. “When I go home I’ll slump in the yard, but
you can comfort my arms and my head when I go down to sleep. Won’t you?”
said: nothing. It was only a moment though.
a voice from behind said. Paul whipped
himself around, creaking the chair’s feet, and saw his friends standing there
in a small circle. He couldn’t make out
who was who, but the front man said:
“Who are you talking to?”
he turned once more, and where Samantha had been sitting was Loneliness again, blank
and black, gazing right back at him. Samantha
was bright and lovely, but Loneliness was charcoaled and blurred. Samantha’s hands and feet and neck were
trimmed with glimmering jewels, but Paul saw nothing but darkness in the other. Samantha had smiled generously, but in the deep
shade of his face Loneliness was grimacing, embarrassed for being associated
with the fool that was clamoring to himself in the desolate corner of the bar.
bolted up and out of there. He ran and
knocked at least three other people.
Someone called him a ‘fuck’, but he didn’t give any. When he had wandered into the street, he
burst through the bursting crowd of happiness and ran as far as he could. He stopped to wretch twice, God knows
where. He heard them calling back to
him, his buddies, but he had lost them, because he hadn’t run like this since
he was an athlete, years and years and years before the smokes and the drinks
had settled into him.
vision blurred and tilted. Everything
was translucent. Some people gave him
hard looks of concern when he ran, but none of them were made out, not even
their beloved eyes. Cars honked, someone
cheered, someone called him a fuck again, and he must have ran nearly a mile
before some cop turned down his street, accelerating, and he bolted the away
for someplace where cars couldn’t go. He
turned and turned and got out of sight, then scaled a building’s fire exit to
the roof. Paul saw the skyline
again. He could hear the happiness
calling out in mockery, beckoning. He
wept and collapsed to the graveled top of the building, whatever it was, and
curled up into himself, waiting for Loneliness to find him.
it didn’t, Paul choked on his words, laying there, dying for Samantha to come
back for him; he knew they couldn’t love again, but he wanted to see her.
Or his brother, his father, his mother, and a friend that
understood. He was waiting for his buddies
to help him contemplate rather than wait it out. Waiting for himself to put himself in the
right situation for once in a lifetime. Waiting
for himself to bounce around the crowd like he always dreamed, waiting to hear
the cheering horns rather than the low strings in the day, waiting for
something good to happen. Waiting never
did anyone any favors, though.
stretched his eyes open with all his might and saw him sitting on the edge of
not the only one,” Loneliness said calmly, “I visit many people each
night. I find people in the agony of a
lost pet, of their murdered families, of their warfare and their strife for
food and drink. They look for me to make
sense of their missteps, mishaps, and misfortunes.” He paused.
“You? You’re despairing, and
you’ve undone yourself from a good standing.
I personally don’t understand it, but you need my company. You should’ve doughed up the cash for your
duplex, because a dog might’ve turned me away.
Instead you’re weeping, sick from the drink, on the verge of pissing
yourself, on some godforsaken rooftop way far from where you should be sleeping.”
didn’t just pity or accompany him. It
mocked him. Paul sobbed and hiccupped into
his sleeve, waiting for it all to be over.
visit people like you more often than I’d like,” Loneliness continued, “Because
nobody has everything figured out. You
try to shine bright and you flicker sometimes, but they do see the best in
you. Believe me.” Then he laughed a cruel laugh. “But Paul, you will feel lonely forever. Know
this. I know my regulars.”
saw Samantha in his shut eyes, but then saw himself sitting alone, drinking wine
on a Monday night when he would be thirty, then forty, then fifty, then ninety,
knowing that it wouldn’t be any different.
some voice cried from the street. Police
lights went up like Hollywood lights.
Loneliness said again, snide, “You shouldn’t have to be lonely forever.”
a familiar voice inside Paul said, “Why don’t you do something about it?”
don’t I just be lonely forever?” Paul whispered to himself, barely hanging on
worst part was not the night, but the entirety of the next morning, when again alone
he called a cab, found his car, drove past the same streets as always. When he collapsed into his bed, he felt no
different than the moment before he had wretched in the toilet last night. He could feel the loneliness watching him.
he knew, was not the enormity of feeling
alone, or actually being alone, but
the consistency of feeling like, in
truth, he had and knew nobody.
bar was a dream, he convinced himself.
He teared up but fought it off for what seemed like hours, then went to
break his fast.