Prodigal

Andrew slouched in a chair in the corner, wedged into a table which was set too close to the wall. Only three of the chair's legs offered stable support, with the fourth wobbling and threatening to give way at any time. His discomfort, of which he was only partly aware, was entirely unnecessary, as there were few other patrons present vying for room. But he felt more comfortable here. At the bar there was the distraction of the bartender moving back and forth, busy with unimportant tasks which could easily wait until later, as well as patrons who somehow seemed compelled to chat with him while waiting for their latest round.

Here, far back in the corner, someone would have to walk far out of his way to interrupt him, and also need some definite reason for doing so.

The barroom was dank, decrepit. Even when the room was empty, which was usually the case, a choking cloud of tobacco smoke always seemed to hang suspended from the ceiling. His beer was invariably stale, only slightly less so than the air he had to breathe. He thought about having a cigarette, even though he didn't smoke regularly. If the air would be foul anyway, he might as well be the one fouling it. Or at least contributing to the fog. A cigarette might also keep his off hand occupied, and allow him a thoughtful respite while he mentally arranged sentences. He periodically set down his pen for just this sort of interlude.

Forget the cigarette, he thought. He didn't have any of his own, and he certainly didn't want to ask for one.

He looked up from his notebook, subtly, raising his eyes without lifting his head to peer at his surroundings. The place had seen better times, it was obvious, but even in its 1940s heyday it was nowhere his father would have dared enter. My father, he mused, picking up his pen and returning to his notebook, a professional, a respectable man, a man whose devotion to the suburbs knew no limits.

He paused again, starting at a vague point in midair, just above the table's grimy surface. His father was probably on his third whiskey sour by now, still in his dress shirt, shoes off, continuing his lifelong work of sculpting an imprint of his ass into the leather of his recliner. Vainly fighting off the catnap which he wanted more than anything else.

That was the life his father wanted for him, identical to his own. Weeknights of falling asleep early, weekends of mowing and perfunctorily unjoyous attendance at church.

This was Respectability, Andrew scribbled. He had to get back to his novel, he knew, but for the past week or two he had been having trouble connecting with it. The words wouldn't come, the vague ideas which surfaced wouldn't take root or be strung together. Whenever his narrative stalled, which was often, his thoughts relentlessly returned to everything he had left behind, although the everything, he assured himself, was really nothing. His father had the everything, and for him it was nothing; he certainly wasn't fulfilled by any of it.

And while Andrew had yet to find any fulfillment in the freedom he had demanded for himself, at least, he told himself, the potential for it was there. He was working towards it, he insisted.

But nobody was arguing the point, not any more. Nobody was listening at all.

 
 

Copyright 2004, P.J. Anderson

 

 

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