The room reeked of beer, sweat, lingering dances, but mostly him, beginning to sway slowly on the stool. A fan was punching the air, trying relentlessly to make it move while various cowboy boots shuffled around below. The sun had been beating down for three weeks. Word was spreading fast about his appearance in town; not that anyone in particular missed him; his job seemed to be a mixture of getting drunk and overcoming hangovers. His Adam’s apple bobbed as number twenty slipped past, working its way stealthily to his liver. He stared resolutely ahead, shifting momentarily to deliver a look that halted the bartender, a look imploring patience. The room was hushed, the heat weighing down scattered mumbles, scraping chair legs, and oblivious Oliver plinking away on the piano in the corner. He’d been there almost two hours, hadn’t moved, aside from throwing one through nineteen down. With an unsteady hand he gripped the edge of the bar and carefully stood up before hobbling off in the direction of the bathroom.
The noise of the crowd grew as the door swung shut, the movements accelerating. The flies swarmed. It seemed no one knew what to think of this man. For that matter no one could recall his name. But while gossip is fire, recollection (however false) trickles from one to another, slowly forming an image of this man. How long had it been? 10 years? 30 years? No one had any idea. He had gone to Mexico. It was a girl he met steering, a girl who wandered into town one night, a girl who had family in Mexico and lived luxuriously on the beaches. He hopped the train East. It was fueling a vengeance, for some long dead fancy, murdered in the night along with his horse and dog, and he took to the road to forget her. He made it out West. He’d found oil, crept out in the dark to pursue the black gold then wasted his wealth and wandered back here.
The door smashed open as he staggered out, making his way slowly but surely to his stool. He picked up his drink, drained the last of it, then put his mug down with a heavy thunk. He sat there for a long several minutes, then drooped his head over the empty glass, cleared his throat, and spit in front the barstool.
“Listen up,” he started off slowly, his nose still in his mug. His speech was slurred, slightly drawn, slightly raspy, mostly drunk. “for I have seen something…something long forgotten and mysterious.” The crowd gathered closer, hugging his words, bating their collective breaths.
“I have seen something that frightens me, I have seen something that fears me. I have seen something that fills me with unease. I have traveled to distant lands, spoke in different tongues, eaten different food and fought many a people. The world has passed before my eyes, I have breathed the air of this wondrous planet and tasted the fruits of her loins. And I have seen something.”
He looked carefully into his glass, his hair falling past in disappointed straggles.
“I have seen the bottom.”
The crowd stopped moving. There was silence amidst that heat, as the people glanced amongst themselves, whispered a little.
“The bottom. I’ve seen the bottom.”
His voice grew.
“BARTENDER. I HAVE SEEN THE BOTTOM!” He shouted, throwing his head back.
The bartender jumped through the rafters then scurried over, quickly pouring number twenty-one for the man. He lifted his mug in thanks, threw it back in one long, long swallow. With a sigh he put the mug down with another solid thunk, swung his legs to the side of the stool, and slowly, oh so slowly, got up.
“Welcome home,” he mumbled, staggering out into the sun.