Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Diamond Back (Part 1)

John Boe Cole drinks his whiskey. I sit at the other end of the bar watching. No one drinks whiskey like JB. Least no one I have ever seen. He doesn't sip it. He doesn't swig it. He doesn't throw it against the back of his throat and choke it down. He kind of slurps it, sucking real hard just above the surface to make a fine mist that he inhales. He can clear a double shot in one long breath, making you wonder why he doesn't choke.

I nurse my Pabst and wait. JB is quiet now but that will change.

JB's ankles are bare above his buster brown work boots. It is 95 outside but he wears a flannel shirt over a grey-white longjohn undershirt. The shirtsleeves are rolled back and the elbows are worn through. His nails are dirty. His skin is dark and pockmarked and his high-boned cheeks are hollow. His black hair is greased back with a handful of Southern Rose. Some say he is part Indian, but I've never heard him say so. He turns to look at me. His red-rimmed eyes are blank beneath a sloping forehead; eyebrows bushy enough to sweep floors are separated by a nose that would make Caesar proud. His stare is empty. I return its emptiness. We've seen darkness that would make the devil shiver and have returned. We've both watched hatred, fear and guilt poison everyone that loved us. Now we are strangely content with the vacancy of our lives. If this is as good as it gets it is enough. If it is going to get worse then let it come quickly.

We've sat together in the Diamondback for years. Perhaps we have been here forever. Who knows the time in a place like the Diamondback? This is a dreamland without day or night. The only light is the neon over the bar and the florescents on the jukebox and over the pool table in back. The tiny stage by the exit door is empty, except for Friday's open mike and Saturday night when the Watson boys play. Time mostly passes as shots and drafts. We know it's not Friday or Saturday night but that's about it. Right now for example, the bar clock with the big white hands shows 11:23 but I can't remember if it's light or dark outside. I get my answer when some damn fool suddenly opens the door and daylight bursts in. I clamp my eyes shut and then open them to squint at the invader. It's Nathan, JB's younger brother. JB is tall. Nathan is short. JB is thin. Nathan is broad. His hands are square blocks and twitch at his side.

"JB come on home. Mamma's worried sick.

JB swings around on his stool and leans his elbows back on the bar. He gives Nathan the same gaze he gave me. Even in the Diamondback's twilight I can see Nathan's face darken. Nathan hasn't seen the devil's darkness. To him JB's gaze is a challenge rather than the white flag of surrender. Nathan leans in closer.

"Well? Ain't you gonna say nothing?"

JB sits up a bit and reaches back to get his shot glass. He empties it with a long, loud slurp.

"Dammit JB. What the hell are you thinking?"

I walk back to the jukebox. This is a familiar scene. Time after time Nathan makes the same mistake - trying to talk some sense into JB, getting frustrated and then either shaking JB or trying to drag him out to his truck. Most time JB just goes along without a fuss. Today is not one of those times.