Sadie’s Last Ride
Hank sat at the bar of the retro techno-thèque talking to the proprietress, Lilly. She had slowly raised herself out of the water debt she had been born into through strict vigilance. She kept enough reserve of graywater to keep Curb, Hank’s cleaver, from coming around. She sensed the change in the air right before things began the long turn toward the good and decided to go into business.
For the first time in a long time there was excess in the air. The young pups who came in here wanted to dance and try their luck with the club’s many party girls. They were coming up in a different world than he had. For starters, to him, it was just techno, hold the retro.
A man with a withered face and a five day beard, in a drab scally cap approached the far corner of the bar. Roughly Hank’s age, the man moved like him. He hung his shoulders in the same downtrodden and defeatist lurch that made every shift in momentum appear to require a great effort of human perseverance.
The man noticed Hank and met his eyes with that survivor’s stare they both shared. The one that acknowledges without inviting engagement. Hank may have been the only water hauler who frequented this place, but his generation occupied the barstools.
The capped man fidgeted, his hands in constant motion, reliving a naive youth. The thrumming bass and staccato handclaps a memory of muscle. He whistled through teeth and dry lips.
Hank was here for one particular party girl. Or at least, that’s why he stayed.
In truth, today, he was here on business. It was his business with Lilly that brought him back again and again, that had facilitated their fortuitous first meeting when she was so sweet to him. The retro-ravers kept their distance and muted their attitudes if they wandered into his sphere. He thought she might like him just for the elbow room.
Maybe he was just her teddy bear, there to keep her feeling safe and in control.
They both craved company.
She was the brave one.
Lilly was fulfilling orders when a barback scooted in between her and the bar to process the dishes he’d collected. She took a step back and gave him a look that a Desert Demon would fear. She cleared her throat.
He stopped what he was doing. “Mam?”
“Do you think I want to have to work around you, Gabe?” The hair on the back of his neck prickled his spine. “The answer is: I don’t. Now, has Sadie shown up yet?”
He was given permission to speak and nearly blew it. “Not yet.” He got quickly to work stocking napkins and snacks. He avoided further eye contact as he called over his shoulder to her above the unrelenting pumping of the beat. “She got a call here yesterday and took off in the middle of her shift. Said it was no big deal, a family thing. That’s the last I know.”
Lilly sensed a hesitation in Gabe’s voice. She diverted Hank’s attention by prepping the glasses for sanitization, dumping unconsumed ice into the gray basin. The sound was music to Hank’s ears. To him, it was the sound of cold, hard cash.
Lilly’s prudence kept his partner out of it. Hank had never had to send Curb in to convince her they meant business and that’s why he was able to sit with her while he drank without any hard feelings between them.
Hank watched the fidgeter sweating the ice in his own glass. His fidgeting stopped when he noticed the sign above the back of the bar. It said, “The only water that leaves this bar is in you or in Hank’s graywater rig. Your choice.” Hank had never had to make good on the sign’s promise.
The young pups in the bar hadn’t been there for the bad old days and all that iced aqua in one place was almost too much to bear. The man couldn’t bring himself to lick his lips when he looked across the bar at Hank. The water hauler put his hand over his heart and tapped his embroidered name badge lightly three times.
To Hank’s surprise, the overcranked old raver moved aggressively in his direction. He fumbled for something in his pocket.
Hank stood up ready for a fight.
What the man came up with was a scrap of paper. “Sadie wanted you to know that there was nothing you could do.” The man spoke too quickly. It was hard to make out what he was saying over the cacophony of the club. “...that her Dad’s aqua debt was inherited, just like hers was, but now the debt dies with her.”
Curb kept their list. Hank reeled from the revelation of what had transpired behind his back. He yanked the paper from the man’s shaking hand. Without thinking, Hank gave him a single shove like they did when the bad days first started to turn old. The man shoved back and trudged away.
Hank read the simple line over and over again, knowing, but not wanting it, to be true.
“I’m glad it’s you who will finally come to collect - Sadie”
In a flood he remembered the way she had caressed his cheek on a breezy day when the air turned cold and Hank almost believed it could rain. They rode out to the edges of civilization. She’d always kept him company while he worked.
She spat over the crumpled remains of a bridge which dropped clear down to a barren canal. She said they weren’t the only ones wishing for rain. While he admired her for this, he could never give himself over to such reckless waste.
Hank put on his hat and sauntered slowly off. Only now could he love her; now she’d be pure, amongst his gray waters.