It was eight o’clock on a Saturday when I walked through the door of the smokey bar. Mac was in his usual spot behind the counter drying glasses.
“Joe.” He nodded. “Anything new in the lineup this week?”
“Nah. Same as usual.”
“Eh, they’re good songs.” He shrugged as he threw the rag over his shoulder and grabbed an order slip from Susie.
I settled onto the worn wooden piano bench, lifted the lid off the keys, and placed my jar in the corner. My gaze scanned the room before settling on Jake, who sat forward, elbows resting on the bar. He’d been a fixture here since the loss of his wife five years ago, always some shade of sad, his solace found in the company of familiar strangers that he kept at arm’s distance. He gave me the familiar nod, my cue to play Always On My Mind; it had been their song. I mindlessly played the opening notes and hummed along quietly, letting my fingers take the lead.
Mac grabbed a tissue from the box he kept near the register and absently placed it in front of Jake, then pulled down the bottle of Jameson and set a glass in front of him. Jake nodded his thanks and crumpled the tissue in his hand, swiping at a tear that slipped from the corner of his eye.
Mac poured a second glass and carried it over to me, setting it on the corner of the piano. “Can I ask you a question, Joe?” He leaned against the piano, crossing his arms over his chest.
“Why do you still come in here night after night? You’ve been coming in for the last ten years…Doesn’t it get boring, the same songs, the same people week after week?”
“It never gets boring, Mac.”
“But you’re a successful author. Why don’t you have a home in the Bahamas or something? You know, umbrella drinks on the beach…”
“Because, Mac, I change lives.”
Mac rolled his eyes. “Well that seems like a bit of an exaggeration.”
“You see Jake over there?” I pointed. “To you he’s just a worn out old man missing his wife, but in another world he’s a playboy, surrounded by beautiful women who adore him. And Tommy,” he tilted his head in the direction of the gregarious man at the other end of the bar who was telling another of his famous tales. “He’s a hitman in my world.” Mac turned and watched as Tommy got up and began glad-handing a group of businessmen who’d piled in a few minutes earlier.
I continued. “Remember Jill? Nice girl, seemed innocent enough, but in my world she’s Candy, a down and out prostitute who lost her children to the state.”
We both turned as the door opened, letting in a gust of frigid air. “Hey, Mac, Joe,” Milton greeted us as he claimed his favorite table.
I leaned toward Mac and whispered, “Bet you didn’t know he was a war hero…in my book, anyway. And you know his friend Patrick? He’s lived an adventurous life on the sea as a pirate, full of villainous activities and buried treasure.”
Susie gracefully wound her way between tables, artfully dodging a wildly gesticulating dock worker who was spewing a litany of uninformed political opinions. She slid a tray of empty glasses across the bar, then glanced in our direction. She gave Mac a wink before stepping in and turning the monologue into an argument.
“And our very own Susie Q…” I said as we watched her jump into the melee. “I changed her life.”
“How’d you do that?” he asked, eyebrows raised.
“With a stroke of the pen she became the first female president and wiped out all of humanity with the start of World War Three.”
Mac thought about that for a moment. “So who am I? What’s my story?”
“You are something more. You’re not tied down to the mundane business of embodiment. You, my friend, are the vein that runs through every story, the lighthouse guiding them to a safe place to protect them from life’s violent storms, a missionary offering compassion and camaraderie to the lonely, afflicted, and celebratory alike. Without the beacon, there are no patrons, without the patrons…there are no stories.”
Mac leaned back again, contemplating the alternate version of himself that I had just offered as I hit the last chord of Always On My Mind.
This story is in response to Warrior Writers Prompt #6.
Jennifer Harris (JL Harris) is the co-author of The Providence Series, Sincerely, Grace: And Other Short Stories, and The Catalyst Series. She’s also a writing coach and editor, and you can find her at www.jenniferlharris.com.
When Jennifer is not writing or working with clients, you can find her hiking, reading, or playing an Evanescence song on the piano.