Thursday, March 6, 2014

Down the stairs

There's only so much to it, stars in her eyes, and then gone, on an afternoon train from Shinjuku. I'm drunk. So is she. We hold each other for a length of time between awkward and desperate, and then she pushes me away and the doors close and the wind whips my hair into my eyes as the train fires out of the station like a bullet from a gun straight into my chest. I reel, slugged, against a tile wall. No one else in the station, not the hurrying businessmen, not the frazzled mother with three loud children, not the tourists lost in a map they turn every which way in attempted comprehension, notices the exchange or the heartbreak that blows past my lips, my living death rattle.

I flee the station depth and emerge into unwanted sunshine that fries my eyes. Despondent, I stumble toward a cigarette vending machine, where I purchase a pack of Mild Sevens and immediately smoke three, bang, bang, bang. My head swims in confusion and nicotine and beer. I decide to roll through it and fall into a bar whose name eludes me. When I say fall I do mean fall; I miss the fourth stair and tumble down five more, collapsing in a heap at the bottom.

The bartender rushes to my aid. He is impossibly tall, or I hit my head and my mind is hopelessly muddled, or some likely combination of the two. He pulls me into a sitting position and says several sentences that don't process correctly. I believe him to be asking me about the Hanshin Tigers, and I answer that I'm not from Osaka but would take a beer if he has the game on. He gets me to my feet and asks me, perhaps not for the first time, how does my head feel. I nod. It hurts. I lie and say everything's fine.

I ask for a beer and he helps me to the bar. Shouldn't we get you to a doctor, he asks. Nonsense, I say, never felt better in my life. I need a beer more than I need idle hands prodding idle body parts and asking if this hurts or if that hurts or how many fingers am I holding up or please turn your head and cough. He places a large, black Asahi and a small glass before me. Both hands reach for the beer and bring it to my lips and I drink and the cold liquid flows into my stomach and pieces my head back together.

The bartender says his name is Daisuke. He is only a little less tall than I first thought, with arms and legs disproportionately larger than his surprisingly-compact frame. Despite the features that would have made him an awkward teenager, he moves smoothly, cleaning glasses, replacing them on the shelf behind him, and a handful of other motions that pass in a blur. Kunichi, I say back. He pushes an ashtray on the bar and lights a Lark cigarette. I start to reach for my Mild Sevens but stop halfway and ask him for one of his Larks instead. He hands me one and holds out a lighter, flame already springing from the tip. I take pleasant ash and heat into my lungs.

I finish the first beer and he hands me another. I drop a mess of coins on the counter and he scoops up enough to cover the drinks, leaving several behind. He asks why I'm drinking so hard so early. Is it early? I slam a balled fist onto the counter, making the coins rattle. Because I damn well need to. He doesn't press the matter further.

The bar is small and the walls are covered with framed portraits of American actors and actresses, past and present. What's with the pictures, I ask. The bartender smiles and swings a broad hand in a quasi-theatrical gesture. You're in Bar Hollywood, he says, fitting for your grand entrance, don't you think? I sip my beer. Most of the pictures are old, with stars from before either of us was born. The frames are all wood and several shades of brown. Half the pictures are monochrome, and most of the rest are faded. Where did you get all these, I ask. We finish our cigarettes around the same time and we each light another. Lots of places over lots of time, he says, never stop looking for another right shot for my little bar.

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