“Last call was fifteen minutes ago.” I told Ralph.
“That’s a shame. My waitress didn’t inform me. I’d hate to have to tell my good friend The Pearl about that.”
I glared. Ralph was mocking me about tattling to the owner. But I didn’t care. I wasn’t the scared newbie bartender he managed to intimidate into a panic from a few months ago.
“Awww c’mon. You still ain’t sore about that? Tell you what, I’ll buy you one. And good ol’ Solo Man can have one too!”
“I d-d-don’t want one.” Solomon insisted.
“Just shut up and take the free drink, fuck-stick.”
“I said get out.” I said, pulling Ralph’s bullying away from Solomon.
“No you didn’t.”
“Then I’m saying it now. Pay your tab and get out of here.”
“See the way she treats me Solo Man?” Ralph slapped Solomon on the shoulder. “Eh, you’re no fun. Fine I’ll get out of here.” Finally, he threw down his credit card. I ran it and slapped down his receipt and tossed the pen on top.
He picked up the pen, “But know you ain’t ever gonna be good with Marty ever again, right?”
His accurate perception of my distance from Marty made me pause. Either Ralph had gotten lucky and coincidentally stumbled upon my recent turn of events in his efforts to fuck with me. Or he was right.
As he signed the check, ” I mean, I’ll give it to the guy. He’s got a knack for cutting right to the heart of anyone sad enough to listen to him. And right there on the spot. Like a shrink with super powers. Solve the problems of your soul in seconds flat. I ain’t never seen anything like Marty in my whole life.”
“Glad you’re a fan” I said with arms folded.
“Yea, well that’s the rub. That’s a lot of power for someone to have over you. It’s scary if you think about it. I mean, it’s seems like a neat trick at first. Instant insight, like that. It’s why chumps go to fortune tellers and read horoscopes. But when someone gets as close as he does? And that quickly? Feels like somethin’ ain’t quite right. Being that vulnerable that quick.
“What do you want Ralph? You’re keeping me, to bitch about some old guy who got you thrown out of here months ag–?”
“He’s angry.” He said cutting me off.
There was a long breath.
I had expected any accusation Ralph would make to Marty’s character would be said with glee. But the way Ralph said it was…heavy. His eyes were terribly sad and his throat was both full and empty.
But despite Ralph’s gloom, his comment offended every part of my body. Ralph and I locked eyes sharply, partly to access the truth, and partly from a searing need stare him down. To get him to take it back. The tension in the room was almost tangible. Solomon looked at the both of us, not making a move for fear it would trigger an explosion. But Ralphs eyes weren’t fighting me. There was an exhausted futility. Almost a frustrated surrender. He was the one to break the eye lock by finishing his drink.
“I’m just sayin’ you–“
“Hey I just think–“
“Look, I’m sorry if–
“GET OUT! GET OUT! GET OUT!”
“Jeeze calm down, will ya?”
I turned around and grabbed a fifth of Smirnoff Vokda and lobbed it at his forehead. It only hit him in the shoulder as he turned to shelter himself. As soon as he turned was met by two rocks glasses as my response.
“OKAY OKAY! I’m going, you crazy bitch.”
He put on his coat and walked to the door. I immediately locked the door behind him.
There was a long silence as I picked up and broken glass pieces. Solomon came over to help me. I wanted to tell him, he didn’t need to help, but I couldn’t speak. Not yet. Finally after sweeping the area, (with Solomon holding the dust pan), he broke the silence.
“Yea, I’m fine.”
Solomon reached into his wallet to pay for his one cider.
“Don’t worry about it. You helped me clean the place. That’s certainly worth a Strongbow.”
I walked him over to the door to let him out.
“Have a good night, Solomon.”
“Thanks, Jill…” But I could tell he had more to say.
“Wh–” he glanced down, then over, then down again, then finally back to me, “Wh-what did that g-guy mean? About Marty being an–angry?”
There was another beat of silence.
“I mean, we all get angry sometimes right?”
“Sure. That guy’s just a jerk.”
“Okay, good night.” He didn’t have the courage to press the question further.
But that wasn’t what Ralph meant at all. I couldn’t admit it to myself at that moment. It was too terrifying, but Ralph had nailed the very fear that was pushing me away from Marty. That the happy-go-lucky, live in the moment, appreciation for everything old man that had managed to penetrate past all my walls and see me at my weakest might, just maybe have it in him to exploit that vulnerability. “Angry” could have meant anything. But somehow, in the last few weeks I had found myself worried that Marty might have it in him to lash out and use it. I don’t know why I thought that he would. I’d never seen him lash out at anyone. And for weeks I would wonder why I would have such a reaction. It wouldn’t be for a few more months that I would learn the truth that I was so afraid of.