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"Banged Up," short story excerpt

Wednesday 12/21/22

This is what I call game over prose. As in, there's no competing. Game over.


I was drinking at the bar, getting loaded. People don’t say getting loaded anymore. It’s a self-conjured anachronism, the same way that thinking about lilacs is like receiving the scent of a memory.

A friend of mine favored the term getting banged up. As in, “Oh my God did I get banged up last night,” or, “I’m still banged up from Thanksgiving.”

I pictured his neck and mouth mottled by bruises from copious imbibing, with these wounds of the body having been determined to be worth it, at least in some small, but real, part.

Whenever I saw him the day after he’d phoned or texted me about the banging up, I’d be surprised to see that he was blemish-free, but that was only an initial associative response on account of an image that had lodged.

I sat in the bar getting loaded—and banged up—thinking about murders and the people who must continue on. There are so many of them. I look at my feed on Facebook news or whatever, and it’s murder this and murder that. The world really wants you to know about murders. I guess it makes sense. But when there’s so much of any one thing, it seems that you should know all about that one thing or you can stop being told. Picking and choosing doesn’t make a lot of sense.

A billionaire was murdered five years ago, apparently, and his family just offered a thirty-four-million-dollar reward for info that led to the arrest of his killer.

Why thirty-four million? Can’t be arbitrary. The figure was determined for some precise reason or reasons. And why the lag of four years? Took you that long to realize you loved him or should do something? Were detectives starting to ask questions again about where you’d been on certain nights?

When there’s a lag, there’s not really any love. You know. If someone’s isn’t responding to you like they did before, you’re aware of what’s up. Takes just the one time for something to be true. Think of how easy that is. A friend whose counsel is sought will say it’s the holiday or the other person could be busy, but there’s no real way not to know. It’s more a matter of when to admit it. Better to take care of it early.

Like I said, I was in the bar getting banged up. Certain bars—and it’s not as many as people think—contain so few people from night to night, year to year, decade to decade, that they don’t need to play music. It’d be weird if there was any. Are four guys supposed to dance with each other? Break into harmony? Form an impromptu barbershop quartet and brainstorm a plan in earnest to sing at a spring fair?

Just leave the music off. Just sit. Think. Throw the occasional word into the air. It’s no different than paying a toll.

There was this older guy down the bar from me away from the door who struck me as someone who’d ridicule and jeer someone else for being old. Would say that that someone else shouldn’t have their position in political life, for example, and make a joke about diapers or dementia, like he wasn’t their age himself. Or that he transcended the notion of age, which he’d believe should be obvious to anyone with half a brain. A person who uses expressions like half a brain, and if you don’t agree with him, you’re a born fifty-percenter.

He was talking about a murder with another guy around the elbow of the bar from him, so they were sort of facing each other. It made sense for them to toss the occasional word back and forth. They almost had to.

The guy who carries himself like he’s always been and will always be in the prime of life and will remain so until he dies, says to the other guy, “Maybe someone deserves it. Had it coming. You ever think of that?”

Silence. The other guy nods in that “well, maybe” and “you might have something there” style with the pre-smile version of a smile and shoulders you expect to see rise and the chin dip down. Again, there’s no music, which can be its own form of music. They say music is organized sound. What is more meticulously organized and uncluttered than silence?

This is hitting me where I can’t be hit. But I can’t help but try to theorize along with what this guy has said. It’s the banging up. There has to be a sometimes, right? Someone did something. The line may be way, way off, but perhaps there is one. But now the night isn’t working the way I wanted it to, insofar as I ever want anything, or for the reason why I had come out into it. The goal of getting loaded is protection. Loaded with barriers. A hole gets scorched through the lot of them, and then it’s time to go. You take a basketball player. He shows up at the gym for the game, and in warm-ups he knows his shot won’t be falling through that hole. There’s nothing he can do. The only solution is tomorrow. Something resets. I get to that point when I’m aware of this hole of my own. And as for tomorrow, I don’t want to theorize on the chances of the particulars.

I pay the check, step out into the snow, my back nearly against the brick wall of the bar as I gather myself and allow my feet to set so that I don’t fall over. Begin feeling around in my pockets for my gloves, which can turn an into extended process depending upon the hour of the day and the state I’m in. I don’t like to put my gloves on inside. Seems defeatist as a default move, an automatic admission of incapacity and incapability that I’m also allowing to become continuous, when it’d be better first to evaluate and see where things stand. Take life as it comes, and take the snow and the cold the same way, too. Maybe something has gotten better since I was last outside.

The guy who will never acknowledge his own age follows behind me, and I hope he’s just there for a smoke and we won’t have to go anywhere together, not even for a short distance or until I vomit.

“Fucking good night,” he says standing in the open door, like the air itself has lent a most willing of ears to whatever he has to say.

I can’t tell if he’s wishing me a good night with an added bit of exclamation, a spirited send-off, or he’s evaluating the scene and approves of how winter has elected to present herself.

He zips his jacket in the manner of a man who is about to be on his way and whose time is invaluable like there is always someone anxiously awaiting his arrival. An extra harrumph up around the area of the collar. Someone who needs him.

I say “Yeah,” as if there could be any doubt. Fucking good night indeed.

There’s a cab on the other side of the street that’s otherwise shorn of cars which seems like it has to belong to one of us by right—and maybe by birthright—but we still have to formally determine who gets it.

“Which way you going?” the man asks me, with the discernible trace of an idea loaded into the question.

I motion with my hand to the left.

“That way.”

He considers for a moment, and in that second I have a chance to speak where it’s still kind of my turn.

“I’m gonna walk,” I tell him. “You grab the cab.”

“Suit yourself,” he says, with another harrumph that transitions into a swiveling of his body as he passes me from behind and steps to the road with a gait marked by the up-and-down motion of misaligned hips.

I listen to the squelching crunch of his work boots on the snow. They’re steel-toed canvases for dueling tangles of paint, scumbled from wear so that the skeins of color both absorb and reflect the strobing whiteness of the ground and the hovering grays of the sky. Night isn’t always black. You just think it is.

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