Pockets of Dust
Victor sat in the corner of the bar and sipped from his beer; the corner in which he sat was far removed from the bar counter and the rest of the patrons, and anyhow it was a Tuesday and not many people were there. Low, soft music gurgled out from the two speakers positioned in opposite corners of the ceiling; dim, silver lights, snuggled indiscriminately on the walls, provided the kind of light that only really worked to show the outlines of people; and warm, recycled air swam in currents through the room, collided off of wooden walls and settled onto the wooden floor, mixing with the dust that seemed to live in places like these.
Victor took another sip from his beer and craned his neck back. His body seemed tight and rigid – the way the dust and the light and the air all mixed together made Victor feel sleepy. He took another sip and finished his beer.
Two women walked into the bar and sat down at a table. They both had on these long black coats, long black scarves, long black gloves – they kept giggling as they huddled into the warmth of the place. Victor sneered and motioned the bartender over.
“What can I get you, Victor?”
“Who them ladies o’er there? Ones who just walked in?
The bartender looked over his shoulder and shrugged. “Don’t know.”
Victor breathed in heavily. “Out-of-towners, ya reckon?”
The bartender shrugged again. “Who’s to say?”
“Aight. Gimme another one of these.”
The bartender took Victor’s glass and headed back over toward the bar. Victor leaned into his chair and closed his eyes. The music had changed in tone, growing faster and louder, and the women, who had taken their coats and their scarves and their gloves off, were laughing about something. Victor rolled his eyes and played with the buttons on his sleeves. The warmth the neon BEER ALWAYS ON TAP sign right above his head provided felt good; the heat from Victor’s body rose up in vapor form and quarreled with the hotter, bright light of the sign.
The bartender dropped Victor’s beer off and pivoted toward the ladies. Victor scowled at the three of them and took a sip from his beer. He looked sideways toward one of the lights and fixed his glasses. The dust and the light and the air circled each other in a vortex, as if some strange and unknown choreography was written into the essence of the place. The bartender smiled at the two women and walked back over toward the bar. There was a sense of symmetry to the dust, the light. And the air – it felt heavier the later it got, and Victor tried to melt into the buttery warmth of his corner.
Victor took a sip from his beer and exhaled deeply. The bartender, now holding two margaritas, walked back toward the women. Victor chuckled quietly to himself and stroked his beard. He flagged the bartender over.
“Everything ok, Victor?” the bartender asked.
“You ever make a margarita before?”
“I reckon once or twice. I know how to, at least.”
Victor brushed back his long hair and shook his head. “Swear to god, I been coming here for twenty somewhat years and I ain’t never seen no one order no margarita.”
The bartender shrugged. “Things change, Victor.”
Victor spat on the ground and rubbed his nose with the back of his hand. “Nothing changes.”
Victor took a sip from his beer and brushed the bartender off. By now the moon had reached a certain height where wet globules of the stuff fell in droves through one of the windows and splattered themselves about the place. Milky streaks of white mixed with the dust and the light and the air and the whole place turned somewhat brighter but also more somber and Victor frowned and took another sip from his beer. The women giggled some more and then the door swung open and three men came in. All three of them came over toward Victor and the first one grabbed and squeezed his back warmly.
“Good to see ya, Victor.”
Victor nodded and took a sip from his beer. “Good to see ye fellers. Been a minute.”
The second one came around and took his cap off. “Mill still quiet as hell without ya.”
Victor coughed and spat again. “Shoulder still hurts.”
The third one nodded. “Shoulder injuries are tough going.”
Victor nodded. “Ya.”
“Any idea’r when you’ll be back?”
“Been two months, Victor.”
“Ya. And could be another two.”
The man in front nodded. “We’ll be over by the bar.”
“Aight.” Victor waved them off and took another sip from his beer. The cool air that had come in with the men had since dissolved, or had been consumed by the warm and heavy air of the place. Victor patted his coat pocket and felt for his pills. His shoulder really was killing him. He breathed in deeply, took a sip from his beer, and stood up to walk toward the bathroom. The light at the bar, dusty and frothy, hovered and quivered and mixed with the moonlight. The whole place assumed a kind of tenuous harmony, threading and weaving and throwing shadows as starlight trickled down through the branches of trees outside and arrived in bespeckled pockets inside the bar. Hundreds of thousands of particles of dust twirled and pirouetted through the different prisms of light, all liquid and fluid, and the air grew heavier, darker, more abstract. The women continued giggling and the men ordered their first round and Victor did what he did in the bathroom, and all the while the light and the air and the dust blanketed the tables and chairs and bar counter until everything seemed fuzzy and static.
Victor walked out of the bathroom and sat back down at his table. He took a gulp from his beer and finished it. The bartender saw, collected Victor’s glass and brought him another beer. Victor took a gulp and shuffled his back deep into the chair. He closed his eyes and imagined one piece of dust, one single, lonely thread of dust floating gently in the corner of his periphery. For some reason this thought provided Victor with a great deal of comfort. He visualized that solitary strand of dust so vividly – it was so real, so close and intimate to his heart he felt that almost nothing else existed in the entire world. The fuzziness, the staticity of the place reminded him of Saturday mornings, when he used to get up early and try to fix the television for Anna and the boys, the way the tv would spit out static until finally settling on some cartoon or something. Victor opened his eyes quite suddenly, scared, the memory having fled after having had its way with him. Victor closed his eyes again and saw only montages of darkness and dust, threading, weaving, dusty and broken.
A young couple walked in and sat down at one of the tables near the two women. Victor’s eyes were still closed; the three men at the bar ordered another round; the two women sipped from their margaritas; an old woman who must have been in the bathroom for an hour stumbled out and left; and two teenagers near the heating vent talked in whispers.
Victor opened his eyes and took a gulp from his beer. He held the half-empty glass near his nose and inhaled – it didn’t really smell like much of anything to him. Despite the music and the giggles and the whispers, it was eerily quiet in the bar. Victor smiled to himself and played with his buttons. The room had gotten warmer, but not in a suffocating way – it was almost as if, by his sheer proximity to the window and thus the cold outside, he was made warmer by the gooiness of the warmth within. And warmth began to seep out from his body, again like vapor, or steam, as if all the regrets and troubles that had plagued Victor were being boiled out of him.
A young man walked into the bar and ordered a rum and coke.
“What kind of rum?” the bartender asked.
“Any kind’ll do. Actually – whatever’s cheapest.”
The young man took his coat off and placed it on the stool next to him. He craned his neck and surveyed the bar. The bartender came back and dropped off the young man’s drink.
“Anything else for ya?”
“Good at the moment, thanks.”
The young man took a look at the two ladies sitting at the table and winked at one of them. The woman at the receiving end of the wink giggled and sipped from her margarita. The men at the bar ordered a third round. Victor swayed back and forth and back and forth in his seat until he fell off and slammed his head on the ground. The crash broke the fragility of the place – everyone stopped what they were doing and turned over toward Victor. The bartender walked over toward Victor, the two women held their hands over their mouths, the three men shook their heads and frowned, and the young man at the bar scowled. The bartender crouched down and placed his hand on Victor’s shoulder.
“You aight there, Victor?”
Victor blinked once, then twice. “Yeah, I’m fine. Just lost my balance, that’s all. Let me get back up. I’m fine, ok? What’s e’ryone lookin’ at?”
The bartender patted Victor on the back, took his cloth out and began rubbing down the area where Victor had spilled his drink. “I reckon you’re done for the night, Victor?”
“Hell na. Gimme another one.”
The bartender nodded and headed back over toward the bar area. He threw Victor’s old glass into the sink and fetched him a new one.
The young man chuckled loudly. “You’re really gonna pour him another one?”
The bartender nodded.
“Why? He’s clearly had too much.”
“I reckon you don’t know Victor, sir. He’ll be just fine.”
The young man grimaced. “Ah, so you’re one of those places? Keep the drunks drinking till they’re broke?”
The bartender frowned. “Victor drinks for free here, sir.”
“For free? Where do I sign up for that deal? I can get that drunk – what makes us so different?”
“I s’pose nothing much.”
The young man laughed. “Well, now you’re just insulting me.”
The bartender finished off the glass and began moving over toward Victor. “I reckon you two are alike. Both came here in search of something. Reckon he’s closer to finding his than you are yours.”
The dust in the middle of the bar seemed to separate as the bartender made his way over toward Victor. Each piece seemed to strain and stretch at the sight of the bartender, flailing, oozing and melting in the moonlight, collapsing over and into itself. Victor nodded at the bartender and took a sip from his beer. The men at the bar ordered a fourth round; the young man at the bar eventually moved over toward the two ladies who were still working on their margaritas; the young couple eventually left to go home; the two teens took turns smoking from a crack pipe behind the bar and walked home. And then the bartender rang his bell. “Last call, last call,” he said, not needing to shout, and slowly things began moving into place. The young man and the two women ordered tequila shots and left together. Two of the men at the bar headed outside, while one of them walked over to Victor and squeezed his forearm.
“It’ll pass, Victor. Everything always does.”
Victor nodded and frowned. “Leave me be. I still gotta finish this here drink.”
“Victor,” the man whispered, looking at him with pitiful eyes. “Listen here. It wasn’t your fault.”
Victor threw his arm up and the man almost fell back. “Get the fuck ‘way from me!” Victor yelled. “You think I need you tellin’ me that? Huh?”
“Alright, now, take it easy.”
“Ahh, fuck off.”
The man nodded and left. Eventually it was just the bartender and Victor.
The bartender went around and wiped down all the tables; he put the chairs on top of the tables; he swept the floors and turned off the lights, one by one. Then he went over and roused Victor, who had fallen asleep on his table.
“Want me to call ya a cab, Victor?”
Victor slowly stirred and then, after gaining back his consciousness, nodded begrudgingly.
“Alright, Victor. All you have to do is wait outside. Close the door on your way out – it’ll lock on its own.” The bartender turned the lights off and left.
Victor sat in the silence of the place and closed his eyes. Slowly, in increments, the dust made its way toward him. One by one they attached themselves to Victor, who after mere seconds became indistinguishable from the chairs, the tables, the floor. Eventually he stood up and walked outside.
Up above, the moon had taken residence in the center of the sky, sending out yogurt-covered splotches of white, billowing out milky ripples into the surrounding black. A few greyish clouds nuzzled up against the base of the moon, holding its rounded bottom ever so gently, licking with thirsty lips the silvery, lunar goo that oozed out from its holes. The outdoor BEER sign sputtered out its last remaining breaths of light and fizzled into the darkness.
Victor looked up at the stars – but instead of focusing on each speck of light, his attention was instead drawn to the intense, empty realms of void between them. He stared deeply into the nothingness that gave the lights their meaning, and could feel something staring back – no, not God, nor any kind of omnipotent being – it was almost like looking at a picture of oneself from sixty years ago, and feeling that there indubitably exists some conscious connection – but also not really, that there’s some inherent disconnect, that the connections you think you feel are instead products of looking, and searching, and staring into empty pockets of void.
Andrew J. Older is a legal assistant and aspiring law student residing in DC. He has been published in Flash Fiction Magazine, Scarlet Leaf Review and Trouvaille Review.