"Salvation" by Nate Lippens

I operated by remote, living in a part of town where time had stopped or been suspended. Sewer mains were under repair and the roads were torn up. The sidewalks had buckled. Houses were dark day and night. Businesses kept unposted and shifting hours. Barrooms swabbed in bleach waited for the unemployed to drink at respectable hours.

I didn’t wait for respectable hours. I wasn’t about to pretend I had worked all day and stroll in with the after five crowd for their happy hour specials. I sat at the bar at two in the afternoon with the other unabashed drunks. We anchored ourselves with plenty of empty bar stools between us. Music played and muted televisions were on. I listened to the other drunks and drank. They told stories in which they had been done wrong but they always had a great comeback line. They were the secret heroes in every situation. They had plans, some big, some small. They would triumph in the end because that’s what people do in movies and on television. They rooted for teams. Every loner roots for teams.

Did observing them mean I wasn’t one of them? If I could say that their dreams were implausible and their plans deluded, did that mean mine weren’t? Was my humanity-destroying judgment my salvation?

Another, I said to the bartender. Another. A player at a blackjack table pushing his luck. I drank until the voices of the others became one. I drank until I felt warmth in my body that expanded into the room, that closed the distance of the empty bar stools. I felt bad for the others and myself and I could love us in that badness. The warmth didn’t last. Something was closing in on me. I paid the bill with my credit card and left the last of my cash as a tip. I put on my coat and thanked the bartender. “May the road rise,” he said with a nod of his head. I stepped outside onto the broken sidewalk.