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The International Writers Magazine
Last Night

The Pledge
Matt Alison

On the other side of a bar sat a lovely specimen of the female gender whom avidly conversed to a man who had the appearance street hood. Mike Young thought himself lucky to at least be granted eye candy on his last night out of drinking. Looking at this woman with jet black hair cropped at the neck, an olive complexion, a gaunt memorable face with vivid eyes, and an artsy outfit Mike’s mind meandered into fantasy about a life long success white picket fence scenario with her. Still staring Mike noticed the probable felon order two shots of whiskey which jolted him to reality. New Year’s Eve was the night with his resolution being to quit drinking for his all around health, and he felt an uncertainty about this change.

People in New York City his age drink and partake in other indulgences for their social outlet, Mike Young convinced himself his first two years in Queens. A night out always contains anticipation of greatness, after four drinks one assumes epic self defining events to occur before sleep. In groups and more and more by himself in recent months Mike experienced plenty in New York bars. When Mike Young drinks by himself he obsesses about the eye candy, drinks too quickly, and makes bad decisions. His drinking group met irregularly, but recently his nights out averaged several nights a week. Excess caused Mike Young to accumulate substantial credit card debt, which is one reason to quit. The other reason includes his physical well-being. On several occasions he drank an incredible amount, passed out, woke up in the morning, and in the sunshine of the bathroom window tossed his cookies which worried him completely, because he read enough rock n roll stories to know that may lead to death.

By seven no bar stools remained and the tables became occupied as well. Mike still saw the beauty, but talked with some regulars that he knew in that bar environment. Other activities with these people never happened, but the drunken conversations, confessions and tales interested him. Sometimes their stories outweighed the eye candy and those two components, the intellect and the sensual, make bars interesting. Mike on his third beer told some regulars of his resolution to quit drinking. To his surprise, they gave him positive encouragements. They watched him in that Queens bar oblivious to restraint, so Mr. Young concluded they gave their advice in sincerity and not ridicule.

Mike Young watched the beauty stand up, pick up her cigarette pack, and walk out the door. He waited a minute and followed, seeing the thug remain seated. Outside, three or four people from the bar smoked, and some pedestrians passed on by. Mike faced the beauty and spoke, "global warming works."
"Scary but true." She replied concisely in a good humored way, her little grin of amusement fueled him to continue.
"If I wanted no seasons I’d move to Florida."
"Where are you from?"
"Ohio. And you?"
"Arizona, so this doesn’t seem too warm." Arizona Mike thought, finally lighting his cigarette, he envisioned her posing for photographs at the Rio Grande, and sauntering through the desert in some biblical way. She continued the talk, "Ohio to NYC must have been a change, from politics to just about everything."
"I’m from Toledo, a medium sized city. Blame other parts of Ohio for President Bush."
"That’s good. I’m from Phoenix, a suburban urban sprawl. I like New York City better. I’ve been here for half a year."
"I’ve heard comparisons of Phoenix and Los Angeles." Mike stated in a derogatory way even though he reasoned the geography of the southwest and a metropolitan combined into one can’t be that bad. Mike foresaw this leading to nothing other than small talk so he scourged his brain for something interesting. To buy time he quickly tossed his cigarette even though it contained a couple of puffs and pulled out a new one. To his relief, she did the same. "Do you have any resolutions?"
"No, I don’t think people need a time constraint for improvement. Seriously change should be a continual process, not once a year."
"By the way, what’s your name?"
"Clara. And yours?"
"Mike." They shook hands while smiling, "Clara, I have a resolution." He paused for a moment seeing a sardonic role of her eyes but shortly continued. "Basically I want to quit drinking and eventually cigarettes."
"That’s good and healthy. But why now?"
"Only recently it became a problem, and this is a good symbolic time for a new slate."
"New York without drinking, you might as well live in Toledo."
"It will be a change."
"This is your last night out?"
"Are you meeting people later?"
"Not until eleven or so?"

She inhaled her last puff, threw the butt on the sidewalk, and propositioned, "Come and drink with me and my friend."
Mike took his last puff and decided to ask an uncharacteristically bold question for him. "Is he your boyfriend?"
To his surprise she grinned and stated "he is my best friend, and happens to by gay. Call me a fag hag if you want." Mike laughed at this expression not heard in years, and followed her in optimistic. A regular switched seats with Mike. Clara introduced Mike to Jeff who looked menacing, tattoos included, but spoke in a somewhat soft effeminate manner. Mike’s memory flashed back five years prior to a biker bar in North Toledo when he thought a fight involving him would brake out over spilt beer, but instead had an apparent brute emphatically apologize to him. Jeff reminded Mike of that biker.

Clara quickly announced that this was Mike’s last night out, and they ordered three shots of Old Granddad whiskey. With the heightened effect of more shots and beers Mike enjoyed the next couple of hours with these two, forgetting his looming cessation. The talking began with the frivolous such as both the advantages or disadvantages of internet jukeboxes depend solely on the musical taste of the selector. After that line of thought dissolved literature sprang up with Jeff mentioning his favorite book being A Portrait of Dorian Gray for the fact with the beautiful writing it feels like your reading art and only a great poet could create that feeling from prose. Mike Young stated several of his favorites and the attention shifted from Mike to Clara for her two cents. She stated "anything by Sylvia Plath, suicide poetry is best." They chuckled and Mike asked her if she read Plath’s poetry. "All of it" This feat impressed Mike, because with the world of poetry he was illiterate. They discussed a good sliver of literature until they ordered another round of shots, Clara gave the toast, "to troubled writers" and they downed the harsh whiskey.

Clara told Mike she wanted a cigarette and he agreed. This time Jeff got up as well stating "I need some fresh air." So the group of them stepped outside. Immediately Jeff offered, "Mike, take one of mine." In the grasp of Jeff’s hand was a sandwich bag containing numerous tightly rolled joints. Mike Young could count on the fingers of one hand the times within the past couple of years he smoked marijuana. All of those occasions came about similar to this, with too much drinking and an offer.
Maybe the whiskey talked but Mike clearly articulated without hesitation, "thank you," accepted the joint, and lighted it. Inhaling with the immediate throat burn unlike tobacco Mike reflected on his end of nightlife escapades, and he might as well have fun.
"Do you toke often?" Clara asked with a strange glimmer in her eyes.
"In high school, college, but I prefer drinking."
"The intoxication of alcohol varies more, and it’s legal."
"Were on a sidewalk, nobody cares." Jeff argued.
"But the illegality of weed put it on the level of any illicit drug." Mike retorted with what he actually believed. Habitual pot use also makes a person slow, he almost added.
"No comment on that statement." Clara said and they finished their last couple of joint puffs in silence creating awkwardness. Within a matter of minutes inside the bar everything seemed right to Mike, the music from the internet jukebox was timely, the talk of the New Year exited him, and the trio quickly forgot their differences stated outside. His watch stated 9:45 which left plenty of time until the closing time of four. In his mind, he put significance to his present moment, after tomorrow his world would change. Maybe he would concentrate on reading or writing, solitary pursuits, but his party will have ended. However, Clara intrigues him and repeating nights similar to this one with her temp Mike.

By this time, the bar was packed, noise chaos collected to create a euphoria throughout the place. After the second shot since they walked back into the bar Mike observed Clara whispering to Jeff secretly. During this correspondence Mike saw Jeff quickly take something small from his pocket and discretely pass it to Clara. Mr. Young saw that action numerous times in bars to realize the transaction and talked to a guy on his left about the football playoffs. Soon Clara tapped Mike on his shoulder telling him they should smoke. Mike got up and started for the door, Clara grabbed him, "This way, to the patio." He followed her while Jeff remained seated.
Funny how Mike Young was a regular but never went to the patio until the apparent stranger Clara led him there. The moment he walked out, silence surrounded him compared to the bar, and they sat down on the only bench completely alone. Mike lit a cigarette, and put his left arm around Clara’s shoulders, it seemed natural. "Maybe I shouldn’t quit drinking, tonight’s been awesome."
"You should, it would show strength."

Suddenly a drunken stupor turned into reflection and they sat in silence for a number of minutes. Mike thought of the differences between them, she’s beautiful but might be immersed in an adherent lifestyle, while Mike other than drinking too much is not. And he believed quitting his nights out will make him Joe Average. Mike pondered his weakness of him accepting the joint, and with that concept he knew what question she had as she posed her lips to speak. Disappointment came over him when she finally asked. "Do you want to do some Coke? Since this is your last night, and all." Mike shook his head no, perplexed and she asked, "Mind if I do some?" He declined, taking his arm off of her.

Clara pulled out a small baggie poured some on her left hand between her thumb and index finger, crushed it with her right index finger, snorted, and some dust fell onto her lap. Mike Young watched three or four people do cocaine in his life and always noticed sadness with utter vulnerability in their facial expressions right before and while they do it. Clara is the first female he observed snorting, and that characteristic seemed heightened by her gender. They were silent, she repeated her nasal act, and Mike wondered if he continued his nights out, if he would ever sink that low. Finally Mike decided his New Year’s resolution was essential. If he fell into a narcotic lifestyle, he would be no better than a New York City stereotype in the eyes of Midwestern parents.
All the sudden Mike Young’s cell phone sang an eighties tune, and he picked it up. Mike and Clara gazed seriously eye to eye at each other during his conversation that ended with these words, "I’ll be there shortly." She, more hopped up by the seconds, nodded as he told her of his prior obligations.
"Good luck quitting drinking."
"Take care of yourself." He replied and they hugged soulfully telling him of the possibilities that he was refusing. They returned inside to the jolt of a fully packed bar saying goodbye. Then he paid his tab, said goodbye to several others, and went outside to catch a gypsy cab. Mike realized he may never see Clara again or that bar, both being representations of what he does not want. With anger his thoughts turned to military sobriety starting the next day. The test had already begun.

© matt allison Feb 9th 2007>

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