Folio · 2017

Family Ties

Brooke Smith

The slurry from the world of “hard working men” of Sentosa City all spilled into the same bar, a decrepit old building erected against the end of the ironic ‘Richman Main’. It remained a sort of surly man’s paddock. A place where all troubles coagulated. Troubles that Charlie B. Addler was all too willing to medicate. He cast his cures with gin, a shot of firewater, a whiskey dashed across the rocks. All too knowing of the ills of men, at a ripe age of twenty and seven. The ‘Addleton Bar’ was his parting gift of dear old dad, who had traipsed after the skirt of a porcelain dame that took him by the tie, across the country. After months with no word, he was presumed robbed bare and tossed out beside the interstate. A drunkard’s funeral, where everyone suspected it; yet none shed a tear. Especially not in Sentosa, the city of crooks, where your fate was always held with how much dirt was beneath your cracked, discolored fingernails.

The bar itself had weathered years of patronage, but visually it fared poorly throughout the years, both inward, and outwardly. No matter how much polish Charlie had worked into the sticky, warped counter top, it kept its crude flavors. Rickety, hobbled wooden floors, rust clouded windows, and a stench of sour oak bled from the walls. The inoffensive décor of grime and disrepair was a humble welcome mat that greeted dirty swindler and the broken alike. The perfect place for rats to draw together, slipping blood money against the grain only to be pawed up by fat, greedy hands. Mobsters, luck inclined peoples, property pigs, and downtrodden men alike. Including Charlie himself. Even though his hands were bony in comparison, they never hesitated when grimy bills flashed the faces of dead men. The only difference between him, and the rats was that he was simply quicker to snatch a payment. And the only gamble he indulged in was keeping the business afloat, and the pantry- however paltry, stocked. He knew of hunger too fondly to know that booze would only eat the stomach, not feed it.

The Addleton’s had lived above the bar, in a shabby loft made of cardboard furniture and a ragged couch al le’ found-on-the-sidewalk-in-ninety-eight. But that was before. Now, only the lone Addler lived there. His namesake butchered just as the memories within. The spider crusted edges were still peppered with the broken glass of thrown away pictures, forgotten promises. Hidden behind aged bottles that had reached their twelfth birthday, having rolled too far to fetch, too much of a hassle to gather up and toss. The amber, silken dusted monuments of the past were far out of his way as he dressed himself. Cycling through the same, three black t-shirts, and a single pair of jeans. Only washed when their rank overpowered that of the bar, and patrons tipped him worse for his wear.

Tonight, he had only worn the same shirt twice, and his new sweat washed away the old. He stood behind the bar, dragging on a cigarette, flicking the ash into a shoddy bucket by his feet. The midnight crowd had filtered in, and the floor was bustling with arguments, laughter, and the odd poker game tucked in the corner. The hustlers pushed their games, either in cards or in politics. Their greedy hands held like hungry rodents, long nailed and fast breathed. Clutching their cards, scratching their glasses. Dirty coats shrugged their shoulders as they drank. Their thirst a religious type of ravenous, as if seeking a hidden answer at the bottom of each mug. Yet, finding none, they ordered another, and another, for another shot of possible fortunes. Then, a familiar man clad in a frayed, hide stained trench coat, shouldered his way in through the crooked door, past the throng of beady eyed cretins, straight to the counter. He lifted his head, the curtain of grisly gray parting ever so slightly to show his gaze. His careful gray eyes were pulled by sagging rolls of loose skin, pockmarked with age and bad luck. A cracked lip smile took over his features, his frail body leaning up against the bar as he met the tired eyes across from him. “The usual, Charles.”

Charlie nodded, drawing on his cigarette, while a smile of his own formed. His oily brow shimmered in the low, warm light, plastered with pasty strands of chestnut hair that tickled his neck. He lowered his cigarette, pinched between his thin fingers. Billows of ashen smoke then plowed through his grin, a warbled snigger reverberating through his throat while the burn of nicotine ignited the lining of his esophagus. A hint of cooling mint spread through his nostrils and simmered on his tongue while spilling smog to the ceiling, courting with the rest. “I thought I told ya’ not say dumb shit like that to me, Lyle.”

The man chuckled, dipping his head in acknowledgement. Charlie flicked the burnt butt into the bucket, piled with month's worth of kin, and got to the task of pouring a straight scotch. He slid the surprisingly clear glass across the countertop. Lyle merely nodded again, in thanks. Before they could continue their conversation, a sniveling creature from across the room ordered another round for his table. Bottle caps were piled in the midst of the hunched posse. The bent, tin coins were laid out in uneven droves amidst the cards, an immodest betting arrangement. Without a word, Charlie went to filling the order. Gracing their table with liquid poison, and taking the rubbish with him. Unceremoniously, Charlie dumped his gritty gifts into the sink and turned to see Lyle shoot his stare into his cup with a frown.

“Awe, Lyle, the rats get to you again? Couldn’t afford the rent this month either, eh?”

The man replied by taking a drink. Charlie leaned forward, resting his palms against the counter. He stared until Lyle set the glass back down, but he refused to meet the young man’s gaze. “How long have I been comin’ here, Charles?”

He winced at the name. Only an Addleton was called Charles. “Eh, about three months. Why? Ya’ lose track of time wanderin’ Sentosa?” Charlie sucked through his teeth, grit pooling against his gums. “That explains your rent issue, Lyle. Unless you wasn’t plan on stayin’. Got somewhere to be by now, instead?”

Lyle grimaced, quirking his head to the side. The amber liquid in his cup reflected the crestfallen face of a man that used to stand behind this very counter top, choked by words he was too cowardly to spit. “No. I’m meant to be here all right…”

The old man flicked his gaze upwards, through the greasy sheet of his peppered hair, watching while Charlie fiddled with a pack of smokes. Menthol, of course. Lyle’s hand slowly rocked the glass in his hand on its axis, the cup softly sang against the aged wood. Beneath the clicking of Charlie’s lighter, he sighed, as if beckoning the bartender with the submissive gesture.

The orphaned son pocketed his habit and glanced warily towards Lyle’s unrelenting stare, the amber light from the cigarette igniting both of their faces. A shared warmth, a near resolution amidst the clamor of the dainty bar. A memory of an excited sixteen-year-old standing behind this very bar washed in afternoon glow, many heads shorter than what he was now, and a Father with a proud smile nodding down to him. Except, those gray apologetic eyes, fondly calling to him, turned into black beady orbs. A twitch of long whiskers, and nervous lips. Obscuring the man that had once been. The reaction of sheer disgust that brought a scowl across Charlie’s sunken features, was well deserved for the oldest rat in Sentosa. Unrecognizable from his journey across the country, on tentative foot. An unannounced accomplishment comes far too little, too late. Unworthy of notice. A drunkard’s true funeral was at the hands of his son’s disdain.

Charlie’s lips tugged across his yellowed teeth in a subtle sneer, and he breathed a cloud of twisting ash. “Then, let dead men lie.”

Folio · 2017