Keith poured the last of the whiskey into the coffee mug.
His cup was only half-full, and a wave of sadness came over him. A disgusting sadness mixed with anxiousness, like
the sun setting after a beautiful day. Keith threw the useless bottle on the floor, feeling a microsecond of satisfaction.
He took his pitiful drink into the living room of his spartan apartment, and sat. Keith picked up the cigarettes and sighed when he saw there were only two in the box.
The drink was warm, and the world only spun a little when his eyes closed and smoke shot out of his nose. His foot tapped quickly on the hardwood floor. Keith was forty-two, but had the energy of a man in his seventies. His body, plump and pale, wore black running shorts and an ancient but comfortable Towson University T-shirt. The letters on the relic were cracked and peeling away. He looked at the closed blinds over the window, and saw the unwanted sun trying to sneak in.
He pulled out his phone and checked the time. 7:30pm appeared over a picture of his son, smiling in a way that made his father jealous. Too fucking early to be out of booze and smokes, he thought. He had looked forward to drinking all day, he deserved this time to himself, and he would not be denied. Keith opened his bank account app, saw the $10.37, then let the phone plop on the armrest.
Now he was angry, so he stood and wandered around the room. He didn’t get paid for another week, and now he needed whiskey and cigarettes and soda and that was bullshit. He didn’t do drugs, he thought; he worked hard all week and paid his taxes and didn’t bother anyone and all he wanted at the end of a day was to relax and enjoy a drink and watch football. But no, he thought, heaven fucking forbid I can have even that.
It was okay, he thought. He took a mental inventory of items in his possession that he could pawn. The only thing of value were the TV and his phone, but they were integral to his relaxation routine. Without them, he thought, the booze and smokes would be pointless. He couldn’t drink and stare at the wall like some drunk. He walked to the kitchen to get a snack to help him think, when he remembered he had his son Jack tomorrow night. He opened the fridge to confirm his fear, and got his wish. Nothing but eggs and cheese. Now he needed food for his son tomorrow.
He walked back to his chair and let his defeated body slip into it. He thought of her, as he always did in times like this. His ex-wife, the fucking money-sucking bitch who’d ruined his life. The fat cunt with an ice block for a heart and greed for a soul. That’s the problem with this country, he thought, they always screw the men in a divorce. Child support, and he couldn’t even afford food for Jack when he was with him. What’s wrong with that, he thought?
He was a good father. A damn good father, certainly better than his own., he thought. He was always there for Jack, always played with him, never hit him. And the bitch didn’t care. Didn’t care that he couldn’t afford child support or anything else really. “Maybe ease up on the booze and cigarettes if you can’t afford it,” she had said, or something similar. Like he was some alcoholic. Fuck her, he thought. He never missed a days work, always picked up his son on time, what did she think he was? He was a good man, he thought, and he deserved this night.
Keith walked to the bedroom he shared with his son. He saw it immediately, and sensation of relief tingled inside his belly. On top of the dresser it sat, like a sacred artifact worshipped by tribes. It was a transparent plastic container, shaped like a bear, the name “Jack” written in magic marker on its stomach. Its guts had once been animal crackers, but had been replaced by spare change over the last few months. Annoying pennies, useless nickels, and pointless dimes swimming among the rare quarters. These unwanted things from Keith’s pockets or found by his son on the supermarket floor, now all together and useful.
He picked it up and was happy with the weight. He saw more quarters than he expected. Seeing his son’s name, his forehead wrinkled and he wheezed as he sighed. Keith put it back to its sacred resting place, and sat on the bed. He remembered sitting on the floor in this very room, and the look of wonder on Jack’s face when he’d dumped all the change on the floor.
“Wow, I have a lot of money!” Jack had said, his tiny hands smoothing the change out on the floor. Keith sat next to him, his coffee mug gloriously full of whiskey and diet.
“You sure do, little man,” Keith had said, sipping and letting the beautiful warmth go up the back of his neck and settle in his head.
“I have a million, kazillion dollars!” Jack had said as he stood and jumped, his 6 year old body soaring in the air of celebration.
“Ha-ha, I don’t think it’s that much, you goof, but it’s a lot,” Keith said.
And it was, Keith thought as he stared at it. Twenty, maybe twenty-five dollars, he thought. Smokes were $7.00, a pint of whiskey $5.00, soda maybe $2.00. Whatever was left would be plenty for some food from the dollar store, he thought. Keith rubbed his fingers together, then made his way back to the living room. No, I can’t do that, he thought. Pawning his own shit was one thing, but he couldn’t steal from his own son.
Except it wasn’t really stealing, was it? He himself had provided most of the change, leftover from purchases he had bought with his paycheck. Right? And they did need food for tomorrow. He was a good man, a good father, Keith thought, and he had to provide for his son. Jack was such a smart boy, and good hearted. He’d simply explain that he borrowed the money so he
could have yummy treats and yummy dinner. Jack would like that, he thought. Jack loved to help Daddy.
Keith put the last smoke in his mouth, and crumpled the empty box triumphantly before tossing it on the floor. The game was starting soon, and he had high hopes for his Baltimore Ravens this year. He had been thinking about this night all day, in fact he’d had it all planned out. Eat dinner at five, begin drinking at six, watch the game at eight, and finally turn in at eleven. But now, he was buzzed, broke, the game hadn’t even started, and the night was utterly ruined.
He was a good man. He did not deserve this. He wasn’t asking for much. Why, he thought, why can’t I have just this one thing? My ritual, my relaxation, my comfort? He put the butt out in the ashtray, and felt a swelling of determination and courage. No, he thought, I don’t give up, do I? I never give up, even when it’s hard. Fuck her for making me do this, he thought as he went to the bedroom. He picked up money bear, and headed to the kitchen to get his keys. How could she, he thought, how could she make him do this to Jack?
He put on his Oriole ball cap, slipped his feet into his flip-flops, and headed for the door. As the judgemental sun drowned him in a bath of contempt, he felt unwanted and spurned by the outside. He was a good man, he reminded himself, and sometimes good men had to do bad things to survive.
Jason Hyde lives in Baltimore, Maryland. He is a lifelong reader and recent writer, who loves character based fiction. Stories about the broken and damaged, the bad choices we make and the way we justify them to ourselves. Real life is not boring, not by a long shot: it is deep and tragic and hilarious and every day is a new story.