FICTION: AT CLOSING TIME
He looked in the mirror for a long, long time.
How long would he continue to feel this pain?
Perhaps another few hours. He had no way of knowing. No one knew precisely. They had only given an approximation. Few wished for more.
A harsh cacophony from outside suddenly terminated his reverie.
Perhaps he should leave? Go somewhere. Anywhere. Somewhere that was not here.
He knew it didn’t matter. He’d take the fear and emptiness with him.
Wherever he went now, it would go with him.
He walked quickly to the door. He couldn’t stand to be in the room a minute longer. He had to change at least one thing in the time that was left him. But he could only change the location in these last moments, little to no other change was possible for him.
The elevator took him down the 30 floors to ground level. There he found night... and rain.
Then, quickly down the street, to a bar. The first he found. Any bar would do now.
Five drinks and half an hour later, in a velvet-cushioned booth, he slumbered.
The bar was full and noisy. But the music playing began to soothe his soul and the touch of the velvet pile on the seat where he sat was to his fingers sensuous and calming. His nerves began to tingle from the alcohol as he reached for his glass to further the experience of distance from the reality that was choking him.
It was an effort to turn his head and he did so very slowly.
He returned the greeting and attempted to focus on the source of the voice.
”Why are you here of all places? Alone.”
”It’s a good question”, he responded.
”Do you mind if I sit with you for a while?”
”Be my guest.”
She occupied the far end of the wood-bordered booth. The music played on above the noise in the bar which grew ever louder.
He drank more of the tranquillizing nectar.
After some moments of silence between them, he felt he should say something...
”What is your name?”
He looked at her closely then. She was not unpretty. He immediately regretted the thought and with it his gender. He was so tired of these sad, macho responses.
”It’s nice to meet you Pavla. My name is Alex.”
He slumped back in the opposite corner of the booth waving his hand in apology.
”I’m also drunk.”
”I know. It’s okay.”
An old woman passed by. Thinking they were a pair she urged, “Take him home dear. While there’s time.”
Pavla smiled at her then looked over at Alex the smile still on her lips.
”What do you think of that Alex?”
His eyes were closing as he heard her words and the significance of the situation hardly permeated his brain.
”I... I’m okay... here.”
Then added, “With you.”
The music swirled in his head. An old romantic tune. As many times in recent days, he felt self-pity wash over him. He looked down.
”I need another drink.”
He reached out for his glass. But she placed her hand on his seeing his intent.
”Let me get this.”
She left him... returning with two full glasses.
He nodded. “Of course... cheers. Thank you.”
”No thanks needed.”
They swallowed the nectar slowly but greedily.
The room swam for him. Discordant sounds of glasses from the bar took his attention momentarily, then a crash as some fight erupted, shouting, chairs hitting the floor.
He drew his nails through the velvet pile of his seat repeatedly. It continued to have its soothing effect on him. The jangling fear inside him subsided.
He felt the change occur. He was disappearing. His thoughts were disappearing. The world was disappearing. Maybe, after all, it would be okay in the end.
Just then the music faded to low volume and an urgent, discordant voice took its place.
He half woke and looked across at the woman near him, glass held halfway to her lips.
He saw fear in her eyes. And tears.
She looked steadily into his and drew closer to him.
”Hold me. Please.”
He shuffled toward her on the seat and put his arm around her and held her as tight as he could.
The knowledge of what was happening rushed back to him, sobering him up. He pushed away at it but it was no use. His attempt to numb all the pain away had failed.
In her eyes and on her lips was a question.
He knew the reason she asked. He knew the reason everyone was asking the same question now and had been for months. It was the end of everything.
But at least he was no longer alone. And she was no longer alone.
They knew the moment had come and shared a tender kiss as if they had loved each other their whole lives long.
At that moment a contentment of complete acceptance washed over both of them.
The flash when it came was a distant thing.
The roar came next and with it a nanosecond of total chaos.
Then came the final and predicted end... in one now serene and totally painless moment.