I cant 'elp but with the big sigh when I looks round the bar tonight. H'empty, nothing. No one h'out on the go. Sunday night pool tournament cancelled and Mike didnt h'even 'ave the good grace to call a'ead and lemme know. He prolly thinks I woulda called in sick. 'E's right too.
Clayton's girl, h'Isa-snora, she poked her 'ead in round nine, lookin for the man 'isself. I said I never seen 'im all weekend, which is the truth. But she gives me this look like she can see right through the lie. Then she left. Cold, that one. But 'e's better off with 'er I think than that Donna. She shows 'er face in 'ere while I'm workin and she'll get a fucken h'earful.
Val called down h'earlier:
—H'Awl and 'Atchet, 'ello.
I fucken knew it was 'im before I h'even picked up the phone. Wish to Christ Mike'd splurge and get call display 'ooked up. I did this real sweet kinda grand townie h'accent:
—No I'm sorry she's not here right now. Can I take a message?
—Monica, I know it's you, just hear me . . .
And I 'ung up then, h'unplugged the phone too. And I watched the door, for the next hour. H'every shadow passin up the street sent jolts of h'anxiety up my spine. I did not and do not wanna see Valentine Reid tonight. I should cross over to the h'other side for a while, see if I cant find a good woman. Cause good men is just too 'ard to come by. In h'every sense of the phrase.
Long night a'ead, and nothing to wear youse down like a h'empty bar. The h'only thing to look forward to is locking up h'early. I pours m'self a light beer into a glass of h'ice, then put a straw down in it, so if Mike comes in 'e'll think it's ginger ale.
Shoot some pool now, since the table is free.
Seven in the corner. H'annnnndd ... no good. Too much spin.
Could clean the filter on the smoke eater? Naw, 'ave to stand on a stool for that.
I walks back be'ind the bar and 'as a good look h'at m'self in the mirror. Three pounds lighter this morning. Know what got said to me 'ere last Thursday night? Mind youse now, the guy was tanked, fresh off George Street and likely spewed the same line at maybe a dozen h'others that very night, but I dont know, it gave me a lift. 'E was cute.
—Mizzuz, lizzan 'ere. I been in ivray bar vrom 'ere to St. Shott's da-nnnite an I 'ave de zay, I juz, I 'ave de zay, yer de zeggziest bar-tenner onna go.
—Well thank you. Would you like a double or a triple?
—Tribble yuh, tribble . . .
I poured 'im a single rum and coke and charged 'im for a triple. They never can tell the difference h'after a certain hour. Funny though, 'e likely cant remember h'even bein h'in the 'Atchet, but that line of 'is 'as been playin in my 'ead h'all weekend. Dont take much to throw me h'off course.
I finally decides to plug the phone back in and the very moment I feel it connect with the jack in the wall, it fucken rings. I h'answers, more from reflex than anything else. Not like I'm concerned for Mike's business h'interests. And of course then I dont h'answer "correctly":
And 'oo should be on the line?
—Oh I'm sorry, I must have the wrong number. I was calling my bar. This must be someone's private line is it?
—What the fuck is going on down there? I've been trying to get through for over an hour. I cant even find out if my own bar is open?
—Clyde musta turned the ringer h'off today. I just noticed.
—Your shift started three hours ago . . .
—I know, I know. It's been a rough night Mike.
'Is tone changes then, conspiratorial, 'is h'interest shiftin now to money and bar sales. Wrong choice of words. A rough night, in Mike's mind, is when a busy bartender complains of h'actually 'aving to serve a few customers.
—Oh yeah? Few bodies on the go?
I cant lie to 'im. 'E'll be in to do the cash in the morning sure. And I 'avent sold a single drink or a beer.
—No Mike, there 'asnt been a soul in. It's h'empty.
—Well what's so goddamn rough about that?
—Just . . . I dont know, it's dull.
—Well liven the bloody place up some Monica. Put a few candles on the tables. Make it cozy. Turn on the right music. I can hear that angry loud shit you got on. That's not Sunday night music. And smile. I shouldnt have to tell you this stuff anymore. Bartending is more than just serving drinks. You knows better too, dont you?
I knows fuck-h'all us far as youse're concerned Mike. Let's be honest 'ere; I'm just a big set of tits, a good "draw" for your—
—Monica? You know better dont you?
—Very good then. Get to it.
I slams the phone down and 'ave to lay my two 'ands flat on the bar and bite my lip to keep from fucken screamin. Fat bastard pig. I wish the fuck he'd hurry up and give the bar over to that Silas fella. I couldnt care less if we h'all gets laid off either.
I could walk h'away right this second. Leave the door wide h'open to the dogs.
Where does he keep them cheap fucken candles? As I'm crouched h'under the sink diggin through the shoebox the phone rings h'again. I lets it ring a couple of times and then, sweet as pie, I h'answer:
—Awl and Hatchet?
—That's more like it. You still owe me ninety bucks in rent by the way.
And he 'angs up afore I gets the chance to say that '£ still owes me a fucken smoke detector in my front 'allway, and that my fire h'escape is not h'even fit to let the cat out on. Pudgy gross flabby slumlord.
One by one I lights the candles and places them in the front windows. Two on the stool in the front porch. I flips through the CDs behind the bar, tryna define h'exactly what Mike meant by "Sunday night music." Oh, 'ere's Neil Young. But of course when I h'opens the case the CD h'inside is h'actually Blondie's Greatest Hits. Fucken Blondie. And 'ere's the battered back half of Leonard Cohen's The Future, with Keith's name and 'is h'old Anderson h'Avenue phone number scrawled 'cross it in faded blue marker. Not a word from that bastard since 'e left for Nova Scotia. How quick I was to latch onto 'im a few years back. I s'pose cause I knew right h'away 'e 'ad anough of 'is h'own devils not to wanna go diggin at mine. We just seemed to want the same thing at the same time: someone to lie down with when the nights were cold and long and dark. No need to get too close, no pressure. Fuck when we's 'orny and be nice friends and let me shut down when I 'ave to. Dont try and break what's h'already busted up anough. It was convenient there for a while. And then of course youse start wanting a little more. 'Ow h'often did 'e play that fucken Cohen h'album, that song? I takes the case and snaps what's left of it and toss it h'in the garbage.
Now, 'ere's about ten Bob Dylan h'albums in a row. H'easiest way to know when Clyde's working: just round the corner h'out around the mall somewhere and youse can 'ear that nasal whine, that senseless rant, that screechin, dyin-gull 'armonica, like nails dragged across a chalkboard. And Clyde wonders why 'e never breaks fifty in tips.
And what's this? A tape of Val. High Time in '79. Yeah I'll bet it was an 'igh time too there Dr. Cheese. General Gouda, as Clayton calls 'im. 'Ow fucken stupid was I to let 'im suck me back h'in like that? 'E dropped by the bar 'ere a few weeks h'ago while I was working. 'E looked 'ealthy, put on a few pounds from the last time I'd seen 'im. 'E was h'upright too. And didnt 'e dangle a little bag of blow and h'ask me to drop by when I closed h'up. I said I'd think h'about it, that if I showed up I showed up. Closin time came and I jumped h'into a cab with not a second thought. H'ever a sucker for h'old geezers with drugs. And that'll likely be my downfall, in the h'end. Christ.
I 'ook my nail h'underneath the tape and gives it a good full and satisfying yank. The stream of tape bursts after a few feet and I toss the whole lot into the garbage on top of The Future.
I let my 'and roam further h'into the drawer and find h'another CD laid flat on top of the row. Sweet Merciful Jesus. The Very Best of Valentine Reid. I'm about to chuck that h'into the garbage too, but then I sees it's signed and dedicated to Mike. I sets it h'aside and then finally decide on a copy of Rum, Sodomy and the Lash, by the Pogues, a h'album Clayton usually plays loud on Friday nights. It seems to be a good crowd pleaser. But then, the Friday night 'Atchet crowd is not too 'ard to please, so long as the booze keeps flowin they'll listen to gospel music. Song on 'ere that I likes, "A Pair of Brown Eyes." Clayton played me this album in the 'otel that first night I met 'im, tolt me h'all 'bout the lead singer and his h'antics, most h'impressed with 'ow long it was takin the guy to kill 'isself with booze. Funny, if youse listen carefully anough there's a song to mark h'everything, a soundtrack for all your weakest moments. Fucken Valentine Reid now too.
I crank the volume h'up and position the speakers towards the front door. Deck of cards in the register. I counts 'em out. Fifty-one. The h'ace of spades is missin. Typical. Keith prolly got that tucked into 'is wallet. I stares h'out through the blinds. I h'opens the door in the porch just a crack to let the sound h'onto the street. It's bitter h'outside, freezin rain battering at the window. The tail h'end of one more wasted winter. The sander cruises h'up the street, the blue light flashin 'cross my fore'ead. It slows h'ever so slightly h'as it passes the bar n I finds m'self crouchin back h'into the porch. That could be Jim McNaughton at the wheel. If'e knows I'm 'ere by m'self 'e'll be in for sure and I dont think I can bullshit my way through whatever boring conversation 'e's bound to h'offer up. Maybe h'if'e never stank like garbage 'alf the time. Or h'if'e could get a goddamn sentence out without that stutter. Well now that's not h'all that nice I know. Jim's prolly one of the better ones comes in 'ere, nothing complicated about 'im, just get 'im drunk and be nice to 'im, that's all. But seein the sander gives me the notion to 'ave a real drink. On Jim's tab. A good stiff double Dock and water. Just the thing. Mike'll notice the liquor gone in the morning of course, and if I'm around I'll just say that Jim dropped in for a drink. I'll point to the tabs. Then I'll complain 'bout 'im, 'bout 'ow draining 'e is, whinin 'bout 'is wife, 'ow 'is kids wont talk to 'im. And if Mike cares 'nough to doubt me and h'ask Jim 'bout it the next time 'e's h'in, well Jim wont h'even know h'if 'e was or not any'ow. That medication got 'im wandering in a daze most of the time. Can youse h'imagine puttin a fella like that be'ind the wheel of a big ole sander?
The moment I turns back be'ind the bar I 'ears a crowd of jolly drunks burst into the chorus of some h'Irish drinkin h'anthem. No doubt they've just wandered h'outta h'Erin's Pub or some touristy place h'on George Street. I peeks up the street. Five of them. Business types. Smashed. Staggering through the slush. When their song fizzles I can pick h'up bits of conversation, drunken male wrangling in bland, flat, generic mid-h'American h'accents. The sweet, rummy scent of a cigar on the wind. The prosperous jingle of loose pocket change. Canadian coins though. Monopoly money to them. Disposable. Tips for me. The flash of a gold watch beneath the streetlight. I swings the door wide h'open, h'almost clipping the man in the forefront of the group, a squat, wheezing and balding man in a dated grey suit.
—Evening fellas, comin in for a drink?
I'm h'immediately disgusted with m'self for that girlish voice, but I know at the same time that that's mainly what'll get them h'in 'ere throwing their money round. Fuck it. The bald grey suit, h'older than the others by h'at least twenty years, 'e slips on the sidewalk and catches 'old of the door for balance.
—I dont know young lady. What's on the menu?
With my brightest smile and my nipples gone 'ard as little rocks with the cold, I dredges up that quaint old bouncy stunned touristy h'accent I knows they's dyin to 'ear.
—Whatever tickles yer fancy. Whaddaya 'ave in mind?
And with that they h'all walk in be'ind me, stompin their boots and doffin their pricey wool scarves and leather gloves h'on the table near the h'exit. A tall dark-'aired one of'bout thirty-five with a two-day scruff that reminds me h'of a Men's Fitness cover model, 'e leans in close to the bald grey suit and says:
—Jerry, ask her if she does that thing with the fish.
Behind Jerry another suit snorts loud and slaps 'is leg:
—Get your mind out of the gutter Baker. What a thing to say.
—Fuck off Dawson. I'm talking about a drink.
And h'another, a nerdy type in dark-rimmed thousand-dollar h'eyeglasses goes:
—Yeah, it's called something though. Shriek or Squeal, something like that. There's a poem too. Kenneth and his wife had it done last year.
'Cept for one quiet fella in the back who I cant get a bead on at all, looks to me like the h'aggression factor is pretty low with this lot. H'easy marks for a few dollars 'opefully. Two kindsa Yanks, h'in my h'estimation: the ones that throws their money away like they cant get rid of it quick anough, refusin to h'acknowledge its value, like it's just too 'eavy to be luggin round in their pockets, and the ones that counts out pennies, 'carding h'every last cent like h'every time they makes a purchase they's potentially bein ripped off. This crowd 'opefully falls h'under the former category. And if they's lookin for a Screech In they'll be payin through their h'eyeballs by the time I'm done with 'em. I'm just about to pipe h'up and tell 'em what they's lookin for when the bald grey suit, Jerry, boosts 'isself h'onto a stool and shouts right proud:
—A Screech In. That'll do us tonight. Can you do that young lady?
I plant my hands firmly on the bar and let my breasts rest softly on the lip of the register. They line h'up h'obediently 'long the bar. Whipped dogs h'already.
—Can I do a Screech h'in? Youse 'appened to stumble h'upon the queen tonight Jerry.
Jerry flushes, delighted to be singled h'out by name, by a slender young thing like me no less, h'in front of'is younger h'associates.
Course I could 'ave, you know, h'at one point during my long and glamorous bartending career, really labelled m'self the Queen of the Screech h'in. I'd say I riddled h'off close on five 'undred in the few years I was workin at Traynor's Quay h'on Duckworth. Some nights I'd do ten or twelve and walk 'ome 'oarse. I begged the manager to let me wait tables, clean toilets, just be a regular bartender, a bouncer h'even. But 'e'd only laugh h'at me and smack my h'ass and tell me I was the best 'e'd 'ad in years, that I was, h'in fact, the Queen. Cant believe I put up with that fat prick long h'as I did. And the tourists, rich, bustin-at-the-seams roly-poly piggies with their h'endless stupidity and h'ignorance, their h'insatiable thirst for 'umiliation. Telling me 'ow cute we all is, Newfoundlanders. H'askin me to say things h'again cause they just loved the h'accent so much, 'ow it was just to die for. Saying stuff like 'ow they wanted to h'adopt one of h'us. And I finally snapped and said to one couple late h'on a Saturday night:
—Yeah, take a run down to B------ and meet the gang. Go scrape my child'ood h'off the bedsheets.
They werent long settling their tab then. No tip for Mon that night.
—H'of course I can do a Screech h'In. So long h'as youse got the paper?
I gives 'im a playful smack on the back of 'is 'and. —The money Jerry. Silly.
And with that I swear they h'all rises a couple of h'inches in their fine leather shoes and puff out the chests of their 'and-spun suits, diggin for wallets and weighin h'out their change. The very mention h'of money and their cocks just stiffen. See that. Bald Jerry raises a stubby 'and, waves h'off the commotion.
—I'll get this one, fellas. On me. How much sweetheart?
I tilts my 'ead and sets my bottom lip in a playful pout. I reaches h'over the bar and straightens Jerry's tie while I calculates the charge. Jerry goes beet red.
—Let's see b'ys. Five of ya, h'at twenty five bucks an 'ead, that's one twenty-five.
Jerry makes a slight jump like 'e's been grazed in the h'ear with a lead pellet. 'E catches himself fast anough though, h'obviously not wantin to come 'cross h'as a tightwad h'in front of'is younger, fitter and less laden-down "friends." A layer of sweat beads the bridge of 'is nose all the same. 'E gives 'is wedding band a twirl. 'E seems to be the h'only one wearing one and I kinda feels a bit bad for a moment before Jerry slaps a stack of bills h'on the bar and shakily counts out an 'undred and thirty dollars.
—There you are sweetie, and a little something for yourself as well.
I sweeps the money in and stashes it under the drawer in the register. So I've gotten m'self paid now, no matter 'ow the rest of the night h'unfolds.
Jerry looks round at his company for h'approval but they's h'all suddenly h'immersed in their h'own language of carbohydrates and digits and h'exchange rates and stock market nonsense. Jerry seems so lost. Men's Fitness pauses 'is mumblings about a stewardess in Boston and slaps Jerry 'eartily 'cross the back.
—Youse're a wild man Jerry . . .
And doesnt that just get Jerry's goat h'altogether. A big, porky face-splittin grin, delighted that someone's finally said it h'out loud. 'E slips 'is newly flaccid wallet back into 'is shirt pocket. 'E's like the fat kid 'ose mother's h'after sendin to the playground with a bag of candy to buy 'is way h'onto the merry-go-round. I gives 'im h'another little lovetap.
—Is that true Jerry? Youse a wild one?
—You'll find out missy, when you serve up that whiskey.
From "young lady" to "sweet'eart" to "sweetie" to "missy." Where's this night 'eaded I wonder?
—Actually Jerry, it's not whiskey. Screech is rum. Black rum.
A couple of his comrades snicker and Jerry seems to deflate, beet red h'again, 'is 'ead down and 'is eyes to the floor. Poor doomed nicker.
Fuck, there's not anough Screech left h'in the bottle on the bar. I'm sure I can put h'on a decent, believable h'act, but it's gonna be 'ard to pull h'off a fake, and prolly illegal, Screech h'in without the main h'ingredient. And a fish or something, cant go without that. Maybe downstairs. Mike keeps a reserve of liquor downstairs for busier nights. I searches the cupboards beneath the stock, just to make sure, before I leaves the bar h'unattended. From be'ind me comes a thick Texan h' accent, the fat guy who 'asnt spoken yet, 'as to be. I knew 'e'd be trouble.
—Hwe'll settle foar a hwet tee-shirt contest if yud rather? Yuh look lahk yud put oan a good show.
I whips round with the near h'empty Screech bottle 'eld by the neck. The h'entire line pulls back, terrified I'm gonna use it h'on one of their daily-moisturized faces. I zeroes h'in on the source h'of the voice, jowly and sweaty, 'is paunch belly stretchin 'is shirt buttons to the popping point. A steers-'ead belt buckle. Tie thinner than the h'others, shirt collar longer and sharper. I woulda pegged 'im for a Texan if'e'd h'opened his mouth or not.
—Well why dont we make it a contest cowboy? I'd say youse
could gimme a run for it.
And the crowd laugh, the tension broken. Jerry laughs the loudest, h'unconsciously flauntin 'is relief h'at not bein the butt h'of a joke 'bout male titties.
—She got you there Jackman. Ha!
—Shit woman, Ah was juz yankin yer chain.
Some fucken h'apology. Blubber fuck. I takes the h'opportunity to 'ide the Screech bottle be'ind my back and slip towards the basement door.
—Jerry me old cunt. Will ya watch the bar for me for a sec? Make sure none of these pups take advantage?
Sometimes I knows it's best to tone down me h'accent a bit, some people h'out there dont h'understand plain h'English. Jerry nods with all 'is 'eart, 'appy to be selected as the h'obvious choice to be the man in charge. I makes the dash towards the basement door, and I 'ears Men's Fitness say:
—I'm pretty sure she was supposed to say "me old cock."
And then Jerry:
—No, no. That was right. You heard her wrong. That's just the way she talks.
At the bottom of the stairs there's a box of liquor. I roots through it. Smirnoff. White Bacardi. White Morgan. Lamb's. Jameson. Fucken Valentine with his h'lrish whiskey. But no Screech, and none of these dark anough to pass for it. In the far corner be'ind the door I finds h'another box labelled hTmperial Rum. Plastic forty-h'ounce bottle h'inside with the seal not h'even broken. But when I lift it h'out the bottle's h'only 'alf full. I tips it h'upside down and liquor leaks h'out through the stopper. I digs through the rest h'of the box and find h'Imperial Rum h'ashtrays and coasters and a few stray glasses. The loose ends of some promotional drop-h'off. I can vaguely remember the sales rep droppin off a case at the bar last year. And Mike sellin it at 'alf the regular price. But there was something 'bout it, this metallic taste. Lead? It was a bad batch, recalled a week later. But Mike kept it round the bar and managed to peddle it h'off to the desperate. No sensible drinker would go 'andy to it. It was h'even a bit of a h'inside joke at the bar for a while, h'offering it to someone on the 'ouse to get a kick h'outta their reaction:
—'Ere Jim, 'ave a sup of this.
I brings the tip h'of the bottle to my nose and gags a little h'at the smell. Keith suckered me h'into takin a shot one night, h'evil little bastard. I spent the 'ole next hour 'caving up in the women's toilet. I 'olds the h'Imperial Rum and the Screech bottles together towards the light. They's pretty much the same colour. Fuck it, if they wants a Screech h'in they'll get one.
I pours the h'Imperial Rum h'into the Screech bottle, gives it h'all a shake. Looks good to me. Now, a fish. Or something like it. I pulls stuff round in the deepfreeze, 'oping maybe Mike got some salt fish or some fillets. I lifts h'up what looks to be the 'ind quarter of a moose. Could 'ave the flabby fuckers kiss this, or lick it. But it's too 'eavy to carry h'upstairs and it stinks like burnt vomit any'ow. I shuts the deepfreeze and rummages further into the damp tangle of busted barstools and h'empties, leaky guitar cables and warped speaker cabinets and kegs and h'out-dated beer promo signs, tryna find h'anything that might pass for a realistic Newfoundland symbol or icon or what-h'ever youse wanna call it. Not that them bloated bastards h'upstairs would know the difference.
And what's this? A pair of rubbers. The h'old fashion kind too, blue-black with the red soles. I h'upends it and a fine beige dust flumps h'onto the floor. Some tiny shiftin, a scurry in the dust as a grey-powdered h'earwig shuffles from beneath the mess. Cant tell if it came from the boot or not and I dont give a shit. Death to all ye that h'enters 'ere. Doom. I brings my 'eel down on the vile little beast without a moment's 'esitation. What was it we useta call them things?
Back h'upstairs I flies h'into h'action with some twisted, 'ybrid version of the h'old spiel rollin off my tongue like I've spent a lifetime re'earsing it. It's just pourin h'outta me, h'easy and slick, h'even slightly removed, h'almost like I'm sick of doin it and now I'm h'only h'experimenting with the tirade in h'order to keep it h'interesting for m'self. Somewhere in the back of my 'ead I knows the words, the "monologue" is not quite h'accurate, far from standard, but it must sound h'official anough to these well-padded h'American h'ears and 'specially where I'm roarin into their faces at full speed. And I know too that they's 'ardly gonna protest because what's h'underneath my voice is as toxic as the contents of the bottle in my 'and.
—Gentlemen, gentlemen (not you Tex), can I 'ave your attention please? Before we begin I need youse h'all to write down your names and mailing h'addresses in this little booklet. And I h'ask youse to do this for me now because I'm dreadfully h'afeard that h'after youse partake of this most sacred of Newfoundland rituals, youse may h'experience a rather confused h'identity and not h'even remember y' h'own names and may be h'overcome with a bizarre, but h'understandable, desire to deny where youse're presently from.
They h'all laughs h'at that and nudge each other, buckin their gullible 'eads at me. And of course Tex pipes up with the h'inevitable question:
—Hwat do yah need our names and addresses foar?
And it just keeps pourin h'outta me:
—Well, my portly friend, once youse 'ave successfully completed the traditional Newfoundland Screech h'ln, bestowed h'upon youse will be h'all the benefits and bliss and, sadly, the burdens h'of becoming a H'onorary Newfoundlander. And we will mail you a certificate to prove it. Per'aps one of the most valuable documents you will h'ever possess!
I place a h'empty shot glass in front of h'each of them as they scrawl their precious signatures into my notebook. A h'excited shuffle courses through the line of them, plump lerry lickin the tip of his pen and bouncin h'ever so slightly on his 'eels, glancin round h'at his buds as h'if to say ''Ere it comes fellas, I told you so. Who}s the man? But as I look deeply into h'each pair of bloodshot, thirsty eyes I 'ave to deduce that there's not a man h'amongst the lot.
When I'm done filling their shot glasses with "Screech," Men's Fitness says:
—Arent you suppose to play a little Newfie music right about now?
I was wondering when that word was gonna rear its h'ugly 'ead. But nevertheless, h'even though it's to be fully h'expected h'at a time like this, from the mouths of h'ignorance, as h'usual, I still gets that h'old familiar sinkin in my belly and my 'and grips tight round the neck of the bottle for the second time tonight. H'all these years of bartendin, nervous round h'aggressive, 'orny drunks and I've been surrounded by weapons the 'ole time.
I lays the bottle back down and smiles my brightest once h'again, h'adjust the wiring of my bra.
—Yeah, I can play something like that. Gimme a second.
I turns to the stereo and shuts down the Pogues and pops The Very Best of Valentine Reid into the slot. The first track, "Gun Shy," kicks in 'ard before I realizes the choice I've made. Val's youthful vocals fills my head like some long-dead friend come back to convince me to find some quick way to join him in the h'afterlife.
A glance through the glass caught you strolling byThe h'Americans dont know what to make of it though and Men's Fitness goes:
Your sights dead ahead as the hardest of hearts stepped aside
For that reckoning glint in your eye . . .
—What's this crap? This is not Newfie. What about that one, what's it called? "Sonny?" "Sonny's Dream?" Who sings that one?
I spins around on my 'eels, remembering 'ow much I h'always loved "Gun Shy," the strength I useta gather from it when I first
'card it on that little transistor radio at my bedside in B------. H'only thing got me through 'alf the time, Val's songs. I'm suddenly h'overcome with a wave of remorse or regret or guilt or sympathy for Val. That night I went to meet him after my shift a few weeks back, fuck. 'E was well-on h'already by the time I got there, 'is eyes wide and barren, 'is fingers tucked h'into the waist of his jeans. This thin cloud of crack smoke streaking across the kitchen. And I should 'ave turned back right then and there. Then I saw the 'uge mound of blow on the counter next to 'im and I just went right for it, h'everything h'else went h'out the window, that's h'all I saw. And then 'e grabbed me, tight and rough round the collar of my jacket. Then 'is 'and gropin h'inside my shirt, the h'other on the back of my 'ead, pullin my lips towards 'is. And of course I pushed 'im h'away.
—C'mon Monica girl. It's only me . . .
And my knee, full force between 'is legs like that, the sickening grunt from somewhere deep h'inside that numb 'ead of his. Val, dropping to 'is knees, the tears in 'is eyes. Me flying h'out the front door, my 'eart racin, feelin' like I'd just snorted h'every last line of coke on the h'Avalon.
—"Sonny's Dream" I said. That's Newfie isnt it?
—Look, I 'ave no fucken h'idea buddy. But I'll say this: youse h'asked for Newfoundland music, h'although that's not the word youse used, and I played some. Will I turn it h'off?
A shift in their sad little group then, a confused current goes through 'em, like they's h'unsure of my tone or they's h'uncomfortable with me 'aving a real 'uman reaction when I'm supposed to be their h'unfalteringly good-natured, salt-of-the-h'earth Newfoundland 'ost. They h'all turn towards Men's Fitness and reproves 'im with their h'eyes. 'E drops 'is own h'eyes to the floor in shame, not really h'understandin what 'e's done to warrant such scorn. Plump Jerry seems 'appy that the group 'as come together in a shared distaste h'over someone h'other than 'imself.
One look at me now, you would not recognizePlump Jerry catches the words of that verse and dips his 'ead in consent. I gets back in character h'again and the mood of the room swings back round. I gives Men's Fitness a wink, just to throw 'im h'off a bit more than 'e already is.
This tarnished old relic the lowest of bidders can buy
I've grown a little gun shy.
—Gentlemen please, if youse'll kindly repeat h'after me: I's-da-b'y-dat-builds-de-boat-and-I's-da-b'y-dat-sails-'er!
They make a snarled h'attempt at it, but I knows I've said it so fast they cant possibly know where to begin. I slows it down some and lets 'em repeat little bits h'at a time, like youngsters h'in school learning a prayer:
—I's the b'y . . .
—I'm the boy . . .
—No, no. Not boy. Which one is sayin that? It's b'y. B'y, 'ear me? And it's I's, not I'm. Youse're not listening. I's the b'y . . .
—I's the b'y ...
—That's it! I's the b'y that builds the boat . . .
—I's the boy . . . I'm the . . . I's the b'y that builds the boat . . .
And they carries h'on like that till they can basically get through the 'ole thing, lovin it when I corrects 'em, when I yells and makes 'em feel like the stupid lards they really is. And I knows m'self that's not what the h'actual recitation is supposed to be, but I cant think of a h'alternative, and to be truthful I'm kinda disappointed in m'self. Plump Jerry h'asks me if it's a song.
—No Jerry. No . . .
Once they gets that much h'outta the way they's h'obviously h'eager to move h'onto the shots. But of course I 'ave something h'else in mind before that dont I? I takes the rubber boot and places it beneath the draft tap and fill the boot 'alfway. I sets the 'alf full boot down in front of Men's Fitness. 'E tries to laugh it off but I shoots him a look that should say if youse dont drink from it I'll pour it down your fucken throat.
'E lifts the boot in both 'ands and looks down into it.
—I've never heard of this part before.
—But I dont drink all of it?
—Much h'as you can.
I start smackin my palm h'off the bar h'in front of'im and shoutin down the 'atch, down the 'atch, down the 'a,tch, till the rest h'of the group join in. Men's Fitness lifts the boot to 'is lips and a bit of draft sloshes h'over the rim and down h'onto 'is pricey white dress shirt. 'E tips the beer h'into 'is mouth and I give the 'eel of the boot a slight tap, sendin a wave of beer down over 'is neck and chest. 'E chokes on something, slams the boot down on the bar and spits h'into the corner. There's flecks of something, dried mud or dogshit caked into the treads of the sole and some of them 'ave landed on the cuff of'is coat. The h'others cheer and pat him on the back and make 'im feel like an 'ero. 'E keeps gaggin and pickin h'at something that's h'after catching h'in the back of 'is throat. That's h'all I needed, was for just one of'em to take the plunge, now they'll h'all follow suit. Before Men's Fitness can recuperate, I slides the boot to the next in line, the nerdy guy, and generally there's a repeat of this fiasco right across the board, me coaxin them h'on with my chantin and bangin my fists h'on the bar and then makin sure they h'each gets a good swallow out of it.
Till the fucken boot is h'empty.
Now for the shots.
—Alright gentlemen, ifyouse will, your glasses 'igh now . . .
They all 'old their glasses h'out, some of 'em still retchin and staggering and pickin at the backs h'of their throats and tryna gag shit up. Tex 'eaves and I jumps back, thinkin he's gonna spew right across the bar. But he 'olds it back. 'E'd never live it down.
—H'up 'igh gentlemen, and repeat h'after me: Long may yer little pricks shrivel.
A slight 'esitation from the group afore they repeats it back to me:
—Long . . . may your . . . little prick swivel . . .
—No shrivel. Long may your little pricks shrivel.
—LONG MAY YOUR LITTLE PRICKS SHRIVEL!
—Well done gentlemen, drink up.
H'all five h'Americans bang back the shots h'in one go. I h'almost gets sick watchin 'em. H'at first they h'all tries and come h'off like it's not near's strong h'as they were h'expectin, they tries not to twitch or gasp or cough, tries to be the big 'ardy h'American men they fancies themselves to be. It takes a few seconds for their taste buds and guts to react. Retch and 'eave and choke and wheeze and scrrrrramble for breath. Men's Fitness bolts for the front door and buckles h'over in the snowbank h'outside the window.
And I wastes no more time.
—H'alright folks, that's it. Bar is closing. Kindly collect your belongings and be on your way. That's it folks, bar is closing!
I flick the lights on full blast and shuts down the stereo. They's h'all temporarily blinded by the toxic, leaden booze and the bright new silence. I moves around the bar and starts shovin 'em towards the porch. Plump lerry says:
—Hold on there missy, hold on, let me get my coat . . .
I grabs an 'andful of 'ats and scarves and coats and gloves and tosses the 'ole pile h'into Jerry's h'arms, spins him round and bullies 'im h'out the door be'ind the h'others. I locks the door h'as soon h'as it shuts. Tex starts poundin on the door, maybe h'only now h'aware that 'e's been 'umiliated and wanting . . . what? From me? What? H'apology?
I picks up the baseball bat that Mike keeps h'in the corner h'of the porch. I whips h'open the door. I 'olds the bat h'up in Tex's face. —I said the fuck-ing bar h'is closed! Should I call the police? H'ever spend the night in a Newfoundland jail? Youse'll never be the same h'again.
H'all the bravado falls from Tex's face. The phone starts to ring. Before I slams the door in their faces for good, I shouts:
—Youse the man Jerry. Youse the fucken man!
I pulls h'all the blinds shut. Turn the lights down low h'again. Turn that Pogues song on h'again. I drops The Very Best of Valentine Reid h'onto the floor and grind it beneath my foot, then I sets it back h'into the case and slides it h'into the drawer. That phone keeps h'on ringin.
I pours what's left in the Screech bottle h'into the sink and write it down h'as spillage. I gags a little on the fumes. Ring, ring. H'if Mike h'asks me about it I'm sure I'll find something to say. I counts out the money Plump Jerry paid up for the Screech h'In. I makes some change in the register and counts out fifty bucks in a h'envelope for Mike. That should 'old the old miser h'off for h'another week.
I've counted thirty rings in my 'ead. If Mike'd h'only bite the bullet and get that message manager. I reaches h'under the counter, h'unplugs the cord from the jack. Now for that double Dock. Three h'ice cubes. Let it sit for a while, bend the temperature, dilute it just so, the way I like it. I writes it down on Jim's tab.
I take a sip and lets the 'ot liquor soak back h'over my tongue till it trickles down the back of my throat. I sets my glass down and goes h'about clearin up the shot glasses, tuck the rubber boot in h'under the sink.
Jesus, rough night Mike. Rough fucken night.