By Alexander Sokol | May 18, 2021 3:45 p.m.
Warning: This piece is a satire on the stigma of having a mental illness. Don’t believe anything you read here.
“… another school, another law trying to divide me from my Rights.” He knocked his head back in disgust, face grimacing as he swilled the rest of a Keystone Light.
“Amen.” The older fellow beside him at the bar raised his glass to his mirror’s reflection, his bearded face obfuscated by the myriad necks of liquor bottles organized along the far wall.
“I mean,” the first man adjusted the bar stool, the yoke of his Hickory shirt straining as he broadened his shoulders, realizing he had an audience, “its not the gun’s fault. Damn kid’s father should’ve locked the thing away if’in he known his boy was a damn loon.” The older man raised his highball again, his eyes having never left the diminished gaze meeting his from behind the bar. He brought it to his lips, sucked on the glass rim from under an ashen moustache, and slowly raised his chin with one eye on the mirror searching between the bottles that reached toward the ceiling like stalagmites at the mouth of a cave. Ice and garnish clattered onto his nose, the remnants of a Rum and Coke dripping off whiskers and soaking into his shirt. Steadily, he reached in front of him for a soggy cocktail napkin. The desire to clean himself quickly fleeted to a velleity as he crumpled the paper in a calloused, liverwort mottled fist.
The first man continued rambling on as the drenched elder had his beverage replenished, brandishing a flask to add his pin. “We got all these kids running around claimin’ they have, uh, these e-emotional issues and what not. Saying they’re ‘de-pressed’ or some other say-so. Y’know when I was a boy, Pops a’ways told me if’in I get bullied, if someone beats on me, Pops says to first fight back. Can’t do that? pass it on to the next guy! Now days kids are told they have a reason for bein’ weird. Well, I says, maybe they have a reason for being bullied! Chain of nature. Maybe if we didn’t have all these people so concerned about feelin’s, then the kids that shoot up schools like what’s happened today would’a had the weirdniss beat out of ‘em.”
“Mm,” grunted the old man. The younger grinned to himself before turning back to the humming CRT.
“…investigators say the perpetrator had a history of mental health issues, including unexpected fits of anger and ADHD…” The reporter droned on.
“’Fits o’ Anger’, shyit! I tell you what, someone who had anger issues was my step-father, but he ain’t go and shoot no kids!” His brow furled as he slurped his beer, watching the old man still frozen in trance. In wonder at what the geriatric was seeing, he too gave his attention to the bar back mirror. His eye traced his disgruntled forehead, noting the signs of early follicular retreat and wispy threads of white growing where the scalp surrendered to morbid age. He noticed his usual complexion warming as the beer metabolized, cheeks burning rosily beneath drooping eyes. The alcohol deceived his retinas into swallowing the sight of himself in a shaky parallax. He gave up quickly, successfully failing to let his pupils muse over themselves. Yet, the old man persisted – the forgotten highball cleansing his hands with condensation – as if he’d given up on all else.
“What is ‘Eighty-HD’ anyhow? Eighty-HD, Eighty-Dee and Two-Retts; sounds like those quack doctors are playin’ battleship with their diagnoseez, what with them al-pha-nu-mer-ics and whatnot. Heh heh. Hit! heh… I tell you; a shrink told my sister-in-law her boy was Auto-Stick and I said to her, ‘gee, did ya take the boy to a mechanic?’ ha!” Cackling to himself in between gulps of beer, he side-eyed the stagnant old man as he glared into the argent realm. The grey maverick’s lids began to suddenly well, forcing glistening tears to roll over his cheeks mixing in with the spiced rum embedded in his peppery moustache.
“My son shot ‘emself in the head ‘bout a week ago. Bury’d him today.” The younger man, thrust into sudden sobriety, perked up in his chair.
“Why?” His face bearing overwhelming curiosity and masked inquisition. The maverick emptied the highball down his gullet with a grunt, only responding with a steady shake of his head.
“He in debt? A woman?”
“He called night ‘fore he dunnit. Told me he hurt in a way I could never understand. Now I… can’t help but feel… that its partly my fault. That I could’ve understood if I really tried. But d’you know what I told ‘em? I said, ‘Son, I been hurt a lot. Whatever you’re goin’ through ain’t nothin’,’ and I hung up on ‘em.”
The bartender overhearing poured out a round of whiskey for all three of them. “May he be without pain in the Kingdom of God.” Each man raised a forgetful glass before knocking it back. The younger man ceased his soapbox rant with a few hot breaths, a whistling sound, and a few light pats on the older man’s shoulder before staggering out of the saloon. The bartender slid down the mahogany slab holding two martinis for he and a lonely woman, leaving the old man where he sat. The mirror drew the grieving father’s eye, yet again, cursing him to brood within its obscure plain, behind the bottles of bourbon, vodka, gin.