“It started with your first cry,” the white-haired gentleman sitting next to me says.
“Moments after you were born your demon was as well, a microscopic creature that grew as you did.” He takes a sip from the glass of whiskey he got moments ago and sucks in a breath from the burn as it goes down.
“Melvin, honey, stop scaring the nice young man,” Barb, I think she said her name was Barb, says from the other end of the bar while cleaning glasses.
I look up from my rum and coke, realizing that the two of them are talking about me. “I’m sorry,” I say, looking around the small bar again. There are two tables with people at them but they are lost in their own worlds. I’m out of place here, a new person invading the regular’s sanctuary. “Were you talking to me?”
“Sometimes the truth is scary, Barbara. You know that.” Melvin points a crooked finger at her while still holding his drink. He winces after taking another sip. “He knows it too. Look at him, you know what his world is.” He’s still facing straight ahead, watching me through the mirror that is the wall behind the bar. “The doctors haven’t helped you, have they, son?”
I shift in my seat, glancing sideways at him. For a moment I let the question sit. Demon; I hear Melvin’s voice in my head. I decide to play along, “No they can’t. They say there’s nothing wrong with me. Not physically, at least.”
Melvin lets out a sharp laugh that turns into a cough. “Physically wrong with you? Oh, no, I can tell that just by looking at you. You are what, twenty-five, maybe six, I bet you haven’t been physically sick in years. We both know I’m not talking about those kind of doctors.”
“Melvin!” Barb says. “You stop that right now. Leave that poor boy alone, you’ll run off one of my new customers.”
He doesn’t move his body but he tilts his eyes up to Barb and then returns his gaze to me, waiting. No one in the room shows any reaction to the scene playing out between us.
“You mean psychiatrists? Yeah, I’ve seen my fair share,” I say. “Then they send me back to a regular doctor who then sends me to a different psychiatrist. But I gave up on that a while ago.”
He takes a long swig of his drink, finishing it, then swivels in his stool to face me. Barb comes over and refills the glass, standing next to him on the other side of the bar. Melvin brings up his hand and tilts his head. He’s looking at me but it’s like he’s looking for something. “You feel him, son. I know you do. You’ve felt him for years, inside you. He’s become more of you than you are of yourself.”
My stomach starts to churn and I put my hand on the edge of the bar to steady myself. Pain isn’t the right word. It’s not painful. It’s anguished emptiness. Working from my stomach out in all directions. Pushing through my veins, invading me.
“You’ve seen him,” Melvin says. “Behind your eyes when you look in the mirror. You aren’t crazy, son. You just weren’t meant for this world.”
I grip the edge of the bar tight. It’s there, I saw it the other night, behind my eyes, a creature made of black ink. A drip fell from it and a burning ache seeped through my body. I felt that thousands of times and I finally knew what it was. A hand forms and from the tips of its fingers come little vines slowly piercing my brain. I don’t need to see him to know he’s there, though. I’ve felt him for years. For as long as I can remember.
Melvin leans in and points his finger at my heart, almost touching my chest. “He’s never been there. You’ve fought him off. No one knows what you’ve gone through. The battles you fight everyday inside you.”
He’s right. Every word. In minutes, the old man saw me for who I am. My eyes start to fill with tears. My body feels heavy. I’m tired, so tired, from fighting. Holding the thing at bay as it inches closer.
“There’s much more to our world than where we live. There are millions of things that remain undiscovered to a person until they truly open themselves to them. Just because society says something is weak and cowardly doesn’t mean it’s true. Maybe it just means that they don’t understand.”
“I …I. It doesn’t hurt but it never goes away. Everything I do.”
“I know, son,” Melvin says in a quiet voice. “It’s okay. I promise.” His finger touches my chest and I feel it in my heart.
In one moment, years of defenses come down. My body. My mind. My soul. Exquisite peace.
“Thank you,” I say, as I stand up and walk out of the bar.
A minute later the sound of a single gunshot from the alley fills the bar. Barb walks to Melvin. “Don’t you dare tell me he’s in a better place.”
“He isn’t,” Melvin says. “But he’s in a place where he can fight. Where he can win, if he is strong enough.”
“I hope so,” Melvin winces as another sip of whiskey burns his throat.∼ Mark Steinwachs
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