The Seven Five Nothing

The Seven Five Nothing are a collection of hyper-short stories, each written in a single sitting with no editting.

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21. Once Upon a Time.

I used to see this guy, every night, at the bar. He would stand at the end, on his own, drinking. One hand to steady himself against the wood, elbow locked, and the other hand wrapped around a glass. Every night.

I don't recall when I first noticed him, but when I did, it must have been some time after I'd been visiting, as he seemed really quite familiar.

I don't recall the first time I truly acknowledged him, but it was certainly some time after I had first noticed him.

I asked the barman, Teddy, what he knew. He shrugged. 'The guy's crazy,' is all he said. And this made me watch him even more.

Everybody's got a secret you know, a reason to hide someplace. Whether that place is in a dank little bar in a side street in nowhere, or behind their desk, long after hours, just to avoid going home to their lonely pad. Fearful of that secret coming out of themselves, just to consume their terrified minds. Everybody hides someplace. Whether that be at coffee with friends, a whole group of them, talking about shit, laughing to disguise the panic in their throats.

Everybody's got a secret, I thought, as I watched him, at the end of the bar, drinking his drink, mumbling quietly to himself.

I got home, and she was already asleep. I went through to see my little girl, hoping that maybe if I was a little too unquiet, she would wake and get to see me, even if just for ten seconds. I creaked the door, but she didn't wake. Instead, she lay like she was flat out exhausted, hair on her forehead, slightly stuck from sweat. It looked like she had been running around before bed. Looked like her and her mother had a fun night.

'Where have you been?' she asked, as I climbed into our bed.
'At the bar.'

She wasn't impressed. I had been doing this more and more and more, and somehow, I wanted to stop. I wanted to stop drinking. I knew that. She knew that. But she was confused. Because whatever it was coming out of my mouth, it was the opposite of what I was doing. Like I said, everybody's got a secret.

At the bar, he had, under his hand, a book. A notebook. It drew me because it was the only thing about him that was different. The only thing that had changed. His coat was the same, his hair was the same, even the dour look in his lost face was the same. He mumbled, but he rested his hand on the book, which rested on the book.

'Hey Teddy,' I said.
'Yeah?'
'What do you think that is?'
He looked at the book too. 'I don't know. He's just fucken crazy.'

I finished my drink, swilling the ice cubes after the Scotch.

I stumbled slightly as I walked to the pisser. Too much, I thought, time to call it a night.

After I was done, I washed my hands, watching the soapy water run down, over my hands. Look at them, I thought, look how tired their looking. I ran my hand hand over the back of the other, the skin moved like rolling leather, aged, folding. I looked at myself in the mirror, a moment to focus. What is it with you, I thought. What is it with you and this bar? What is it with you and yourself?

Everybody has a secret, whether it's rational or not, they're looking for a reason to not face up to it. Sometimes, they're not even aware that they have a secret. I asked myself one last time, what is it with you?

And then I thought about the infidelity. The anger I felt.

Why hadn't I just come right out and dealt with it. Why hadn't I just spoken to her about it with my anger in check, with my train wrecked head space mangled and confused. Why hadn't I just engaged with that pain that I felt when I found out what she'd done to me?

Why? Because of her. Because of my daughter. Our daughter. Because I loved them both too much to destroy the house. But here, staring at this shattered, drunken mess, in the bathroom mirror of a dank little bar in a side street in nowhere, I realised I was quietly sinking into the void.

I went back to bar, readying to bid the night to Teddy, when I walked past where the crazy man should be.

'Hey, Teddy.'
'Yeah?'
'Where'd he go?'
Teddy looked to the end of the bar, to the empty space where the man who always drinks alone should have been. 'I don't know,' shrugged, before serving somebody else. I looked at the book. His notebook. It rested where he had stood, but he wasn't there.

I took it out into the street, hoping to find him. But I couldn't see him anywhere. I opened it up, wondering if there might be an address or something, yet knowing in my belly there wouldn't be. I read the first page. 'Once upon a time...' it began.

That night, I got home, creaking up the stairs, trying to not wake either of them.
'Daddy...' her sweet voice croaked. 'I can't sleep.' I scooped her up and put her back to bed.

As I lay her down, she asked me about the book I was holding, and I told her, it was a special story, just for her. I kissed her on her head, rested myself on the end, and read her the handwritten fairytale from the man's notebook.
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