Every year in Boston, a writing contest is held. It's sponsored by the Dig, a free, local paper, Bukowski's (officially, Bukowski Tavern)and Harpoon Brewery. They call it The Pint and the Pen. First prize is $2,500, second is $1,000 and third is a set of shitty steak knives.
Anyway, I am broke and there was no entry fee, so why the fuck not? I submitted and was told that mine was in the top 10. It's basically a promo tool for three institutions, but fuck it man, money is money. This year's second and third place winners didn't even show up, so a friend of the third place winner read his story and received the steak knives. The second place winner's prize was donated to a victim of the Marathon bombing. First place, of course was there.
Mine was not first place, but that's ok. It was a good time anyway. Some real work probably went into that first place story and if I'm being honest, I can't really say the same for mine. Here it is:
This morning when I woke up, I didn’t think things could get worse. At the foot of my bed, was a guy I’d known all my life. Gus. He was there in a heap, like the clothes I’d thrown off me before flopping into my usual drooling unconsciousness. Dead. I knew he was dead because my favorite pen, the one my ex-girlfriend had given me the birthday before she found me and her sister in a parked car in front of her work, was sticking out of his right temple and there was shit in his pants. Cold shit.
I checked the apartment. Nothing. The usual mess, lit by the weak autumn sun, filtered through busted blinds; old pizza boxes with stories I’d never bothered to finish telling myself, crumpled cigarette packs and the last streamer of condoms I’d likely never use, but would need if I went to prison. I’m not a lot of things, but they don’t call me Pretty Boy Juan for nothing. I sat in the kitchen, failed to find a clean coffee cup and opened a Harpoon, to steady my nerves. 9:12. I didn’t know how long I’d have until the cops came, but I didn’t want to waste any time. I found my keys in my jacket and a matchbook I didn’t remember taking. I retrieved a bent cigarette and opened the matchbook to light it. On the inside was a phone number and “call me.” The “e” in “me” was dotted with a heart. This didn’t make sense.
I called the number. A voice like mead, poured over ice answered.
“I was wondering if you’d call . . . after what you did to me.” I could hear the smile in her voice. As far as I knew, Juanito hadn’t gotten us into any trouble, but I couldn’t be sure, even if it did burn when I pissed. After Carol, I thought we’d been careful, but of an evening, who can remember the word?
“Yeah, you know me. I’m one of the good guys.” She laughed. It was like menthol smoke after finding my way out of a desert. “I’d like to buy you coffee.” She seemed surprised, but she agreed.
I took off, locking the door behind me. At least Gus would know what he’d missed, hanging around a guy like me. I waved “hello” as I passed the homeless lady who made a living off of money she collected from returning empties. I stopped.
“Hey Mrs. Bobrova, did you see me come in last night?”
“I see you. You drunk like always. Like you drunk now.” I waved her off.
“Was I with a big black guy?”
“No. Big black guy come later. Later, you yelling, ‘I get rid you!’ like that. You have money?” Hell, she’d done her job. I handed her a $5 and walked on.
I got to the coffee shop early and sat down. I grabbed a copy of the Dig and watched the room, over it. My eyes flew to the door as I heard it tinkle open. There she was, dressed in a long, khaki coat. She made a beeline for me and sat down, like we were two ordinary people, the kind that would get coffee together.
“So did you get rid of him for me?”
“You betcha.” She let out a sigh of relief and held my hand.
“Gus just would not leave me alone. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings, but he just didn’t want to accept that it’s you that’s got me all wound up, not him.” Girls. It always comes back to girls. I kissed her then. It seemed like the thing to do. I could tell by the way Juanito was starting to itch, that at least she’d given me something to remember her by. I broke this kiss and swept her hair back, looking at my own darkness reflected in her eyes. Then the darkness got deeper. I looked up. Gus! I heard a woman scream and then nothing.
When I came to, a doctor was checking my chart. I had a headache like I’d been slapped by a whale. I had no idea what happened to me, but hell or high water, I was going to get myself a pint of Harpoon. There’s a whole lot of strangeness in the world and I’ll be damned if a cold pint can’t go toward fixing them.