I was sitting at the bar in my usual spot, nursing my usual drink, thinking my usual thoughts. I looked around at the pathetic people in the bar with me and wondered how on Earth I had ended up here. A bad life filled with bad decisions, and not all of them had been mine. I turned the glass of whiskey around on the dirty bar. Deep stains of blood and beer had soaked into the wooden surface, becoming a natural part of the bar’s charm. I enjoyed a grim smirk as I often did at the thought of the name, The Rainbow Bar. I’d been attracted to the place because of the colorful banner outside. A rainbow offered hope and treasure. Maybe that was the trick, the illusion, maybe that’s why all of these lost souls got trapped here.
I picked up the glass and let the thick whiskey slide down my mouth, feeling the pleasant burning sensation ripple down my throat into the pit of my stomach. A hazy feeling prickled in my mind and warmth spread out from the core of my body into the tips of my fingers and toes. It was about the only thing I felt any more, other than a sense of loneliness and melancholy. What was the point in life anyway? You get born, which you have no choice, then you have your world shaped by people who are wholly unqualified to raise a child, and then you’re thrust into the world on your own and you have to hope you get things right the first time otherwise you’re screwed.
I set the glass down and dug my nail into the bar, adding a notch to the grooves that were already present. I wondered how many other people just like me had sat here, thinking the same thoughts, feeling the same sense of hopelessness. Behind me the bar was filled with the sounds of clinking glasses, laughter, of pool balls being sunk into pockets, of a guitar whining and a man warbling, but it all faded into the background, into the darkness. I closed my eyes and just wished that when I opened them again the world had disappeared.
I was disappointed, just like I always was.
A stool was dragged beside me. A man sat down. He was handsome, in his own way. He didn’t look like he belonged here. He was far too clean, too well-kept. People like that weren’t supposed to be in The Rainbow Bar.
“I see you’re empty, can I get you a drink?” he asked, smiling at me with a row of straight white teeth that looked as though they took thousands of dollars to maintain. His aftershave hung in the air and the suit he wore probably cost more than I had earned in my entire life.
“Sure,” I replied, shrugging, not one to turn down a free drink. He tapped his knuckle on the table and smiled as though he had just won a prize. He hadn’t realized yet that he was about to be sorely disappointed. I signaled to Mickey, the bartender, to give me another. He slid a glass over and I took a long sip.
“Can I get a name with that?” my new companion asked. I sighed as I turned to face him. He had blue eyes, slicked-back hair, and clean skin. He obviously took pride in his appearance, which made me wonder why he took an interest in my disheveled self.
“Look, I don’t know what you’re hoping comes out of this, but I’m not looking for anything. You’ve brought me a drink, and I’m very grateful, but I don’t want anything.”
“Not even a conversation? I’m Dan,” the man said, holding out his hand. I looked at it, but didn’t shake it.
“Millie,” I replied. It was about the only thing my parents had given me that I’d kept.
“See, that wasn’t so hard. So, what’s a pretty girl like you doing in a place like this?”
“I could ask you the same question.”
Dan bristled at that.
“I’m here with friends. I thought I’d come out of my comfort zone, although I’m beginning to regret it…”
“I think you’ve got a misconception about this place. I know what you’re thinking. I’ve seen your type before.”
“Oh, and what’s my type?”
I took another sip of whiskey and swirled it around my mouth, clicking my tongue against my lips as I glanced at him. “It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that you’re not really meant to be here. This isn’t your world, so you probably came here out of curiosity, or a misguided sense to help someone. I get it you know, I really do. You probably had a good life, with parents who loved you, some nice friends, a good path through college and a career, and maybe you met a couple of nice girls along the way, girls your parents approved of and would have fit into your pretty little picture of the perfect American dream, but nothing ever seemed quite right with them, did it? It felt wrong, like something was missing, because life has been too perfect. You’re wondering if you’re missing out because everything has always been so easy for you, and this side of life seems so romantic. Maybe you’re here because you like the excitement of being with a bad girl, someone who isn’t just going to lie there and whimper when you try to spank her or pull her hair, or maybe you pity me and you want to be the big hero coming to save the damsel in distress from her pathetic life. Well I’m not here to be your fantasy Dan. I’m not here to live up to some fetish you have, and I don’t think anyone else in the bar is either. You should go back to your friends, back to your life. Find one of those pretty girls and marry them because that’s what a man like you is made for.”
Dan looked at me with eyes of ice. He circled his drink and glowered. I didn’t really care. What did it matter to me if he couldn’t put up with a few scathing remarks from a girl? His scowl made him a lot less appealing, and I knew I was right. This was a man who got by on his charm, who did nothing but flash an easy smile and have everything handed to him. He wasn’t ready for the kind of challenge that I would pose, and he should have just ended things there and gone back to his lovely little life and found an obedient little wife who would make a nice home for him while he went out and screwed secretaries at work, and of course his wife wasn’t going to mind because she had the house of her dreams and could probably get away with screwing the pool boy herself. God, marriage makes me sick, especially the way everyone always goes on about how it’s such an ideal and how it’s the dream of every little girl to grow up and have the perfect wedding day, when really most marriages end the same way, with two people hating each other and doing everything they can to strike out at each other maliciously, and then the kids get caught in the crossfire.
Anger burned inside me as I thought about the path my life had taken and how I was trying to leave everything behind, how I was trying to escape the fire in which I had been forged, but the flames were still licking me, the burns still scorched.
“You know, I don’t have to explain myself to you, and sure, maybe you’re right about a few things, and maybe I need to go and take a long hard look at myself. But what about you? You can sit here, acting like that bar stool is a pedestal and pass judgment down on everyone else, but one day maybe a good man is going to come in and all he’s going to want to do is talk to you, get to know, and maybe give you a little bit of a hope in your shattered world, but you’re so consumed with being broken that you’re going to stab him with your jagged edges, and all because you’re too afraid to actually believe that there’s any such thing as happiness. So enjoy your night. I guess we both have a lot to think about.”
He slammed his glass on the bar and strode away, melting back into the mass of bodies. I watched him leave, and then turned back to nurse my drink. May
be what he’d said had hit home. Maybe I was too scared of opening myself up to any kind of happiness, or maybe I was right in thinking that it didn’t exist for people like me, that it was all a delusion and nobody could ever really be happy, they could only fool themselves into thinking they were because it was the only way to get through this miserable world.
I closed my eyes and I could hear them again, all those years ago, the muffled screams through my bedroom wall, the cries and the cursing and the slaps, the broken glass, and then me standing there in the doorway, looking up at the two people who were supposed to love me more than anything else in the entire world, who were supposed to keep me safe and sound and protect me, my parents, looking down on me, glaring at me, shouting at me to get in my room, blaming me for their problems.
I was the root cause of it, they said. I was the reason they had no money and no time and no energy. Well, I hadn’t asked to be born and they hadn’t asked to have me. So that left me with one question. What was I doing here?
I took another drink and my mind was going to dark places. I tried to think about my conversation with Dan because it was better than thinking about the past. I remember when I was younger people always told me that one day I’d make a pretty bride. I think even then I knew I didn’t want to get married. I’d seen what marriage could do. Before they got married my parents were happy. It was in pictures. Then they tied the knot and suddenly things went downhill. That’s what marriage did. It shackled people, bound people, imprisoned people. Maybe life would be better if we could all just go off and fuck whomever we wanted whenever we wanted, but then again some people shouldn’t be with anyone.
Marriage and relationships was the greatest lie sold to us by our brains. Love was just a drug, a chemical reaction that surged through our mind and inflamed our desire to try and get us to reproduce. It didn’t mean anything else. It didn’t give us any other reason to live, it just fooled us into thinking there was some grand meaning to it all, and us being the messed up creatures we are we took it and ran with it and suddenly we were making up all these traditions about how people are meant to be together forever, when if you look at nature how many examples are there of couples staying together? And it doesn’t help that we’re all so weak and vulnerable when we’re born. Other animals can just get up and go but not us, oh no, we need to be weaned and taught and we can’t fend for ourselves until we’re older.