The bulge of the knife that had been on the left side of Dave's pants shifted toward the center, making it hard for him to sit on the barstool. He had a good, hearty pull on his beer and jostled himself again to move it, allowing him to sit in peace. He looked around the joint. It felt good to sit there in that bar on Elmwood and just relax and drink. He had a fine buzz working. It felt good to let the day pass slowly with a fine beer buzz.
He had been watching the bartender for quite some time. She was tall and slender with streaks of bleached hair entangling with brownish-blonde strands. She was tan too, and looked like the type who spent a lot of time at the local beaches along the lake or in tanning beds, sunning herself in the summer and baking herself in the winter, and not giving much of a shit about anything, least of all some lonely guy staring at her on a Sunday afternoon. How old was she? Twenty-one at her oldest.
"Do you want another?" the bartender asked.
"Okay," he answered. "What do I owe you?"
"It's on the house." The bartender looked at him and smiled. She had the whitest teeth he had ever seen. Healthy teeth. Strong, lanky farm girl teeth. "We buy back every so often."
"That's kind of you."
"Not really. It's policy."
"All the same." Dave tipped his beer and had a good pull on it.
"So, what are you playing hooky from today?"
He took another pull on his new draft and stared at the television a moment. "I'm playing hooky from my job."
"I travel from city to city and prey on women."
The bartender rolled her eyes. "That's funny."
"But seriously, what do you really do for a living?"
She laughed and began wiping down the sopping wood of the bar. "That's a good one too."
"How do you mean?"
She stopped cleaning and looked at him with a sly grin. Her nametag said Ann. "A travel writer you said. What is a travel writer doing in Buffalo? Are you lost?"
"Maybe." Dave laughed. Ann laughed. She took hold of her blonde hair and shook it as he adjusted the bulge in his pants. "Maybe I'm doing some work on Niagara Falls. Or maybe, just maybe, the good ol' U.S. of A is coming around and cities like Buffalo are beginning to come into vogue."
"Are you from here?"
Ann rolled her eyes. "No, I'm not from here. I go to school at Buffalo State. But I've been here long enough to know that no one is writing a travel book about Buffalo, and if they are, no one is going to read the thing."
"I see," he said. "So because you live somewhere in Buffalo you speak for the whole city?"
"I live right around the corner on Bird Avenue," she said. "And in three years I haven't seen anything worth writing about."
"You live right around the corner?" Dave sat back and acted surprised. "I'm right around the corner too, like two streets over on…on…"
"Yes!" He slapped his hands on the bar. "Claremont. My buddy has an apartment there and I'm bunking with him while I work."
"I live at the corner of Bird and Claremont."
"See? We're almost neighbors."
"Yeah." She looked at him awkwardly and then stepped away to clean a few mugs and help other customers.
Dave drank his beer and watched the T.V., checking every so often to see what Ann was doing. The Bills were playing the Dolphins and people were getting themselves nuts over the big game. There were a few frat boys from Buffalo State sitting at the end of the bar, doing shots, and plowing their way through plates of hot wings. Ann seemed to prefer them to anyone else in the place, Dave noticed, by the way she hung near them, taking a shot when she thought the other bartender wasn't looking. Dave finished his beer quickly, and took out a small notebook.
"Another one?" Ann asked.
"Of course." He had his head buried in his pocket notebook and was firing away at the words.
"What are you writing?"
"I'm taking notes on this bar."
"This bar?" She set a full mug down in front of him. Dave took a good pull. "You're taking notes on this bar?"
"Did I stutter?"
"No. I just wanted to make sure you meant this bar. Are you gonna, like, include it in your travel book or something?"
"Maybe. I figure a lot of people who are going to the Falls might be staying in or around Buffalo, and might want to come somewhere for food and to relax."
"This is a shitty college bar. Why would anyone come here?"
"People go to college bars. College people travel, Ann."
She backed away from him at the sound of her name. "If you say so."
"I say so." He wrote a feverish sentence before looking up to see Ann watching him. "What do you say I buy you a shot?"
She smiled weakly. "We're not allowed to drink while on the clock."
"Of course," he said. "Wouldn't want to break the rules, would we?"
"Not if we want to keep paying the bills."
Dave looked down toward the group of frat boys. "I think your friends are calling you, Ann."
"It was fine talking to you."
"Yeah. Good luck with the travel book about Buffalo. Maybe when you get done here, you could go and write one on Albany."
"Maybe I will."
Ann stepped away from him and went back down toward the end of the bar. She said something quietly and a couple of the frat boys laughed. Then a few of the frat boys tried giving her a shot along with theirs, but she demurred for a while. But soon she began ordering herself shots and beer with each subsequent round. She got decently drunk and loud, and the other bartender had to do the bulk of the work.
Dave watched the other bartender when he wasn't writing or watching Ann self-destruct. The other bartender was pretty. She was shorter than Ann, but built better, with a fine set of tits and an ass that wouldn't stop in her tight pinstriped pants. But something about her was unappealing and unwholesome to him, and he didn't even want to bother to make conversation. She looked like she didn't belong in a bar in Buffalo; she wasn't slyly wholesome and regional like Ann seemed to be. So Dave finished up his last draft, gathered his notebook, and stood up. It felt good to stand, even if he was a little wobbly.
"Have fun preying on women," Ann shouted smartly as he headed toward the door. Dave quickly waved. "And good luck with your book, travel writer!"
He found himself outside on a sunny, cold, barren Buffalo street. Dave made a left and started walking. Half a block down was Bird Avenue. Dave stopped in a convenience store and grabbed himself a pack of smokes and a quart bottle of Miller High Life. Then he went outside and walked down to the corner of Bird and Claremont. He found himself a spot on the curb by the corner house. He took out his notebook and began feverishly taking notes again, writing about the region and the bar until he had exhausted his memory.
People walked by with their dogs and children. They stared at Dave working. He sunk lower and grew paranoid, feeling their eyes on him. But soon it would be dark and no one would pay him any mind. He lit a smoke and opened the quart of beer. Dave had a pull then crouched even lower, as if trying to sink into the pavement. He sighed and shifted to get more comfortable.
Soon, familiar voices echoed in the newly dark street. Dave recognized Ann's voice right off the bat and the deep pitch of one of the frat boys who had been hammering her with shots all afternoon. They giggled and laughed and suddenly grew quiet. Dave watched as Ann stood under the streetlight kissing the frat boy, moaning as he pawed beneath her clothing. Dave moved his hands, aching to touch those young breasts too. Quickly the interlocked couple parted and had a heated exchange. The frat boy stormed back down the block and Ann crossed her arms in anger. Dave had to laugh. Fucking youth, he thought. They never give into what they really want, and all day those two wanted it.
Ann approached the corner of Bird and Claremont, and tightness welled in Dave's stomach. Familiar pains. They reminded him of Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, Columbus, and Syracuse. All those small cities no one cared about anymore, and all of those people stuck there living banal existences from day to day. The pains reminded him of all of those long, thin golden girls with year round tans, girls who would never get out, girls who would never go anywhere. They needed someone to write glorious odes to them, to excite the status quo, to do something to give those places a name again. Dave took out the knife from his front pocket. He watched it glimmer in the streetlights. He got up from the curb and stumbled onto the pavement, but reached Ann in no time. In the last moment she turned around and smiled.
"Find your woman yet?" she asked.
He shook his head.
"Still taking in the city, travel writer?" Ann giggled drunkenly.
"Just until dawn." Dave smiled and drew the blade hand forward. "By tomorrow I'll be in Cleveland."
BIO: John Grochalski has been published in numerous print and online journals. He is the author of two books of poetry: The Noose Doesn't Get Any Looser After You Punch Out (Six Gallery Press 2008) and Glass City (Low Ghost 2010). Grochalski currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.