"Everything is under control," Dwayne repeated to himself as he pulled into the tiny parking area next to "Big Al's". The neon sign above the darkened glass doorway artfully depicted a frothy mug of beer and a two-olive martini, flashing alternately in sync with "Big" and "Al's".
Dwayne parked his old, beat-up car and shut the engine. "Everything is under control," he repeated as he gripped the steering wheel in a last-ditch attempt at restraint. He could have just one. Just one drink.
With a deep breath Dwayne licked each palm in turn, then wiped the saliva down the thighs of his jeans in one movement. Leaving the keys in the ignition, he slammed the car door behind him. It was a trick he learned years ago: If you don't bring your keys into the bar, no one can take them from you when "they" think you've had too much. What do "they" know anyway?
It wouldn't be an issue tonight because Everything was Under Control. Besides, he was a regular here and Big Al was okay.
He entered the dark bar and was immediately hailed from behind the bar. "Hola, Dwayne! How's everything at the dock?" Sammy fancied himself Puerto Rican, or maybe he thought Dwayne was Puerto Rican. He peppered his language with Spanish and Dwayne didn't know why.
He wasn't Big Al, but his second in command, as Dwayne saw it. Sammy was okay."Everything is under control, Sammy," Dwayne answered. "Under control."
Sammy nodded knowingly. "Beer or whiskey today, Dwayne?"
"Beer's good, thanks," he answered as he wiped his palms on his jeans again and rocked back and forth on the bar stool. "Where's Al?" This change in routine required a question.
"He's okay. His grandson was born today. He's at the hospital with Emma."
Dwayne nodded, not sure if Emma was Al's wife or a daughter. Did Al have a daughter? He swallowed half the beer in a long gulp and stared down at the bar top, nodding quietly to himself as he felt the alcohol begin to spread through him, softening the hard edges of what he knew. Control, maybe. Someone had to be in control. That was how Dwayne figured it.
Sammy was wiping things down and checking on the two other patrons, locked in close conversation in a booth along the wall. Dwayne took a breath, eyes steady on the immobile bar top. He was reaching for the beer, to finish it the same way he started it, when a heavy hand clapped him on the shoulder.
"Dwayne! My man! How's things?" Dwayne pretended not to be startled and answered, "Everything Under Control, Ambrose" with a stiff smile.
Ambrose removed the weight of his hand with a chuckle. "Amen, amen, my man. Your mouth to God's ears, right?" He flagged down Sammy while Dwayne licked his palms and wiped them on his jeans. "Sammy, Lucky Sammy! A scotch-rocks for me and another beer for 'Mr. Control' here."
Dwayne was draining his first beer in another long gulp when Ambrose, still talking to the bartender, clapped him on the back for emphasis. He started choking as he swallowed, pounded the bottle down on the bar as he coughed, and watched the beer foam up into the neck. Wasted beer. He turned to Ambrose, stricken.
Ambrose lightened the weight of his hand on Dwayne's back and his eyes softened. Dwayne was a fixture at Big Al's. Dwayne was harmless. Dwayne never had a bad word for anyone. Dwayne was a drunk, but not a mean drunk. He looked about to cry from the beer-to-head proportion now in his bottle. "Sorry man," Ambrose was sincere. "No worries. I got'chu covered."
Like a miracle, Sammy produced a fresh beer in front of Dwayne and removed the half-bottle of suds. "Done."
Dwayne smiled in relief and looked from Ambrose to the new beer bottle, to Sammy. He nodded to Sammy, to Ambrose, and wrapped his hands around the beer. As Sammy moved back down the bar Dwayne let go of the bottle, licked each palm, and wiped them on his jeans. Only then did he take a giant swig, draining half the bottle.
Everything was Under Control.
Thanks for visiting my #AtoZChallenge! All month I'll be writing flash fiction, with the theme "Audience Participation".
My "In The Bar" story came from the prompt "Control" provided by Iain Kelly of IainKellyWriting, in a comment left on my A post, here.
it's your turn, lovely audience member. Do you have a writing prompt to
suggest? Don't worry about choosing a letter of the alphabet, just
leave me a word, a thought, a place, a concept... anything! and I'll add
it to the list.