Broken Bottles Forever

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Flash Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic


A night of drinking ends in violence, anger and reflections on generational failure.

Submitted: March 05, 2018

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Submitted: March 05, 2018

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Wildcat’s exit from The Broken Spear late that tuesday night could graciously be described as “abrupt.” Staggering through the backdoor, his existence blurred by half a bottle of the good stuff and about a third of a bottle of the bad, he picked the glass from his hair and winced at the fine cuts the shards left in his scalp. The young Chippewa slumped to his haunches, the grey slurry of lingering snow squelching beneath the heels of his worn trainers as his legs shot out across the curb. Inside, the booming laughter of the white men at the pool table resounded against the fogging windows.

“Mother fucker,” he mumbled, a strand of spit catching on his patchy beard. “Fuckin…”

Behind him, his friends watched the anger simmer, then bubble, then settle again as he sat on the curb of the back alley. Tyler Attick, eyes shining in the streetlight beneath the rim of his ball cap, fished into his pocket and slipped a marlboro between his lips. Jim Bucktree, though most knew him as Black Elk- his “true name”- shuffled his feet, tapped his finger on the neck of the bottle in his hand, and thought about his girlfriend.

“We should get him to the car,” Tyler said, rolling his thumb over the striker of the zippo. “He don’t look too good.”

“Hmm?” Black Elk turned to his friend. “Oh. yeah, we oughta.”

“I’ll kill his ass,” Wildcat slurred, his jacket ruffling as he struggled to the curb. “Kill that Wasichu.”

“Call Junebug,” Tyler cupped the flame to the end of the cigarette, lit it, and stuffed the lighter back in the pocket of his bomber-jacket. “Get her over here. Should be enough room in her pa’s plymouth.”

“Uhhh,” Black Elk shuffled, and took a swig from the bottle. “Maybe not Junebug. Clem or Avanaco or Burt. Someone, someone el-”

“Suck it up, Elk,” Tyler snapped as Wildcat fell to the pavement, wet mud coating his jacket. “Call your damn girl.”

“Can’t you drive?” Elk rummaged through his pockets for change, the payphone felt thousands of miles away. “Didn’t drink as much as us.”

“Kill his ass,” Wildcat stumbled back to his feet. “Who the fuck he think he is? Throwin bottles amme like Imsum pissboy.”

Wildcat thrust himself forward, twisting and stumbling onto the cracked asphalt that shined with slick and making his way back towards the car. Black Elk started after him, but stopped, and looked back at Tyler. A rake of a man, he glared at Elk with that old-school hardass stare that so few young folks in Palmyra had these days.

“Wildcat,” Tyler said, exhaustion showing through. “Let it be, man. No need to be even more of an asshole.”

“Fuck you,” Wildcat spat, wheeling around and jabbing his finger. “Fuck you, Attick!”

Tyler sighed and rubbed the back of his shaggy head, a cloud of cigarette smoke and breath filling the air in front of him. Elk drained his beer and set it on the curb before following his drunk companion.

“Hey man,” Elk threw his arm around Wildcat’s broad shoulders and brought him in as they walked. “let’s head back to Junebug’s place, eh? Smoke something, put some music on, get the atari hooked up, what do ya say Billy?”

“Fuck off me, Elk,” he mumbled, face pinched at hearing his real name. “Gonna show that white motherfucker what for, I gotta.”

Wildcat withdrew and shoved Elk away, who stumbled and struggled to right himself on the slick pavement. dipped into his pocket and retrieved the cluttered keyring. Elk turned back to Tyler, who had stuck his hands in his pockets and turned himself against the wind.

“Call Junebug, Elk!” He shouted plaintively. “Get it over with, I’m freezing my ass off.”

Scowling, reminded of her bundled in the oversized sweater he’d bought her at Dougherty’s last christmas, Elk closed in on Billy as he fumbled with the keys to the camaro.

“What are you gonna do, Billy? What’s it gonna prove?”

“Who the fuck is he to talk about pa like that? Fuckin’ wasichu, fucking pig,” Wildcat grunted as he wrenched open the passenger door and slipped a hand beneath the seat there, retrieving a small lockbox. “I’ll get his ass.”

“Oh shit,” Elk sighed. He remembered the smell of her hair, the way she twisted it around her finger when she was nervous. “Put that away, Billy.”

Wildcat flipped the plastic latches and withdrew the pistol his father left him. It was sleek, oiled and mahogany-gripped, made for target shooting at a range, not at a bar. Elk paled, cupped his head in his hands and huffed with exasperation.

“Billy-”

“Enough with the Billy shit, Elk,” Wildcat shouted, cycling the cylinder and ensuring it was loaded.

“God dammit,” Tyler shouted, shaking his head. “Put that fuckin’ thing away, Wildcat.”

“No one talks about my pa that way!” Wildcat roared, red creeping into his face, eyes darting between Tyler and Elk. “No one! Not you not me not Tim fucking Gunderson, no one!”

He stormed towards the bar, splashing foul water from the puddles rested in narrow grooves of pavement. Elk was quick on his heels, highly mindful of Wildcat’s finger on the trigger. Nimble fingers, almost like Junebug’s, but darker, callused by years of hard labor.

“Christ,” Elk heard Tyler mumble before he started towards Wildcat. “Billy you need to calm down. They’re gonna shoot your ass this ti-”

Wildcat raised the pistol, barrel trembling, leveled at Tyler’s chest.

“Billy!” Elk shouted, reaching for the knife in his boot.

“Billy,” Tyler backed away slowly, hands raised as the cigarette fell from his mouth and extinguished with a hiss on the wet pavement.

“Fuck you Tyler! The fuck do you know?” Wildcat shouted, his voice cracking.

“Billy, listen to me,” Tyler said deliberately, moving himself between Wildcat and the back door of the bar. Over the shoulders of his friends, Elk thought he saw faces watching in the windows. “Fuck Tim Gunderson, let’s just go home.”

“I won’t hear it! Every fucking day at work he talks bad about my pa and I won’t hear it anymore!” Tears welled in Wildcat’s eyes, he sniffled and his face was fire red. Elk had his knife in hand, but couldn’t bring himself to approach. Something stopped him, a thought. Red hair, pale skin, the cracking voice of a woman whose anger can no longer be contained. He snapped the knife back into his pocket and clenched his fists.

“Okay, fuck Tim Gunderson, but let’s not do something crazy, Y’know, like killing him,” Tyler spouted, eyes pointed at the gun barrel. “Ya already came at hi-”

“He fuckin started it, Tyler,” Wildcat mumbled, mind still fogged by the booze. “He talked shit, he threw the bottl-”

“Yeah, after you came at him with a pool cue,” Tyler scowled. “Put the fucking gun down ya maniac. Let’s just go home.”

Wildcat trembled, then lowered the pistol and pushed past Tyler, who spun on his heel as the would-be gunman stomped up the steps of the bar.

“dammit,” Elk said, and sprang into action, running towards the bar at a dead sprint.

Tyler held back, watching in horror at the man that had held him at gunpoint.

The door opened with the jingle of the bell, and the sounds and warmth of the bar escaped into the night air just as long as it took Wildcat to slip through, before disappearing again, leaving only the sounds of boot falls on pavement.

The two men pushed the door open and thundered behind him, crammed against each other in the narrow hallway as they made for the main room. The crowd in the Broken Spear had thinned out by now, and it hadn’t been very big to begin with, but the group of white men who held court around the pool table hadn’t budged an inch. Tyler and Elk saw Wildcat push past a group of middle-aged women who’d staked a seat by the bathrooms, and that was about the time the screaming started. They pushed through together and froze at the edge of the scene.

Wildcat had the pistol leveled at the culprit, Tim Gunderson, an older man with a balding tangle of grey-tinged black hair and an uneven beard, who wore the lifestyle of a logger heavily on his slouching frame. He stood stock-still, face caught between confusion and horror, blue eyes darting between the barrel and the fury playing out on Wildcat’s face.

“What the hell is this?” He barked indignantly, dropping the pool-cue along the edge of the table. “What are you playing at, Billy?”

“Shut the fuck up,” Wildcat snapped, spittle gathering at the corners of his mouth. “You disrespectful wasichu prick.”

“Christ boy, watch where you point that thing!” Tim Gunderson shouted, stepping back from the angry youth.

“Who do you think you are, Gunderson?” Wildcat growled, gun shaking in his hand, tears of rage rimming his eyes. “Talking about my pa like that. Callin’ him a drunk, a no good buckskin humper.”

Tim pinched his brow as his friend slowly edged around the table. Elk saw Tyler and the other man make eye contact and he could see the collective gears churning.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” Tim said. “I was joking, Billy. I didn’t mean nothin’ by it-”

“Bullshit!” Wildcat spat, cocking the hammer of the competition pistol. “Oughta plug you, you rat bastard.”

“Billy,” Tyler said softly, causing him to wheel around.

Wildcat started to say something, but it was too late. Like a lightning bolt, the two men sprang into the action. The white man snatched up the eight from the table and threw it knuckleball, striking Wildcat along the side of the head. He turned to face him, and Tyler lunged into him, knocking the breath out of the would-be killer. The gun discharged with a deafening thud, gouging a dusty chunk out of the wall and bringing a burst of screams from the onlookers.

“Guh,” he managed to croak before the others piled on.

Three other men, including Elk, wrestled him out the backdoor. He swung and swore as Elk and Tyler ran him back outside, sending him sprawling to the pavement. Tyler moved in to grab the pistol, and Wildcat swung, catching him in the jaw with the barrel, sending Tyler wheeling in a spray of blood and teeth. Elk socked him one across the brow, splitting his knuckles wide-open, and Wildcat’s eyes rolled and his head lolled, allowing the gun to be pried from his death-grip. Elk cracked the chamber and emptied the bullets onto the curb, brass twinkling in the pale of the streetlight, before slipping it into his waistband.

“Tyler!” Elk shouted, kneeling to check his friend, who waved him off as he spat a clod of blood and ivory onto the pavement.

“Check Billy,” Tyler mumbled, mouth full of blood. “Keep him there.”

Elk turned and saw Billy, not Wildcat, recovered from his frenzy and silently weeping on the ground. Elk knelt and placed a hand on his shoulder, but Billy shrugged him off and bundled himself into his self-pity.

“It ain’t fair,” he sobbed. “He tried so hard. and they still treat him like dogshit.”

“Billy,” Elk said quietly.

“Like he didn’t fight, he fought so damned hard for us and look what it got him! A fucking punchline for some Wasichu bastard.”

“Billy, it’s alright.”

He sucked heaving gulps of air and writhed like a child. Elk sighed, and looked back at the bar. In the doorway stood Tyler and Tim, talking between themselves as Tim saw to Tyler’s jaw. Elk rose and took tentative steps towards the men. Tyler shot him daggers, but Tim’s remorse caught his attention. Elk stood at the base of the wooden stairs and fished a pack of lucky-strikes from his back pocket, offering them one.

“Aw hell, Elk, I’m sorry,” Tim said, hands stuffed in his pockets in search of a lighter. “I didn’t think-”

“Course you didn’t,” Elk said bluntly. “You never do.”

Tim nodded with a shg, and Elk turned to Tyler, rag stuffed in the mangled corner of his mouth.

“Caww junbug,” he mumbled through the cloth. “O ahll puh ma foot in yer fuggin ass.”

“Fine, fine,” Elk sighed, lighting his smoke on the flame of Tim’s outstretched lighter.

The two men stopped for their companion, now recovered enough to walk, and departed the bar. They stopped at the phone booth, and Elk slipped inside. He dialed the number he’d taken to heart, and desperately hoped she’d never change. After a minute of anxiety, a sleepy voice answered.

“Hello?”

“Hey, it’s me,” he said curtly.

“Oh, hey you. What time is it?” she said, her voice brightening.

“Too late,” he chuckled. “Listen, we need a ride from the Broken Spear.”

“We?”

“Tyler, Wildcat, and I,” he said. “We’ve been zat it tonight.”

“Sure, sure I can get you guys,” she said, the sound of fabric rustling on the other end set him at ease. “No problem.”

He looked over his shoulder out the doorway of the booth. Tyler was sat beside Billy, his arm around his shoulder and the other holding up the rag. Billy was shaking and sniffling, Tyler occasionally hawking clods of blood as he spoke.

“I oughta kick your ass, man,” he said darkly. “Fucking Wyatt Earp over here.”

“I’m sorry,” Billy moaned. “I’m fucking sorry.”

“The fuck you going to do, shoot every white man who makes fun of you? Every Wasichu who thinks your dad was a drunkard?

You gonna shoot the whole town, Billy? The state? The whole damn world?”

“They can’t laugh at me like that man, it ain’t right…”

“You there, babe?” Junebug said in that way he couldn’t ignore.

“Y-Yeah,” he stuttered. “I’m here.”

“You alright?” she said.

“It’s been a night, Junebug,” he sighed. “I’m ready to go home.”

“Fuck home, stay here,” she chuckled. “Pa’s out for the week and Ma’s over in Toledo.”

“You sure? I...I know I messed up Ju-”

“Jimmy,” she said curtly, then continued after a pause. “It’s okay, see you soon.”

They exchanged goodbyes, and the dial tone robbed him of her comfort.

“Can’t shoot the world, Billy!” Tyler exclaimed, laughing through the pain. “Right Elk?”

He stepped out of the phonebooth and into the conversation, fumbling for a second smoke. Somewhere off in the distance, past the flickering streetlights and the rusting cars and oil-slicked streets and the human wreckage that sat commiserating on the cracked curb of some forsaken suburb, Elk pictured the light of a bedroom snapping on, and the warm white arms that awaited him there. He became aware of Tyler trying to say something to him, but Elk ignored him, slipped the gun from his waistband and threw it to the curb between them.

“Yep,” Elk sighed, watching Tyler eye the pistol wearily. “Can’t shoot the world.”

 


© Copyright 2019 Ben Mair. All rights reserved.

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