Dying in Plain Sight
You ever seen a man die? I did once. Watched the soul pour straight out of a fellow. I was bartending at a jazz club in Illinois; some hip joint with some bad players. The guy had been coming for weeks. He’d sit wherever there was an open space - we didn’t have anyone welcoming people at the door - and have a few drinks. Was gin, I think. Doesn’t matter.
The way he positioned himself was always away from the house band. Was the oddest thing. Who purposely faces away from the interest? Nobody does, except for this guy.
I’d tell you what he looked like, but it was as normal as normal can be. You know, if there was a normal. Anyways, he was it. Normal clothes, normal hair, just normal, man. Just normal.
As the weeks went by, he started upping the drinks. When I started cutting him off, he’d just linger at his seat til close and leave. Never facing the band, always facing the door.
I got to thinking that he was waiting for someone. But who waits for weeks? Who sits their ass down and patiently waits for weeks while staring at the damn door? Fuck if I know what he was up to.
The last time I saw him, he was sitting at the closet table to the band, still facing the door. Never said a word. Just sipped his drink - I said it was gin, right? - in silence. I cut him off about an hour before close, which had gotten pretty normal. When it came time to shut down, he slowly got up, looked across the room at me, nodded, and walked out.
The look, man. I’ll never forget that look. Too sad to be crying, too lost for his manner to seem purposeful. The last drops of soul had washed out of that man right there in that chair. I still didn’t know what he was looking for, but I did know he’d given up.
He didn’t come back the next night. Or the one after that. A regular heard he moved out of the city. So yeah, he’s still alive, but I know he’s dead. Once there isn’t anything left to live for, you just go through the motions. That guy lost his will to live facing that door, waiting for something to happen. He won’t be buried for another decade or two, but you might as well call it over. That one look said it all.
I thought I’d feel remorse, standing there watching a guy die in slow motion. I hate to say it, but I felt more curious than anything else. I did my part in serving the drinks to him, I guess. Kept him in a state that may have helped or hurt. But I’m no saint, and I don’t tell this story as a means of asking for forgiveness. Was just doing my job as I saw fit. I’m sure he doesn’t hold a grudge against me, considering the circumstances.
I tell a lot of stories to patrons, but not this one. This one’s for the other bartenders. Some of them say they’ve seen that look, others think I’m an idiot for caring. But none of them could figure out why he kept facing the door. If he was looking for a way out, it wasn’t the way he came in each night. And if he was looking for peace… well, he didn’t find it here.
Next round is on the house.