’72 Skylark, 8

“Who are you?” I ask Miriam, genuinely curious for a moment.

She doesn’t respond; she’s laughing at the old man, like they’re old friends now.

I take stock. No one new has come in since Miriam. The biker’s either gone or in the bathroom; he’s left a scattering of crumbs in his wake. The frat boys are solemn, hunched into each other, perhaps having reached the time of night when they reveal their darkest secrets about having sex with each other’s girlfriends, or masturbating on the top bunk, or whatever other secrets feel like burdens when you’re too young to be carrying any weight.

I check my watch again. Ten minutes.

“That’s a nice watch for a washed-up drunk,” Miriam says, and I realize later than I should that she’s sitting next to me now, reading the label on one of my empty bottles.

“Washed up?” I ask–despite myself, because I know by now that she knows.

“You’re Brett Garland,” she says, a little too loud; the bartender, who by some miracle hasn’t yet collapsed into a pile of his own drool, cocks his head. “You played quarterback at State. Legend among boys a couple decades ago. Your busted nose looks even worse than the papers made it sound.”

I expect, for a moment, for the whole bar to rise up and point at me, chanting or cursing. That’s what I always expect, even though no one’s cared in a long time. No one but Mom, maybe, but she’s not here, so aside from the suddenly fond look in the bartender’s eye, the air in the room doesn’t change much. Not for anyone else, anyway.

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