It was his birthday. Of all days, right? When I see people out and about now, after I met him, I want to tell them don’t be so happy, don’t have so much fun on your birthday.
I met him the day before his birthday and he seemed really sad.
I want you to know that though I’m alone in this world I’m careful. I’m not one of those nut jobs who simply despairs and does crazy things to herself. I have a little job and a little apartment in a dingy part of Indianapolis. I like Indy, better than Chicago, where I grew up. I might live in a dingy, cheap, part of Indianapolis but for the most part, the city is a bright place where people actually live, rather than parade around.
This guy, he staggered into the little coffee shop I was working at and he said he spilled some bourbon on his trousers. He actually used the word trousers and I tried not to laugh. His eyes were big and blue and his fading red hair looked blond. I was certain that all the bourbon he had that night had gone in him and not on his “trousers.”
It was 30 minutes until closing and I glanced over at Joe. Really, at the coffee shop, my boss’ name is Joe. His actual name is Herbert Floyd but he likes Joe. Joe shrugged at me and that was my signal to turn the “open,” sign off and pour this guy a deep, dark, cup of black coffee. Joe began to sweep the floor and clatter the dishes in the steel sink in the back.
“Listen,” I said to the guy who used the word trousers for the word pants, “listen, you are drunk and this is downtown Indianapolis. You will get put away for public intoxication if you go out there again.”
“I realize that,” his voice sounded sort of choppy. He was broad-shouldered and he spread his arms across the black round table he was seated at, “I came in here because I was afraid of just that. I’m not from around here and I’ve heard of American jails.”
“Finish your coffee,” I said.
Joe rolled his eyes at me when I started washing the dishes. “What are you going to do with the guy? You gonna take him home? He’ll puke all over the bus, you know he will. The guy smells like a Kentucky brewery.”
“Do you think that is where he’s from? Kentucky? He sounds funny.”
“You’re hopeless. He’s not from the US, okay.”
That, of course, fascinated me more. An actual foreigner. I finished cleaning the kitchen and I swept the floor again because Joe doesn’t always do a good job. Joe and I placed the chairs on the tables all around the man who smelled like bourbon. I thought when I was getting my purse from under the counter, that the man in trousers looked as if he was in jail; all the chair legs serving as bars.
“Come on. I’ll get you to where you need to be.”
“My hotel is somewhere around here. I’m pretty sure. I’m feeling better. “He stood and his reddish, thin, eyebrows wrinkled into a worried look.
We walked toward the center of town and he faltered just beyond a well-lit parking lot, coughed and then heaved coffee and bourbon all over a good portion of Indianapolis. He hung on to a lamp post and it seemed to me he tried to stretch his neck out to avoid splattering his suit. I didn’t blame him. That suit looked expensive.
He started to breathe normally, hanging on to the light post, his nose red and his hair sort of flying about his head in a weird halo.
“What time is it?
“Today is my birthday.”
“I’m 60 today.”
I didn’t know what to say. He seemed way too old to be vomiting bourbon and coffee in a foreign city but I didn’t want to seem rude.
“I wanted to come to some out of the way city, buy a prostitute, have incredible sex and get drunk.”
“Well, you seem to have done well.”
“No, I’ve only managed to get sick drunk.”
“I’m not a prostitute.”
“I guess I’m not one either.” He leaned over, gripping the street light pole and puked again.
“Listen, it’s late but people are still around. This is Indianapolis and they will call the police.”
“People in Indianapolis don’t like drunks?”
“Good.” He pushed himself off the lamp post and staggered backward. I grabbed his arm and kept him steady.
“Is that your hotel?”
“Yes, how did you know?”
“It’s the best one down here.”
“Oh, I see. That obvious am I?”
I wasn’t sure what obvious meant but I pulled him forward and we walked into the side of the hotel, where I knew someone would help us.
“There you are, you bastard.”
She was beautiful. She wore black and high heels and her hair was long and shiny. “And with a prostitute too. You pathetic bastard.”
Hotel management gathered around us and asked the lady with the same sort of choppy voice as the man who said “trousers,” to be quiet.
“Ha, I’ll be quiet. After I take him for all he’s worth.”
“You can’t Mabel (I often wondered if I heard her name correctly) you signed a prenuptial.” He laughed into Mabel’s face. She turned a little green.
“You pig, you smell awful.”
I started to back away but he grabbed my arm. “Call this young girl a cab, she saved me from jail tonight.”
A small crowd of onlookers was pooled in the far corner of the marble lobby gazing at us.
I looked at Mabel, frightened, I didn’t want anyone to think I was a prostitute.
“This young lady works at the coffee shop down the road and she saved me from the prying eyes of Indianapolis.”
I felt my heart drop, no one would believe I wasn’t a prostitute now.
“Please fetch her a cab.”
I pulled my arm free from his grasp and he staggered and fell. I reached out for him as did the night porter. In helping him up, he looked at me, his eyes bleary and bloodshot. “I’m so sorry, please forgive me, Mabel, but it’s my birthday and I wanted, I wanted something. I don’t know.”
I pulled myself away again and left him to the porter. He’d never find it, that “something,” I was certain of that.