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Working on the Craft: Ways of Seeing

Back to the 3 A.M. Epiphany, and an exercise titled “Ways of Seeing”, in which a first person POV is used to describe an idiosyncratic viewpoint as the narrator observes a traumatic event that does not concern them directly. The goal is to focus on the idiosyncrasies. I am only about 60% sure that I achieved this, but I tried to turn it on its head a bit. Hopefully, someone can tell me if I got it right.

I step inside the bar, the interior revealing all its secrets to me in an instant. The subdued atmosphere of shadowed corners, belying the barrage of sound they are designed to withstand. The twists and turns, made for people to be pressed against walls, almost, but not quite out of sight. The strobe lights above – hibernating now, to awake and rage later.

But in the early afternoon hours, the place is almost entirely empty. A bored bartender picks at his nose, confident in his invisibility at this time, hours before the place could make its first claim to crowding. Two girls sit at the tall stools on the other end of the bar, sipping at something that’s just the right color of pale red to be considered “basic”. A barback is roaming around in the shadows leading to the inner sanctums of the place, probably setting up for whatever events they have on work nights.

I have been here before. Not in this particular bar, but in a hundred like it. You could say I collect them. I am part of their scene, and – for reasons about to be apparent – also not. I get to observe them from afar, and then merge seamlessly with what they offer.

Which is, let’s be fair, often not a lot.

In a few hours, the first tendrils of the night will start creeping in, and there will be music, growing louder and louder as the place fills up. Groups of threes and fours, and the occasional hopeful single person. Not the couples, of course. Those come later, if they show up at all. Predominantly young men, predominantly attractive in the traditional sense, or failing that – bedecked in the flashiest possible regalia of their pageantry.

This place is made for them. The ones who want to see and be seen, by anybody, by any means necessary. The ones who dare to be desired. The bar abhors weakness. It doesn’t even feed on it, but simply rejects it. You don’t have to have a decent self-esteem to be here, but you sure as all hell must be able to simulate it.

The bartender sees me, gives me a disinterested nod, pretends to be cleaning a glass. Inwardly, I smirk. Sure, honey. As if you don’t pour most of this garbage in plastic cups. But I play along, and sit on another stool nearby. If he is here now, then he is the early shift. Could be the one, we’ll see.

Provided his girls leave earlier, or stay after.

The barback comes into the front, and my eyes pass through him, making the barest of cliff notes. Places like this have their own hierarchy of players. This guy is just that tiny bit too short, has just those few extra pounds, and just enough of them coalesce on his bearded cheeks, that he could never hope to make it behind the bar. Not for him, the shirtless look that gets the tips from men and women alike. Not for him, the perks.

People like that grin and bear it, because that’s what they have available to them.

As I reach for a drink I don’t remember ordering, it occurs to me – seemingly out of the blue – that there are other options available to people like that.

There is a gunshot. A scream. Another scream. Another gunshot. And a few more. The sound of glasses breaking.

A light goes dark.

The barback stares at the gun in his hand, eyes wide and wild. As if he can’t believe it’s his hand, with a gun in it. His gaze moves, as if dragged against its will, to the two bodies on the floor, splayed in a tangle of toppled stools, and beyond them – the empty, glass-shard covered space behind the bar, where a more traditionally attractive young man stood only a moment ago, but doesn’t anymore. Heavy breathing going faster and faster, the barback moves to look over the edge, and sees the bartender on the floor by the minifridge, a broken glass by his head. His eyes stare at the dark ceiling, but see nothing.

He would see me, if he weren’t dead. The barback never even knew I was there. They don’t unless I want them to. He just walks around the violated place now, in a daze, gun still in his hand. He holds it so tight, that it must be burning him. He doesn’t seem to understand what has happened any more than his victims did. Even though he must have planned this. I can only imagine he is in shock.

So, when I alight behind him, and put a gentle hand on his shoulder. When he whirls around, only to see what they all see when I want to reveal myself to them. He doesn’t even scream. From a certain angle, this is the most poetic way for things to end for him. It makes a cruel sort of sense. Harm received for harm caused. A life pays for life. Who cares if I wasn’t owed that life?

I am gone before the first sirens sound. The next bar awaits.

Published inWorking on the Craft

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