After the Bars Let Out

The streets were barren at 3:00 a.m. Up and down the main drag, the bars had all let out. She meandered in a sleepy stupor, bags beneath her eyes slipping off her cheeks. One could say she presented drunkenness. Low, baggy jeans swished along the cement of the sidewalk, wearing down, creating fringes. The light jacket, left out on the coat hook too long, was not a quilt or comforter, and the streets were not a bed. Quivering as she moved forward, she awakened for moments out of her trance. Chills, threatening, pulsating, penetrated ill-planned clothing.

Someone shuttered the corner store hours ago. The apartments and businesses were dim. Only metal fixtures shimmered in the streetlights. If she hadn’t looked to the right as she meandered down the street, out for a walk on a sleepless night, she wouldn’t have known about the incident—the catastrophe of the night—what would be the newspapers first run in the morning.

Pieces of debris gathered on the sidewalk in piles, not yet swept up. The silent night had until this point deceived her about an event that was hours stale. Strewn, jagged glass was the sign of a life changed or ended—an occurrence gone terribly wrong. The blood spot on the floor was still fresh. Everyone left, but no one had dared to clean up. She ran her fingers over the ridges of glass, flirting with malice, until she realized a few drops of her blood had come and would stay on the ruthless thing.

All in an instant, she hoisted herself through the shattered full-length window, pieces spilling from the edges of the metal surround when the wind blew rough gusts. She had to set her shoe on the raised first floor, resting it just past the metal frame between the large swaths of openness. She couldn’t lean or brace herself on anything. The dull used-cigarette scent only found in a bar escaped, casually. It must’ve been escaping for hours. She wobbled a little and shoved off with her back foot. As she came through, she grabbed a chair and steadied herself.

“Huh,” she said. “What is this?”

She was talking to herself all night, sleepwalking, sleeptalking. She only called it this, a condition, because it was too late to be justified essentially talking and walking. Anyone would call it a condition if they looked her in the eyes. This event, a breakthrough in her dream, the event she would remember when she woke up, would never help her get back to sleep. It was only her lucid questions, questions you don’t ask while sleeping, that made her living. What is this place? What happened? She was a person.

“I’m a detective,” she thought. “Or maybe a robber.” A declaration in a play-like trance appropriate for insomnia.

The sleeplessness was wearing on her, her composed thoughts and articulated words. It was a day-to-day struggle. Others asked what’s wrong. During the daytime, when the sun was high in the sky, a shadow would appear and shake her into a muted wakefulness. The being crept sometimes in the evening. That night, it overtook her again. She couldn’t run, let alone walk away from it.

The bar of intrigue, mystique, subsided her tensions. It broke the monotony of the walk. Who cares? It couldn’t be worse than twenty-nine of what you might call wakeful hours. Endorphins had catapulted her into the room. But once inside she was left dampened again, lagged, in the same way a sugar rush might take over, the same way a weightlifter might rest after his lift.

If she were innocent, if she had done no wrong, there was no reason she couldn’t enter the bar. Perhaps someone screamed for help—but no one was in the room. She hadn’t created the mess, only wanted to clear up the mystery. It was late, and she took the wrong coat with her on her walk. She was innocent; she was sure.

A protracted line of bottles spread behind the bar. It wasn’t a robbery; they hadn’t taken it all. They shut the cash register. It, a type she’d seen commonly before, seemed delicate and all too quickly conceived as fragile, petite. The color was a dull tan. It was the kind with a lever underneath it. The paint gleamed slightly. Scared to look closer and confirm, she leaned back instead. It wasn’t just plastic.

The room’s temperature was only slightly warmer than the hissing chills of October air she emerged from. The heat was turned off. The electric was cut. The phone lines were shot. She shuffled around the room, not touching anything but leaving footprints for several minutes. Surely there were no cameras. Undoubtedly, the cops had come and gone. A single chair, horizontal in the corner, was the only evidence of aftermath. The ribbed fabric adsorbed the moonlight. Someone stood them all upright but didn’t push them in. The doom, the sequence of events, was mashed-up. A tussle stopped at the beginning with a crash. It was so hard to say.

Jack Daniel’s, Captain Morgan, Sambuca, Cognac, each one a sweet dream. Each deep pocket in her baggy jeans, a potential cloak. She mouthed a pledge, her lips quivering. Not one dictated to her or rehearsed more than ten times. It was one she formulated when she remembered the woman she loved. It was spit with emotion and concepts, groans and facial expressions, rather than a formula of words.

When he emerged out of a door beside the bar, she wasn’t sure of his authority, his position in the scheme, or the color and quality of his notebook. Instinctively, without answers, without a closed case, she moved backward in slow even steps. Glass, metal, debris crinkled under her shoes as she got closer to the ill-fated window.

With her back turned to the man, she hopped down three feet to the pavement. It was solid and real, unquestionably a sidewalk. The man, a bald tattooed brute that could pass for Russian mob, followed her out. When he spoke, his accent was pure and bred in this city, nurtured and applauded, doubled over with age. A minor league baseball team tattoo poked out beneath his short-sleeve shirt. The getaway car was down the street. She stashed the gun in the sewer drain.

“You’re not supposed to be in there.” He pushed her to the edge of the sidewalk with his overwhelming presence. His smooth kindness kept her there.

He wavered in her fuzzy vision. She could run. She could always run, regardless of how tired she was. “Yeah, I know.”

“You take anything?” The man reached his hands deep into his pockets, hunching over, asking a mischievous child.

“No. I just wanted to see…what happened—”

“Too much to see.” He looked off into the distance, staring at the moonlight or a streetlight, and his eyelids collapsed. “You live here?” Dejected, livid, and wanting to leave, he balled his hands. He was about to invite her in for a drink.

She mouthed sounds and gestures lightly through her lips, recounted her promises. In a broken accent from far away, she grumbled, “You’re not going to shoot me? Are you?”

“I guess not. Not on the street at least,” he said, laughing and then sucking in a few chuckles.

“Nope. I’ll be on my way. You won’t see me again.” She slid off the edge of the curb.

“Wait, why are you out so late? Why did you go in?”

“My girlfriend…it was five weeks ago.” She drifted. Her head bobbed, and she sipped the air to not cry, pushed back wet corners in her eyes, squinting. She extended her arm out and waved a hand down in an arc. You don’t want to know. I guess I’m looking for her or the reason. I think maybe if I walk enough, I’ll want to sleep. If I find the answers, I can lie down. “I’m turning to leave now. I’m going.”

S.E. Smyth and her wife live in a small town where they fly a rainbow flag. She has published short work in Argot Magazine and Homology Lit. In the past year, she published two novels with NineStar Press, Hope for Spring (2023) and Criminal by Proxy (2022). She writes the stories that are hard to tell. Her accounts are never exactly how they happened, and she firmly believes it is reparative to reimagine.