The saloon itself wasn’t very clean. Flies buzzed around the cob-webbed ceiling, and the floor was grimy with mud and spilled liquor. But Cyril was very particular about his counter.
He had to be, in case the right patron came in.
Shortly before sunset, that patron arrived.
Through the dusty afternoon air, Cyril saw the outline of a man, tightly hugged by the day’s last rays of light. Even though he couldn’t make out the man’s face, he could sense the misery all the way from his side of the bar.
The stranger shuffled across the creaking floor, his spurs clinking.
“Get me a whiskey,” he said, tossing few coins on the counter as he sat down.
Cyril took the coins and glanced at the man. He wasn’t old, but his face was ancient. His leathery forehead was scored with lines too deep to have been cut by anything but grief, and a scar scudded across the bridge of the nose. In his gray eyes, immeasurable sorrow lingered.
That was all Cyril needed to see. This man was a possibility.
Cyril reached for a small glass bottle, half-full with a light-blue liquid. He frowned at the light color. It was getting too light.
Out of sight, he tilted the bottle and let a drop slip into an empty glass. Then he poured whiskey into the glass and presented it to the stranger.
“You don’t look too good,” Cyril said. “What ails you, friend?”
“None of your damn business,” the man huffed and swallowed the whiskey in a big gulp. He made a grimace. Small pearls of sweat beaded on his forehead. “Strong, good stuff,” he said. “Gimme another.”
Cyril obeyed. Two drops this time. The man was obviously grieved, after all, which had promoted him from a possibility to an opportunity.
The man downed the next glass. His grey eyes glazed over a little, and he let out a sad whimper.
“I lost her,” he said.
Here we go. “I beg your pardon?”
“I lost her. Tammie. She won’t have nothing to do with me no more. Says I’m no good for her.”
The beads of sweat on his face were full pearls now, and his eyes shone. He got out a handkerchief and blew his nose.
“Sorry to hear that. Have another on the house, my good fella.” Cyril took three drops this time. It was risky—the inky liquid made the amber liquor swirl with wisps of blue—but this was gonna be a keeper, he could feel it. He pushed the third glass toward the man.
“I wasn’t drunk by much when I came ’round her house, but she got angry. Said Buck from the Gold Acre ranch asked her to marry ‘im. She said yes, she told me. And that I should leave ‘er alone.” He looked up at Cyril. “For two years, I courted that woman.”
“Sounds to me like she’s no woman,” Cyril said matter-of-factly. “Sounds to me like she’s a bitch.”
The man winced, but just a little. “Maybe she is,” the man mumbled into his drink.
Cyril moved to the other end of the bar to attend another patron, letting the drinks settle into the man before returning to him. He was crying now.
Gotta concentrate, Cyril. Don’t lose focus.
“You doing alright there, partner?” he asked.
The stranger had finished the third glass of whiskey. “I don’t understand it,” he sobbed. “I sold my family’s cattle and my grandpa’s gold watch to get us a little house with a garden. Got the deed on it right here in my pocket.” He patted his chest. “And I got a new horse for ‘er too, it’s outside. It was all for nothing. I got nothing now.”
“You still got your gun, don’t you?” Cyril said, pushing the man another drink. It had four drops, and the whiskey had a dark tint, but the man was too drunk on sorrow to notice.
“Sure, I got my gun. But I don’t know what good that will do me.”
“Tammie shouldn’t get away with it, is all. You are right, that deed of yours is worthless, and so is your horse. The only thing that is gonna get your peace of mind and your dignity back is a bullet in her head, my friend.”
The man looked hesitant, then took the glass and swept it. His face was shiny with sweat and tears and snot, dripping onto the counter in front of him. He brought his arm to his face and dried his nose with his sleeve.
“You’re right; she needs to pay.” He got to his feet. “Thanks,” he said. “I owe you one.”
Cyril smiled. “You just owe me that deed,” he said calmly.
The man looked bewildered, but then stuck his hand into his coat pocket, puling out a folded piece of paper.
Cyril took it. “And your horse. Just leave it out there.”
The man nodded. “You won’t tell nobody about this, will you?” he asked. “They might come askin’, about Tammie, when I’ve killed ‘er.”
“Don’t you worry about it,” Cyril said. “Your heartbreak is safe with me.”
The man left. Cyril grinned, sticking the deed his pocket. Then he got his rag out and began to meticulously wipe down the counter—remains of the snot, tears and sweat soaking the rag. He got out his bottle. He wrung the rag out into it, squeezing at least a dozen drops of salty misery and angst. The liquid darkened.
A little house, and a horse. Not a bad tip for lending an ear. And I’ve concentrated, too.
Contented, he put his rag of blues in his pocket. His counter was clean and ready for the next customer to spill their sorrows.
SA Vanille’s fiction has previously appeared in over a dozen publications, including PseudoPod, Flash Me Magazine, and Everyday Fiction.
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