~ a short story

Crisp, golden, swirling foam filtered down the hatch. Refreshing. Theo made an obnoxiously audible “ahhh” sound and stared through the underside glass of his mug. Muddled and opaque were the banners on the bar room wall. The laughter in his surroundings crashed back down to his ears.

Another weekend, another pub. Theo’s chair creaked as he leaned back. His leg against the underside of the table they circled, that casual instinct kicked in, forcing him back from the engagement at the table, to oversee it, to rise above it. The sound of their obnoxiousness burst into his ears like a gunshot but he avoided it. His thoughts went to his seat. Same chair he always sat at, less stable than ever before. Entropy was taking her, Theo knew. Pangs of regret and of responsibility grew in his chest. For a chair? For this chair, certainly. This creak was worse than ever before. Structural integrity had long ago been compromised. Theo had progressed its inevitable death by sitting. Shame.

The youngish man leaned forward and dropped the chair back onto its front two legs. Maybe she has some years in her yet. The motion satisfied some restless bucking within him, as though the action could settle his burdens in one swift take. Some beer splashed onto the front of his shirt. He bunched the landing spots and brought it to his mouth to suck the liquid out. Pausing to survey, no one watched so he went ahead and did it. They didn’t care about his small act of debauchery. They were caught up in the past again.

“Remember the beach!” Kobi shouted right after finishing his latest drink. His head shook with the words, like they were violently releasing and couldn’t help themselves and might hurt the man if he didn’t yell them. The volume in his voice had increased over the course of their rounds. Theo couldn’t decide which reflected his drunkenness more — the volume or his canned mention of “the beach day.” Theo didn’t remember all of what’d transpired there, or why Kobi might feel pride at the happening. He didn’t care anymore. He was proud of his unconscious for the willful discarding of it. The mental space was undoubtedly better used for other memories.

What memories? Theo wandered. What might go in that category of ‘better’? No answer from that inner voice surfaced. He took another swig.

No, the inner voice finally imparted to outer Theo. Maybe there was memories of cherished childhood, of that time when he’d still had energy left in the tank for his burgeoning passions. Theo’s face irked into sudden discomfort, a reflex from out of the bounds of the conversation. Light spilled in from outside, brightening the dank undercroft of their special lair. Theo had forgotten about the others in the bar. This many in, all he could pay attention to now was these others at the table, like the limited view from a portrait. Right now, in his swimmy mind there was only Kobi, Ran, Marl. And Theo. Theo and his thoughts. Why so many thoughts tonight? Theo glanced down into the golden brew under the wrap of his gruff grip.

Could it be this new brew?

He took a swig, grimaced at a new shout from the table.

“How could we forget?” returned Ran, “You’ll never let us live down that night! We were running from you as much as we were from the cops!” His garbled, half-slurring words were followed by that familiar steady rising in his throat, like an animal prepping some instinctual howl or upchuck. All the same, it made its way unto something of a laugh, going and going all the way until it exploded for all to experience at the table together. A gift from Ran. One he gave to those in his proximity time and time again. Theo couldn’t help himself from joining into it. Ran wiped the foamy suds from his mustache with his hand, eventually silencing his bouncing belly as the mirth from the tired story sputtered away.

At the pause, everyone drank again. What else was there to do? wondered Theo.

I don’t have any story worth telling that am not sick of or ashamed of or sick of or I hate.

Marl grinned from within his glass upon his face. Theo noticed it with a snarl. The marbled and wonky features searched for a story of his own, one worth telling the table. Theo watched the wheels turn with an internal groan. He already knew what’d been chosen. A smile revealed that Marl knew now too. The music from the juke flicked to a husky chugging of an acoustic guitar, without lyrics and without emotion. Then the lyrics came and Theo’s groan became audible.

The St. Patrick’s Day story beckoned.

“Ha! Remember the St. Paddy’s campaign in o-nine?!” Marl barked to the others. His eyes bounced back and forth between each of the combatants. Theo slowly nodded subconsciously, even while turning to the others expecting a following suit. Kobi grinned through his bushy beard. Ran’s eyes remained unknowingly. The realization slowly dawned upon his face and they widened into the ocular representation of YES! But Theo didn’t recall Kobi ever having a beard. Strange. Marl had already begun to regale the storyline of the quad’s wacky machinations at o-nine St. Paddy’s. Kobi’s beard soaked in more beer. It glistened with celestial radiance; genuine cheer remained upon Kobi’s face in the wake of the tale. Surprisingly, Theo found that he shared in it. Looking away from K, he focused a listen to his dear friend and his latest recounting.

Marl spoke with gusto of the drinking, the raiding, the staging of the coup to free the people of Killarney, and of course, the final charging into the fray of an implacable and unjust foe. Theo remembered a surge of righteous glory in his heart which no amount of hope with friends or violence against foes had been able to generate before or since. Marl had almost died that night; Theo had believed he wished to, in the service of his countrymen and in the glory of the battle he so loved.

Theo downed another good bit of his beer from out of his mug. Fond memories, truly. Fond? Theo squinted and looked to Marl once more. He once again donned his green and black suit of ceremonious armor. In the olden days such regalia might’ve served in the battle; now it was how Marl made his statements of fashion. It was the same exact kind he’d worn at the vanguard of the charge all those seasons ago. Strange. Theo struggled to retain the image, of that charge and of Marl’s final battle cry. What was it? Steadily it solidified.

“For freedom! For honor! And for the glory of this glorious fight!”

At the ending of the juke’s trashy sounds bouncing around the bar room, his reflection upon Marl had crystallized into being.

How could I ever forget such a legendary warrior? Or our equally legendary exploits in countless campaigns…

For the first time this afternoon, Theo smiled. It was as sincere as the other’s grins had been. Even more so. He held his fermented water better, always had. He was feeling it much less than the rest of them. They were already in their drunken dream worlds, slovenly recalling everything with tinges of nostalgic glory the real events could never match. Stories even popped into Theo’s head. Stories he actually wanted to tell. Strange, Theo repeated. But he didn’t delve too far into those stories, or why he wished to tell them, not yet. He enjoyed another sip from his mug.

Ran adjusted the collar of his suit, then straightened the tie beneath it. Already pristine, the action was unnecessary. “Speaking of campaigns,” Ran said, “I expect each of you to make it out to my rally next weekend.”

Theo intended to make it out. Ran was running. For President. He had the full support of the squad. Theo hoped to help run his campaign somehow. The group listened to the logistics, and the policy essays that Ran was doling out. Theo thought his evangelical policy on the role of money within politics, and the need to remove it entirely, was the right call. But his stance, and lack of detail, on a viable path to a kind of medicare-for-all needed serious work. Kobi voiced similar concerns, even going as far as to say that some of the opposing candidates held superior positions to Ran’s opening salvos outlined within his campaign mission. Ran acquiesced to the group’s concerns. He hoped to learn from his competitors and be willing to work with those that opposed him in order to gain the greatest understanding of what the country needed at this historical hour.

Almost seamlessly, the conversation turned back to Kobi and his latest treatise. He’d begun work on it only the week previous to their current meeting, and yet he was almost done. This time, Theo was eager to learn, the words concerned the nature of mind and its relationship with technology in the context of a dynamic and ever-changing world. Like the others before it, Kobi’s expansive writings dealt with the “inquisitiveness of the coming age of metamodernism, with all the candor and wit of a young soul ahead of its time.” Those words of review had been penned by Marl, a surprising turn for the gruff warrior of a man. But Kobi, through word and deed, had saved him all those years ago, at the shores of Kinvara. Together, the duo formed the whole of a soulful bladesman and poet in unity.

Theo smiled at the dreamy visage of the two them interlocked across the table. Kobi grinned through his beard; Marl’s beefy arms brought the philosopher low into a childish headlock. The joy among them carried to Theo and Ran both.

Ran called another round. The merrymaking continued into the evening. Later, he surmised the moment, and the evening they’d spent together, in a rousing summary, as he often did.

“Everything we’ve done, all our many accomplishments and the vigor through which we’ve worked in our respective fields throughout our lives,” Ran said, pausing at times with just the right about of gravitas, “… it has come only upon the shores of this companionship. It is of the kind that I fear few share, and fewer appreciate.”

Theo smiled, raising his glass to Ran and then to the others. “Well not us. Here’s to many more nights of companionable camaraderie.”

Here! here! the squad resounded over the table. Beer spilled lovingly over the wood of the surface where their latest lively sharing took place. Along with a steady stream of laughs. The juke submitted a classic tune of victory now to join in with the revelry of the boys.

My boys, Theo’s inner voice reminded, with love.

“Theo!” Marl suddenly interjected, the laughing sprite of merrymaking leaving his face in a flash. “Aren’t you scheduled to man your latest test flight ‘ere tonight?!”

Theo’s mind exploded with sudden memories of just that. His task tonight: the latest testing of the U.S.S. Aspiration, starship class I.X. and his captaining of it. He looked at his wrist. The crew was probably already there. How could I forget!

Theo jumped to to his feet. “I’ve got to get going, at once!” He slammed his mug to the table, emptied once more in a recurrence, and moved to the door. The others stood and encircled him, guiding him to the door speaking words of encouragement and ease.

It’s fine, you have plenty of time. You are going to do great. Break a leg, Theo. Remember to reverse the thrusters, recalibrate the life support for changing conditions, listen to your second in command and let him speak his mind, always.

Kobi stopped him before the door. He quickly adjusted his suit, outfitted with all the necessary specifications for zero-grav, extreme temperatures along either spectrum, and all manner of interstellar travel’s many curious maladies. Kobi dusted the grime, and the golden droplets of their shared brews, from the studded mediallions above his left breast pocket and from the topsides of each of his blue-and-gold tassled shoulder pads.

“How do you feel?” Kobi asked.

“Feelin’ fine,” Theo responded instantly to Kobi’s return nod. “I ate before remember, none of ’em have taken hold. Not on me. You know this.”

He looked ahead, out of the door of the bar’s shining swinging opening, into the evening and his destination beyond. More patrons were entering, the later crowd. He and his squad had no time for them. It was time for them to go their separate ways once again.

Time to go to their separate destinies, proudly and with each other’s definitive backing upon their individual endeavors.

With a playful slap along his shoulder, Kobi and the others ushered Theo out the door of the establishment, leading him on to his next step on his appointment with his fate … among the stars

The door closed behind him and Theo stumbled out on the pavement of their old town’s solemn night. He grasped at the outside edge of the door with desperation, his legs wobbling unto failure. He took a few wayward steps along the wall to his right, using both of his hands liberally to guide him and keep an ill-fated balance. At about the seventh step away from the door, moving towards where he figured he needed to go, Theo fell to a knee and barfed. ~