“I just don’t understand why.”
“Is the why ever clear?”
“No, not really.”
Carlos was discussing his recent sacking with his friend, Miguel. Miguel- an elusive character- had never held a steady job, and how he managed to survive was a point of contention amongst their circle of friends. Although the majority consensus was that Miguel made money in shady deals, Carlos was of the belief that Miguel was spiritually enlightened, and that the material world wasn’t of consequence to him like it was for others. This belief was why he was on the phone with Miguel discussing the philosophical implications of his unforeseen firing.
But philosophy didn’t give clear-cut answers. And the lack of actionable advice made him end the phone call and turn towards his mainstream friend, Steve. Steve, however, was not a patient listener. He merely inquired about Lisa’s reaction, and when informed that Lisa was uninformed of his sacking, an admonishment was administered, and the conversation was redirected to Steve’s recent woes and trials. Carlos patiently listened to Steve’s grievances until he could no longer withstand the sound of his friend’s electronically transmitted voice.
One conversation had left him lost; the other drained. He decided to rectify that by silencing his phone and stowing it away in the drawer of his nightstand. But although that would silence him from the outside world (particularly Lisa) it couldn’t silence him from his mind. Meditation- a practice he had dabbled in the past year- was out of the question without the help of a guided application. So, his only option was to mindlessly consume Netflix, stare blankly at the opposite wall in a fretful state of overthinking, or aimlessly wander around his Brooklyn neighborhood. The latter being his preferred option, he threw on his fall jacket, dressed his feet in socks and converse sneakers, and left his five-story brick building.
The sky above Linden Boulevard was slowly fading to dark purple hue, the color of a black eye. Carlos smirked in commiseration with the air above him. Although it had been five years since he last smoked, he crossed the street to the corner bodega and bought a pack of Pall Malls. He chain-smoked as he wavered through hipsters and baby carriages, grimacing at the new cafes, cocktail bars, and boutique store fronts he had never patroned. It would be ten blocks before he reached streets that retained the Brooklyn feeling of his youth, twelve until he reached his favorite bar; which he entered after finishing a fourth cigarette, twisting the remaining spark into the grimy sidewalk with his feet before nodding at Jim the bouncer and opening the unguarded portion of the double door.
He took a seat two stools down from a female customer with bloodshot eyes and a grim expression. Just after ordering a Heineken, the woman turned her head towards him and said:
“No offense, but you look rough.”
“It’s been a rough day.”
“I guess that’s why we’re drinking alone at this bar.”
“It’s likely why most of us are drinking at this bar.”
“So, what happened?”
“I got sacked.”
“Shit. Did you see it coming?”
“No, not at all.”
“That sucks. Bad surprises suck.”
“So, what about you? What about today are you drinking away?”
“I like that rhyme you just did.”
“I just got broken up with.”
“Out of the blue?”
“Yup. Just like you.”
“Thank you. It was intentional.”
“I guessed that.”
The bartender brought Carlos his Heineken as the woman asked for another whisky on the rocks and moved to the seat next to him. He couldn’t tell if her eyes were bloodshot from crying or from weed.
“So, what’s this place that sacked you?”
“An insurance firm. I’ve been working there for six years.”
“Six years. That’s not common anymore.”
“No, it isn’t. What do you do?”
“Yeah, I’m a journalist.”
“Really! I’ve always wanted to be a journalist, but it’s not an easy field to get in to.”
“No, it isn’t.”
“Did you study Journalism?”
“Yeah. I have a master’s degree in Journalism.”
The bartender brought the whisky over, smiled at them, and then went back to chatting with the customer at the far left.
“So, what are you working on now?”
“A piece about a college sex-ring scandal.”
“Aren’t you not supposed to disclose that stuff?”
“For the most part.”
“So, you do the hard stuff?”
“Mostly, yeah. I’m not into the light and superficial.”
“I feel you.”
“So, this ex-job of yours, you got sacked today?”
“Yup. And this ex-boyfriend of yours, he dumped you today?”
“Yup. I came home this evening and his stuff was cleared out.”
“Fuck, just like that. No note or text?”
“Man, I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. I haven’t thought about it much. I just came straight here.”
“Smart idea. I wouldn’t want to stay in my apartment after that.”
“I haven’t even told my girlfriend that I got sacked. I’m afraid she’ll dump me.”
“Fuck her then.”
“Yeah, fuck her.”
She laughed and brushed a few curls away from her face.
“So, it doesn’t seem that you have a great relationship.”
“No, we do. I love her at least. It’s just that now we’re both in our early thirties and she’s been feeling the pressure of settling down. I think she thinks I’m not a suitable long-term partner. And maybe she’s right. I mean, I just got sacked.”
“Well, fuck her. And fuck Daniel.”
They toasted. She finished her whisky and asked for another. They were silent until another whisky was given to her.
“You don’t drink much.”
“I don’t like to get drunk. Tipsy is okay, but not drunk.”
“Seems like you’d be a suitable long-term partner. I, on the other hand.”
She pointed to her drink and gave him a sly smile.
“You have wit to you.”
“You’re very welcome.”
An awkward silence ensued. He figured he would wait for her to break it.
“You know, I think the real reason Daniel left me was because he wanted to leave New York.”
“Yeah, and I wasn’t listening. I thought he was bringing up moving lightly. But I think he really wanted to move.”
“And you didn’t?”
“No. Definitely not. I have a second interview with The New York Times next week. The magazine I’ve wanted to work for since I was in high-school.”
“So, you were more interested in your career. And Daniel wasn’t fully accepting of that. At least not enough to stay in the city.”
“To be fair, he never liked it here. It gave him intense anxiety. And he wasn’t going anywhere in his career. He worked for fucking BuzzFeed.”
“I mean, that’s something.”
She rolled her eyes at that, displaying an elitist, conservative attitude towards Journalism.
“I guess if it’s something you’re passionate about, you’d look down upon BuzzFeed.”
“That’s exactly right.”
“You loved him though. I can feel it.”
“Loved him. I still love him. I mean this all just happened today.”
She sighed and excused herself to the bathroom. He signaled to the bartender for another beer and absently watched a music video featuring scantily clad men and women on the bar’s sole TV screen. The sexualized video made him want to bring the woman with bloodshot eyes back to his apartment. After a few minutes, however, he grew bored of watching the rappers’ leering eyes and the dancers’ shaking asses. Instead, he glanced around the room, studying the influx of evening customers. The bar was a quarter-full of after-work drinkers, either in pairs (likely dates) or alone. Watching a drunk couple make-out, he decided that he should ask the bloodshot-eyed woman to come home with him with soon, before the point where she would be too drunk to make a conscious decision.
“Hey, you got another beer.”
“Good. I don’t want to feel like the only one drinking.”
“Peer pressuring me?”
“Yeah. That’s the world.”
“I guess you could say that.”
“We’re all a bunch of followers.”
“True. Most of us blindly do what those around us do, say what those around us say, and think like those around us think?”
“Do you get deep like this often?”
“No, not often. It’s hard to be deep with others.”
“It’s not easy.”
Another silence ensued. This time, he figured he would break it.
“You want to get deep?”
“Yeah, I do.”
“Well, you know what I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. It seems that everyone around me is suffering with problems. You have problems. I have problems. My friend Steve has problems. My parents have problems. The lone drinkers at this bar- like us- probably have problems. Does it feel the same for you? Like everyone in the world is having fucking problems right now?”
“The world has been brutal on me the past few years. And on many of my friends.”
“Why is that? Is it just this capitalist system failing?”
“Honestly, yeah. It’s a fucking minefield out there right now. But also, I think it’s just what happens when you get in your thirties. A lot is expected of you and you’re starting to get fucking tired at this point. Weddings to attend, your own wedding or failing relationship (or lack thereof) to attend to, increasing job demands, kids you have to take care of, nieces and nephews you have to be in contact with, ailing parents and grandparents, the fact that you can’t relax anymore or have fun because the pressure to build a comfortable life for yourself is so intense.”
“Yeah. You said it well.”
“Some of us are born into the right family or are extremely lucky. Some of us reap the rewards of the hard work we put in when we were younger. The rest of us just seem to flail aimlessly and fail amazingly.”
“Does that include you? I mean, you have an interview to work at the New York Times, a place you’ve been dreaming of working at since you were a teenager, while some of us just got sacked.”
“Yeah, but it came with a price. I worked so hard to get there that I have no friends and am now single. Why do you think I’m here alone, drinking and depressed?”
“That’s why the worlds so fucked up. In order to be somewhat externally comfortable- if that even exists- you have to sacrifice so much comfort and support that it often fucks you right over. And it doesn’t matter who is in power. Liberal, conservative, non-partisan. As soon as a group of people have power, they hoard it. It’s how we’ve built society.”
Carlos sighed and chugged the last of his beer.
“You know, when I was walking here, the sky was the color of a black eye. It looked as if it had just been sucker punched. It made me think that the world is about to fuck us all over. Give us back some of the shit we’ve been literally and figuratively throwing at it the past century.”
“We are fucking ourselves over. We aren’t going to kill the planet; the planet is going to kill us off and be better for it. Karma can be a bitch.”
He waved his hand and asked the bartender for both checks. The woman refused, telling him that it was on her. Given that she was well-employed, and he was not, he acquiesced and then reconsidered whether he should he take her home. As a way to rationalize his behavior, he figured that it was unlikely Lisa would stay with him now that he was unemployed.
He shrugged, watched her drink the last of her whisky, and decided there was no harm in asking.
Thank you for reading my short story!
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Could really feel the hopes and dreams of both characters. And that ending sure had me thinking.
My goal was to let others decide on her decision. In my mind, she refuses. But I wanted others to create their own ending.
Yeah, you could easily read into it that something does.
Wonderful story. I am also glad to see writing that doesn’t include dialogue tags. I don’t use them either. I am rooting for a hook-up at the end. I guess that’s my ending.
I do love writing dialogue without tags!
And I’m glad to see that people are creating their own endings. That’s what I hoped for.