Just the Seven
The kids have started showing up, drifting in. Groups of three or four, a few loners—just like any other night. These ones aren’t regulars, though. Every one of them’s wearing black, head to toe. Noses all pierced up. Leather jackets and more leather jackets. Dressed like they think they’re regulars, but they ain’t.
There’s only about a dozen of them here, but you’d think there were a hell of a lot more. Talking, taking up space where you wouldn’t think to take up space. Crowding up the entrance, standing around between the tables, always one of them in the way when you get up to go to the can or to the machine to buy some smokes.
I knew it was gonna be one of those nights as soon as I came in: all that gear of theirs just sitting there. That’s what the kids call it—the gear: bringing in the gear, setting up the gear, packing the gear. It was there along the side wall, near the front, where for a while they tried bringing in the karaoke. Kath did, that is; she tried. Got the whole kit rented from some place downtown, hauled it here in Gerry’s truck, got some of the boys to set it all up. Guess Kath thought it would bring in more folks. Bless her, but it never did.
A few of the kids have started moving their gear around, setting it up. They’re quick. Drum kit, guitars, big piles of cords like they plan on getting everyone tangled up in knots. A lanky guy comes in carrying an amp. Looks like it weighs more than the lot of them put together. All those skinny kids. Punk or something.
Nope, Karaoke Tuesdays never really took, not even when Kath herself started getting out from behind the bar to sing a number, always something honky tonk, some Dolly song or other. Jolene, Jolene… waving her blond hair back and forth, all sparkling in the pinks and blues of that awful disco ball she brought in for it all. It’s still hanging there, of course. She still flicks it on when she’s feeling good and it’s just us regulars here. Flicks it on and starts strutting or dancing or whatever you wanna call it, her elbows out like a chicken, strutting around to Dolly or Supertramp or whoever she’s got playing that night. Kath, gotta love her.
No Dolly tonight, though, that’s for sure. Not with these kids.
Look at them. Sucking on Labatt 40s like it’s the most normal thing in the world. Which it isn’t, not for them. Not yet. Yeah, they better watch out the day it becomes normal. That’s what I’d tell them.
But maybe they know it already. They’re just kids, but they’re tough. I mean, they’re putting it on, too, trying to look tough, but they don’t need to. Most of them would do just fine without the trying.
Yeah, they’re good kids. Fact I kind of like them coming in, nice to have youth around once in a while. Almost never anyone under fifty in here, at least not since the pool table got busted and Kath and Gerry had to dump it out back. Sat in a snow bank all winter until someone finally convinced the city to haul it away. I found the seven ball while out taking a piss the next spring. Saw it sitting there in a puddle so I took it home. Everybody talks about the eight ball, but I got the seven. Been keeping it next to my ashtray ever since. It’s good to hold while you’re smoking, rolling it back and forth across your palm, thinking about your ex. It’s nearly the same colour as the lipstick she wore. Not quite, but close. What do they call it, maroon? burgundy? Hot lips, I called them. Put on your hot lips, and let’s go dancing. She always liked that.
Sure, these little punks are alright. They’re not tourists, they’re just doing their thing. They just need a place to be. And they kind of fit in here, in a way. Almost as much as they think they do.
Gerry comes in with a case of Labatt from out back, stocking up, getting ready for the night. There’s usually just a few of us here. Jared and Dan, and Moose, Alice, a few others, the regulars. But not tonight. Yeah, Gerry’s gonna need more tonight.
This was all Kath’s doing. She’s smart that way. Some of these kids come in once in a while. Friday nights especially. And one time she hears one of them say, “You know, this would be a fucking awesome spot,” and Kath says to him, “For what,” and he says, “For a show, we got a band,” and Kath wants to know, “Whaddaya play,” and then she says, “How many friends you got.” She’s smart that way. Anyway, that’s how it got started.
Now they show up every couple of weeks, these punk kids, and they bring all their friends. And Kath and Gerry make a shit load more money than when it’s just us regulars hanging around.
Gerry sets the case of 40s on the bar next to me. “How you doing?” he says to me. I point at the box. “Those cold?” I ask him. He pulls one out and sets it in front of me. Takes a bottle opener out of his pocket and pops the cap. “Thanks, Gerry,” I say.
Gerry’s a good guy, he’s just hard to get to know. He’s only ever got one look on his face, and it’s a blank one, doesn’t tell you a thing. No expression, nothing. Could be cracking smiles all day when he’s home with Kath for all I know, but not when I see him. I mean, he’s happy enough to see you, if you’re the kind of person he’s happy to see—you just can’t tell it from looking at his face. Gotta spend some time around the guy if you want to know him. If you want to know what he’s thinking. But even then.
Like tonight. Hard to know what he really thinks of these nights, all these kids. He sure can’t mind the money. And it’s better than the karaoke. Of course, it’s not the old bar whenever they come in and take the place over. Not really.
I look at Gerry and he’s looking around the room, like he’s trying to figure what kind of night it’s gonna be. Like he’s sizing up the crowd.
“These kids are alright,” I say, and Gerry just grunts. He knows just as well as I do, soon everyone else will have left, and it’ll just be me and a room full of kids. I’m always the last to go, sitting here at my old place at the bar. Moose already left, and the others won’t last long. “Let ’em have tonight,” I say. “We’ll keep the rest of the month. That’s all ours.” I don’t want Gerry thinking that he’s gonna lose us regulars. But mostly I don’t want him thinking anything bad about Kath. Because this was all her idea. These things always are.
Those two—Kath and Gerry—they have something good. Damned if I’ll let anything come between them, messing that up. That would be the end of everything.
Look at her. Gerry may be brooding, but not Kath. She’s loving it, all this youth. Maybe that’s what gets Gerry’s goat, if anything does: Kath flirting with all that youth. Gerry starts loading the bottles into the bar fridge. When he’s done he picks up the box and goes to the back again for more. Kath is busy pouring whiskey shooters, joking around with the kids, calling them dear and hun because they love that kind of thing.
I turn around to face the room and watch. No one takes notice of me. A few of the girls aren’t half bad to look at, so I take a long pull of the bottle I’m holding and look. There’s a group of three, and one of them’s wearing big army boots and a tank top. Pink hair. She sees me looking at her. I take another pull from my bottle, and she gives me the finger.
Ok, so maybe not all of them are nice. I swivel back around to the bar.
More of them have come in, a bunch of them. They start pressing around the bar, pushing in around where I’m sitting. I can smell their sweat and their cigarettes and their weed. Not that we didn’t smoke our share back in our day.
Finally one of them picks up a guitar, stomps on his pedals, gives a thumbs up to his bandmate sitting at the drums. A girl. A girl playing in a guy’s band, who’d have thought. A third kid swaggers up, picks up the bass guitar, and just like that all three are thrashing at their instruments, no warning. It’s all just one roar of electric noise, like something’s about to blow. Some guy leaps over to the soundboard, twists the dials until the roar evens out and begins to take shape.
So this is music.
Good lord, it’s like your body is a punching bag. It’s a good thing I’m half deaf already. Best thing about too many years in the factory: as much as the kids try, they can’t make you more deaf.
All their friends are into it. Kath seems into it, too. She has her elbows out, doing her chicken dance. She could chicken dance to anything.
Gerry comes back with another case of bottles, and I think I see him grimace, but maybe it’s just a tightness in his shoulders. You need to be able to notice that kind of thing if you want to know where you stand with him.
I look around the room again until I find her. Pink hair. Why pink? Such a girly colour. There’s no pink pool ball, that’s for sure. The bar’s too full now, I can’t get a good look at her tank top. All I’ve got is pink. It’ll have to do. I sit inside all that noise and drink and watch that pink hair, watch it even as she turns and catches me again. Watch until I finish my beer.
Eventually all those pounding drums, those guitars thumping away at my bladder, remind me I gotta take a piss. I get up and steady myself—it’s getting on too many drinks—then walk to the back of the bar and into the can.
It’s muffled in there, and no one else is around. I can piss in peace. Whenever I’m alone I think of my ex. Her maroon hot lips. These days I don’t even try thinking of something else, anything else. Not like I used to.
Yeah, you watch out the day the drinking becomes normal. Normal and sad.
Then I’m done so I zip up and head back out. I make my way back to the bar, but before I get there I see that someone’s in my seat. Some kid.
Hell. It’s that girl, with the pink hair, sitting there with her two friends at her side, like she’s waiting for me.
She sees me come up, but doesn’t say anything. “That’s my seat,” I say.
But she just looks at me. Kind of smirks. “You left, old man” she says.
I don’t know what to say. “That’s always my seat,” I say, stupidly.
She laughs, and it’s an ugly laugh. “Tell you what, dirty old man,” she says. “You buy me a beer, and then I’ll let you take me out back and fuck me. What do you say?”
At first I don’t know if I’ve heard her right, the music is so loud. I don’t know what to say. Maybe she was right, maybe I had looked for too long. I’m about to say I’m sorry, or something else stupid, but I don’t get a chance, because Gerry’s been watching from behind the bar and he comes over to the girl.
“Hey,” he says to her. “He said it’s his seat. So it’s his seat.”
She looks at him the same way she was looking at me. She ain’t moving. “So if you’re an old pervert, you can own any seat you want in here?” she asks him. Her friends are leaning in to her, like they’re trying to become one.
“That’s right,” Gerry says. “That’s how it works.” I don’t argue. “Works for him, and for all the rest of them that you and your friends chased outta here.”
“Oh for fuck’s sake,” she says. And she gives him the finger, like she did to me. Gerry leans back, hands on the bar.
“Get the hell out of my bar,” he says to the girl. He’s not joking around. He’s raised his voice a little. I can see anger on his face and it scares the hell out of me. I ain’t never seen anger on his face before. I look over at Kath but she’s busy watching the band. Good. I don’t want her seeing Gerry like this. They’ve got a good thing going, those two. I’ll be damned if something comes between them because of me.
“Aw Gerry,” I say, “it’s alright.”
“You wanna stay?” Gerry says to me, “you stay.” He looks at the girl. “But you better get the hell out of my bar.”
I’m watching Kath. I don’t want her to see nothing. “Gerry,” I say. I want to calm him down. “Gerry, I was going home anyway.”
I don’t really want to go back home. It’s just an empty apartment. There’s nothing there but a TV and some cigarettes and a pool ball that I’ll sit up all night with, rolling it back and forth across my palm. Gerry looks at me. He sees that I’ve got no fight in me, so he shrugs. “Go on home, then,” he says, and turns away. Kath is looking over at us now, a question on her face. But it’s all over. The girl with the pink hair gets up, and she and her friends walk back into the crowd, where everyone is nodding along to the noise they all think is music.
Maybe there’s worse things. I could be going back to a place with nothing in it at all. Nothing to hold onto that’s the colour of her lipstick, nothing to remind me of her. And I don’t even really mind that it’s just a seven ball. It’s better than the eight, I figure. Eight ball means game’s over.
I can see her pink hair in there among all the leather jackets. “You’re right,” I say, even though she can’t hear me. “I don’t own nothin’.” But even as I say it, I know it’s not true, not really. Some things are mine, and no one else’s.