Procaffeinations is a weekly series of short fictions, fables and fabrications, all written in the time it takes to finish that first coffee of the day. This one was written over two thirds of a Guatemalan flat white, as it happens.
All of this happened, more or less.
It’s a quarter-past midnight and despite the soft, soothing lullaby of the rain outside, I’m wide awake. There’s a mouse in the other room, and as quiet as he is in his foraging endeavours, he might as well be digging a hole in the back of my skull. I’m lying here wondering why I didn’t dispatch him when I had the chance; when I first jumped out of bed to catch him wedged between a wall and a splinter-ridden shipping crate that houses my overpriced and underused vinyls. He was a sodden, scruffy runt of a thing; frozen in fear and looking straight at me.
It’s been a rough night, I imagine him conceding. You haven’t caught me at my best.
I thought to myself that the wee timorous beastie has climbed three stories to get in here and out of the rain. I figured that whatever food he finds he’s more than earned and I headed back to bed. But as it turns out survival is a noisy business. So here I am looking for thoughts to send me off to sleep whilst my new lodger turns the place over for a meal. It isn’t long before my mind turns to the Parlour Bar in the old Warehouse District of downtown Minneapolis. I recall how they used to serve up shots of liquor fifty millilitres at a time; I recall the night I learned this the hard way.
It’s a Thursday evening, having finally grown bored of using the bar top as a pillow, I’m fixing to pay up and put a full stop on a long night with my one-for-the-road. My weapon of choice? A fat slug of O.F.T.D. readied, aimed and fired at the back of my throat to a chorus of bartenders chanting ‘fuck trump’. The shot makes a raging fire of my insides but I figure I’ll need it; it’s raining outside and the walk back to the hotel is a long one. In one glorious feat of grace and elegance I slide off my bar stool, wave farewell to my co-drinkers and push a door that I should have pulled. We’ve all been there. Somehow now outside, I slip on my watch cap and pop my collar to protect myself from the rain’s aggression. I just about manage to cross the North Loop’s rain-slicked rail-bridge before that last helping of O.F.T.D. takes my senses from right under my nose and I’m on my back. Helplessly skyward, the rain slaps my face silly.
Now, standing up would be a categorical absurdity, a folly unparalleled. I’ve clearly made the honest and easy mistake of leaving my legs at the Parlour Bar. Mindful of my error, I turn over onto the rum-stoked furnace that is my belly and attempt to drag myself to drier terrain. At ground level, where the exterior wall of some nameless bar meets the sidewalk of some nameless avenue I spy a tiny, mouse-sized door and adjoining window.
My powers of deduction rum-sharp, I regard both the welcome mat and the window-light as promises of shelter and warmth. It’s not until I’m halfway through the door myself that I see my old friend, my wee not-so-timorous beastie looking down at me, a diminutive cup of tea in hand. He’s wearing these little pyjamas and, after rubbing the drowsiness out of his jet-black eyeballs he scratches his head and shoots me this look that’s equal parts what-the-fuck and do-you-know-what-time-it-is. I politely thank him for not killing me outright. Ours, like all good relationships, has always been based on an implicit yet mutually-assured annihilation. I admit that it’s been a rough night. I concede that he hasn’t caught me at my best.
The bartenders at the Parlour bar are a duplicitous bunch, I grumble, each new rum-soaked word tripping over the last. They toast to your health one minute and rob you of your locomotive functions the next.
I apologise wholeheartedly for interrupting his evening and assure him that if I could just get out of the rain for an hour or so I would be forever in his debt. Alcohol has an awful habit of making assumptions of understanding and intimacy where there are, in fact, neither to be found. To my surprise, he assures me that it’s quite alright. He invites me in and with a genuine warmth in his little voice he reminds me that, sometimes, falling flat on your arse is the only chance you ever really get to look up.