by Brian Eckert
The hottest place to be on a hot day is in the car, so on a summer afternoon Greg stopped for a beer at a bar called the Sow’s Ear.
Greg’s car, a Mercedes S-class, was the nicest in the lot. Besides his car was a red Mazda Miata, a late model Buick, a Toyota Camry, and a Ford Ranger.
Greg had always liked nice cars. His father had simple tastes. Greg asked him why he didn’t drive a BMW or a Mercedes, which he could have afforded. His father told him, “When you get older and have your own money, you’ll understand.”
He was older now. He had his own money. He did not understand.
There were really so few pleasures in life. Self-denial, this false humbleness, was unbecoming.
Greg heard a distant peal of thunder as he walked toward the front door. Clouds gathered to the east. Coolness arrived on the breeze. Rain was coming.
Inside the Sow’s Ear was a wooden bar that ran from the door about 30 feet to the back wall. Metal tables and uncomfortable-looking metal chairs comprised a larger open section.
At one of the tables sat an older gray-haired man nursing a pale beer and gazing into a 15-inch MacBook that had the glowing apple covered with a Pittsburgh Steelers sticker. At the bar sat two men and a woman. One of the men was an Indian. Leaning against the bar at the Indian’s feet was an overstuffed backpack.
Greg didn’t care much for Indians. Frankly, he would have more respect for them if they were engaged in violent resistance. But the war had been won long ago, and the victory had been complete. The Indians were a defeated people who lingered, reminding us of history’s ugliness and what it means to die but not disappear.
Greg steered clear of the Indian. He didn’t want to get suckered into promising a ride. Greg often saw them hitchhiking back to the reservation from town. He never stopped for them.
Greg took a seat at the bar between the man and the woman, spaced two bar stools from each of them. The woman looked like she’d seen a bar or two in her day, but there was a hint of class in the way she moved her arms. She was wearing a red sundress that showed off fit legs. The man was dressed like a mid-level manager, coat flung over the back of the stool, shirt sleeves rolled up, tie loosened and top button open. Pit stains seeped out from his light blue dress shirt. He was drinking a very dark beer.
Greg took a perfunctory look to either side as he sat down. Only the Indian returned Greg’s gaze. His drunk eyes smiled dopeily at Greg.
Greg looked to the bartender, a younger man with a close-trimmed beard and horn-rimmed glasses.
“What can I get for you, sir?”
“Stella Artois, draft.”
When the beer arrived Greg sucked the head off and took a long swallow. Already he felt light-headed, at the prospect of feeling light-headed.
Without meaning to Greg drank the beer down in four gulps.
“Another Stella for you?”
“I’d better. They’re going down easy in this heat.”
Alcohol was good. Much better than yoga.
With the second Stella he took his time a bit. Still the beer went down exceedingly easy.
In a manner of 30 minutes Greg had drank three Stella Artois. He was feeling good and buzzed.
After those three beers, plus a glass and a half of water, Greg had to urinate violently.
While Greg was relieving himself at the urinal the door opened. In walked the Indian.
Greg stared straight ahead at the wall. Someone had written, “I want your cock” on the tile, right at eye level.
The story of humanity was not written in history books or religious tomes or multigenerational novels. It was written in men’s bathrooms, on overpasses, carved into picnic tables.
“I want your cock”: Here was the voice of the people.
Greg’s urine echoed loudly in the toilet. The Indian appeared to be having trouble getting started.
Greg had been pissing for 37 seconds…38…39…
The Indian turned to look at him. Greg pretended not to notice. A powerful stink of old booze and body odor came from the Indian.
“I remember when this place used to be called the Lucky Cowboy,” said the Indian.
Greg didn’t reply.
“Knew the owner, guy by the name of Seymour…James Seymour…stubborn old Irish prick.”
The Indian spoke slowly, carefully ennunciating each word.
“Place burned down,” continued the Indian. “Some folks say Seymour left a greasy pan on the burner, if you catch my drift. He skipped town after that, moved to the Bahamas, or one of them tropical islands.”
Greg walked out without washing his hands, leaving the Indian mid-stream and mid-sentence.
Back at his seat he found the bar one patron lighter, as the white collar prototype had departed. Computer man was still staring at his laptop, like maybe god would come out of the screen. The woman appeared to not have moved at all. She stared into her phone, swiping mindlessly, her free hand gently caressing the mouth of her cocktail glass.
“Barkeep, make it one more Stella. I’ll settle up, too.”
Greg heard the squeak of a bar stool. The Indian was taking a seat beside him. He’d dragged his large bag over.
“When you’re ready sir,” said the barkeep, setting down a beer and the bill.
“You work here when Seymour was around?” the Indian asked the barkeep.
“James Seymour. Former proprietor.”
“I’ve only worked here since spring.”
“I liked it better before.”
“You drinking something?”
“Hmm…let me see.”
The Indian pawed through his dirty pack. He took out a Velcro wallet and counted the cash inside.
“What’s your cheapest whisky?”
“Barrel whiskey’s $4.00 a shot.”
“Make it a double,” said the Indian, slapping a grubby ten dollar bill on the counter. The barkeep gave him two back and the Indian pocketed them both.
Greg caught a look at himself in the bar mirror, framed by liquor bottles. He had a handsome but unfriendly face.
He watched the barkeep approach the woman. Neither of them, in their private selves, were smiling. But when their eyes met they smiled at the other, showed their teeth like curs.
Was he happy? No less happy than anyone else, he supposed. Perhaps even slightly happier, because he did not expect much from life. His minor luxuries and vices satisfied him.
An ex-lover had once called Greg “The Little Prince.” It’s true, Greg had always thought himself a real little aristocrat, above the common fray. In his detachment he felt superior.
His father had called him that too: The Little Prince.
“Your highness,” his father used to say in mocking jest, bowing half-heartedly. “His highness doesn’t want to ride in a Mazda.”
Greg was no king. Just a little prince, who liked his particular accoutrement, his German sports car, his ocean view house on the hill, fine bottles of scotch. These things were enough for a little prince, leading his little life, having his little self-righteousness.
Really what Greg wanted was to be left alone, to his devices—and as he got older, his vices. His aloofness was what others found distasteful about him. There was a mark of royalty on a man who preferred to be alone. Others felt diminished in his presence.
So thought the Little Prince.
He drained his beer, added the tip, signed the receipt, and pushed it toward the barkeep.
“Hey,” said the Indian. “If you’re headed North, can I get a ride?”
“I am headed North. And you may not have a ride,” said The Little Prince.
The Indian’s face tightened. “Why not?” he said, retreating into his whisky.
“You disgust me,” said Greg.
“Well…you…you…” stammered the Indian, but Greg was already on the way out. The red oak door swung closed behind him.
Rain was beginning to fall. Dark clouds had moved in. The wind gusted in swirls.
There was a slam behind him. The Indian was standing in the threshold, looking drunk and furious. Greg studied him derisively.
“You piece of shit white man,” yelled the Indian, pointing a shaking finger at Greg. “I curse you.”
Having cursed Greg, the Indian sunk to one knee, closed his eyes, and chanted something in Indian tongue.
Rain fell harder. Greg got in the car. Inside the Mercedes he was completely separate from the world, lost in a climate-controlled pneumatic bliss of leather, wood paneling, and a string quartet playing through high-end Bose speakers.
Few cars were on the country highway that curled softly into the hills, becoming tighter switchbacks that went up and over the steepest section.
Greg pushed the Mercedes through the corners with muscular ease. The car practically drove itself.
Rain fell harder up on the pass. Lightning flashed close by, followed almost immediately by a thunderclap that frightened Greg. But nothing could hurt the Little Prince in his Mercedes.
“Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz!” he sang.
Rain was falling so hard that the roadside culvert overran its banks, flooding the road. A second thunderbolt lit up the sky, this time directly overhead. Visibility shrank to less than a car length. Each small stretch of the road was experienced in frames.
Greg used the paddle shifters to drop the car into second gear, bringing a playful roar from the powerful 8-cylinder. He passed a car in near-blindness.
The sky grew greyer, less black. He seemed to have passed through the worst of it. The rain slackened and the thunderclaps were further away.
Greg’s house sat at the top of a long drive. About ¼ the way up the drive was a remote-controlled gate that was part of a wider steel fence encircling the secluded property.
The gate did not open when Greg pushed the button. He put the car in park and got out to input the code manually. Still the gate did not open.
He examined the structure and noticed a blackened mark. Lightning had struck the gate.
Greg tried to roll the gate open. He heaved at it to no avail. Although the rain had lessened, he was soaked through after a few minutes.
If he could get to the house he could disarm the system and possibly release the gate. But that would require climbing the fence, which was ringed at the top with razor wire and coated with anti-climb security coating paint.
In the rainy confusion Greg thought the Mercedes looked like a beast of prey, its headlight eyes seeming to follow him wherever he went. So this was what a squirrel saw right before the Mercedes took it to hell.
Greg walked up and down the fence’s perimeter, looking for a spot he could more easily slip over. To both his dismay and his relief, the wall was virtually impenetrable.
Over the gate was the easiest way. There were footholds, and he could pull the car up close for a boost.
This is what he did. With the Mercedes nearly flush against the gate Greg stepped onto the hood and reaching high for a handhold he pulled himself up. At the top he inched over the barbed wire. The inseam of his left trouser leg caught on a razor sharp end. Greg yanked the leg free but as he did the force of the fabric releasing set him off balance and he fell straight down on the Mercedes’ hood, landing back first from a height of 10 feet.
Greg gasped, the wind knocked out of him. His head had bounced off the windshield and cracked the glass. He sat up slowly, feeling shaken. Rain fell softly on the wind. The engine hummed on low idle beneath him, comforting Greg like a warm, protective watchdog.
Greg thought of the Indian cursing him. For a moment, he allowed that this might be the curse coming to fruition.
Greg didn’t believe in magic, though, or in karma. Karma was what the weak clung to when life affirmed that it was not fair in the least. No one deserved anything. They either got it, or they didn’t. Karma was spiritual communism for the poor workers of the world, miserable in their materialism.
“Workers of the world—BE GONE!” shouted Greg into the storm. And he knew what needed to be done.
Greg backed the Mercedes up to the start of the driveway. He shifted into drive, drew a deep breath, and pushed down on the accelerator.
He hit the gate at 45 miles per hour, hard enough to send it smashing off its hinges some 20 meters, where it lay crumpled on the side of the driveway, straddling the hedges.
The Mercedes skidded to a halt. Greg fought his way out of the airbags—12 of them in total—which had safely suspended him in a cloud. The Mercedes’ front end was crushed in, its headlights smashed.
Greg turned the car off and went inside the house. He changed his clothes and made himself a drink of 20-year old single malt scotch from a bottle he’d been saving for the right occasion.
“To victory,” he said, raising his glass to himself in toast.
Brian Eckert lives, travels, and writes in the American West. Learn more at www.brian-eckert.com.