Jessica Pinter drew two draft beers from the tap and sat them on the bar for two unshaven men who would not keep their eyes off her. Normally she liked the attention and encouraged it by wearing low cut shirts that fit snuggly around her breasts, but today she wanted none of it.
Flashers Bar was busy. Football season had begun and patrons were packing the tavern to watch the Sunday games. Boisterous cheers and the smell of grilled burgers filled the air. Typically, she loved the cheerful environment. It was normal for her to end the shift with a jar full of generous tips. Today was different; she wanted to leave, to walk out of the place.
She turned toward the liquor bottles in front of the mirrored wall and looked at her reflection and the barroom behind her. Everyone was happy except her. She felt sick and for the slightest of moments, she thought she saw a dark cloud around her, but dismissed it as shadows. She had thought there was something following her, just as spirits sometimes follow ghost hunters home. But she was not a ghost hunter. The closest she ever came to a haunted house was Maggie’s old apartment at the three-story sanatorium built in 1899, later to become a psychiatric hospital before its final reformation.
The presence she felt had been growing stronger, and today, at this moment, they were exceptionally strong. She knew it was her imagination, after all, but nonetheless she wanted to go home.
She mixed a gin and tonic, took an icy cold beer from the cooler, and sat them on a tray. She picked up the round, brown platter and walked out from behind the bar, to the table where her friends Butch and Junior were watching the game on the big screen TV close to the bar.
“What’s wrong with you, Jess?” Butch asked, sounding rather annoyed. His hair, cut in a butch, suited his name well. “You just spilled half my drink on the table.”
Jess held the empty tray at her side, dripping from the sloshed around highball cocktail. “Sorry, I’ll get you another.”
“You look like shit,” Junior said, reaching for the brown bottle.
Typically, Jess would joke back, but today she lashed back instead. “Shut the frickin’ hell up.”
Jess had planned to quit her waitress job, but Maggie’s lawyer, Darron Sugarman, put a hold on funds that should have already been in her possession from Cory’s will. The attorney was able to convince the judge that Maggie’s husband may have been coerced into changing his will from Maggie as the primary beneficiary, to Jess. Even the distributions from the winning lottery ticket she had taken from Maggie’s purse were put on hold. Yes, she was having an affair with Cory, and he was going to divorce Maggie, but he changed his will and committed suicide before Maggie knew what was going on. In Jess’s mind, she had done nothing all that wrong; often thinking Maggie deserved it, but she was not sure exactly why.
Suicide. Why did he have to commit suicide? Why couldn’t things have gone as planned? She and Cory would be living happily together. But then she thought, maybe I said something. There were times when images from previous blackouts would flash through her mind. She did not like the images, but it was as though she was someone else, doing things a tramp would do. Doing things a . . . not so nice person would do. They were just twisted dreams.
Over a year ago, Jess began drinking heavily. So heavily, that she began having blackouts. She remembered pieces of the things she had done, like the affair with Maggie’s husband and the suggestion to him to change his will and divorce Maggie. However, she had no memory of some timeframes. She assumed she had drunk herself into a blackout, only to wake up on her living room floor.
Today she was feeling ashamed of herself, ashamed of what she had done to Maggie. Her best friend, or previous best friend, was now locked away in the psychiatric forensic center and headed to court to face the charge of murdering the apartment superintendent, Mr. Zimmerman.
Jess rubbed her ear; it felt like someone was holding dry ice to it. It itched, burned and was cold. She walked up to the bar and sat her tray on the counter.
“Hank,” Jess said when the bartender got in earshot. “I’m going home, I don’t feel good.”
He turned around and frowned. He was ten years older than she was, but he looked like he was old enough to be her father. His feminine voice seemed out of place coming out of a bulky body. “You can’t go home, we’re swamped. You have to stay.”
“I’ll vomit all over everyone, I can’t stay. I’m out of here.” Jess began walking behind the bar to get her purse, but Hank stopped her.
“I’m not joking,” he said, blocking her from reaching under the counter.
She stopped and rubbed her other ear. Both ears were burning as if there were something blowing on them. “I’m not joking either. Move so I can get my things.”
“If you leave, don’t come back,” he said, stepping to the side.
Jess reached under the bar and took her purse. “Don’t worry, I quit.”
She turned and walked past the table where she had spilled the cocktail.
“Hey, Jess, where’s my drink?” Butch said, pissed off.
Jess ignored him and walked out the door.
Jess stopped at the liquor store on her way back to Cedar Creek Trailer Park where she lived. She had planned to be out of the dump by now, but the jewelry she took from Maggie’s safe was not easy to sell. She was no better off now than before taking them.
She pulled into her driveway, took the paper bag of liquor off the seat, and went into her house trailer. She closed and locked the door, opened the bottle of spiced gin and took two big gulps. She plopped onto the couch, stained from the drinks she had previously spilled on it.
Her ears continued to itch and burn. Was someone talking about her, like how the old wives tale says? She sensed a presence; the ghosts she felt had been following her.
She sobbed and drank until the pain eased. Then it occurred to her that there was one more item that she had taken from Maggie’s safe—Cory’s handgun and ammunition.
“Why am I thinking of the gun?” Jess said aloud for no one except her drunken self to hear.
Nevertheless, she got up, went to her bedroom, and took the gun from the back of her closet where she had it hid. She took both the handgun and the box of full metal jacket bullets into the living room. She sat them on the coffee table and took another swig of the gin.
It had grown dark outside while she drank herself into a stupor. She saw her neighbors turn on their porch lights and she could hear people commenting about how it was getting dark so early. She turned her attention back to the gun. She leaned forward, took an FMJ bullet out of the box, and loaded the gun. Then she released the safety and leaned back on the couch, resting the gun on her lap.
A few more swallows and she would have the bottle nearly empty. She had never drunk this much, this fast. She wanted to make the flashbacks go away. They were fading, but there were more. More than she ever wanted to see.
Her ears felt as if they were on fire, she wanted to rip them off. Murmurs in her ears, someone actually was speaking to her. Then one more flashback came to her, a horrible unforgivable deed. She raised the gun to her temple.