The bottle floated in a lazy arc before splashing into shards on the highway beneath the pedestrian bridge. We had been drinking since morning and accrued a sizable stockpile of ammunition between us.
Barney belched, said, “Fuck ‘em,” and flung another bottle. It got a good few meters past my previous attempt.
“Fuck ‘em,” I echoed softly. Twilight was closing in and I felt unwell. Partly because of the beer, of course, but also because I had lost my job first thing that morning before I even had a chance to get a cup of acrid coffee. That was probably most of it. Barney was helping me work through the anger and disappointment the only way we knew how. I trusted his judgment in this regard – he’d been laid off three months ago and had been honing his resentment to a fine point since then, picking up loose handyman jobs here and there.
“I don’t even want a job, man,” he said. “If it was up to me, I’d be drinking beer and doing woodwork all day. You know, I made my boy a birdhouse last week. He loved it. Can’t do that if you have a job. Don’t have the time. I’m fuckin’... I’m grateful, man. You know?”
“Ja...” I murmured. I wasn’t exactly drowning in gratitude, and I didn’t know how Barney’s wife felt about all of this unexpected woodworking time. Instead of saying any of this, I took the last sip from my lukewarm beer and chucked the empty. It spun end over end, glinting in the dying light. It seemed suspended for a moment before it inevitably came back down. It hit a passing car, bursting on the corner of the hood. The driver swerved wildly before regaining control, the horn sounding into the distance as they sped away.
Barney and I looked on, both a little soberer than before. “We should leave,” he said blankly.
The sun was behind the hill when I got home. I parked and sat in the car. I wanted to gather my thoughts before I headed in, maybe prepare a few words. We would have to tighten our belts around already skinny waists. But there was still hope, I would say. Daddy’s going to get a new job. A better job. But it was going to be tough for a little while. We’re all going to have to work together. As I was trying to shake the beer from my thoughts, I suddenly felt something slipping away, so far gone that word was already forgotten. It had faded so slowly, so gradually, that I hadn’t even felt the loss until it was too late. The loss of what, exactly? I didn’t know or didn’t have the vocabulary, and the pain remained in the realm of unease, in the blind spots of my nervous system.
I forced myself to get out of the car, but I could not compel myself to take on the walk to the door – a dark portal to an unknown future. I decided to take a walk. It was a balmy evening and the Jacarandas were in bloom. Could there be a better reason for it?
As I opened the pedestrian gate to leave, I saw my wife peering out of the living room window. I hadn’t thought of it, but obviously, she had heard the sound of the engine, heard it cut off, and then heard nothing for some minutes – not my step on the walkway, or my key in the door, or my comfortingly automatic call from the front hall.
We made eye contact and I could see she was confused, and I knew I would have to replace that confusion with dread. I could not bring myself to do that, so I left, closing the gate behind me.