Today I suffered a great shock. Such had altered my mental state enough that I felt enticed to come down to Al’s hours earlier than I usually would have. I go for a sip but my glass now only holds ice. Quite the difference the afternoon sun makes in the atmosphere of the room, I note. Caught in my scan of the room, a patron, drink in hand, waddles up to a corner adjacent to the bar to a stand fan with lousy posture. He stares into the blades right through the fan’s grilles. He cocks his head and stares as if it were a mirror! With a curiosity, I watch as the man examines the back before finding a knob which would induce oscillation if years of beer spillage didn’t muck up this function. He tugs at it and gives a good effort before finally giving up.
The bartender goes about his business at the bar. The man heads back to his table.
“It’s broke,” he quietly informs a girl who then intimately reaches underneath the table and begins stroking his thigh—issues a quiet acceptance of his failure.
I laugh and laugh. It’s really more of an eyesore than anything. I figure Al has got no clue what to do with a fan so ugly that the best option is to forget it exists entirely. There was a time where the fan was shiny and brand new. I would spend hot summer evenings alone with Angeline figuring out how to pass my exams while keeping my sanity intact—me teasing her for calling soda “pop.” Though the fan blew strong winds between us, the future never seemed warmer.
Moving from state to state as a kid before settling into the dorm room next to mine, she had picked up the strangest habits from Godknowswhere. Henry was the same way. I suppose that’s why they connected so fast. When I had first met Henry in school, he told me I was his first friend. He also told me that he thought girls were gross and to beat him to death if he ever got a girlfriend. The teacher overheard this and had to have a talk with him shortly after. But he was always saying things like that. I suppose the lack of a stable home must have left him with a deficit of attention in his childhood which wonderfully explains those histrionic tendencies of his!
Anyway, all this to say it’s not his fault that the very night I brought him in to meet Angeline, they locked me out of my dorm room and I had to sleep on the floor. Or even that one time, in his attempt to chase Angeline around the bar, he spilled the contents of his open glass all over that fan standing in the corner, completely wiping out its function. I remember him apologizing about a million times to Al while Angeline and I sat in the corner.
He’s such an idiot, we laughed and laughed.
While I went to get another round of drinks, he took Angeline and slipped out of Al’s before anyone had any idea, leaving everyone else in the heat with no remorse. After asking about it the next day, all they had to say for themselves was that it was way too hot to stay in there with the fan broken and all. So, unable to endure the summer heat or provide utility, it sits in the corner, all but forgotten.
But I’m getting off track.
This morning in between drab work emails, I saw a name I had hardly expected to see again in my inbox.
We are pleased to welcome you to join us for the union of Henry and Angeline...
Though the nerve was quite surprising on its own, the shock I experienced didn’t come from the content of the letter or its vexingly impersonal address, but rather the fact it was sent at all.
Never before have I known Angeline to hold grudges for too long! Especially not for an event so potent and important. Therefore, it must have been intentional—my reinstatement into her life. Though completely honored to have been offered, I will have to say no thank you!
I saunter out of the bar feeling a little wobbly, yet resolved in my plan to reject the invite, when I notice a stranger walking down the sidewalk. Though I often keep my distance from strangers on the streets, this one in particular catches my eye. Dark hair, clean shaven, no. Unmistakably, it is Henry himself just a few yards away.
But what could he be doing in town?
The sight of my best friend arouses such an instinctive joy in me that I can hardly quit from calling his name until a full syllable has left my mouth. When it seems that he didn’t notice my abbreviated call, I look down at my phone and walk in his direction.
And soon enough: “Holy shit. Look who it is!” Henry, with his hands in his pockets.
I look up, making a great effort to look surprised.
“Look who’s still lurking around Al’s.”
A bit embarrassed by his discovery of my day drinking, I clumsily play it off saying I’d just been visiting Al. Noticing my discomfort with the subject, he skirts right past and brings up fond memories of us all probably being Al’s least favorite patrons.
His kindness never fails to amuse me.
I give a chuckle and use this opportunity to question what he’s doing back in town. He tells me how he’s visiting some friends before the wedding.
My heart seizes.
“Y’think you’ll make it, bud?”
With my defenses down—his voice even and light—he effortlessly addresses the load that’s been weighing on the conversation.
“I’m going to Chicago,” I say before I have a chance to think.
It’ll be better this way, I think, my integrity intact.
His head cocks in surprise, but he quickly recovers with a fraternal jab.
“Jenna, huh?” He raises his eyebrows at me suggestively and my face flushes red at the mention of my old flame.
I quickly dispel this accusation with the invention and ardent showcase of a passion for the jazz club scene. He takes this as an invitation to gleefully fill me in about all the jazz records Angie’s been picking up from thrifts and how she’s always spinning one whenever he gets home.
A silence overtakes us as his story trails off.
“How is she?” I say as indifferently as I possibly can, looking him directly in the eyes to mask the slight crackle in my tone with confidence.
He smiles sympathetically.
He tells me how Angie’s been so busy with the pregnancy and planning that he had to send out all the invitations himself and by email rather than physical mail.
My world turns on its side—as it turns out, I never had the opportunity to graciously turn down any invitation in the first place!
“I know she doesn’t want me talking to you anymore but you’re still my friend and I wouldn’t miss having you there for the world.” He furrows his eyebrows and stares down at me with that stupid look—Henry, who lost his parents at too young an age.
“Yeah, sure,” I say.
Suddenly, I am very very busy and have to leave this conversation this very second my apologies.
“Ah,” says Henry, “right.”
He’s gotta get going too. He crosses the street and enters a yellow taxi, but not before pulling me into a big hug complete with a few taps on my shoulder.
“I guess I’ve changed,” I can hear Angeline saying two years and about a thousand miles away—Henry with everything I’ve ever wanted.
I head back into Al’s. I feel sweat begin to tickle my eyes and I fall back against the wall—my body suddenly remembering the two shots I had taken earlier.
It’s so damn hot in here.
I swipe at my eyes and begin to breathe heavily. That damned fan! If only that goddamn fan wasn’t so useless and didn’t buckle at the first sign of damage, well it’s admirable really. This great mainstay of Big Al’s Ale House has managed to maintain its place in the corner for nearly a full decade now! How it could possibly remain completely untouched for all these years sure is a mystery to me.
I trudge on down to the corner of Al’s. I give a smack to the front grilles. I tug at the knob.
I slump down to my knees and think about spilling wine on her wedding dress or throwing the rings right into a garbage disposal.
I get back up on my feet noticing the stares of others and almost give up completely before accidentally knocking the fan to the floor to find nothing short of a miracle—a circle completely untainted by dust.
Josephine Baiden is a 17-year-old high school senior and amateur writer. Her biggest passions are making music and listening to music. She would like to thank all the staff of IceBlink Lit (especially that gorgeous digital manager of theirs) for offering a space for writers to grow.