April 8, 2024 Short Story

Happy Hour

Happy Hour Artwork by DALL·E

Nick Flowers was a fifty something loner, a dreamer who slogged through life with a Tom Waitt’s song in his head and a tattered notebook and a ball-point pen in his pocket. He got by, metaphorically – but still. Anytime he was on the verge of collapsing from exhaustion, a downy pillow plopped from the sky; If he was about to die of thirst, a crystal spring would erupt between his feet; When he missed a meal and his blood sugar was about to plummet, a short bald man emerged before him with a ham sandwich in his palm.’

Nick dropped his pen inside the journal and took a sip of his drink. He’d reworked the passage too many times to count and it still sucked. He turned to address the brown leather back of the person on the stool next to him. “People yearn for the chance to prove their generosity and open mindedness, don’t you think?” They’d had a conversation, the brown leather jacket and himself. He was pretty sure it was the same guy. He was telling Nick about the dental work he’d had that afternoon. The guy was on pain meds and drinking whiskey sours, which was cause for concern, but Nick didn’t know how to convey that, so he said the first thing that came to his mind,

“Didn’t know anyone was still drinking that swill.”

The dude slammed his fist on the bar and bellowed, “Vitamin C!” and turned away from Nick and pulled out his cell phone. He wasn’t sure if he was being dismissed and if so, if he should feel offended. Enough time had passed and Nick wanted to make amends, maybe apologize for his judgmental remark, but the dude wasn’t budging, so he picked up his pen and went back to writing his bio/obit.

‘It was exactly two years and eleven days since the day he first set eyes on Tess, a most beautiful, fantastical woman, with alabaster skin and a glorious mane of red hair.’

“Ginger!” Nick smiled sadly as he remembered how she would correct him whenever he called her “Red.” He was just playing. She was too serious sometimes.

‘When he was with her, wherever they went, the air would shimmer and sparkle! But he’d blown it big time and now, here he was on a Friday afternoon, at a bar somewhere below 14th street, drinking red wine, and the numb nut sitting next to him, on meds and whiskey sours, didn’t even want to talk to him!’

Nick closed the journal, fastened the buckle and slipped the pen into his shirt pocket. He had nothing interesting to say about himself, only bellyaching. He took out his cell phone and did a Google search for ‘hassle and pain free suicide suggestions.’ A link to a suicide hotline and support group came up. He was about to click on it when he got a ‘Facebook’ alert: Bryan Howard had sent him a friend request! He’d no idea who Bryan Howard was – but still – someone, a handsome, normal looking someone, was reaching out to him! Wanting his friendship! Was this a sign? A reason to live?

Nick clicked on his profile and learned that he was Swedish, a career military man, right wing, Trump supporter…he stopped there and put his phone back in his pocket. He took out his pen, unfastened the buckle and opened his diary.

‘Was it comically dangerous or dangerously comical – his life, at this point? Fucking cell phones, taking you out of the moment, controlling your mind – ’ He picked up his glass and took a long thoughtful draught. He wished he could go back to a time when you didn’t have communication and the latest disaster and cluster fuck in the world at your finger-tips. If you wanted news, you had to read a newspaper. On actual paper! You wanted to communicate with someone? You found a phone and dialed it! The whole number! Now, every frigging piece of information in the universe was in the ‘cloud.’ Bryan Howard, a Swede on the other side of the ocean, got into Nick’s cloud and had fucked with his emotions. He drained his glass. Finally. Something worth writing about!

‘Pleasure, horror, confusion, anger needed to be kept in their place until the right moment, not controlled by a ‘cloud.’ Clouds were those white fluffy things in the sky!’

Nick gave the bartender a nod when he approached him with a bottle of Malbec. After filling the glass, the bartender took Nick’s card and disappeared to the other end of the room. Brown leather jacket turned to him, holding up his pinky orange drink with a maraschino cherry floating at the top. His face seemed to have grown wider, ruddier, and pebbly since their last conversation

“Sh t uu!”

“How’s that pain, my friend?”

“Shit’s gone.”

The bartender – a short, bald muscle man with a tattoo of an eagle on his right arm, was handing Nick’s card back to him while holding up a screen with the words ‘Insufficient Funds.’ Nick shifted his focus to the man’s face. He had a white handlebar mustache and triangular dimples inside his chubby cheeks. Ah yes! Before him stood the subconscious inspiration for an earlier writing. If he had sufficient funds, Nick might have asked him for a ham sandwich.

“The fucking cloud!” At first Nick thought the words had made their way into the room directly from his mind, bypassing his mouth. He and the bartender turned to brown leather jacket who was unraveling a twenty from a roll of sweaty bills.

“Zits un meh,” the man mumbled as he handed over the limp bill.

Nick held up his glass once again to his bar mate.

“Thank you!”



“Fuckin cloud gonna fuck everything n us shup!”

Nick wanted to cry. David was correct. Nick looked into his new friend’s murky blood shot blue eyes.

“There is no such thing as unconditional love.”

“Wha the fuck yo u talkin?” David broke into a laughing coughing soliloquy which had a hint of a British accent.

Christ Almighty. He was hearing dialects in human expulsions. Tess had turned him into a wino. Before he met her, he never went near the shit. He was a couple beers on the weekend kind of guy. Sorta. Not counting the shots of vodka. Tess was a wine connoisseur and enjoyed a glass or two of red wine with dinner. Nick would finish the bottle. He’d become both prolific and long-winded with red wine. It was hard to tell if there was a difference.

He took a hearty swig. He had to face it. He was no good alone. That’s why he took risks. To feel alive! He jumped off buildings – figuratively – Smoked weed; Drank in the late afternoons with strange men on meds and whiskey; Wrote. He wrote horrifying, shocking, funny, painful things. He was about to be published when he first met Tess. He had an agent. She, the agent, told him that they were going to make a lot of money when she sold his book. After two years and twenty-five submissions to publishing houses big, small, independent; three rewrites and lots of nibbles – No bites.

“Lots of positive feedback though!” Nick said. He needed to keep her on the project.

“I know, but they don’t know where to put it on the shelf.”

“But I’ve rewritten it three times!”

“Maybe you’d have more luck with a male agent.”

Male agent? He didn’t know any male agents! He only knew her – Andrea. He’d met her at one of those ‘pay-to-meet-agents’ seminars. She was a blond, over-weight, never married woman of high intelligence – a former lawyer. She was really impressed with his writing. After all, he’d been published. A university journal, but still – it was an Ivy League!

Nick drained his glass, nodded to David, who was in the middle of a nose pick with a cocktail napkin, and left the bar. He wanted to check out a bookstore, find his space on the shelf. God damn it, there was a space for him! Half a block later he realized he needed to take a leak. When was the last time he used a bathroom? How many glasses of wine had he had? He’d lost track of time, number of drinks, what did it matter? Urges were now pulling him in one direction and he let them, gave no resistance. The body knew what it needed; Body, mind, spirit, all in one – a Trinity.

Nick sunk into a religious mode when he was close to hurling himself in front of a moving car. Nah! He was no daring daredevil! If he wanted to kill himself, he’d have to be good and wasted, which was easy to do these days with weed shops and weed trucks around every corner. Hell, he didn’t even have to get his own stash! All he had to do was inhale a little deeper as he walked through the city. A country of stoners, that’s what they were becoming. Why couldn’t he have thought of that when he was at the bar? It would have been a good conversation to have with Dave. Dave might have blamed it on the Russians. Nick would have agreed.


He went into the Barnes & Noble on Union Square, always reliable for a toilet and a whiz, never a crap. Nick was considerate, a good guy. If only he had a kid, a reason not to drink. Every girl he had gotten pregnant – three – had had an abortion. That should have been a sign of what a fucking loser he was! The story that was published was about the day he escorted the first girl he impregnated to the abortion. He’d written it when he was a sophomore at State College, when and where it all happened. He’d submitted and reworked the piece for twenty-eight years until it was finally accepted by one of the most reputable literary magazines in the country. His fame to glory, or was it flame?

Nick was self-employed as a free lance proof-reader, editor, copy writer and substitute teacher. That was how he had met Tess. She was a math teacher at a high school where he sometimes subbed. One spring morning Tess had approached him in the teacher’s lounge, a cheery room on the 10th floor with a wall of windows facing east where the morning sun had risen, bells and whistles abounding. He was trying to make a cup of coffee with a ‘pod.’

“You need help with that?” Her voice was a soft deep whisper in his left ear. When he turned to the source of the delectable sound, the sun, that golden star, had cast a ray into the room that encircled Tessa’s face, creating a halo. It was a flash of a moment, but whenever Nick recalled the scene, he zoomed in on the picture and moved it at a snail’s pace, savoring every detail - the brush of her hand on his wrist, the fragrance of the cream rinse in her hair!


“Cream rinse is funnier.”

Sigh! How he missed those little banters. A beautiful woman who mastered numbers! She had swept him off his feet. After the first year of three hundred and sixty-five sweet days of wine and roses, it was time to get down to real life. Would there or would there not be a future? She was seventeen years younger - she wanted a family. So did he! Did he? Could he? It was all so exhausting! Trying to take on the male role, live up to her expectations, be what she deserved. When he was not with Tess, he couldn’t stop thinking about her, he worried about losing her. He started drinking earlier in the day, 4:00 on weekdays; weekends? It depended on when he got up.

Most of the women he’d dated in the past were loosey-goosey, artsy-fartsy types like himself; painters, actresses, writers – self-indulgent, hyper-sensitive. Every one of them was great in bed. Nick had never had bad sex, until he met Tess. He couldn’t please her.

She said: “It’s no big deal.”

“I don’t care so much about it.”

“There’ll be another time. But not today.”

That was in the first six months. Then one day, she said, “I’m fine, I had a little one.”

A little one? Was there even such a thing? Nick left it at that. She scared him. He knew she would someday crush him. He couldn’t blame her. He was unworthy and she would one day figure it out.


Nick brought a collection of T.S. Elliot’s Wasteland and Other Poems, to the cashier. It was small and the cheapest thing on the nearest shelf. He only had eighteen dollars on him. He didn’t really have to buy anything to use the restroom, but he felt morally obliged. After paying he headed back into the store, towards the escalator.

A man’s voice called after him, “The restroom is out of order!”

Nick turned and looked at the cashier – a thirty something dude with a man bun and goatee. He was wearing an ‘Iowa Writers’ Workshop’ tee shirt.

Nick’s impulses were at a standstill: burst into tears or bash the guy’s face in. His brain became a frantic reel of images of manuscripts, manilla envelopes, trips to the post office; rejection letters, vintage emails. Thirty years of wooing that prestigious establishment rolled through his mind like a rewards-filled CVS receipt. Now before him stood someone who wasn’t even a zygote when Nick first learned of the workshop, sporting a keepsake of his triumph. Nick suspected the kid probably took this job for the sole purpose of flaunting his success to struggling writers like himself, who if he’d had more reachable/realistic goals in his life – if he had not conceded to the abortions – could be his son. Nick tried to do an about-face with his emotions, but it was comparable to turning a car around in a walled-in parking space.

“You want to return the book?” The kid’s face was as bland as skim milk.

“Why the fuck would I want to do that?”

Nick charged out of the store, through the park and down the block into a football stadium of a movie theater complex. He rode the escalator up two flights and followed the red and gold carpet, which in the Renaissance era would have led him into an opera or brothel. Nick parked that notion in the jiffy-lot space in his mind.

The trek led him to one lone ticket taker standing behind a small black podium which looked like it was made just for him as he was short, hunched, and thin. There was a worn black velvet rope attached to a gold-plated stand with a lock that warded off nothing, as there was about four feet of space between the stanchion and wall. It was symbolic, a gesture towards control. As he walked towards the podium Nick witnessed a transaction between the man and a couple as they handed him their tickets. The ticket taker ripped them in two, handed the halves to the man of the couple and dropped the others inside his podium. He then, like an usher on the red carpet, unhooked the gold lock on the rope and held it ceremoniously for the man and woman to walk through.

Nick waited for the couple to disappear around another wide curve of the multiplex before approaching. He walked towards the ticket taker with as much gentleness as he could muster. The man looked up at him. He had a long, gaunt face. A pair of wire-framed eye glasses sat crookedly across the bump on the bridge of his nose.

“Hi,” Nick said with a sincere smile.

The man nodded, glumly.

“Could you please tell me where the restroom is?”

“It’s …” he gave a wave of a white bony hand behind him, then pulled it back and looked quizzically at Nick, “do you have a ticket?”

“No, I..”

The man’s face collapsed. He looked away and shook his head in a sad, slow sway. Nick waited for the man’s eyes to return to him before speaking again. Nick understood. His request was one in a long list of life screwing events that had occurred to this small man throughout his time on the planet. Nick needed him to know that he, Nick did not belong on that list! In fact, he had his own list that was getting longer by the day.

“I’ll pay you! I’ve been walking around for hours…” (I swear I’ll do only number ‘1’Nick would have gladly offered.)

A look of resignation came over the man’s face. He averted his eyes, gave a slow half nod.

“Go on,” he said fixing his gaze on the nothingness before him and said again, “Go on.”

He did not unlock his fake gate. He was clearly not happy to be doing this, but Nick knew that he knew what it was like to be a speck in a big city, and in need of a toilet. Yet he didn’t look totally convinced that Nick would not take advantage of the opportunity and sneak into a theater. Why would he??? All films got to Netflix or Prime or Hulu – eventually! Nothing was special in this new world!

On his way out, Nick offered the ticket taker a couple of dollars along with a gush of gratitude. The man gave him a nod of acknowledgement without looking at him. It took a moment for Nick to realize that this gesture of allowing Nick, a guy off the street with no ticket, into the premises could cost him his job. Accepting a tip would cost him his dignity.

Nick shoved the bills back into his pocket and charged down the escalators through the glass doors and onto the street. A sob caught in his throat. Tears started to flow. He headed back to Union Square. He’d find a bench and breathe in the weed filled air and see where that took him. If only it could take him back two years, two months, two weeks…

“Why? What is it?”

“I’m trying to tell you, and you keep interrupting me.”


“I don’t love – I don’t feel the same –”

“It’s somebody else!”

“That’s not the point!

“Is it or isn’t it?”

“I’m not sure.”

“That’s great. Just great.”

“I don’t love you Nick. We don’t get along anymore and –”

“Please Tess – ”

“Good bye Nick.”

Nick had found a bench close enough to the weed smokers, far enough away from the baby carriages, the meth addicts, the homeless, the farmers market, skateboarders, artists, drummers, the plethora of sounds, scents, sights – a sensorial stimulation! Good God how he both hated and needed this city! He slouched into the seat and rested his head on the back of the bench. When he finally opened his eyes, there above him, against a crystal cobalt sky was the fluffiest, sexiest cloud he’d ever laid eyes on.