Alone

The bell on the door announced the arrival of a customer to the only person in the bar, the owner.

“Hey, Jack.”

The man simply nodded an acknowledgement as he sat on a stool.  His black hair was disheveled, and his overcoat was soaked.

“What are you doing out tonight?”

“Heh.  I might ask why you are open.”

“Fair enough.  But if I weren’t open, where would you go?”

“So it’s some sort of symbiotic relationship of loneliness, huh?”

The owner nodded.  “I figure there might be somebody who needs a drink tonight.  And here you are.”

“And your wife doesn’t mind?”

“She used to.  Now I suspect she’s very happy with her new husband.”

“Oh.  Sorry.”

“That was a long time ago.  What about you?  No one waiting for you at home?”

“Anyone who might have cared about me lives hundreds of miles from here.”

“Well, then, at least we have this place.”

“Indeed.”  Jack raised his glass to the owner.  “Merry Christmas.”

In response, the owner poured himself a shot and mimicked Jack’s toast.  “Merry Christmas, indeed.”

Brothers

The two men embraced briefly and then sat down across from one another in the diner.

“Brother.  It’s good to see you.”

“And you.”

“Thank you for coming.”

“Of course.  I am glad you are ready to listen to reason.”

The other man frowned.  “No.  I was hoping you were.”

“Me?  I am not the one waging a pointless campaign.”

“What do you mean?  Don’t you want to wrest our freedom back from these butchers?”

He leaned forward and lowered his voice.  “Quiet.  There are ears everywhere.  If you are arrested for treason, even I cannot save you.”

“You see?  We can’t even speak openly in public.  How can you still support them?”

He shook his head.  “I do not think arresting you would be wrong.  But I do not wish that fate to befall my only family.”

“You can’t be serious.”

“I am.  And I wish you would be, too.  What do you want that you do not now have?  You must recognize that their rule is better than the chaos that was rampant before they arrived.”

“Yes, there is less chaos.  But at what cost?  Loss of self-rule?  Harsh policies that abridge free expression?  And how many people have died since they took over?”

“You sound like the conspiracy theorists you have allied yourself with.  I beg you, give up this folly.”

“I won’t.  Not ever.  Not until they are driven out.”

He sighed.  “Very well.  I have told no one about you, but they may stumble upon us at any time.  You should leave.”

“And I can’t convince you?”

“No.  But I wish you well.”

“Hmph.  Just . . . just stay out of our way.”

“I love you, too, brother.  Do not get caught.”

His brother stood and left.  He stared for several minutes at the door, hoping to see him return.

The Kingdom

“Chad!  Time for dinner!”  His mother yelled from the bottom of the stairs.

His father turned off the television and walked over.  No sounds of movement made their way down from the second floor.  “Maybe he didn’t hear you?”

“Oh, he heard me.  He’s just ignoring me.”

“Probably playing that video game of his.”

“I wish we’d never gotten it for him.  Can you go get him?  I need to get dinner on the table so we can eat.”

He sighed.  “Okay.  We’ll be right down.”

As he began to climb the stairs, she went back to the kitchen.  She had just taken the casserole out of the oven when he yelled her name.  Frustrated that her husband couldn’t handle this himself, she set the dish down and took off her oven mitts.

“What is it?” she yelled, again at the bottom of the stairs.

“He isn’t up here.”

“What?”  Quickly, she went up the stairs and entered her son’s room.  “Where is he?”

“He came home from school, right?”

“Of course.  Then he came up here like he always does.”

“And he didn’t go back out before I got home from work?”

She glared at him.  “No.”

“Then where did he go?”

“I don’t know.”

They looked around the room for some clue that would tell them where their son had gone.  Movement on the computer screen caught her attention.  His video game was still on.  The small animated person on the screen seemed to be waving at her.  She looked closely at it, then reached out to touch her husband’s arm.  “Does that look like Chad?”

Putting on his glasses, he moved closer to the screen.  “Yes, it does.”

The person on the screen smiled, blew a kiss, and turned to walk away.  The screen went black.  Words appeared in white:  ANOTHER CITIZEN HAS ENTERED THE KINGDOM.

Bad Sneakers

He was already sitting at the bar when she walked in.  There was no need for him to look up; the sound of her footsteps was familiar enough.  He gestured at the bartender, and a drink was waiting for her by the time she sat down.

They sat quietly, sipping their drinks, for several minutes.  A server eventually came over and placed baskets of food in front of them: a cheeseburger for him and baked fish for her.

“This looks good,” she said.

“Don’t.  Just . . . don’t,” he replied.  She turned back to her food, and they fell silent once more.

The bar was mostly empty.  Only one other couple sat at a table in the corner.  The only sounds to keep them company was the radio behind the bar.  Each signaled the bartender for another drink.  Not another word was spoken.

After his last sip of beer, when he was finished eating, he placed a fifty dollar bill on the bar.  He stood, leaned over, and kissed her very gently on the cheek.  As he turned to leave, “Bad Sneakers” by Steely Dan started playing on the radio.  He grimaced and shook his head, then walked out of the bar.