It wasn't like me to say anything, but I'd been drowning my sorrows with a succession of one-drink-too-manys since just after noon and it was now who-gives-a-fuck o'clock.
"Watch who you're shoving," I said, as an elephant slumped onto the stool to my right, jostling my hand on the drink I'd been cradling for at least the last forty five seconds.
He laid a mitt on me that blotted out half my forearm, then gave it a squeeze that threatened to pop my fingertips. His knuckles stood out like bony boulders, mashed and whitened with scar tissue.
"Sorry, pal," he said, his voice a low rasp. I glanced his way and half-sobered up at the sight. Wide blue eyes regarded me from under a cliff of creased and sweaty brow. His nose had unwisely decided to settle in the middle of a pock-marked, ruddy battlefield and looked like it had thrown itself under a bus, but he had a big soft mouth and thankfully it was almost grinning at me.
"No problem... sorry," I said, reverting to type.
"Ain't we a couple of sorry characters," he said, squeezing my arm again. I flinched, afraid that an exploding fingernail might have an eye out. My fight or flight instinct had already taken a vote, but with his meaty fingers digging into my arm, my brain was too stunned to come up with a witty reply. Or a reply. For the first time I think I truly understood why a trapped animal will gnaw off a limb to escape.
"Did ya spill your drink?" he asked, eyes locked on mine, while he gestured at the bartender. I noticed how he pushed words through his mouth like it took an effort.
"No," I managed to say, but not before another glass had been set before me. I saw that the bartender had also placed a tall glass in front of him, filled with ice and burnt-caramel colored liquor.
"What ya doing in this dive?" he asked, "I ain't seen ya before, and I'm always here... ain't I always here?" This last directed at the bartender, who I could see was uncomfortable.
"Sure are, Pete," the bartender said, his back pressed up against the bench behind him, straining to be as far from my neighbour as possible.
The gorilla still had his hand on my arm, so I reached across with my left to get my old drink, threw it down in one and reached for the newest. My hand hovered over it for a moment before I grasped it, but I didn't bring it to my lips.
"I think I did something stupid," I said. "I think I screwed up my life today."
"Oh, ya sure did, kid," he agreed. "Ya sure did. Know why?"
"Why?" I asked, wondering who would identify my corpse.
He released his grip on my arm so he could pat it, twice, then clamped back on. "Every day we do stuff that screws up our lives. Ya make the right choices every day, ya gets to be a billionaire, dying in your eighties, kids fighting with a twenty year old widow over the money." He winked at me, natural as a bear doing a handstand, then took over half of his drink in a single gulp. He moaned with satisfaction. "That hits the spot. Know many billionaires?"
"I guess not."
"Bad decisions. We all make'em. Some you live with, some you don't." He squeezed yet again, but my hand had already gone numb.
"No going back?" I asked.
"Up to you, kid," he said. "Sure, it depends, but one bad decision doesn't stop ya making a bunch of good ones."
I drifted away, thoughts racing, then a wave of reality helped clear my head. I stood, and as I did so he released my arm, after just one more bone-crushing squeeze.
"What's her name, pal?" he asked.
I tried to say, but the word choked in my throat. I couldn't declare her name until I'd spoken to her, and made things right. He seemed to understand.
"I get it," he said. "Do what ya gotta, pal. No more bad decisions, right?"
I wanted to say something, but the alcohol hit me again. Fear may have momentarily driven the effects away but now they were back with a vengeance. I swayed, lips goldfishing, while my arms hung at my sides, forgotten.
"Promise," I managed, but I kept looking at him. I wanted to leave but I had forgotten where the door was. Everything was swirling. Thankfully, the bartender put his arm around my shoulder and guided me towards the exit.
"You're bleeding," I said, staring at the smears on my palms as he pushed me towards the door.
"Get out!" he snarled at me. "I'll leave you if I have to."
My hands and arms were covered in blood. I stared at them, feet trudging diligently in step with the bartender as he escorted me from the near-empty bar. I sensed, but didn't really see, the people who pushed past us on their way into the bar.
"Am I bleeding?" I asked. I could see gray light through a half open doorway. It was early evening. The night was still young.
The bartender shoved me into the half-night, throwing the door shut behind him. I felt fine.