Heads or Tails?

A coin spins fast, fast enough to endow the flat metal with the illusion of a sphere that travels along the mahogany counter like a planet orbiting the sun.

Richard taps the coin. “Heads or tails?” His eyes sit on Augustus standing across the bar’s counter. Augustus beholds him with the amount of skepticism that his beard—wither than the flowers in his Hawaiian shirt—allows him.

Augustus dangles a toothpick around his mouth a couple of times. “I see no difference.” He crosses his arms. “You have to pay that beer anyway.”

Richard releases a sigh wonkier than his white-and-blue stripped tie. “Don’t you even try?”

“Heads,” Augustus growls.

Richard grins confident but his performance is interrupted by his Blackberry ringing. He takes it with his empty hand and reads the number, recognizing it as the used by creditors. His smile evaporates instantly and throws the cellphone back to the counter.

“It’s the fourth time, it seems important,” Augustus raises his eyebrows as high as his sarcasm. “You should answer.”

Richard sucks his teeth.

“Cheer up, Christmas is upon us,” Augustus says pointing back with his thumb where a miniature Christmas tree and lights decorate the ledges, coloring the liquor bottles like a rainbow.

“Then why you wear that stupid Hawaiian?”

“It brings me lucky,” Augustus answers proudly.

“No way.”

“Yes it is,” Augustus removes Richard’s hand. “Heads, you see?” Augustus pockets the dollar and goes to prepare another round of drinks. Richard gives a huge gulp to his beer and releases himself from his remaining trace of formality, his tie and jacket. Augustus pours a shot of Tequila.

“No, Gus, I don’t want to drink today.”

“Then I should kick you out.” Augustus slides the drink to Richard. “This one is on the house.”

“Ok, only because I hate to be impolite.”

A brand new Camaro parks outside the bar in pungent competition between the 22” tire stretching and the eight-amplified-speakers stereo playing Guns n’ Roses to prove which is noisiest. The young driver in immaculate Lacoste polo shirt, khaki pants and slip-on loafers descends stroking his hair as he was acting for an AD campaign.

“The last thing I needed,” Richard says.

“Do you know him?”

“His name is Erick. He is the owner’s son,” Richard says unenthusiastically. “My boss, technically speaking.”

“Great, now you buy him a drink.”

Richard shakes his head. “No, I don’t want him to see me.”

Erick walks in holding  an iPhone with his shoulder against his ear. “Why you say it babe? … no, of course no, it was great last night … I haven’t forgotten.”  Richard turns away the moment he arrives at the counter. “Ok babe, I call you later… ok, bye” Erick hangs the phone.

“Hi, what would you like to have tonight?” Augustus welcomes him.

“Mmmm,” Erick goes over the ledges forth and back a couple of times without finding any of the brands that satisfy his delicate tastes. “What is your specialty?”

“The Tequila that enjoys the gentleman over here.” Augustus motions his hand over Ricky who cornered by the situation greet him pretending surprise, but his darting vengeful eyes want to crucify Augustus.

“Ibanez? What a surprise.” Erick says.

“Mr. Miller, how are you?”

“Great, but just Erick please,” Erick turns to Augustus. “Send me a bottle of that to the table at the corner and two glasses. Do you mind joining me?” Erick taps Richard’s back and heads to the table without giving him opportunity to answer.

Augustus chuckles.

“You know Gus, the day this bar burned two years ago.” Richard drinks his shot and gesticulates swallowing the strong alcohol. “You whore that shirt.”

Augustus’ face turns grim and spits the toothpick. Richard stands grimacing.

bar

“The creative Mr. Ibanez,” Erick welcomes him. “I find all your imaginative ideas and impetuous propositions valuable for the company in despite…” Richard loses himself in his thoughts watching the two car keys over the table, Erick’s Camaro against the ’04 subcompact that he drives.

“With no intention to offend you.” Richard interrupts him. “How does it feel to have someone that pay your bills?” Richard repents after saying the last word, cursing his big mouth, but a part of him fells somehow… released.

Erick turns serious watching how Augustus serves the drinks. He takes out a pack of cigarettes and offers to Richard, who rejects waving his hand. Erick pulls one with his teeth and light it.

“I imagine that everyone in the company ask themselves the same question?” He exhales. “But I thought that you, with you genius, knew the answer.” Richard ducks his head unable to amend his mistake.

“It’s for this?” Erick pushes the iPhone. “Or this?” he does the same with the car keys.

Richard drinks his shot trying to gulp his shame along with it, or at least numb himself enough.

“Let me ask you something Ricky.” He pours another shot. “Do you think that my life in this side of the table is happier?”

Richard nods. “I’m convinced, I have seen it.”

“What you have seen from my world is drive luxury cars, dinner in fancy restaurants and vacationing in exotic destinations.”

“I can get used to that,” Richard giggles.

“Of course you can,” Erick drinks his shot. “But this is the problem.” He holds the empty glass in front of him.

“Oh, alcoholism is not exclusive of social classes,” Richard points out.

“I mean the glass,” Erick explains. “In my world you are surrounded by a thick barrier of crystal. A barrier that instead of protecting me from the exterior, prevents the loneliness from escaping.” Erick smokes and draws the cigarette off his mouth. “A painful life surrounded by luxury does make sense? I bet no, because the glass distorts the reality.”

Richard listens attentive,  surprised by the confession.

“But you have the freedom provided by a simpler life, I’m not saying it’s easy, you work hard, I  mean you are free of the concern of those illusory things that drive you mad.”

“Ain’t freedom, I work daily to achieve economic independence but end up possessed by things, running from creditors.” Richard says squeezing his fist.

“I rather run from creditors than deal with the looks of the thirty employees I fired last month.” Erick fill both glasses. “I don’t know who wants my friendship just for money, if the words of the women are sincere. My sister is pregnant of a man that only wants to use her, but I… I can’t”

“Can’t?”

“Do you accept the advice of strangers?” Erick laughs. “My sister and I are only strangers, the only thing that have in common it’s the name.”

Richard drinks his shot and plays with it. The empty glass spins over the table like the old “bottle game” that he played as kid. The image of all those uncountable times he prayed to God—being a man of poor faith, as he call himself—begging for money to solve his problems come to his mind. And from the other side of the bottle—Erick perspective—,  he understands that money may solve some problems but will bring some new with it.

“Could it be that, happiness doesn’t exists at all?” Richard asks.

“Do you have a family?”

“Wife and kids.”

“What are you preparing for Christmas?”

“Turkey. You are more than invited.” Richard smiles.

“Thank you.” Erick returns the smile. “I would like to spend Christmas with my family. But I cannot lie to you, truth is that I will catch the first fly to any destination like always do.” He turns to his wristwatch. “I have to go.”

Erick stands and searches for his wallet but Richard stops him, “No please, I invite you this time.”

“Ok, see you next time, friend” Eric taps the back of Richard and leaves the place.

Richard remains thoughtful, spinning the glass. The Blackberry buzzes with an incoming call. Richard smiles and answers the cellphone. “Hello.”

The glass rolls close to the edge of the table and finally falls.

It shatters in thousand tiny glass splinters. Yet every piece capable of refracting the sun.

M. Ch. Landa

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