Jake stirred as a carelessly discarded candy wrapper brushed against his face swirling into the brush behind him. The cloying sweet oily smell of petroleum distillates carried on the soft breeze, as the fine dust eddied like ripples on a pond, and the lightning teased of the coming rain glinting off the crisscross of tracks. The last splashes of brilliant reds and purples of a gulf coast sunset painted the horizon. In the distance, a heron mourned the fading day and the steady chug of a tanker drifted in and out. A quiet heaviness tinged with a coiled tension waiting to burst forth had settled over the water.
He sits up and thinks, no way to cast this as anything but a setback. What should have been a quick stop for lunch had turned into an afternoon bar tab and a thirty-dollar card game at a rundown bar and grill named The Crazy Gator. Jake couldn’t really afford a setback and winning hadn’t been in the cards from the start.
Oh it had started out simply enough: $1.50 long necks and those greasy burgers you can only find at a joint where the grill has a thousand Saturday nights under its belt. Four cold ones and two burgers later though, Jake was feeling comfortable. He was in his element… a bar has an ecosystem all its own and he was an integral part of it. Just dark enough to hide the signs of too many accepted disappointments and loud enough to silence unwanted conversations. A man could do some real thinking in a good bar if he had something to brood about. Jake didn’t, and “thinkin” wasn’t really his thing anyway.
Jake drained the last of his beer and motioned for another as he made his way to the head. Passing the card game on the way, he sizes up the old salts seated around the table. Figuring it wouldn’t hurt to play a few hands and add to his dwindling reserves he joins in. He fancied himself a pretty good card player and being well on his way to a six-pack, confidence was running high. Things are seldom as they seemed though, especially down $32 and the cost of another four beers; and as usual he had progressed past the point where things could end well.
Fuckin’ Texas hold em. Didn’t anybody play real poker anymore? Another pot gone and a busted straight was the best he been able to do. By now he was sure he’d been had and it was past time to call these old boys on it. Blowing up and making a scene was a well-refined skill. A lifetime of losing hones the edge of your despair and frustration. Jake lets it pour out; the not finding work; not being able to give Molly the things she wanted or needed; the AC in the truck; once again returning home like a lost dog; the missed opportunities; the wasted chances; and now this fucking card game… it all welled up inside him. Jake knew where it was going, he had been here before, but this script had been written with the first bottle and there was no changing the inevitability of it.
Slowly rocking to his feet, he takes in the brooding storm over the gulf as the last vestiges of color receded into the growing darkness. It never rained after all, he says to himself. Brushing the dust off he tests his legs rubbing two fingers across his broken lips. Not going to be pretty tomorrow, he thinks. Well, nothing broke anyway, the fuckin’ pansies had needed three of them to whip his ass. It didn’t occur to Jake this wasn’t necessarily a badge of honor he needed right now. With a slow shuffle he heads toward the neon glow and the gentle serenade of the jukebox in the distance.
Maybe Lady Luck had been watching out for him after all, he’d had the good sense to fill the truck up after getting off the interstate. Although, good sense wasn’t something generally associated with Jake these days and dumb luck was a more probable explanation. Nevertheless, a full tank should get him most of the way back to what passed for home. With a last look around the parking lot and shake of his head, Jake heads for the highway as an angry rain finally starts kicking up the dust behind him.
As the mile markers flick by and the city lights fade in the background the rain lets up and he tunes in the radio while taking another long drag on his cigarette. The smoke rushes out the open window and mingling with the scent of hot wet pavement and sweet smell of blooming citrus that seems to spring up with even the slightest breeze in this part of Florida. Another drag and the soft touch of the filter is an angry reminder of his busted lip. Son of a bitch! Why hadn’t he just paid his tab and headed out? Jake’s introspection rarely led to any clear answers and on this night things didn’t appear to be any different.
Author’s Note: I began writing “Jake” a little more than ten years ago… This is the second chapter… The sequel will be released before Christmas 2017. Still amazes me when I go back and read those very first few chapters…
If you like these snippets the book will be on discount week of August 4, 2017 – August 11, 2017 on Amazon.