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Establishment

part 14 of The Modern Hero


At 86 years of age, he still attended his local bar every Friday night. He wore a golfer's cap, a silk shirt, Lacoste slippers, and as his choice of noose a Burberry scarf. He kept them well: he had little else.

The staff regarded his presence without emotion. They changed faster than he cared to recall, small kindnesses of less meaning to him than their ability to serve. Between sips of his lager, he would on occasion pause to note, astonished, that the clientele had become younger again; outrageously glistening though they were, and beautiful only for their youth.

He never sat. He moved through the crowd, following music that sounded like another song; there was a name he could remember, but not one he could articulate.

The mirror behind the bar allowed him to admit his face would change whatever his will, yet he found no difference in the gaze that returned his own. Those eyes assured him that change was superficial; this, a Friday night, was eternal. Drunken sequins and shimmer would cede to hot pink, to denim, to gloss. Baroque furniture devoured industrial chic. The accents of the revelers, bare and broad as the fundamental brick walls, never changed. This colloquial realm drank imported bohemia, and risked the regurgitation of nothing more than clinical minimalism.

Of his eventual decline, he felt no strong grudge against the literal clinical decor that suddenly bound him. A person would be what they were, a building would do what it did, and they must both appear in a manner applicable to their function. He resented, oddly enough, the loss of his Burberry to a nurse; it was warm and he was not. That an orderly claimed his Lacoste, he did not care - he would have given the pair away, if he could have hoped slippers would seed an appreciation for style. The generic slippers left to him were as much a trap as the skyscraper heels of current vogue: any shuffled motion converted the most innocuous door handle into a threat of static shock. The zippered slide of nylon soles on the ward's linoleum sounded to him of a doom greater than nails, beat rhythmically, into a cheap pine coffin's lid.

Slowly, he learned that motion was not desirable.

'I will not die on a Friday night,' he told one nurse. She smoothed his hair for him, what upturned forelock remaining, and agreed.

He requested his ashes be returned to his local bar. The proprietor, bemused, did not know him or of him, yet she was a hostess possessed of style. She would not turn away a guest whatever his form. Disintegrate, he was no more content in this place, scene of so many loves and that one great loss, than he had ever been. All his life he had longed for nothing more than constancy. He did not consider that he had sought it in the worst of places.

Electric blue and the scum of an ashtray floor; he sipped neon in lieu of lager. This was a bar, this was Friday night, and this was his establishment.

March 2010


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