Third place 

'Terminus'

Page 4 of 4

"What, did he leave you for another dyke?" Warren lights a cigarette and passes it to me.

"I wish. He's kind of sketchy sometimes and I don't know how irresponsible he actually is."

"Did you fall on your head or something at that party? Do you know where you are? Since when do you give a shit about responsibility?"

"I just don't want him to hurt anybody."

"Tommy couldn't break a nail." Warren chuckles at his own cleverness.

"Never mind. You wouldn't get it. I'm gonna grab a beer." I start inside, but Warren grabs my shoulder.

"Is he sick or something?" Warren flicks his cigarette into a tangle of honeysuckle on the retaining wall.

"What do you think?"

Between last call and closing there are four fights and Warren and I have to break up all of them. Saturday night fights are always stupid. Buckhead boys shove each other over money and women. Weeknight fights are just as stupid but I can see the hurt in the guys that fight on a Tuesday. Saturday fights are all posturing and bravado. Weeknight fights are awkward grappling and sadness.

Warren's not allowed to knock patrons unless they got really out of hand, so he spends most of his time ducking and hauling folks into the parking lot. I'm not on the clock, so I throw some punches. It feels good.

I am counting the money when someone yells outside. Christine, the bartender, shrugs her bony shoulders and continues emptying troughs of ice into the drain.

"I guess Warren's still cleaning out the parking lot," I say, winding a rubber band around a stack of fives.

"I reckon," Christine says.

The noise keeps on, so when I finish I step outside to see if Warren needs any help. The four A.M. sky is purplish blue and the birds are tuning up to sing until full light. I can't see Warren. Then one of the orange street lamps reflects off something in the middle of the lot. Warren straddles a man and punches his face. When his head bounces off the asphalt Warren hits it again. It reminds me of one of those pop-up punching bags with a clown's face that I'd had as a kid.

"Take it easy. Darla hears about this your ass is gone."

"This ain't no customer."

It's Tommy. Warren broke his nose, I can tell that right away. His lips are so puffed up they might burst at any moment. His eye is swollen shut. Warren stands, wipes blood from his own nose and looks at me.

"He won't have such an easy time fucking innocent people without a pretty face."

"What..." I can't finish my sentence.

"Help me up." Tommy says.

I haul him up, but he walks on his own once I get him to his feet. Warren's gone before we make it over to the cinderblock wall.

"What did you say to him?"

"Nothing. He asked me if I had gotten laid tonight and I said yeah and he stared yelling some shit about respect. Out of the blue. Then he calls me a sick fuck."

"You are a sick fuck," I say, pulling a sprig of honeysuckle off a vine and biting the end off a flower.

"I'm your sick fuck, though, right baby?" He gingerly places a bloom between his fat lips. The flower absorbs the blood from his mouth, and I think of science fairs where kids turn carnations blue with colored water.

"Yeah man, you're my sick fuck."

The sky lightens. The morning crew at the bakery next door fires their ovens. A woman jogs with her collie. A kid speeds up the street in his rusty Accord, tossing papers to the beat of a Tupac song. I finish my honeysuckles one by one and throw them in a pile on the ground.

I'm not sorry Tommy got beat.


Podcasts:

Elizabeth Rose Anderson reads "Terminus."

David Lee Simmons interviews Elizabeth Rose Anderson.


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