We once left a shard of glass in a drink for his father. Such rage we must have felt. This was after college, after a lot of things, Brownie and I bartending at the Lions Club, some catering gig. One of those birthday-slash-retirement parties, and the broken glass was entirely my fault. I’d been told to use the metal scoop for a reason, but still I dipped straight into the ice with the glass without thinking, that quick slice waking me, the blood like heat flowing from my fingertips. Brownie couldn’t stand the sight of it, and he looked away and called me an idiot. He got a towel for me and took what was left of the highball glass. It was jagged and half-missing. He set it to the side of the metal sink. The cloth soaked through with blood almost immediately—such a deep and heavy red, remarkable, really, how fast and warm—and Brownie pulled a fresh table cloth from the cabinet for me to use.
The cut was a long clean line across my first knuckle—would always have the scar on the back of my hand as proof—and I pinched and held hard to stop the bleeding, the burn almost beautiful and pleasant to observe. Brownie poked around the well bottles for pieces of glass. He started the hot water running in the sink and told anyone who came up that we were out of mixed drinks. Beer and wine only. No ice for a while.
He took care of things from here. He could do this job alone just fine—probably easier without me—and he started pouring pitchers of hot water into the ice bin. I stood off to the side and could feel my heart in the cut now, each beat a bloom in the hand. There were steam clouds coming off the hot water in the sink, and someone was giving a toast at the other end of the hall, and then Brownie’s father arrived to the bar.
He lined these kinds of jobs up for us, and not for a minute did he let anyone forget it. He once got Brownie a sweet spot in the union at the power company—made for life, real bread-and-butter setup—but that wonderful son of his stopped showing for work. Brownie did the same with college, not going to classes, then taking a semester off, then not quite getting back to it again. He did the same with the lumberyard and the daycare center, and he did it with Maureen and Mary and everyone else, Brownie not so much disappearing as simply not appearing anymore.
He was, by nature, unable to do anything that his father wanted him to do. Even if he knew his father was right, Brownie had to go out and prove him wrong, which only proved the man more right. It became a real question: was Brownie doing things in his life only to spite his father? All his choices always only in reaction to the man?
If his father wanted a Seven-and-Seven, then it only followed that Brownie would have to somehow deny him the pleasure. He said we couldn’t make anything for him, which was why his father came behind the bar and helped himself to the last dregs of ice, gave himself a good long pour of Seagram’s, a splash of soda, and we stood back and let him do all this. Brownie put a cocktail napkin down for him to sit. His father stirred the drink with his finger. That tinsel of ice in the glass.
So gratifying, the drink in his hand, the man asking, “Having a good night, fellas?”
We must have said yes or sure or something, though all that mattered was that first dainty sip. Brownie wiped the bar with a rag. I kept my hand wrapped tight, Brownie’s father put a twenty on the bar and took the next sip, chewing a piece of ice. He eyed Brownie, glanced over to me, and he said something was funny about us.
Brownie played innocent, pretending not to know anything, his father saying we were probably on drugs or something. The man had that look: like he was not at all impressed, like we were always going to be lightweights, spoiled and beyond any kind of hope. He often went from right to righteous in the space of a drink.
He tipped the rest in one swallow and pushed the tall glass across to Brownie, who scooped what was left of the ice. Brownie gave that nice long count of Seagram’s, quick splash of 7-Up, fresh napkin. His father with that pinky dipping again. We were ready to run for the exit, if necessary, and then we were also ready to stand up and fight. Hard to tell which would be better, me and Brownie tense and watchful for whatever came next. My finger throbbed, each heartbeat right there in the knuckle.
He had another sip from his drink, napkin clinging to the bottom of the glass. Brownie helped himself to a bottle of beer from the fridge, one for him and one for me. We each took a slug, and Brownie’s father smiled and said we were made out of butter. “No matter how fancy the sculpture,” he said, “you’re still just going to be butter.”
“I love butter,” said Brownie.
“That’s right,” said the man. “Smart-ass all you want. Let’s watch how far that gets you.”
There must have been people coming over to the bar. There must have been a game on the television. There must have been a whole world streaming around this little scene of ours. American flags hanging from the ceiling, a cigarette machine by the bathroom door, plaques and awards on the walls, though all I remember was his father taking one last gulp. The man stopped, pursed his lips, and slowly swallowed. The rest of his body held perfectly still as he set down his drink and pulled this long fang of glass from out of his mouth.
We were shocked at ourselves—one swallow away from his heart, our capacity for evil, that resentment we must have had simmering inside—but Brownie’s father didn’t seem surprised in the least. He seemed to like it when we showed initiative like this, like at least it was a sign of life. He held the piece of glass up to the light. “Guys,” he said, “might want to check your ice—seems a bit off tonight.”
© William Lychack
[This piece was selected by Katrin Gibb. Read William’s interview]