A pantsed bout of fiction. Let me know your thoughts. Anything short of a novel makes me uncomfortable to write, so I appreciate pointers.
One too many times the drunk man’s tepid breath rushed across Figaro’s ear. He spun his barstool halfway around, searching the greasy face before speaking.
“Hey,” he said, but the stranger ignored him, following the jiggling cleavage of the bartender with his eyes as she moved from one end of the counter to the other.
“Hey,” Figaro repeated, leaning into his line of sight. “Back up, buddy, alright?”
Annoyance crossed the man’s face before it dropped back into a state of animal impatience. “Barkeep,” he shouted, his heels lifting off the floor. She glanced up at him before returning full attention to the frothy ale she’d filled. She slid it toward a patron and made her way, checking on other customers in the process, toward the man. His belly pushed against Figaro’s back the entire time.
Figaro stood suddenly, eclipsing the bartender. The drunk man finally focused real attention on him, eyebrows furrowing before his slick upper lip rolled off his teeth.
“Sit down,” the drunk man said, shoving Figaro backward.
Figaro regained his balance and squinted at the stranger, calculating his odds. He’d never been in a bar fight before, and the other man was bigger. He sat down again, wishing he’d never said anything in the first place. He felt guilty for what little scene he’d created, and for backing down when it was he who started the almost-fight.
A few patrons chuckled at his cowardice while Figaro reached into his shirt pocket for a cigarette. The moment he touched the carton he remembered it was no longer permitted to smoke inside any public building, and removed the box to set it on the bar as though on purpose.
“Good for you,” the barkeep said. “Don’t let him goad you into a fight.”
Figaro half smiled at her, then took a swig of his beer. Heat rose to his face, and he was grateful for the neon signs glowing red behind the bar.
The drunk man ordered two drinks, one of which was a sangria. Figaro glanced over his shoulder farthest from the stranger, searching the tables and booths for a lone woman who might belong with this sweat-soaked asshole. While he looked, the man leaned close once again, his breath spilling in a stream Figaro would have sworn was visible over his shoulder and into his beer on the counter.
He waited for the man to take a step back before again leaving his bar stool. They had the attention of a few patrons, all of whom watched for signs of impending chaos.
“Sit down,” the drunk man repeated, emboldened by his earlier success.
Figaro hesitated, unsure of the wisdom of starting shit with this man. His eyes roamed the gleaming film of sweat covering the man’s face. His uneven stubble was like the fat quills of a porcupine. A short bare path cut through the black hairs –a scar –perhaps a trophy from a previous fight.
“Sit down,” the man said again, this time with venom. He lifted his hands to shove Figaro a second time, and the rookie took the opportunity. He struck out as he imagined a coiled snake would, launching a fist into his opponent’s slimy face.
The man stumbled backward, blinking, eyes crossing and refocusing on Figaro.
It wasn’t supposed to go down like that. The drunk man should have crumpled. Instead, he shook his head as if he’d just run into a doorway at a leisurely pace, and raised two fists. Behind the bar, the barkeep stood holding the beer and sangria in either hand, eyes switching between combatants without enthusiasm.
Figaro reached backward, feeling the bar stool and the bar behind him. He couldn’t stay pinned against them. Now he was in the thick of it, he could only imagine those blocky caveman fists crunching his nose, knocking teeth loose, blackening his eye.
As Figaro spun away from the stools and put his back to the crowded room, the drunk man swung his meaty fist. It grazed the end of Figaro’s nose, and he watched it fly by as if in slow motion. A tailwind stirred his hair in the punch’s wake, which he imagined would have been fatal if it’d landed as intended.
The stranger staggered after his fist, catching himself on the barstool before whirling to face Figaro. He exhaled, his nostrils flaring, his shiny face reddening. His belly swelled with a breath which seemed to begin inside it before rising up into his chest and inflating the width of his shoulders. Then he swung.
Figaro imagined before he’d catch a fist in his palm at least once, but now barely avoided screaming before he ducked under the knuckled missile and swayed from its reach.
The drunk man wheezed –or growled; the difference was not easily distinguished –and pushed forward. His teeth bared, his beady eyes squinted meanly. Figaro now realized the magnitude of his poor judgement. This could all have been avoided if he’d kept quiet.
But how long could he keep quiet? He’d been quiet for almost thirty years. This was his chance to say “enough.” And all he had to do was knock an already wobbling man down.
He clenched his fist, preparing to launch it back at the drunk man, drawing all those grimy features down into the cartoonish suckhole his hand would leave imprinted. But then he hesitated, and narrowly avoided getting socked in the jaw. How long could he bob and weave? Sooner or later his opponent would hit him, and it would be over.
There was only one way he could win.
Figaro closed his eyes, focusing on something in the core of himself. Could he do this? Was it alright to cheat in a bar fight? On one hand, the guy was an asshole, but on the other, it wasn’t worth the risk.
He didn’t have time to make a decision before one of the drunk man’s meaty fists slugged the side of his head. Blasts of light exploded behind Figaro’s eyes and he collapsed like a push puppet.
Unfortunately, the punch didn’t knock him out. As he lay groaning amidst so many feet, something strange came over the interior of the bar.
Beer floated out of glasses, then glasses floated from tables, then people floated off their barstools. For a second it was silent, as though they were all frozen on the same bus hitting a speed bump at high speed –then the panic started.
The drunk man’s eyes bugged as he levitated from the floor, arms flailing out for a grasp on something, anything. Around him others did much the same, some managing to turn upside down while trying to hold on to tables bolted to the floor.
Figaro alone remained on the floor, rising onto his elbows while he tried to focus his eyes. He didn’t realize what was happening until the first person screamed. They were joined shortly by a chorus. It sounded like a crowd on a roller coaster.
This was why he’d been quiet for so long. It was dangerous to stand up and speak. Anger attracted attention. Figaro staggered to his feet and leaned away from a woman’s grasping hands as she floated by him. People swam clumsily in the air around the bar while he collected his thoughts. When he could think of no better solution, Figaro stepped backward, toward the door.
“Sorry,” he said, voice lost in the screaming. He cracked the door open and stepped backward into the night. “That’s my fault.” He let the door swing shut, then turned and fled.