The smoking door receded over Tim’s shoulder as he left Pierre’s and tried to gather himself. He couldn’t tell if his stomach ached from the red-dressed dream woman’s Heimlich or from the hunger that drove him to find her. He wondered where to start searching and felt unsure of reality, scared that he might actually have choked to death.
He arrived at the corner where the livelier bars were. At least, livelier than Pierre’s. Above the street, an old, intricate street clock shone white, like an ancient protector of time. He considered heading straight and going home. A growling black cat crossed the street half a block up ahead. “Oh, come on!” Tim said. He shook his head, and what seemed like a red dress snuck into a bar with live music. His heart skipped and his hands went clammy.
One Cat, Two Cats, Red Cat, Jazz Cat the place was called. A neon Cat in the Hat rocked silently playing a stand-up bass. Gutter punks danced near a wide window with dirty, smiling faces. Their matted dreads flopped across their backpacks as they perfumed the sidewalk with their BO. Past them a bouncer sat on a bar stool, clean-shaven and indifferent. Tim gave him his ID, the bouncer ran his eyes over it, peered up at Tim and his hat. He returned Tim’s card and stamped his wrist.
Inside, the band’s drums and horns had spellbound the rhythmic, moving mass. Above the dancing crowd, he spotted a raised platform with a small bar and fewer people. He eked through the flailing arms and bodies, hardly registering the band playing Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love” as he excused himself between women dancing and men staring.
Finally, Tim hiked up a short set of stairs. Behind the small bar, a tan, chiseled face with a close-cropped beard and intimidating, green eyes grinned at him. “What can I get you, slick?” the bartender said. Tim had expected mockery but only heard sincerity. Disarmed, Tim said, “Whatever you’re having, because it’s clearly working.” His smile faded and, with none of the former warmth, he said, “What do you want?” Tim curled up inside and said, “I’ll just have a whiskey, rocks.” Tim paid for his drink and tipped apologetically for his misstep, but the bartender took his money without a word.
Tim surveyed the place as he sipped his whiskey, his hunger to find his red tormentor hard to ignore. A woman approached the bar. Wrong color red, too dark, Tim thought, and he continued searching.
“I like your hat,” the wrong-color-red woman said. Tim was shocked when he noticed she meant his hat and wondered how he missed her intense beauty.
“Oh, haha, thanks,” he said, almost tittering. “It’s lucky. I won the lottery tonight. I- I mean, when I got off, err got it…when I got the hat, I won the lottery.”
She laughed once and her deep, brown eyes beamed through him as the bartender handed her a drink. When did she order, Tim asked himself. “Don’t worry, maybe you’ll get lucky again.”
“Haha. Yeah,” Tim giggled. And, feeling his embarrassment just as intensely as he felt her gaze, Tim’s eyes wandered outside where he saw an angry, swift flash of the right red. Tim set his drink on the bar and said, “I don’t mean to be rude, but I have to go.”
Tim didn’t wait for a response, especially with the annoyance on her face. He shoved through the crowd, abrasive and harried. Free of the crowd, he flew out the door towards the last sight of the cherry red fabric. He crashed into thick BO and ropes of brown hair. All the free spirited, dancing gutter punks were gone. Instead, a drunken, sunburnt gutter punk stood in front of Tim, while his muscly dog barked ferociously on a worn, maroon leash.
“Hey, watch the fuck out…Republican!”
“What?! I’m not even political,” Tim said, uselessly amidst the barking.
The gutter punk laughed maniacally in his face. Tim tried to sprint past him. As he did, he felt teeth sink into his calf and a fist connect with his face.
He awoke to an empty sidewalk. An empty street. An empty bar. Standing up, he circled around then walked into the hushed, potholed street. Nothing living. His stomach felt as empty as his surroundings. Then he understood: the pristine, white-faced clock overseeing the street had turned green and fuzzy, the hands obscured and out of focus; time had stopped.
This is the second in a three-part story. Here’s are the others: