I didn't see Marcus after that summer. Not because I held him responsible for my severed optic nerve, but simply because I had a severed optic nerve, something which kept me from seeing anybody or anything. But we didn't talk, either. And for all I knew, Marcus could have moved. Or died. Or been keeping very, very quiet while in my vicinity.
Strangely, despite what had happened, I found myself going alone to the bars and dives, saloons and taverns, inns and roadhouses, bistros, pubs and cafes we used to get "pre-detoxed" together. Somehow, though, our old watering holes seemed less spirited. Less congenial. Less gratifying. Less well-lit. And except for the diminished lumens, I couldn't decide whether the changes I sensed were real or evidence of a failing short-term, um ... remembering function of, uh ... my brain.
It was about two years later, on a bitter cold Tuesday in some month that wasn't July -- here in Minnesota, bitter cold Tuesdays take July off -- that I walked into Gus's for a quick one
I slid onto the stool next to hers at the bar. She smelled of latex and isotopes. Like always.
"Gus, give Al here an Iranian Martini," Chloe said, before I could even say, "Hello." Gus, strictly a shot and beer bartender, must've been stumped because I didn't hear him take a step or ice a glass. "It's just like a regular martini," Chloe clarified, "but instead of olives, you garnish it with the eyes of an infidel." Now up to speed, Gus sprang into action.
"What're you up to these days, Chloe?," I asked.
"Got my own little cut-rate bagpipe business. Make 'em myself. Simple as takin' an old pair of cow lungs and hookin 'em up to a goose's larynx. I'm tellin' ya, they sound just like the real McCoy."
I hadn't heard Gus set my drink down in front of me, but suddenly I could feel it staring at me. "Glad to hear you're keeping out of trouble," I told her.
"Absolutely," she said. "Which is more than I can say for our old friend Marcus," she added.
I asked what she'd heard.
"Heard he was never the same after that last stunt you guys pulled with the celebrity kidney stones. Picked up a serious Tylenol No. 5 habit Â you know, the ones with codeine and the chewy caramel center. Then, a couple days ago he gets all loopy on 'em, runs a red light and kills these Siamese twins who're in the middle of the crosswalk. Cops've got him locked up while they try to decide whether to charge him with one or two counts of vehicular homicide."
Marcus? A drug addict? A killer? A criminal? Locked up?
Guess we're that much closer to even.