Wicked laughter erupted from the darkened end of the bar and his attention snapped to. It frightened him. Three of them, together, and he could only imagine what sparked that bit of spirited laughter. They all wore their hair shoulder length with lots of bangly earrings and necklaces and rings, and they wore bright notice-me colors and they talked with exaggerated hand movements and he wondered how they would go about communicating if he chopped their arms right off. But that laugh; oh that laugh.
It reminded him of Mrs. Steinburg—how she’d laugh or make any noise at all, and louder than the rest of the women mother would have over a couple of times every month. Mother would tell him to stay in his room and not come out ‘or else’ and he was frightened to death to find out what the ‘or else’ could be. There were times when he would rock in bed, trying his hardest not to pee and afraid if he failed, things would go badly. He had his comic books to read and read again; he had read them so often even the advertisements were committed to memory. And every so often Mrs. Steinburg would cackle wildly like a crow kept from its carrion and snap him out of his little bubble. He’d look at his bedroom door expectantly, riddled with anxiety, and his mouth agape.
He closed his mouth when he noticed the loudest girl noticing him and he let his eyes wander away from seeing her so that it looked natural. He learned that trick when he was bored at the salon his mother dragged him off to; where he saw women getting all sorts of things done to their hair like having some pulled through rubber hats and painted colors that didn’t seem worth the trouble. The people in charge there always gave him looks filled with warning when they thought nobody was watching. As if he’d provide any trouble. Everyone had an idea about how he should act. Be seen and not heard was a general consensus.
It occurred to him that he was old enough to tell them how he was going to act. His therapist said it was normal to lash out once in a while. Everyone did it. He was surprised to hear that. He had thought about that very thing for years but kept it inside, churning in his gut. It festered within him like an unwashed idea that could never be allowed to see the light of day. Even Dr. Bowen, his therapist, was kept unaware of the dark, ulcerous ideas he harbored.
Most of his ideas were about women.
He turned his head toward the voice behind the bar and his field of view cleared—came into focus. She wanted to know what she could get him. It took him a couple of beats to realize she was the bartender and it was her job to wait on him.
“Could I have a ginger ale? W-with one of those little straws?”
“Sure, comin’ right up.” She smiled, did a slight little head tilt of curiosity, pushed away from the bar with both hands, and turned for a glass. He saw that she had violent pink streaks in her hair and he decided she was one of them. It put him on high alert.
She knew. He had to act now, before she could tell him what to do. That’s what they always did. They always told him what to do, how to act, what to say, and that was going to change today.
He stood; reached for the gun in his waistband. When the bartender turned with his ginger ale and put it on the bar, he stepped back and away from her.
“Quiet,” he said to her. Then to everyone else he hollered, “Everyone. I want everyone to get up and m-move to the far wall.”
They all saw the gun he waved and began to comply. There were only…eight. Eight plus the bartender. It was a start. There would be more. It was only late afternoon, and Friday nights this place is hopping. That’s the way it’s been anyway.
He’d be waiting; moving them to the back wall in groups. Showing them how he was going to act. He absently felt one of his bulging pockets, thinking he had plenty of ammo to keep showing them all night. Maybe then they would understand. He had never shown them before—shown them what he wanted. It was their turn to be quiet. He was going to show them all tonight.
He started with the cackling girls first.