The Fat Kid and the Fat Kid’s daddy and the Fat Kid’s buddies sat at the bar watching the football game when the saxophone came in. Nick said, Aw, fuck. Cooter grunted. They all shifted a barstool toward the Pabst clock, toward the television, hoping the saxophone wouldn’t start blowing.
Their hopes dashed, for that’s what hopes do, should hopes drizzle from a dispenser not unlike a salt shaker, hence the dashing—like salt—of hope. The saxophone player ordered his customary pitcher of Bud and halfway through his first glass he became that sourly-tuned instrument that never shut the fuck up.
He sat where the poker machines glared up from the bar’s top and the light bathed the saxophone in gold, glistening his hair. The mouth to that sax hung low, sad-lipped, as it blew about the girl done him wrong after a concert one night. Sure enough the saxophone donned its concert tux jacket, shining at the elbows from constant wear. The sax could not haul in enough pay at the lake town’s symphony orchestra and so hocked CDs at the local record store. For this was a time when music still existed as a physical object, though that, too, was changing and before long the record store was razed and the saxophone no longer worked there, but not because the saxophone was fired or laid-off, but because it had been more than a year at least that the saxophone was dead.
Cooter and the Fat Kid had finished the day shift, relieved by this night crew—young, thin, and good-looking people that don’t matter enough to talk about, except to say that they entertained the saxophone because they were young, thin, and good-looking enough to be stupid and not know how insufferable a broken instrument can get. This bartender for this night crew, a boy named Josh—a boy from the city in the valley who’d moved to the Lake because he was, like, a snowboarder, you know, bra?—wore his hair gelled so that it looked like a pile of spiked grease atop his noggin, and he responded to the saxophone’s wails and begged questions. Well that’s too bad? How’d you meet her? Where’s she now? Cooter grunted.
When Josh refilled Cooter’s and the Fat Kid’s pitcher Cooter said, You don’t have to fuckin egg him on. He’s annoying enough whether you talk to him or not.
Josh smiled a straight and white-toothed smile. Aw, Cooter, you’re just old and grumpy.
Goddamn right, said Cooter.
Fuck this shit, said Nick, but it was the other Nick.
The Fat Kid’s daddy ignored everyone and yelled, Yes, goddamnit, when a defensive tackle sacked the opposing team’s quarterback, and when that same team’s offensive line helped a fullback into the end zone, for that was an unusual thing, and the Fat Kid’s daddy said so. He said, That’s unusual for those guys to get those, touchdowns, I mean. They’re usually blocking for the running backs. They all—even the saxophone—watched the fullback carry the ball off the field, his teeth shining through the darkness of his helmet.
The saxophone wailed, They don’t usually get the touchdown boo-hoo, he-he-he. For that was what it sounded like when the saxophone laughed, like a wheezing, broken sax half-heartedly blown by an emphysemiac.
Cooter said, I’m going to the fuckin bathroom.
The saxophone tailed him, the tails of his concert tuxedo shining where again the wool had been shined too smooth.
The bathroom was large enough to hold three urinals and the surrounding white tile under the fluorescent light made for a bathroom the Fat Kid mopped and worked his elbows to shine each morning. Few bar bathrooms are found this clean, especially in a bar of this nature at the town by the Lake in the mountains. The Fat Kid took some pride in keeping his bathroom clean for he and Cooter liked to shit in a clean bathroom and that’s what Cooter was doing. From behind the stall door Cooter heard the saxophone tuning up for another round, and Cooter lost it.
The saxophone blew: You ain’t nothing but a hound dog, watching football all the time. And you shit all the time, too.
Godfuckindamnit, Cooter said, flushing. I can’t even shit in peace.
The stall door clanged against the wall when Cooter came out in his fury. The saxophone swayed against the urinal, laughing its he-he-he, then blowing some more: I know all about you, Cooter, and about The Machine. And I know all about who might want to know about that.
Cooter was washing his hands when this drunken song played, for oddly enough Cooter was a man who washed his hands sometimes. The saxophone’s piss ran down the clean white walls, each side of the urinal.
Cooter left the bathroom in a hurry, wide-eyed. Back at the bar he hunched over the Fat Kid’s daddy’s shoulder, hand cupped to an ear. The Nicks, Gunther, and the Fat Kid leaned toward the Fat Kid’s daddy and Cooter, too, so that the men’s shape resembled the football players huddled on the screen above the bar. The Pabst clock said nine-thirty.
Back in the bathroom, the saxophone still played when the men walked back in single file. The Fat Kid turned the deadbolt. The saxophone pealed: the boys shoot through the door, ain’t comin round here no more.
The Fat Kid’s daddy said, Cooter tells me you got something to say about us, and The Machine?
The Fat Kid stood near the closest urinal, the urinal that the saxophone had missed.
The gold of that sax lost its luster, while looking at the men gathered behind him from the mirror above the sink. Golden sax, black shiny tux coat, eyes of angry men, all framed in white tile: a tableau. Then that luster regained as a grin shaped that sax’s bell and he let loose a torrent of happy notes. I know The Man and The Man knows me, and what we got, Baby, makes together three.
The Fat Kid dropped a booted toe into the piss puddle the sax had spilled onto the otherwise clean tiles. The Fat Kid said, You fucking pissed all over my bathroom.
The Fat Kid’s daddy looked at the smiling sax in the mirror, the sax smiling back all squinty. Then the Fat Kid’s daddy left the bathroom and Nick turned the deadbolt again after the door had closed.
Cooter dropped the first blow, side-fisted to the temple. The saxophone slumped against the partition that separated the sink area from the nearest urinal, but he did not drop, he looked again into the mirror, the bell of his sax curved just a bit from the blow, but still smiling. Then Gunther’s foot found the saxophone’s back and the last note pealed sadly from that saxophone bell. It was a blues. Then the saxophone was just a man, a drunk man in his old tuxedo jacket.
The Nicks’ fists found this man’s jaw and eye sockets, and Cooter’s feet stomped this man’s legs till they snapped. Gunther’s boots pounded into this man’s abdomen, and this man looked to the Fat Kid—who still stood unbelieving over the piss puddle on his clean floor—like an old man. The Fat Kid’s anger had abated.
The old man’s face was a bloody wreck. The old bastard made the mistake of trying to throw a punch into Nick’s jaw. Then Nick laid into the old dude, cracking him up pretty good. Nick, Gunther, and Cooter joined Nick: kicks to the back, and more punches to the head. One of those good smacks smacked good, the crack of bone, and the old bastard went to the bathroom tiles.
The Fat Kid saw where things were headed and said, Now you’ve done it, cause he’s gonna have to go to the hospital. The Fat Kid worried that the old man would tell the hospital who did this to him and the hospital, in turn, would tell the Man.
Cooter said, We gotta finish him off.
The Fat Kid watched, but as he did so his stomach weakened. The old dude’s blood splattered into the shape of a heart on the white bathroom tiles. When they finished the boys’ knuckles ran open and streaming. The old man rasped a bloody last breath, a blood mist come with it, and he went still, his eyes swollen closed, the vessels inside of them broken and spilling across the remains of the whites. The blood heart tracked the tracks of boot tread in it. The Fat Kid threw up in a shitter stall, and he knew that night, and likely from then on, he was gonna have nightmares.
Jamie Iredell is the author of Prose. Poems. a Novel. (Orange Alert Press, 2009), The Book of Freaks (Future Tense Books, 2011), I Was a Fat Drunk Catholic School Insomniac (Future Tense Books, 2013), and Last Mass (Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2015).
Photo credit: “My 53 year old Selmer MkVI Tenor Saxophone,” dinmakers, youtube.com