I've Been Down

He was always trying to get a game of dice or another drink or anything that would keep him from the steady life.

"I don't want the steady life," he'd say. "I've been in control for too long. I've been in control for-fucking-ever."

It was true, if you could believe his story. Son of a military man and his high school-sweetheart wife, born on a base in Germany. Moved around all the time and never really had any friends because, you know, new year, new school kind of thing. Europe has a lot of countries, and if you asked him, he'd say too many.

He always said moving had its price. Is this France, Do I eat bread for breakfast and Where are we moving next? There always was a next, and you never even really knew the country your old man was working for until one morning there's a ball game on service radio. Dad says That's Chicago. Poor bastard Cubs and all you can think is That's America. It's so big that even when you move you're still there. You know what to eat for breakfast and you go to ball games and some people don't even know what a military base looks like.

Not just some. Most.

By the time he was old enough to enlist he did because he didn't know anything else and it can be a pretty good deal for a guy like that. Three squares a day and retire at forty-five. You know what's in store for you, and maybe when all you do is move around, that's just what you're looking for.

Never saw much action except for a few little things. He never had to kill anybody, which was the first thing people usually asked him when they heard his story. It was automatic. He would always ask the same question back and they would always say No, but they'd say it in a way that was a little bit I-would-if-I-had-to. I know I could kill if the situation was right, if I didn't think I'd go to jail for it. They didn't come out and say that, but you could tell.

He always changed the subject.

It's not what you want in life but what you get that ever really matters and he knew that better than anyone. What he wanted was to retire at forty-five and that's just what he got. Full pension and nothing to do as long as there was a U.S. government and Jacobs, that's his name, Jacobs, figured there'd be one for awhile. That's why he liked to roll dice on bar room floors after hours with the shades drawn. He already had all he ever wanted, so what now?

So he threw dice and drank and that was that. He hated the track and he hated cards and he didn't even like the dice games at casinos. There's a certain strategy at casinos, there's a way to bet and hold back and Jacobs never wanted to hold back. On the dusty-damp floor of the corner bar he could just let the dice roll and whatever happened, happened.

That's how he described it, anyway.

One night he was drunk and it was late and the bartender locked the door and nobody could stay except for friends and friends of friends and a few stragglers who seemed like they were probably okay. It was like any other night because Jacobs had money and he had dice and people love to gamble. They love to feel something beyond their everyday lives and Jacobs had a lot to say about that. He'd say things about the army and about rhyme-or-reason and about people waking up when they wanted and driving cars and fucking in the afternoon and ultimately about touching on the real secret.

He'd say that and wait for the door to lock and the game to start.

The thing that made this particular night worth mentioning was that Jacobs was talking to this guy named Cup when he fell sideways off of his stool. A few people laughed and Cup reached down and picked him up and said You're drunk. Jacobs said Not yet I ain't, and the thing was, he was telling the truth. He wasn't drunk. Nobody would believe him, but it was true.

So later on he's rolling dice and he's got a fistful of dollar bills and he's yelling and laughing and Who's your daddy? and all the other things you say when you're rolling dice because you want it to feel right. You want the sound of the dice on the floor and the Gimme gimme gimme and anything, anything that doesn't sound like Hello, How are you, Good to see you. Anything but that. He was rolling dice and friends of friends and people that seemed okay were trying to sound like that too when suddenly Jacobs falls over in a heap on the floor.

This time he didn't get up and a few people laughed and Cup was there. He tried to pick him up, and Jacobs wasn't drunk, but he wasn't breathing either.

The next few nights it's all anyone would talk about, and was anyone going to the funeral? It was out of town somewhere in Florida, and who can ever get away? Who can just get up and stop their lives, its not like I really knew him, did you?

Every toast was to Jacobs on those nights but one time the bartender got red in the face and said You prickhead motherfuckers, You pathetic, drunk-ass motherfuckers. There was some yelling and the bartender threw a glass that made a loud noise when it broke, but ultimately, even though supposedly a few people were eighty-sixed, within a few months everything was back to normal.

About the author:

John Patroulis lives in Brooklyn, New York. His short stories have appeared, most recently, in The God Particle and Haypenny, and he is the author of two screenplays, "Blindsight" and "Truffle Pig."