Short Story: Bar None
Updated: Sep 17
The following short story is what I wrote as my first entry into the NYC Midnight Short Story Tournament. The heat I was in required three elements: A comedy, a wish and a geneticist. I had 8 days to write it in 2500 words or less. This is what I came up with and it made the cut!
On to the second round.
By Troy Kinney
“I’m a geneticist ma’am. Not a miracle worker.”
“But doctor, he has black hair.”
He pointed. “You have black hair. Your husband has black hair.”
“But I thought…” She paused. Touched her finger to her chin, “Epigenetics.”
The doctor’s hands went up into the air. “EPIGENETICS? That quackery?” Shaking his head. “How in the world did you think your child would not have black hair?”
“I’m not dumb, you know.” She didn’t seem flustered at his indignation or his frustration or his rising anger. “I’ve read stuff about reprogramming the genetic code. Our genes respond to different things like the way we eat and the way we exercise. I even heard that our genes respond to the way we think. It is real, doctor. You cannot tell me that mind over matter is all a bunch of nonsense.” She set her Prada Saffiano tote down on the chair next to her. “The brain is an amazing organ.”
“You don’t have to tell me about the brain. I’m dealing with a remarkable one right now.”
He felt uncomfortable sitting next to her although, that last comment made him grin.
“Is that your attempt at a joke?” She turned to him for support.
The doctor tried a calmer tone, “Look, I understand there may be some legitimate ideas in epigenetics, but you’re talking about hair color here.”
She looked down at the infant in the Nuna stroller. “And I’ll also have you know: It cries a lot.”
. . . . .
Gene reached over and slowly grabbed his glass of beer off the bar. “Can you believe that is what I have to put up with?” He took a sip of the dark stout. “Epigenetics? It cries a lot? I wish I could just be appreciated. I mean I don’t need to be a hero or anything but…”
Bill just looked at the tiers and colors of liquor bottles stacked on shelves behind the bar and nodded. “Mmm.”
“She acts like kids are some sort of product you can pull off a shelf at Wal Mart and buy. Let me tell you, she could not have a kid. Been trying for years. Can’t she just be grateful?”
Gene’s voice was raised, people were now looking toward the two of them.
“What?” Gene looked at Bill.
Bill turned his head, “You said Wal Mart. I think you meant Nieman Marcus.”
“Damn. Prada bags.” Gene gulped the rest of the glass dry and motioned to the bartender for another.
“You know, Gene, your comment about being a hero reminds me of something crazy that happened last weekend at my kid’s track meet.” The bartender replaced Gene’s beer.
Gene wondered what Bill’s kid’s track meet had to do with the consultation in the office earlier, but that was just how Bill was.
Bill sipped his highball, “Last weekend they had this set up where the track stadium area was on one side of a broad walkway between two main buildings and on the other side is where the teams would place their day tents and shade screens and stuff. On one side of the walkway was a row of port-a-potties. You know, the blue ones with white tops. There must have been 10 of them in a row.”
. . . . .
“The place was bustling. It was nice out, but warm. The benches at the stadium were filled with people, umbrellas and cooler chests. The boys 400 meter was finished and we had just watched the kid run. We were standing under a tree when Jennie said she really had to go and for me to hold her things. She threw her stuff on me, purse and all. I’m sure I looked like a fool standing there, purse hanging from my shoulder. I stood there a long time it seemed. I mean, how long does it take to go pee? I could see the walkway from where I was standing and it didn’t look like there were any lines forming but, like a good husband, I waited patiently. More minutes passed and I was getting a little concerned. A group of women passed by me and I heard one say, ‘…and there wasn’t anymore toilet paper.’ That didn’t sound good. I mean, what if Jennie was stuck in there without toilet paper? I decided to call her phone and make sure she was okay. I called. And her phone rang, in her purse. The purse I had hanging from my shoulder. ‘Great.’
I decided to go over to the walkway and stand on the opposite side of the line of blue. Nothing. I walked over to the port-a-potty side. I set the stuff down. I figured if I stood there that I could, perhaps, hear her call out for help if she needed it. I mean, what if she was stuck in there?
Another few minutes passed, and I realized, as filthy as those things were, I had to go. This is where it got weird. There was a small commotion on my end of the row. A tallish man had came out ducking at the door of the plastic potty and was gesturing to the next person waiting, a young lady. He said, ‘You can’t go in there.’ The girl trying to enter lifted her hands. He continued, ‘There’s a phone in there. I mean it’s in there.’ As he stooped, his curly hair brushed the top of the doorway and he pointed down, indicating that it was inside the toilet. In the slop. It lay there half covered. I could see the girl’s disgusted face as she turned away to find a new door.
No one walking through took any notice of what was happening.
Suddenly, a woman and her friend came running up, she was frantic. She headed right to the restroom where he was still holding the door. ‘I think I left my phone in there.’ She was waving her arms. ‘It’s brand new.’
‘Your phone?’ Opening the door for her, she peered in and down. With all the crowd of folks walking past, it was hard to hear, but he said, ‘Is that your phone?’
‘Oh no!’ she backed out and started to cry. Her friend lightly touched the middle of the phone lady’s back, as if merely leaning into the blue box she became infected.
She mumbled something I could not make out. He backed out of the door, bent down slightly and said, ‘I think I have a solution.’ She looked at him like she did not understand. He straightened up and started digging around his back pocket and pulled out his wallet. He opened the wallet and pulled out a small bright blue square which he began to work at and unfold. It was a latex glove. It was a wonder. I thought for sure he would hand it to her. It was then that he proceeded to put it on his own hand. I was astounded. Who was this man?
I couldn’t help myself.
He opened the door. He went in. The door closed. I almost expected him to come out with a cape on.
After a couple of seconds, the door opened. He reemerged with a dripping smart phone held out in front of him, a square of toilet paper dangling. The woman’s eyes were wide, but her mouth betrayed a sickening affect. She absolutely recognized it. He walked over to a short wall made from standing tree stumps and set it down. She stood there just staring at it. Then she looked over at her girlfriend who was shrugging her shoulders and shaking her head.
Then from forty feet away I heard a man yelling out, ‘That man is a hero!’ He began clapping. Clapping? People who had been obliviously walking by slowed and looked over. I didn’t think anyone had noticed. Yet he was pointing at the blue hand. He got louder, ‘That man is a hero! He just went in and saved that woman’s phone from the inside of the toilet!’ Everyone heard him. I looked around. The hero grinned, raised his hand, and gave a bright blue thumbs up. The other man kept clapping and a few people stopped and clapped, too. It was amazing.”
. . . . .
Bill’s hand was in the air, thumb up.
“Now wait. I’m confused.” Gene lifted his drink. “Who was this toilet guy? Because it sounds a lot like you. Tall, wavy black hair? And where was your wife?”
“That’s the funny thing. She wasn’t even in the port-a-potty. She was over in the team area under one of their shade tents talking to another parent. I let her have it for leaving me there with that purse.” He took another sip.
“But what does that have to do with what I was telling you earlier? About the doctor?” He motioned to the bartender.
“I don’t know. You mentioned how you wished you were a hero or something.” Bill fumbled for a handful of snack mix from a bowl on the bar, tipped the bowl. Pieces went all over the counter. Even though it was slightly sticky to the touch, he picked up what spilled out and started popping the pieces into his mouth. He tapped his empty glass with his forefinger. The bartender nodded.
“I didn’t say I wished to be a hero.”
“Huh? Speaking of hero. Did I tell you, I heard her husband is some sort of famous firefighter or something?” Gene reached for the snack mix.
“The woman with the black haired kid. My wife.”
“Yeah, he’s a tall guy with wavy black hair up top. I think I remember seeing him in the news or something.”
“Wait. Tall and wavy hair? That’s like the guy at the port-a-potty. Hell, your guy must be a hero if he’s married to that entitled millennial. But my guy had that rubber glove.”
“What do you mean?”
Bill held up his hand like he was putting on a glove. “My guy, me, I had a glove.”
“Who carries around blue latex gloves? Serial killers like Dexter?” Gene countered.
“A fireman does.”
“Might, my ass. Firemen have gloves. Come to think of it, the guy at the track meet did look familiar. Maybe I saw him on the news too.” Bill grinned.
“I knew it.”
They both laughed.
. . . . .
The bartender was now watching the men thoughtfully. “Gene, Bill, you guys doing okay? You aren’t driving, right?”
Gene and Bill looked over and then at each other. They were definitely affected.
Bill spoke, “You driving, bro?” Each shook their heads and glanced back at the bartender. “Nope. No driving for us. Ubers on their way.”
Just then there was a sudden screeching of chairs on the floor. A woman’s voice shot through the place like a car horn. “Someone help!”
The two men turned. She was standing, one hand on her face, a very large man landed on his knees next to her, his brushed aluminum chair shoved out and lying on its side. Hands grabbing his neck. His face red. Choking.
Bill and Gene were there in a flash. Sober. Gene knelt behind the heavy man and grabbed him, searching for the xyphoid process. Instinct. He couldn’t complete the circle. Bill came around the front of the man and grabbed each of Gene’s hands and shoved. The man jerked. A loud fart. It escaped like the sound of pulling a boot out of thick mud. It smelled like a wet barn. Gene winced and held on. Bill shoved his midsection again. The half-chewed, fried, jumbo shrimp flew out and bounced off Bill’s face. Gene slowly let go.
The man took in a large gasp of air placing his right hand down on the floor to steady himself. Whispering through the drool hanging off his chin, “Thank…you.” Gene patted him on the back.
The woman joined him on the floor. She was crying, “Oh, honey. Are you okay?”
Bill got to his feet and grabbed a napkin to wipe his face. He reached out and helped Gene up. They both looked down at the couple who were trying to gather themselves.
Gene turned to the bartender. “What’s the damage?”
The bartender looked like he was in shock. “After that? Nothing. On the house. You guys are a couple of heroes.”
The man on the floor looked up at the two men. They looked almost identical. Tall, wavy dark hair. He spoke with effort, “I’ll get it.”
The woman spoke, “I think I recognize those two.” She turned to her man. “They were in the news.”
The watery-eyed man looked up again. A graveled voice, “I… really appreciate …you guys. Thanks again.”
Bill’s face lit up with a wide grin. He looked at Gene, grabbed him on the shoulder and squeezed, “See. Wish fulfilled bro.” Bill looked down, “You’re welcome.” Then again to the bartender, “Thanks a lot.” He gave a non-blue thumbs up.
Gene looked down, “Eat more carefully, my friend.”
With both arms this time Bill grabbed Gene and gave him a bear hug. They turned and headed for the door. “Congrats again on that kid man. Give that Prada tote, I mean that wife, a little pinch for me. Black hair ain’t so bad, bro. Be at the Station tomorrow? You know I love ya.”
As they walked out the door Gene asked, “You really carry latex gloves?”