Death Gets Closer than Any Lover Has

by Alan Cailin

Sitting at the bar, the hour between

dog and wolf sliding from one eye

to the other leaving tracks in the fog

and snow behind, he says,

“I was two paychecks from dead.”

to no one in particular, drinks what

remains of his warm beer and slides

the long neck across the wood, points

at it for a refill and says,

“Pink slips were already typed in like

fill-in-the-blank death notices with

all of the third shifts’ name on it.

Second shifts’ too and the first shift

was nervous as hell.”

Pauses long enough to light a cigarette,

points at the No Smoking sign behind

the bar with his spent stick match, says,

“I remember when they used to tell you

smoking increased your lung power.

Wasn’t all that long ago neither, historically

speaking. Hired ole Ronnie Reagan to

hawk Chesterfield’s. Man had no pride.

Remember 20 Mule Team Borax? He sold

that too, on the tube. Quaker Oats? Same thing.”

Pauses again, this time to cough in a way

that suggests he might not ever stop and still

be alive; wheezing desperately for air, a large,

perspiring, red faced man with a Lucky Strike

in one hand and a bottle of beer in the other,

three quarters of the way to hell and barely

hanging on. “One of these days I’m going

to pass a lung. No paycheck cut yet is going

to fix what I have. Felt this way for a long

time. No sense in changing my ways now.”

He says, as if that summed up everything.