Found on a Bartop, In Winter
They’ve never come up with a name for me. For us. For my kind, I guess is how I should say it. I’m not sure who “They” are. If I knew, maybe I could have a talk with them, explain my problem. It’s hard to know what you are when there isn’t a word for you. It messes with your identity, screws up your head. I wish I knew who “They” are. The anonymous “They” that bestows names and dictates our perceptions. A name defines a thing, you know. Names have power; they give things a shape and a course to follow. Maybe that’s my problem, no name means no shape. Maybe that’s my magic.
My name is Dorian, and I suppose you could call me a god. Lower case “g” there friend. I was raised Catholic and I’m not looking to blaspheme. I chose god because it’s the best fit for what I am. What we are. Not you and I, me and my people. We don’t age, we don’t die, we don’t get hurt, we don’t even feel pain. Well, we don’t feel physical pain anyway. As I write this I am sitting in a bar, trying not to weep into my bottle of whiskey. We do feel some pain, we feel it very well.
The bar is a shithole. It’s my shithole, literally and figuratively. I own it, not that anyone here would know, and more importantly I own it. This bar has born the brunt of my madness and frustrations for the past twenty years. I never get older, but no one looks close enough at my face to know me. I can’t come here all the time, sometimes I have to wander. Perhaps I just can’t handle seeing things change in front of me while I stay the same.
Point is: I come when I have time, drink all I can hold, and then vanish back into the night. If I happen to look like someone who used to come in here, a few years ago, exactly like them in fact, no one says anything. No one cares. I’m not like them, and they can tell. Not visually, only viscerally. I can look like anything I want, take any form, and you’d still know me. Not in your upper mind, where you do your thinking and justifying and pondering, but in your deep mind, the part of you that exists only in impulse and gut feeling. All animals, humans included, have a fight or flight impulse when a predator is nearby. I’m not a predator, but I still set it off. Lemme tell you friend, when I’m nearby the answer is flight. The answer is always flight. That’s one I learned all too well. Some lessons come harder than others.
Damnit, there go the tears into my whiskey. I could will them away, but I’ll still know they had been there. All the power in the world can’t take the taste of your own tears out of cheap whiskey, because it isn’t the salt you taste. It’s the emptiness.
Today is the 16th of December, so I’m drinking in my bar. If you’re looking through a calendar to see what makes today so damn special I can save you the time. Nothing, at least nothing you’ll find on a calendar. No matter what other shenanigans I might get drawn into, I always come here to get drunk on the 16th of December. It’s caused me quite a few problems lemme tell you; especially back when I tried to get political and deal with the others. Nothing pisses off other gods quite like when you (and when I say you, I of course mean me) blow off one of their grand boring ass treaty meetings to get drunk at a shithole downtown bar. Have to do it though, this is where we met. When we met.
I order a fresh bottle of whiskey. Bartender doesn’t know it, but I’m the best customer he’ll have his whole life through. I don’t tip money. No point. A tip is supposed to be a thank-you for a well done job. I don’t say my thank-you’s with cash. My bartender brings me over a new bottle, dark circles under his eyes but a warm smile on his lips. I peruse his mind, flipping through his life and coming up to the recent chapters. He’s basically a decent man, recovered alcoholic ironically, loving husband, and his wife is sick. Cancer. She’s being brave, but the diagnosis is bleak and they both know it. Hence the dark circles. He’s worried about her, worried about how he’ll make enough money to buy another year with her. Medicine buys life, but life can’t be bought on the cheap. Not life worth having anyway. I take the bottle and pour two glasses of cheap brown whiskey. I make a silent toast and down the first glass. That one was for me. I close my eyes and focus for a moment. When I open them, my bartender’s wife is cured. The doctors will call it a miracle; the lawyers will call it a misdiagnosis. She has about thirty more years now. I down the second glass. That one was for her. I don’t tip money. I tip life.
I pour two more glasses. I guess if anyone was watching they might think I am airing this stuff out in the second glass, pretending it’s a better vintage. No point. I could change this stuff into any liquor in the world, from the most decadent of wines to scotches that would make Napoleon himself sing like a schoolgirl. Instead I drink this shit. Because it’s what we drank, that night. There would be other nights of course, nights when I made it rain diamonds, when we picnicked in the clouds, or when I filled a pool with champagne and we swam naked among the bubbles. But that night, that night we drank the house swill. Now it’s the only taste I can still smile at.
Two men come in from the outside. As if there is somewhere else to come in from. The snow is falling off their shoulders and slush is caked to their boots. I remember cold. I wasn’t born like this you know. No sir, I came into this world human as anyone else. Problem is that things don’t always stay the way they were. Like the snow falling off that fellow’s shoulder, melting as it touches the ground. Some of us get to stay snowflakes our whole lives through; some of us get pulled indoors and melt. A few of us do something different entirely.
I wish I could tell you what happened. If I knew, maybe I could fix it, turn it back. I don’t though. One night I went to bed a regular guy with a full heart and an empty belly, the next day I woke up this. A god. A monster. A something. The full heart was because I met her that night; the empty belly was because I spent what little money I had on this horsepiss whiskey. I wonder most days, was that why it happened? Is God, big “G” this time, so cruel or bored that he waited until I was finally happy with my life before he gave me everything I thought I wanted? Maybe the sight of a guy like me being happy just pissed off the wrong people. At least my parents were dead, thank the saints. They can’t see me now. They would have loved it at first, seeing their little hay-seed of a boy with more money and power than their simple country minds could have dreamed. They would have loved her too, and seeing us together.
The beginning was, as all beginnings are, the idiotically good times. Good precisely because of how idiotic we both were, thinking something that wonderful could just happen. Nothing good in this life just happens. Even my bartender earned his miracle with excellent service; he just won’t ever put two and two together and realize it.
When I found out the specifics, I tried to get rid of it, tired to make myself human again. Didn’t work. Like a dagger, I can cut anything but myself. Well, and other daggers I suppose, since I can’t really do shit to the other god’s either. Bunch of fuckin morons they are. Mucking up their specialties, trying to fix what ain’t even broken. See this power isn’t a free ride. We each got a responsibility that comes with it. Each of us has our area of specialty, and it’s our job to make sure that a part of reality keeps running smoothly. No need for it though. Maybe there was once upon a time, when there were more than a few specks of magic floating around this empty world, but now things pretty much maintain themselves.
Caretakers, that’d be a good term for us. Nah, care is something we lack too much of. Hells bells, every “problem” we’ve had to fix so far was caused by another one of us screwing around trying to change things. The ones responsible for love and nature were the worst. They always wanted more, more romances, more land, more everything. The rest of us spent more times fixing their schemes than anyone else’s. I tried to work with them all for a little while, after I lost her, just to get my mind off things. I still wound up here every December 16th, getting drunk on this brown filmy firewater. One year I didn’t go back the next day. Politics don’t suit me, morons suit me even less.
The problem with giving someone almost limitless power is that there is still the “almost” in the sentence. It’s human nature to buck against our limits. I’m not human anymore, but I was, once. Some habits stick with you when you change. Love for one. Desire for another. When you have almost no walls to stop you, the few you find can drive you mad. They didn’t at first, until after she was gone her. They bothered me a little, sure, but I had anything I could want. What did it bother me if the power came with a little duty, or if I couldn’t change myself back?
The duty turned out to be the bastard of it all. I can change fate with people who don’t matter, like my bartender’s wife. She’ll grow old with him; they’ll have another kid or two, and then she’ll die. Nothing grand. Nothing that will stand out among the six billion others of their kind. She doesn’t matter, so I can save her. I can save anyone. Except when I can’t.
I’m halfway through my new bottle of whiskey. I’m crying freely now, but I’ve set the glass aside so the tears won’t fall in it. I can still remember that day. Not the date, save for that it was winter, but the day. I remember being in our house, a fire roaring and a glass of my favorite bourbon freshly conjured. I remember the scream that didn’t come to my ears, but to my heart. I remember how suddenly the house was gone, and I was standing in the snow. I remember my confusion, because I hadn’t consciously changed my location. I remember my terror as I realized why I was there.
The place isn’t far from here; I’ll go by when I stagger out of this bar after midnight, when it isn’t our day anymore. The scene was horrific, her grey Mercedes shredded by the telephone pole. She was lying in the snow, a few yards away from her car. The blood was pooling around her, a stark and bitter red defiling the purity of fresh fallen snow. From my vantage, I could almost pretend it wasn’t blood. That she had miraculously landed in a pile of roses that had doggedly decide to bloom, weather be damned. I knew better though, there was nothing miraculous there. Nothing besides me.
I crunched through the snow to her side. Later I would find out she had a stroke and lost control of the wheel. The doctors would say at her age the chances were one in a million. The ice exaggerated the problem, spinning her further out of control and directly into the telephone pole. Later I would care, going over every detail, determined to know why this had happened. Determined not to accept the truth that was laid so plainly before me that day. That would all come later though; right then I took her hand and brushed the glass from her beautiful face. Her eyes fluttered open, focusing on me after a moment’s confusion.
I kneeled next her, keeping her hand wrapped in mine. We stayed like that for as long as I could bear it. I stole away her pain of course; I made sure she knew only peace in her final moments. That was all I could do though. It was in my power to tear the moon from the heavens, to make the seas rise in the desert, to affect the very fabric of reality, but I couldn’t save her. Because she mattered. We all have our areas of responsibility, and this was mine. I tried with all I had, I prayed to every saint I could remember my dear dead mother making me memorize, and when that failed I prayed straight to God and my parents. There was nothing I could do. She was a lynchpin in the fabric of the world. I couldn’t see how, and it didn’t matter afterward. Her life, and even more her death, mattered. Somehow this would play into a series of events that had to happen. This was her destiny, and I couldn’t change it.
I laid down next to her, pulling her gently into my arms. I took it all in. The smell of her hair, the feel of her body against mine, the weight of her head resting against my collarbone. I told her I was sorry, that I wished I could change things. I told her I loved her, and that I always would. I always will. I placed her back onto the road, kissing her goodbye. Then I did my duty. That damned, terrible duty we had discovered years before, when the other gods told me the price of my change. I wept for months afterward, let my financial empire fall away, salvaging only a few key things. The home where we had lived, this shithole bar where we met, the restaurant where I proposed.
I did my duty of course; I couldn’t avoid that if I tried. And I searched. I dug through every piece of mythology and religious text, searching for a way to be human again. So I could die. So I could join her in whatever comes next. I’ve spoken to the others, and it’s happened before. In fact, that’s how I woke up this way. The sonofabitch before me found his way out. I got picked to be his replacement. Her death was ten years ago, and I’m still searching. I’ll always be searching.
It’s past midnight now. The whiskey is gone. My bartender is hoping to get home early tonight, wanting to savor every moment he can with his wife. Good for him. He doesn’t know she’s better yet, when he does he’ll start working late again. But right now, just for these next few days, their world will be full of love, and loyalty, and the shock of gaining a whole new lease on life. This will be the best week they ever have.
In a few minutes I’m going to get up from this stool and pay my tab. I’ll walk out onto the cold streets, not feeling it, but recognizing it. My dirty clothes will be tussled in the wind as I walk through this city, slipping my way through the streets until I find a telephone pole that has been heavily repaired. And there, on that dirty patch of pavement a few feet from it, will be a small circle of roses. A puddle of red against the pale snow’s marble glow. It blooms in December, inexplicable to those who walk by. It serves as the headstone for a beautiful young woman whose presence made this world something worth protecting.
My name is Dorian, but there is no name for what I am. I have a duty, and I have power. Humans need a name to think of things though; they need a name to give shape to them in their minds. A shape makes something more real, gives them the power to deal with it. A name gives a thing definition.
My name is Dorian, and you can think of me as the god of death. If it helps.