Thursday, September 3, 2020

“The Bottle on the Table”

Philip poured the last of the fifth of Cream of Kentucky into the glass, but it was okay, because he had a full bottle right there next to the empty one on his night table.

He was sitting and drinking here propped up against the headboard of his bed in the Parker Hotel because yesterday morning Bob down the street at Bob’s Bowery Bar had finally cut him off.

He had staggered into the place shortly after it opened at 7 a.m., the first customer of the day, he sat at his usual stool, and the first thing Bob said to him was, “You can have one shot, Philip, but just one, and then you got to go.”

Philip didn’t say anything.

Bob poured the shot, and Philip looked at it.

“I hope I didn’t misbehave last night, Bob.”

“Not at all,” said Bob. “I just don’t want you dropping dead in here.”

Philip paused before replying. But then he said, “I understand.”

He took out his wallet, not without difficulty, but Bob said, “That’s okay, Philip. On the house.”

Philip took a pause. In the later stages of a binge he took many pauses, and this had been the longest binge of them all.

“Can I at least leave something for your trouble?”

“I don’t want your money, Philip.”

Philip understood. He put the wallet away, picked up the shot glass and drank it down.

“Thanks, Bob.”

“You’re welcome, Philip.”

A trip to the liquor store, then back to the hotel, and here he was the next afternoon, still sitting up in this bed, still drinking.

The funny thing was, the thing he couldn’t figure out, was why his brother hadn’t sent Joe out to find him and take him to the drying-out place yet. Maybe his brother and the rest of the family had finally had it with him. How many times had Joe taken him to that place? Six times, seven? That must be it, the family was fed up, and who could blame them?

Well, this just might be it then. He could feel himself just barely inhabiting his body. It was like his soul was shimmering just under his skin, and any moment – maybe after just one more sip of whiskey – his soul, his consciousness, his spirit, whatever, whatever Philip was, it would shimmer out of this wreck of a body and go off to wherever souls went to.

Someone was knocking on his door. Who could that be? Oh, it must be Joe, come for him at last. Thank God, or whomever.

The knocking sounded again.

“Come in,” called Philip.

He never locked the door. Why should he?

The door opened, but it wasn’t Joe the detective. It was a little old man, a shabbily dressed little old man, in fact it was a little old man he remembered seeing at Bob’s Bowery Bar. He was about five feet tall, with thick round wire-rimmed glasses and a cloth cap, and he had an unlighted small cigar in his mouth.

“Hello,” said Philip.

“Howya doing,” said the old man, and he came over to the side of the bed. He picked up the full bottle of Cream of Kentucky, looked at the label, then put it down again. He took the cigar out of his mouth.

“I’m a busy man, so I’ll get right to the point,” he said. “They call me Bert, Bowery Bert. And I am a guardian angel.”

“You’re my guardian angel?”

“I’m gonna have to disabuse you of a common misconception about guardian angels. There is no way in heaven there’s enough guardian angels to go around for every human being on the planet, and so we are each given territories. My territory is the Bowery, from Bleecker to Union Square.”

“I see –” 

“You see nothing. You got no idea how much I got on my plate.”

“Um –”

“So, brass tacks. You see that bottle of Cream of Kentucky?”


“You open that bottle and it’ll be the last thing you’ll ever do.”


“That’s all I am gonna say, because we ain’t allowed to directly interfere in human affairs. The choice is yours, pal.”

Philip looked at the glass in his hand, which still held a few fingers of bourbon.

“Can I at least finish this glass?”

“Possibly. I ain’t making no promises, but, yeah, possibly.”

“Well, thanks. Thanks so much.”

“You’re welcome. And now I got to go. I am very busy. My schedule today you would not believe.”

“I can appreciate that.”

The little man stuck the cigar back in his mouth, turned, walked to the door, opened it, went out, closed the door.

Philip looked at his glass.

Had that really happened?

He put the glass on the night table, picked up his wallet that was lying there and opened it. He found the card, Joe the detective’s card. Would he be in his office? Well the only way to find out was to call. He shifted his legs off the bed. His shoes were down there on the floor, and he put his feet into them, but he didn’t tie the laces, because it seemed too complicated to do so.

Wearing only his trousers and his undershirt, he got up and went to the door, and went down the hall to the pay phone. He lifted the receiver from the hook, dropped a nickel in the slot, and, reading the number from Joe’s business card, he dialed.

{Kindly go here to read the "adult comix" version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, illustrated by the one-and-only rhoda penmarq.}

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