The Devil’s Bartender

By AE Hines

I serve the booze, but know
never to play cards — he always wins,
and every man here owes him money.
He’s good to have around —
all those sweaty jokers coming in thirsty,
to cut their deals, clamoring to refill
empty pints and vacant accounts.

Like the rest of them, he can’t shut up
about his girl troubles. Goes on
about that first woman, who still won’t
return his calls, can’t forgive
that long ago madness with the tree.
“Hell hath no fury,” I finally say,
laying down another round.
“To forgive, is divine,” he says, and then
we both laugh.

Of course, he’s got his Daddy issues.
Hated the family business,
hated it so much, he went
into competition. Not the first kid
kicked out of the house, not the first
father to not understand.
But the way he talks
and talks, you can tell
he misses home.

One time, he brought the old man by.
Short, thinner than I imagined,
and although he smiled when I spoke,
deaf as a rock. I poured them whiskey
and listened as the son bragged
about work, the state of the world,
then talked about the good old days
back before the fall. It broke my heart,
to see how much the son
cared, how he rambled on,
as if the old man, nodding, could hear.

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