A loud voice is perched above a black frock and below a black book held high above black hair.
“You sinners will be sleeping with regret tonight!”
His words are brief clouds of white that quickly disappear. Their meaning rolls listlessly along the bed of snow made black from workers working their way home. A shuttle bus drives by, kicking up slush.
I look up and to the right at the clock tower. Six after five. “Time will soon replace regret with another trick,” I say, turning towards him. He brushes away a few lonely snowflakes from his shoulders and continues. “Without forgiveness, your past sins will drown your future in eternal darkness!”
A woman to my left raises her gloved hand and bellows out the word taxi. A homeless man stumbles toward her, whispering the word please as his empty hands shake at his side. She gets in the taxi and is driven away. I tell him I have no cash when he asks for help. The preacher tells him he needs Jesus.
Little warmth is found behind a heavy wooden door that slams hard. I face other faces in a mirror that runs along the back of the bar. Their heads are bowed, drowning above half-empty glasses. Shirley and Lee’s “Let the Good Times Roll” plays from the jukebox.
The chair groans as my lungs sigh and soon my belly feels the warmth of barley.
Behind a window framed in frost my eyes track pale profiles gliding by in a background of white. The word another? taps me on the ear and I nod without looking.
Fingers, wrinkled and stained yellow, wipe a mug dry with a blue towel before sticking the glass under the tap. “It’s like the center of Dante’s hell out there tonight.” The barkeep punctuates his sentence by slapping the tap back with the side of his hand.
The glass lands in front of me, and I pull it toward my lips, watching the foam fall over the edge. I set a portrait of Lincoln on the bar. “And the devil’s on the corner selling a haven from regret.”
The barkeep turns his back and lowers his head. The cash drawer kicks open and lands on his stomach. The eyes of dead presidents stare back at him. “At what price?”
I reply, “Cognition,” pulling the glass away from my lips. Foam hangs in the corners of my mouth. “No different from you.”
A chuckle jumps out from behind the bar. “Except I never lie to you about what I’m selling.” The bartender turns and sets two green portraits of George Washington next to a puddle of beer, taking Lincoln away.
I pull a pen from my pocket and flip the two faces over. “And you preach without words.” Twice I bury the word God under a thick coat of ink.