“No,” he thinks.
“Yes,” he says.
He keeps a nervous eye toward the paneled glass door. An unkind face could lock eyes with him through the vestibule at any second. A sense of shame sticks somewhere between his Adam’s apple and his sternum. It hovers in the hollow of his chest like a cold sludge. But the man behind the bar has been moving all this time, and he slides a cardboard circle over like a paycheck, and he crowns it with a glass of something cool and dark.
Our man pulls the glass to his lips. He takes the liquid just like a shot in the vein, mainlining the comfort of ale to the heart of his shame. The sludge softens, and the shy coat of his guts takes it on for armor. It won’t dissolve him from the oppressive crowd, but it might submerge him to a matchable depth.
A dead-eyed man rolls unhurried through the vestibule’s airlock, back from a mid-lager smoke. His aura is ash and hollow plastic lighters. His heavy eyelids will only fall with age. His shirt is clean.
The man’s cough is deposits of brown stained phlegm. They stick and quiver against choking lung sacs, reverberating and rattling up through a tortured esophagus and into the cracked desert of his closed fist. He is not asking any questions or making friendly sallies. Inside, he is a tin-metal wind-up toy, jerking and starting in a locked pattern of gears, a simple and useless machine with a painted metal smell. The smoke and eyes and slime and metal and well-bottom isolation of a man in his self-imposed and inescapable hell.
The smoke works its way through his pipes and valves. He takes a moment to close his eyes. In the glow of alcohol, light like the fire of smokestacks rolls from his arms and shoulders.