Luke returned to the bar the next night. Every time the door opened, he glanced toward it, like he was expecting Fleming, which Gil found odd. He had never seen him give any impression that he cared who was in the bar. His world had always revolved around having his scotch and being left alone.
Fleming finally came in and sat down next to Luke. Gil, unable to read his either of their faces, waited for the next dialogue, be it acrimonious or benign.
Luke finally looked at Fleming and said, “did I ever tell you that you remind me of Jenny?” Fleming smiled and said, “yes, you have said that a few times.” Luke said, “every time I look into your eyes I see her, and it disturbs me. You even sound like her. And you’re pushy.” Again, Fleming smiled and said, “yes, you have said that as well.”
Both Fleming and Gil were concerned as they watched Luke down his scotch at a record pace. Once again, like putting the needle back on the record, Luke began to talk. “Have you ever made the mistake of making a promise that you knew you couldn’t keep?” Fleming asked, “it that a rhetorical question?”
Luke put his head in his hands and said, “you never make a promise. Never. But I did. I made a promise and I didn’t keep it. I was so consumed with guilt, I could hardly function. I looked for her. I looked for her for years. I looked on every corner. In every crowd. In every car. In every store. I made deals with drug dealers. I literally begged, borrowed and stole for information.” He almost chuckled when he said, “one of the dealers said he heard that some witness had been given plastic surgery and sent away for their own protection.” That gave me hope, but you can’t survive on hope. At least, I couldn’t. She’s gone and it’s my fault because I couldn’t protect her.”
He turned to Fleming and said, “now you know my fucking story. Are you satisfied? Please just leave me alone.” Having said that, he stood up, pulled three Benjamins from his leather wallet, threw them next to his empty glass, turned and walked out.
After that night, Luke never returned. Neither did Fleming, but life at the bar went on. Larry and Mel continued to have their “tiffs” and Gil continued to smooth things over with free beers.
Gil had never told his story and most likely, never would.
“People’s lives are like road maps,” he once told Fleming. “Sometimes their travels are etched on their faces and other times, they’re etched on their souls. Then there are times when we have to ask ourselves; in the grand scheme of things, does hearing or not hearing, knowing or not knowing, really matter?”
He wondered about Luke, and Fleming. From the beginning, they were two doomed people. Luke was a cursed soul, looking for deliverance and burning his candle at both ends. Fleming was an ill-starred savior, who thought Luke could be rescued. He remembered telling her, “pain can render unbelievable torture, and the desire to help can, and so often does, result in failure.”
They both burned brightly, but ever so briefly. He missed them. They had touched him and left an everlasting mark.
Two months after Luke told the final chapter of his life to Fleming, word got back to Gil that he had died. He had finally succeeded in drinking himself to death, but it had been hastened by an accidental, or as some witnesses testified, intentional fall in front of a car.
He languished in a semi-conscious state, only occasionally softly mumbling the name, “Jenny.”
Medically, there wasn’t much that could be done for him, except give palliative care and hope for the agonal last breaths of death to come soon. He was given no special treatment, just the same care that is most often given to drug addicts and alcoholics. After all, he had done this to himself so there wasn’t much, if any, sympathy.
He never had a single visitor…until one day, a woman came in and asked to see him.
“Are you family?” the nurse asked. The woman hesitated and said, “I knew him.” The nurse smiled and said, “well, I guess it doesn’t matter. Come with me.” She led the woman into a bleak, dark, sterile room.
She seemed to have a bit of empathy as she said, “he won’t know you’re here and it’s just a matter of time before…well, you know. It’s a pity, isn’t it? We don’t know if he has any next of kin, and the saddest part is that there will most likely be no one to mourn for him.” Then she smiled and said, “take your time, honey.”
Luke lay there, pale and gaunt, with tubes inserted into his nose, intravenous lines into each arm, and machines beeping the familiar cadence of a heart rhythm. The woman looked at him as if trying to will him to open his eyes, but he didn’t.
Just a few minutes later, his journey finally ended and his days on Earth were over. As he took his last breath, a smile came to his face when the woman leaned down and whispered, “it’s me.”
As she was leaving, the nurse said, “might I ask your name?”
Esto es el fin de la historia.