Author: Don Boles
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Excerpt Heat Level: 1
Book Heat Level: 4
Buy at: Rogue Phoenix Press, Amazon, Barnes and Noble
At times funny, and others sad, Neon Junction balances the two in a realistic depiction of loneliness and the basic need for connection between human beings.
Neon Junction is a contemporary short novella involving a down and out security guard, (with an imaginary cockroach as a friend), and a single mother making her living as an exotic dancer. Jamie Skinner is a security guard, not quite thirty, and already an alcoholic with no prospects in life. He has fallen through the cracks of society, existing mostly in his own mind. Chrissy Wagner was a young girl attending college with hopes and dreams when real life stepped in. Then there is Stan, an erudite cockroach that only Jamie can see and hear...
Jamie was a drinker. While not an expert by any stretch of the imagination, Jamie did know that the difference between rum distilled in Des Moines, Iowa could produce a far less satisfactory, more vomitose experience than that which is brewed in Kingston.
Without taking his eyes away from the silent television behind the bar, he brought the drink to his anxious lips and downed half its contents. The TV was tuned to a highlight show on FSN. He wasn't sure whether the region was Southwest, Texas, or Midwest. Watching a mute double play made by the Royals didn't help distinguish the fact.
He listened to the timbre of the ice cubes as they rattled around the bottom of his tumbler. A cool breeze floated up from the glass but was quickly dissipated by the sharp aroma of bourbon and Pepsi. The cubes began to dissolve helplessly as the liquor slowly consumed them.
There was no one near him in the lounge side of the restaurant as he enjoyed his happy hour, which began at four and lasted until he awoke in the middle of the night, with crippling nausea and a paralyzing fear of what he may or may not have done. The action on the TV moved too fast for him. He lost track of the highlights and who was playing so he turned his attention back to the grains of wood racing underneath his bourbon. He ran his fingernail along a swirling knot of red oak, not quite able to find the center. At least he thought it was red oak. It had been a while since he read Thoreau's Nature and he hadn't paid that much attention.
He took a long, sour, hot gulp that briefly colored his vision in a deep amber glow. The liquor held its breath in the back of his mouth before diving down his throat, past his chest and settling in his gut. There were shaved men in Speedos racing under water on the TV when he looked back up. He finished his drink and put the glass down on a folded napkin that was given to him in place of a proper coaster.
What were once cubes of ice, now nothing more than chips, clutched together at the bottom of the glass; the brown bourbon stain taking away their transparency. Jamie glanced over to the girl tending bar. She didn't look old enough to walk through the door, more or less work the bar. She was rapidly clicking away at her cell phone that she held out in front of her breasts, the tops of which were peeking out of the v-cut shirt she wore. He raised the glass to eye level and opened his mouth to say something but forgot who he was going to say it to. The bartender came over and mechanically refilled him. She didn't make eye contact. He tried to but couldn't climb out of her cleavage. She walked back to her post behind the register on the far end of the bar. The ice cubes were suffocating in bourbon now, but at least he could not see the stain.
After a slow draw from his drink, his eyes drifted from the ice cubes to the bright green carpet underneath his stool. Not all the alcohol made it to its desired destination; some of it dribbled down the side of his mouth and he grew a whiskey flavored goatee. He saw his reflection in the mirror, warped by the fresh glasses hanging upside down in front of it and wiped his chin with the collar of his shirt looking around to see if anyone noticed. The lounge was empty with the exception of two middle-aged women who gently nursed cocktails in a back booth.
He looked at his watch. There were forty more minutes he could drink. Invigorated by the prospect, he finished his drink and made his way to the men's room in the back. As he passed the two women, he tipped an imaginary hat in their direction. They didn't notice. He thought maybe they didn't like the hat.
In the bathroom, he pissed for a solid half a minute, proud of his aim. He washed his hands and placed his palm on the door before stopping. A wave of nausea hit hard and he reached his left hand out to the sink counter. He felt his knuckles turning white as his grip tightened. He could not remember the last thing he ate, but he felt it crawling out of his esophagus and toward his throat. He turned all his attention to a scuffed screw in the shiny brass plate on this side of the door. He wondered why no one bothered to keep that screw shined like the rest of the door. It shouldn't be too hard to polish a screw, but then again, maybe the polish ran out. The nausea subsided and he moved more cautiously out of the bathroom to his stool in the front.
When he got to his seat, his drink was no longer waiting for him.
"We just did last call," the bar tender said from behind the register. Her face was too busy tabulating tips to pay him a visit.
He panicked for a moment, digging into his pockets. His fears subsided when he felt the flat, smooth, roundness of his flask in his jacket pocket. He gripped it tightly as he followed the blue diamond shapes on the carpet that pointed to the coldness waiting for him outside. His grip softened to a caress as the doors opened into the waiting night.