Watchful

The bar had been struggling for years now. A combination of inconvenient traffic construction and trendier places meant there wasn’t much of a crowd anymore. It was a Tuesday, which had never been a busy night even in its heyday. So when the front doors opened, the few heads turned to see the new arrival.

Shelly was a small woman in a long black coat. Her blonde hair was almost white. Her eyes were silver.

She was beautiful, though not in a way that was immediately obvious. It took more than a glance to notice. Some people never looked twice.

Jo was busy running the bar, which involved serving a drink to the two or three customers sitting there while she read a book in-between. She didn’t give much thought as the new customer found a stool.

Jo set down her book. “What can I get for you?”

Shelly studied Jo with a slight smile. “What is he drinking?” She nodded to a man at the far end of the bar.

“Bourbon,” said Jo.

“That’s fine.”

Jo poured the glass, set it in front of Shelly. “You want to open a tab?”

“I don’t think I’ll be here that long.” Shelly reached into her pocket and produced a strange coin, sliding it forward.

Jo pushed it back. “Cash or credit only.”

Shelly pushed the silver coin back. “This is valuable.”

Jo sighed, picking up the coin. It was heavy. Featureless. “Is this really silver?”

“It’s real.” Shelly pulled a handful of identical coins from her pocket and let them clank on the bar. “I have more if that’s not enough.”

Jo bit the coin. Not that she expected this to tell her anything, but she’d seen people do that in movies. She debated whether this was worth a fight, but the bourbon was already poured.

She dropped the coin in the register. “Whatever. But the next one needs to be paid with U.S. currency.”

Shelly swept the coins back into her pockets. “You could have kept that. It’s worth a lot.”

“Isn’t mine to keep,” said Jo.

Shelly’s smile went from mysterious to something else. Coy, perhaps. Amused.

“You’re an honest person,” said Shelly.

Jo shrugged. “I don’t steal small stuff.”

“You sell yourself short. I’m Shelly.”

“Jo.”

They shook. Shelly’s hand was cool to the touch, and her skin had an odd texture. Almost like marble.

“I’ve seen you, Jo. What you do. Who you are.”

Jo nodded and went back to her book. In her experience, it was best to not engage with the weirdos.

“Three weeks ago,” said Shelly. “You helped a man fix his flat tire.”

Jo pretended to read her book more intently.

“Eight days ago, you bought a sandwich for a homeless person,” said Shelly.

Jo set down her book and glared. “Are you stalking me? Because I’m an ex-marine, and you do not want to fuck with me.”

Shelly took a sip of her bourbon, looking straight ahead.

“Stalking? No. Just watching. I’m always watching. At night, anyway. Not a lot else to do up there otherwise.”

“Up where?”

“The sky. I’m the moon.”

Jo nodded. “Sure. You’re the moon. Why not?”

“Technically, I’m the avatar of the moon,” said Shelly. “Last night, you rescued a stray cat. How’s the cat doing?”

“Don’t you know?”

“You keep your curtains closed. What did you name her, the cat?”

“Didn’t. I’m not keeping her.”

Smiling, Shelly finished her drink and dropped a coin. “I’ll take another.”

“Your money’s no good here.” Jo poured another drink. Weirdos came in all the time, but none quite so weird as this. It was enough to keep her interested.

“All right. So you’re the moon. What’s so interesting that you decided to walk in here tonight?”

Shelly looked as if she might actually chuckle, but she only kept her smile. “I see a lot of things up there. The night is full of truths and secrets. You’d be surprised what people do when they don’t think anyone’s watching.”

“No, I don’t think I would be,” said Jo.

“No, I don’t think you would be,” agreed Shelly.

“Shouldn’t you be named Diana or Selene?”

“Bit on the nose, isn’t it?” replied Shelly. “I’m an avatar. I can take whatever name I want. To answer your question, sometimes, I have to come down and see how things play out. I see a lot from up there, but not everything.”

“Curtains,” said Jo.

“Roofs. Umbrellas. Those goddamn clouds. But that man down there bought a gun tonight. From a man in a parking lot. Nobody saw. Nobody but me.”

Jo glanced at the guy. He’d been nursing his drink for a while now. Keeping his head down. Not interested in talking to anyone. Not that there was anyone to talk to.

“Should I call the cops?” she asked.

“Up to you, but I don’t imagine he’s a danger to anyone but himself.”

“Suicide?”

Shelly nodded.

Jo asked, “And you’re here to stop him?”

“Me? No. I’m not supposed to interfere.”

“Says who?”

Shelly only smiled.

“Do you think he’ll really go through with it?” asked Jo.

“Don’t know. You never can tell, can you?”

Jo frowned. “No. You never can.”

She poured herself a drink and held it up for Shelly to toast. If she was the moon, she knew. If she was only a nutjob . . . well, it didn’t matter.

“To those we lose,” said Jo.

They drank.

Shelly said, “His wife’s hospital room had a great big window. She loved pulling the curtains back and looking up at me.”

Jo poured two more.

“She was looking at me when it all ended. But he was looking at her. Always at her.”

Shelly’s smile faded for the first time. Her silver eyes shone in the dim bar light. Like a cat’s.

“She saw me in the end, and she asked me to look after him. I told her there wasn’t a lot I could do from up there. Only watch. Ancient covenants and all that bullshit. She said she’d appreciate it just the same.”

Shelly held up her drink. “To those we don’t have to lose.”

Jo tapped the glass, but didn’t drink.

She set her glass down and walked over to the other end of the bar.

Shelly watched from afar, like she always did. She watched as Jo talked to the man. She watched until, crying into Jo’s shoulder, he pulled the gun from his pocket and handed it to her.

When Jo looked back, Shelly was gone. No one had seen her leave, but then again, everyone had their own problems and distractions.

That night, with the curtains thrown wide and Luna curled behind her knees, Jo slept under the cool embrace of the moonlight.

6 Replies to “Watchful”

  1. Marvelous. Well-crafted. Slightly eerie, and so hopeful at the same time.
    And it’s nice how a little gratitude goes a long way.

  2. What a beautiful story. How few words the true craftsman needs to tell such a complete story. I love that we can write our own ending, the gentle nudges in the opening details. Just the right details, as a past masterclass-blog taught us! Thank you.

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