Triggers. A short story.

Trigger’s Bar is the kind of place where people come to eat, smoke cigarettes, get drunk, and let their toddlers cliff dive into shards of arsenic. Wanda, the owner, leaves the doors wide open and invites the flies and animals right on in. She says there’s room for everybody. She pops her gum and winks. A fat orange cat named Cheeto licks his ass on the bar top next to the lemons. Survival of the fittest. 

Wanda has gotten one of those fancy new jukeboxes that you can play from an app on your phone. Floyd complains that it’s too damn loud and takes a rocket scientist to figure the damn thing out. The rest of the older men agree. 

“Fool, it ain’t that tough.” Carlos tells him. “I’ll show you how to use it.” 

“It’s the principle of the damn thing”, Floyd argues, checking his flip phone for the source of a beep. Wanda retrieves her coffee from the microwave and chimes in.   

“It’s easier than the other one, dum dum. You just touch the song you want and hit play is all.” 

Floyd flips her the bird and sets his phone down. Stupid technology. Makes a sound like a message, but no message. 

“Fool lookit, just type the song you want and just touch it. You just touch it.” Carlos mimes the movement succinctly.  

“Ah to hell with that.” Floyd grumps. “I’ll just go down to Quittin’ Time from now on. They got a respectable jukebox down there.” 

“Well take your ass.” Wanda points to the door, snapping her gum. Floyd rolls his eyes. “That’s what I thought. Now shut the hell up.” 

Floyd shuts the hell up briefly, until Carlos plays rap out of spite, singing to Floyd that niggas can neither fuck with this nor can they fuck with that. Skully has to step in to keep Floyd from hitting Carlos on the head with his cane, the same way he has to every day for one reason or another.  

Skully wears a red bandana around his head and an Iron Maiden t-shirt with the sleeves ripped off. He’s mostly sleeved out with jailhouse tattoos, one of which is a busty woman who dances when he flexes a certain way. He drives a motorcycle with ghostlike skulls airbrushed on the fuel tank. His hair is long and gray and his blue eyes look like they belong on a movie star. Wanda always jokes that if he wasn’t married, she’d tear his ass up. “Mama wouldn’t appreciate that.” he cautions. Indeed, mama would burn the bar down.  

Skully buys Floyd a beer to calm him down and tells Carlos to play some Waylon Jennings for God’s sake.  

“If you old fools wanna hear something, I guess you better learn how to play the jukebox. Oh, and if you don’t like what I play, you can skip it on the new app.” Carlos adds helpfully, as we learn that the boys in the hood are always hard, and if you come talking your trash they’ll pull your card.  

Trigger’s is open from 7am to midnight seven days a week. The way Wanda figures, essentially three people finance her life. Between Floyd, Skully, and Carlos, she’s got her house paid off and owes less than a thousand on her Mustang. She could count on them to be there at noon, drink all day, and close the place down at midnight, and that’s just how it was. While the quality of their livers concerned her, it wasn’t much her business, much like the rest of the business of their lives. Just because somebody sold a little weed didn’t make them a bad person, she guessed. 

Every day at 12:45, Floyd orders the same lunch special. Chicken fried steak - extra gravy, and mashed potatoes with grape jelly, hold the mac and cheese please ma’am.  

And every day I ask, “Floyd, can I have that mac and cheese since you’re not using it?” 

“No you may not”.  

“But it’s already paid for. You don’t want it, but I do.” 

“And that’s the problem with you people ain’t it. Always want something for nothin.” 

“You people?” I challenge. “You already paid for it.  Jesus.” 

“Jesus gives a helping hand to those that help themselves.”  

I shake my head. “Jesus would give me the mac and cheese, Floyd.” 

“Don’t even bother”, Wanda tells me. “He’s a shit head.” She snaps her gum and takes a raspy drag off her cigarette. Rivers could flow in the network of channels lining her face. She wears bright lipstick, and dyes her hair orange with red tips. The gray roots are almost always grown out, and the red parts stick out of her cap like chicken feathers. She’s fun to look at. 

Floyd always flips her off when she calls him names. I think he loves her. 

“I’ll get you the damn mac and cheese” she tells me. 

“Now dammit you better not.” Floyd warns her and shakes his finger. “I’m a paying customer and I own that mac and cheese, and swear to God almighty I’ll never step foot back in this dump.” 

“And all these years that’s all it took?” Wanda pops her gum and cranes her neck.  

“Why do you hate me?” I ask him. 

“It’s the principle of the damn thing.” He always says this. “You kids gotta learn to pay your way in life. Honestly, I might add.”  

Floyd thinks I’m a stripper, mostly because that’s what I told him. He has no soft spot for us hard working girls twerking our way through school. I find it mildly hilarious that he believes this, seeing as I’m a little long in the tooth to pole dance and my ass looks like it’s been beat with a bag of nickels. Ass notwithstanding, I’ve been to the strip club and oh my. I once witnessed a young lady pick up a straw out of a drink, turn it around, and slide it back into the drink. Look ma, no hands, type deal. This is when I realized I just didn’t possess the skillset for a career in the stripping industry.  

“But I laugh at your jokes every day.” I try to say this sweetly. It’s harder than it sounds. 

“You’re barking up the wrong sugar daddy, kid.” He takes a sloppy gulp of beer. 

“Always trying to get something for nothing.” He mutters. 

Floyd always lights up about nine cigarettes while he eats his deep-fried lard. Wanda lectures him about his cholesterol while she crumples up her empty pack of Marlboro Reds and lights another from the cigarette she’s putting out. I can actually hear their collective valves sputtering. 

He tells her to bite his ass. He loves her, it’s so obvious. 

“Now Floyd, this is messed up. The mac and cheese comes with the plate. This is not a very Christian way to live.” I admonish. “What would Jesus do?” 

“Jesus would tell you to get a respectable job. That's what the hell Jesus would do.” He sops up the last of his gravy with the free rolls that come out for every table. He won’t give me a roll either.  

Everyday the same scenario plays out, and everyday he stubbornly refuses to show me charity. Everyday Wanda cusses him, and every day I work on different ways to entice him. 

“If I give you a lap dance, will you give me the mac and cheese?”  

Nineteen men offer me their mac and cheese. I say no, it’s the principle of the damn thing. Floyd says ain’t no titty in America that could change his mind. 

When he’s finished up, he gives his dog Buster what’s left over. 

“Now that’s some bullshit.” I’m outraged. Triggered as fuck. 

A collective mmhm reverberates through the smoky bar. 

“Jesus thinks you’re an asshole, Floyd.” Someone says. Everyone laughs. Floyd grunts something about liberal commie something rather, and then they all begin to tell the same stories they’ve been telling each other for twenty-five years, and they laugh themselves into COPD worthy coughing fits. They swallow down their blood pressure meds with wet gulps of beer and make sexual innuendo at Wanda, who tells them to shut the fuck up. Floyd laughs hard. That’s because he loves her. 

I drink a kale, apple, and ginger smoothie that Wanda makes me because I bring my own stuff. They don’t own these things at the bar. They call me a hippie and millennial and things like that, even though I don’t qualify.  

We’re regaled with tales of lot lizards, ex-wives, high school football plays, work day dramas, the he said she saids, close encounters with Bigfoot, and the good old days.

Carlos always has to one up everyone. “Fool please, that’s nothing” he always starts.  

Once we’ve learned about Carlos’s badass, impossible touchdown, or psycho ex, or his supposed tryst with a Honduran transsexual, Floyd and Skully argue about politics. Skully prides himself on being a provocateur, despite not having a political preference either way.  “I'm voting Beto. Nobody needs an AR15, except racists. Besides, it's a phallic symbol of the patriarchy and toxic masculinity.” When Floyd looks red and about ready to pop, Skully looks around the room at everyone and winks, satisfied. It's just too easy. 

On day 685 I come in as usual, but it’s a somber affair.  

“Floyd’s passed on.” Wanda wails. Her blue eyeliner leaks down the crevasses in her face. “He done had a heart attack, right in that chair!” she points, more dramatic than I’ve seen before, and blows her nose into the bar towel, setting it down next to the lemons that are next to Cheeto’s asshole. I suspect to myself that it wasn’t the heart attack that killed Floyd, and make a mental note to pick up some vitamin C. 

Skully says he just can’t believe it, that he just saw him and he looked fine.  

Carlos says everybody just saw him you idiot - we were all here.  

Wanda tells Carlos to shut the hell up.  

Carlos says it’s because Floyd smoked those menthols, they’re worse for you. They leave crystals in your lungs. 

Wanda tells Carlos to shut the hell up.  

Skully says everything happens for a reason. Mmhm, everyone agrees, except for Carlos, who says that’s some bullshit.  

Wanda tells Carlos to shut the hell up. 

People want to know who’s going to take care of Buster. Wanda says she is. Proof that Floyd always wanted her to be his baby mama.  

No one knew that Floyd was married until that very day. We’d seen the man, Travis, occasionally, in an out of the bar to get this or that from Floyd. When asked, Floyd said that was his boy. Now his ‘boy’ was here to pick up his dog. 

When did he have time to be married? This guy didn’t seem like Floyd’s type at all. No blue eye liner, no gum snapping, no vagina.  Nevertheless, he wears Floyd’s ring, and he’s broken. And so we tell him funny Floyd stories and get him drunk.

Before long, out of either loneliness or boredom, Travis began to regularly join us at Trigger’s. He drank bloody Mary’s, and played techno music from his android app, regularly dancing up against Carlos when he played Snoop. Carlos assures him he couldn’t handle it, dawg.  

If it looks like Travis might miss a day, Wanda calls him and tells him to get his gay ass up to the bar, and to bring Buster too. She pulls lemons from the bar that are next to the towel that are next to Cheeto’s asshole, because Travis likes them with his Bloody Mary. She winks at him and pinches his cheeks. She never snaps her gum at him or tells him to take his ass on down the road.  She tells him he’s a good boy for not smoking, and she sends him home with food.

At Christmas, Wanda puts up a tree with an ornament for every regular, including Floyd. Travis is the only one who gets a stocking. “Bite my ass if you don’t like it”, she snaps at the rest of us.

Travis doesn’t take the mac and cheese with his meal either, so I ask him if I can have it. He tells me of course, and I say really? “Well yeah, it’s the principle of the damn thing. Why waste something that’s already paid for?” Why, indeed. Wanda tells him he’s a good boy.

Skully tries to pick a fight. “You ask me, the gays are the downfall of this country. Them and toxic man hatin’ feminists.” Travis tells him he just hasn’t had any good dick, and dances up next to him. Skully runs away guarding his butt, and everyone laughs, descending into coughing fits, and then they take their blood pressure meds with wet gulps of beer. They all make sexual innuendo at Wanda, who tells them to shut the fuck up. Travis laughs hard. That’s because he loves her.

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