The Windex was disappearing at Hunky Mike’s Sports Pub. Gallons each week. Ever since the Skin-Melting Bacteria had flown in from Peru on the beaks of white pigeons, we were obligated to perform rigorous cleaning routines. Most people held their pints with latex-gloves, but the occasional Hunky Mike insisted on riding bareback. We disinfected extra hard for those guys. Those guys thought their skin couldn’t be melted. Oh, but it could! We’d seen the flesh fall off the face of the Hunkiest of Mikes. After, we’d have to shut the whole pub down for two weeks—no tips.
Windex was not on the CDC-approved list of cleaners, but we used it anyway because Fred loved the smell. Fred was the Boss. He was an alcoholic. He’d worked in restaurants his whole life. It was an occupational hazard. Sometimes Fred forgot to put on his gloves—because he was drunk. We’d all watched in horror as he went to touch some un-sanitized surface with his bare skin. Fred! We’d shout. Hey, Fred! The Bacteria! Then he’d look at us like, what bacteria? until his memory got jogged and he started crying.
Fred’s wife divorced him a couple of years ago after he smashed his Corolla into a tree while their son was in the backseat. The son drinks his meals through a straw now. Fred’ll be paying back medical bills for eternity. Before the Bacteria, Fred’s ex-wife used to wheel the son into Hunky Mike’s. They’d sit at a table by the window and she’d spoon-feed him mashed potatoes while she drank a glass of Chardonnay. When the son saw Fred, he called him Daddy. Those nights, Fred got blitzed.
It was Marcy the Prep Cook who found Fred that morning. The night before he’d had a run-in with a glove-less Hunky Mike who’d called Fred a Loser. Fred took stuff like that to heart. Marcy said Fred was passed out in the mop closet, an open gallon of Windex in his lap, the blue stuff dribbled all over him. Marcy said when he woke up, she’d had to pry the bottle out of his hands. He kept trying to drink it, she said. He kept on saying, I just want to be streak-free.
When the white pigeons first appeared, we thought they were doves. We thought we were entering some new epoch of peace and calm. That people were going to start loving each other. That we were going to stop spewing smoke into the ozone. That we were going to stop killing each other and everything else. Now, government gunmen crouch in the corners, and the birds get sniped. Not just the pigeons—the doves too. You can see them out there, falling mid-flight, white smudges in the blue sky.
Elizabeth is a graduate of the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. Her previous work has appeared in The Forge Literary Magazine, CHEAP POP, Bodega, CRAFT, Fiction Writers Review, and elsewhere. She lives in Charlottesville, Virginia with her daughter Ruby.