"I hate my life."
I made this profound utterance as I set my beer on the bar by Gus, a mangy mass of an old fellow who only ever responded to anything I said with an "erm" or an "eh now" or an "uh-huh". These responses could have been made in his sleep, and for all I knew he was sleeping. His head was always hung so low over the glass it looked as if his unkempt beard would take a dunk in it at any moment and he'd begin to snore.
Still, he was probably the last person who wouldn't walk away from me in that rundown, punky old joint. He never moved until closing time. So even if he wasn't actually listening, it still made me feel like I had someone to talk to.
"I'm never going to be anything," I continued as I gazed down into my Moose Drool. "My stepmom told me that a long time ago. Not in so many words really, but I got the gist, you know."
"Uh-huh," said Gus.
"Everybody hates my stuff," I continued. "Can't even get it into the small galleries or podunk gift shops. And I've been trying so long...I do good mountain scenes, you know. Really like painting the ruins - the Well the most, I guess. Even do justice to these stupid red rocks round here."
This was a new noise for Gus that whipped his face up into full view as he pointed to the beer glass I'd jostled when I'd swept my arm round with the last sentence. Ted, married to the old gal who owned the place, came over to mop up the mess with a rag that gave off some funky odor. I moved my elbows off the bar, and Ted walked away with a grunt.
"And I'm feeling so anxious lately," I went on, finally sitting down with my back to the bar to stare at the jumble of empty tables. "I'm having some strange dreams..."
Ted made a noise of disgust. I turned round to look at him. His back to me as he watched the little TV suspended above the bar, he muttered crossly, "Get outta here with your dreams, Don. Nobody cares about your stupid dreams."
"Eh, now," said Gus, but I couldn't tell if that was a reproach aimed at Ted or an affirmation of the sentiment just expressed, so I soldiered on.
'Last night I dreamed there was this blocky iron-haired guy trying to kill me. Kept trying to get me alone, so no one would see. I was looking for a hiding place (at this Ted gave another grunt of disgust which I ignored). So I kept attempting to climb up into one of the air ducts, but every time I removed a vent cover, I'd find a bundle of nasty old rags. You know, like people were hiding stuff up in the vents - maybe homeless people's clothes, maybe somebody's murder weapon, or maybe a bundle of stolen goods. I don't know, because I was so disgusted by the look of them, I never unwrapped them."
Gus made an indefinable noise. Maybe he'd gone off at last. Ted switched off the television, and walked over to us.
"Sweet dreams tonight, Don," he said with a leathery grin like that of a lizard. "Now get out of my bar. Closing Time."
Gus seemed to rock back and forth on the stool to gain momentum, but he finally succeeded in shifting his weight off the stool, leaving behind his meagre nightly tip for Ted. I never saw where he pulled it from. Maybe it drifted down from beneath his beard.
"I only have a bit of change," I said, and I dropped it above the bar, letting the coins roll off in both directions. Ted didn't bother to pick them up; he simply waved his foul rag in front of my face as if that hocus-pocus could make me disappear. I reached the door just after it'd swung to behind Gus.
I stood on the wooden planking outside a moment, letting the dry, hot air envelope me. Nighttime, when the malignant orb was hidden, was the only time the summer heat was tolerable here. It felt like a warm embrace. I looked back and up at the half-lit sign over the bar door, I Killed the Horse With No Name.
I bet Ted wished I was that horse, I thought. I felt like that horse as I stepped off the planking into the dust to start the long lonely walk to home.