From the Fiction Archives….

I’m working hard on Standing With Buffalo. People who know I’m writing sometimes ask me how far along I am, and what it’s about and things of that nature. I can safely say I think I’m almost half-way through now (though that could change, depending on what reveals itself to me). I can also safely say it’s a story about relationships and some of the neurotic/co-dependent/dysfunctional and powerfully supportive/glorious guises they take. It’s about family and friends and friemly and enemies. It’s very exciting, I think, and I’m doing my best to do it justice. 

But, you know, it’s daunting, too. And often intimidating. I wonder if I can tell the story that matters, or if–as Stephen King has said–I’m “just shoveling s**t from a sitting position.” So on days when I feel like I’m trapped in the absolute quagmire of my brain and haven’t met a participle that isn’t caught in full dangle, I go back and read this old chestnut I wrote a long time ago. It’s one of my favorite short stories, published in The Pulp Magazine back in ’02. Somehow, it always helps me focus. So I share it with you. Cheers. 
Rippy’s Bar and Grill
a very short story 
Kathryn J. Simpson

The interesting thing about being a waitress at Rippy’s was the diverse clientele. Rippy herself always said she wanted her bar to “be a true embodiment of the melting pot America had never been able to actually represent.” Rippy loved to talk politics. 

Myra hated politics. Trying to pay attention to Rippy’s nightly debates and gin-punctuated seminars gave Myra a headache. Luckily, though, there were always plenty of regulars slouching against the bar for Rippy to argue with. Myra’s opinions, if she ever had one, were seldom needed to keep discussion rolling. Instead, she wandered the bar floor, serving cosmopolitans to the drag queens, beers to the fraternity brothers, scotch and waters to the businessmen and bookclubbers alike. It seemed everyone felt equal in the dingy bar, in spite of their stereotypes.

The day the package bomb arrived, Myra was suffering gamely through one of those headaches. Rippy had been bickering with Tim Wolls for 30 minutes about Dick Cheney engineering the World Trade Center attacks to further oil interests in Alaska. Rippy shouted the conspiracy was so obvious a blind nun could see it. Wolls, retired from a life as an Army mechanic, had developed an alarming purple shade to his face as he sputtered on about impossibilities and dishonor and Rippy’s destined fate in a federal prison for ignorant liberal lesbians.

“Thank God for distraction,” Myra thought, eyeing the good looking guy in dark brown shorts and chambray shirt as he dollied a box to the open floor near the register. 

They were 45 minutes into happy hour, and Myra was slightly in the weeds from having to change out a keg herself. She hastily mixed a dirty vodka martini for the high school principal at table 12 when Rippy knelt and popped her pocketknife into the plastic tape atop the box and began shearing it open. 

The papers would later quote a fire inspector saying the bomb was made from manure and some kind of chemical Myra had never heard of. Rippy was shaking her head in frustration, telling Wolls to pull his head out of his ass when she triggered the wires inside. 

It exploded with a bang and a force great enough to lift Rippy off the ground and toss her into the cigarette machine like a Barbie doll. Her jaw was broken, most of the teeth and cheek on the right side of her face were missing, and her right eye had ruptured. It lay on her cheek like a sad party balloon. She was vaguely aware she was having a heart attack.

Myra was knocked to the ground by the blast and curled into a ball to protect her self from the shattered glass and booze bottles raining around her. She could hear people cursing, could hear Wolls wailing that he couldn’t hear anything, couldn’t see. What frightened her most, though, was that for the first time in seven years she couldn’t hear the belligerent crow of Rippy’s voice.

“Call police! Call police!” Someone was shouting. “Get an ambulance!”

Myra began to uncurl from her protective bubble, her body already aching. She could see blood on her hands and arms. She hoped it was from superficial scratches. She looked slowly to the left toward the smoldering gap in the bar where the register teetered. She could see the bottom of the cardboard box, strangely clean. And beyond the box, across the checkered tile floor, she could see Rippy slumped. Myra thought her boss must be dead; she could see no sign of life. She stepped closer, already crying.

Two more steps rewarded her with a view of Rippy’s left hand slightly clenching. Myra bounded over the gap in the bar, shouldering Wolls into an empty table where he sat with a thud.

“Rippy! Rippy!” Myra could see blood on Rippy’s shirt and knew she’d have to be careful not to puke when she saw the cut or whatever it was that was bleeding so badly. Myra knelt and gently took Rippy’s hand.

“Rippy, are you ok? Come on and get up. You’re bleeding.”

She reached with her other hand and lifted Rippy’s chin to the light. When she saw Rippy’s face, and saw the old woman’s jaw muscles trying to work to say something, Myra did turn and throw up, clenching her eyes to erase the sight. Someone behind her was shouting into a cell phone to send a fucking ambulance, for Christ’s sake!

When she looked back, still clutching Rippy’s hand, Rippy was staring at her, her remaining eye swimming in tears that hadn’t fallen yet. She was speaking something Myra couldn’t make out, the sounds garbled in the remaining jaw and teeth.

“Eye oh,” Rippy said. “Eye oh.”

“You know?” Myra was confused. “You know who did this?”

Rippy’s head shook feebly; her hand squeezed Myra’s tight. “Eye oh!”

“Ok, honey, ok. Hang on and you can tell the police. I won’t leave you, ok?” Myra could hear sirens and they sounded like sweet music.

“Ar!” Rippy squeezed harder. “Ar! Eye oh!” Breathing was hard. She hated being frightened, and now tears were streaming down her tattered cheek.

Firemen arrived first, followed closely by paramedics. One of them carefully led Myra away from Rippy to check her cuts and eyes. Myra could hear Rippy breathlessly insisting she knew who it was who set the bomb and his name was Art or Mark or something.

Rippy was furious and frightened now. Why didn’t they understand her? How hard was it? Her nitro pills were right there on the bar! 

The paramedics were mouthing something about blood pressure but she couldn’t hear them well. And what was wrong with her right eye? She was very, very tired.

Myra continued crying softly as Rippy was loaded onto a stretcher and wheeled outside through the gathering swarm of gawkers and looky-loos. The police started asking her about the guy—the cute delivery guy in the chambray shirt and brown shorts. Was he Caucasian? Dark complected? Was he wearing glasses or have any distinguishing scars or tattoos? Could she hear his voice? Did he have any kind of an accent?

She described him as best she could, but knew she wasn’t giving them much to go on. The siren from Rippy’s ambulance overwhelmed the cops’ voices and the crowd’s chatter and pierced Myra’s headache and nerves like a frozen ice pick. The cops tried to hide their frustration when she turned her head suddenly to vomit again. They offered encouragement and gentle nods, but their lips were pressed into hard, bloodless lines of frustration. Nobody had even seen what the guy was driving. They had nothing to go on.

At that moment 15 blocks away a good looking guy in brown shorts and a chambray shirt was wheeling another box into another bar, winking at another waitress and then leaving without a trace. He had to hurry. He had seven more boxes to deliver before last call.

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