[February Featured Short Story] Closing Time by Heidi Slowinski

Monthly Short Story Feature

One of my writing goals for 2022 is to create more short stories. They’re a good creative exercise and sometimes lead to bigger ideas for novels. Or who knows, maybe an eventual collection of short stories in the form of a new book.

The story I’ve selected for this month is one I’ve been working on for a couple of months now. While I do have some experience working behind a bar, this story is purely fictional. As they say, any similarities to actual people or places are coincidental. Please considering sharing your thoughts in the comments!

Closing Time

“Thanks guys. Get home safe,” she said as the last two customers gathered their keys and tucked a few singles next to their empty beer bottles.

She gathered up their bottles, with one hand, gripping the necks between her fingers. Upending them over the dump sink, she let the last few drops drain out. Then turning, she casually tossed them into a half full pail of empties. The sharp crash of the glass rang out through the empty bar. The corner of her mouth turned up in a satisfied half smirk. She tucked the singles into the pocket of her jeans and moved the coasters to the stack on the rail.

Turning back to the sinks, she flipped the switch on the top of the glass washer. The water swirled and churned around the rapidly spinning brushes, creating a thin layer of foam across the top of the water. One by one, she took the pint and rocks glasses from the edge of the sink, rhythmically forcing each one up and down as the center brush spun inside. Then she dunked each one through the rinse water in the next sink, followed by a single dip in the sanitizer and over to the drain board on the opposite side to dry.

“Keep driving,” she thought as the hum of the washer came to a stop with the flick of the switch. She pulled a white rag from her belt loop to dry her hands as her eyes followed the glow of the headlights out the windows. The car continued past. The red glow of the taillights faded, swallowed up by the dark.

She turned then, glancing at the clock on the wall. Closing time. She moved swiftly out from behind the bar to the front door, flipping the deadbolt, hearing the thud as it moved into place. Her hand automatically swiped across the light switch, feeling it snap down as the light of the sign hanging above the parking lot extinguished. She moved to the neon signs hanging in the front windows, sharply yanking each pull chain, putting out the colorful glare with each click.

Then she clicked of the switch of the power strip for the video poker machines. The five screens went simultaneously black. The lights over the bar were already dimmed, to give a more intimate atmosphere, not that such a thing was really necessary in a small-town dive bar.

She went back behind the bar, grasping the remote from the counter next to the cash register. Without looking up, she hit the power button. The room was completely quiet for the first time all night. As she dropped the remote back onto the counter, she laid her head back and let out a long, slow breath.

It had been a long evening. She came in at five tonight, two hours earlier than normal because her boss needed back up to cover a surprise birthday party. It was a mature crowd and not as large as he was expecting. She managed serving everyone by herself while her boss just got in her way, mingling with the guests. She hated when he did that. As the birthday crowd thinned, the regular crowd started making their way in along with a brief appearance from a bachelorette party. Obnoxious girls, not used to drinking in the country, with their ‘I don’t know what I want’ and ‘can you make me a [some made up drink with twelve ingredients, but they can’t tell you a single one of them]’. Then they plug the jukebox full of their crappy bubblegum pop music that isn’t going to run out before closing time but leave after two songs and you’re stuck listening to that shit all night. Somewhere around 9pm, she sent her boss home with his wife. Neither was in any shape to be driving but she was a little more sober than he was. He started before noon and didn’t let up all day long. He normally claimed he was fine but somehow, she’d convinced him she could handle closing up tonight and he should just go home. And not a moment too soon. Much longer and someone likely would have

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said something to set his wife off and they’d start arguing in front of customers again. Not that she wanted to work. She’d had a long week at her nine to five and really just wanted to sack out on her couch, put on some old movie she’d seen a hundred times with a glass of white wine and no one to bother her. But that rarely happened anymore. Not since she started picking up hours at this place. Her boss was a family friend. It was complicated.

She glanced around to see what was left to do before she could go home. The other bartenders were expected to mop at the end of the night. But as she had to bail out her boss for the evening when he got too drunk to stand, the floor was just going to stay dirty. He could mop when he opened in the morning. At least everything else was cleaned up. She couldn’t count the times she’d been called to open on a Saturday and found the remnants of the night before left all over the bar. Empty bottles, dirty shot glasses stuck to the bar, overflowing sinks of glassware to wash, a cooler in need of stocking, and stinky buckets of bottles that didn’t get taken to the dumpster.

That’s when her eyes rested on the pails under the edge of the bar. They were only half full, but the residue of beer would stink up the place for opening the next day. She reached for the handles on the two pails and headed for the side door to the parking lot. She shivered as she moved out into the cool night air. Her footsteps crunched on the crumbling pavement and loose gravel as she carried the buckets to the dumpster along the fence. All was quiet at the restaurant next door. Her eyes scanned the shadows cast by the moonlight on the trees.

Glass shattered and crashed as she dumped the first pail into the dumpster. The noise was nearly deafening as glass smashed into glass and crashed against the metal sides of the dumpster. Her ears were still ringing as she set the first pail down and reached for the second. So, she didn’t hear his footfalls as he ran up, crashing into her and knocking her to the ground.

The ringing in her ears was replaced by her blood rushing through her veins as she registered what was happening. His hand covered her mouth and nose. She tried to scream but a muffled groan was all she could manage. He kept her pinned underneath him with his body as his other hand fumbled with the fly of her jeans. She squirmed, trying to free an arm or a leg to fight he pressed down on her harder. She couldn’t move. He lifted off her but only enough to flip her onto her stomach. His hand was at the back of her head and neck, forcing her face into the muddy gravel. Stones pierced into her cheek and temple. Thick mud oozed into her mouth as she tried to scream. He pinned her legs with his as his free hand gripped the back of her jeans and underwear. His jagged nails scraped against her skin as he roughly started to yank them down.

“Shut up,” he growled in her ear. His moist, hot breath was heavy with the smell of liquor. He shoved the side of her head harder into the ground.

She shook off the image as she finished dumping out the second bucket. Then she quickly retreated to the side door. Being out here at night always made her jumpy. Anything could happen, in the dark along a deserted county highway in the middle of the night. She the buckets back in place. She emptied the till into the cash bag from their bank. Then gathered her keys, phone, and purse. She picked up the other cash bags for the poker machines, sports pools, and rolls of quarters, taking them to the back room and locking them in the safe. She flipped off the remaining lights, leaving only the glow from the clock to light her way out. Once outside, she locked the door. Then got in her car and pulled onto the highway without stopping to check traffic and drove home for the night.

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