Fiction

Eightball

By Brandon Harris

I chalked up my stick slowly, taking care to cover each millimeter in light, aqua dust. It was a nineteen weight; a little heavier than I liked, but it was the only straight cue in the bar. It would have to do.

I took a drag off my cigarette and looked across the table through poor lighting and a blue haze. The rack was ready.

"So, Kid, how good are you? You gonna whip me?"

"I dunno," I said. "Depends on whether or not you know how to rack a set, I suppose."

"'s a sweet rack, kid. Wouldn't play you like that."

"Don't call me 'kid'."

I dropped the cue ball on the table and decided to play it where it landed. Rested the stick on the table's edge, sliding between the splayed index and middle fingers of my left hand. Get more leverage that way. Some dude I'd never seen before laid quarters on the table. I paused and glared up at him from underneath sweaty hair, fallen into my face. Interrupting my concentration. He sat down, looking annoyed.

Glanced at my opponent. He was older than the bar's normal patronage, which was usually the Mtv GenX set. I pegged him to be about late forties, early fifties. He was missing his pinkie finger on his right hand. Wore working class clothes. Tattoo, a small dagger on the left bicep. I didn't know his name.

I broke. It was kind of sloppy; the spin being too low, causing the ball to roll backwards rather than stop, as I had wanted it to. I sunk two solids, but didn't have jack for a shot afterwards.

"Nice break," he said.

"Not really. Coulda done better. Four, two rails."

I missed the shot. I cursed.

"You always this hostile, Kid?"

"What?"

"I said, 'You always this hostile, Kid?' You always mean to everyone?"

"Yeah." Sarcastically. "Alla fucking time."

He was silent and stared at the table for what seemed like forever.

"You gonna shoot or what?" I asked.

"Yeah, I'm gonna shoot. Twelve ball. Long rail. Tap the six as it goes."

I snorted. Never.

He looked up for a moment. Opened his mouth as if to say something. Thought better of it. Sank the shot.

I widened my eyes. Knew then I was gonna get my ass kicked.

I did, too.

"Kid, you ever meet a dead man?"

"Huh?”

"Jesus. Don't you listen? I said, 'Kid, you ever meet a dead man?'"

"Uh, no. Is this . . . uhm . . . relevant?"

"Yeah. Yeah it is. 'Cause I have."

"Oh yeah. Lazarus come forth. What church you from?"

"No church." Clunk. Clunk. Clunk. Three stripes in a row. "Tennessee."

Go away, old man, I thought. Go away.

"Ever been to Tennessee?"

"Of course. Only, what, thirty miles?"

He laughed. "More like eighty. But close enough. I met a dead man there, once. Eleven. Two ball combo, slice into the corner."

Clunk.

"Yeah? Why you telling me this, man?"

"I reckon because you remind me of him, Kid. You're angrier than a bear with a hornet up his ass, and you don't know whether to be angry at yourself or someone else."

I snorted. "Who the fuck are you, old man? My goddamned psychiatrist? What the fuck do you know about me anyway?" I dropped my cigarette into a beer bottle and fished out another. Half a pack left.

"Me? Shit. I dunno. I'm a lotta people, I reckon. One of 'ems a guy whose about to wipe you clean playing pool."

He missed his next shot. It was obvious that he wanted to, and he made it obvious. I was getting angry. Heat welling upwards. I pushed my hair back. Looked for my next shot. Not much - just a simple cut to the side, but I wasn't going to have anything left after that.

I missed.

"Fuck. Dammit. That was too fucking easy to miss."

"See? Angry at yerself, dammit. An' it's fuckin' up your game."

"Man, what the fuck do you know?"

"I know you're cutting yourself up inside, and lashin' at everyone else on account of it."

"Oh, yeah. You got it, Doctor. And why am I doing this? And how often did I want to bang my mother? Or was it my father?"

"You kids, you ain't got no fuckin' patience, you know that? Always want everything now. Gotta have it all. Can't sit still and look at yourselves, can you? Not for a second. Thirteen. Three rails."

Clunk.

I started to say something but shut my mouth.

"Yeah, that's what I thought," he said. "Now, I see there being two sides of you, boy. And one of 'em's hurtin' real bad. And the other one, it don't know what to make of that. It's just gettin' pissed. And there's this conflict between the two, right? Like, one don't wanna fight. And the other, since it can't get mad at what it *needs* to get mad at, it starts snipin' at the other half. And it's fucking you up, big time."

I didn't say anything. He missed another one. I ground out my cigarette, half finished. Chalked the stick again, determined not to lose as bad as I was afraid I was going to.

I sank one. An easy shot. Missed the other.

I looked up at him.

"And how, pray tell, is this 'fucking' me up?"

He ran talcum powder around his left hand. I stared at his missing finger while he did so.

"Well, way I see it, your attackin' anyone whose gettin' near you. Anyone. Closer they are, the more venom in the fangs. Since you're the closest, you're getting it worst. Nine ball. Corner."

Clunk.

I lit another cigarette. I'd never lost this bad.

I was pissed. Hard core pissed.

"Now, depression is a thing you deal with. I lost my wife when I was thirty-five. Damned near killed me. I was a wreck for years afterwards. So fucking mad. Sad, too. Evil, dark, levels of sad.

"Ten ball. Rail around the eight, in the side."

Clunk.

I looked away.

"Fuck. Call it, old man."

He chalked up his stick.

"Then, one day, I looked at life for a while, and I realized that I didn't have time to be all angry at everyone. Including myself. See, life is like a game of pool, right? Against the Grim Reaper Death hisself, best Eight-Ball player ever.

"Eight ball. One rail, long. Back here," he said, patting the corner.

"You play until he sinks the eight, right? Then it's your time to go. And if, by some crazy twist of fate, you happen to win, like sinking the Eight on the break or whatever, he'll still get you."

He shot.

"He's just gonna lay another set of quarters on the table."

Clunk.

I still don't know who I was angrier at.