The Incense Salesman
“That is my wish, djinn – to have my woman back.”
The giant, smoky rose engulfs Darren into its luminous core. When he wakes up, he is alone in his bedroom, just like he was when he lit the first incense all those weeks ago, just like he was when he lit the second one a few moments ago, just like he will be for the rest of his life, because his woman is dead. Djinns aren’t real, he’s a delusional mess, and Megan is dead. He plucks a piece of paper towel off the roll he keeps by his desk and wipes up the scorch mark, then tosses the trash into the garbage can. Then, he throws some presentable clothes on, gets his keys and wallet, and heads out to hit the local watering hole, just like he’s done every single night since he let Megan die…
Suddenly Darren is in the bar/casino’s parking lot. He doesn’t remember driving here, he just remembers thinking about how he took his girlfriend of three years into the woods and she got bitten by a snake and she died…
Suddenly Darren is sitting at the bar. The music is terrible but loud, just loud enough to keep him present in the moment instead of spiraling into the deepest, darkest pit his mine hole of a mind can imagine. ‘I once took Megan to a flooded mine hole to go cliff jumping…’
Suddenly Darren has two glasses in front of him, both empty. His vision is beginning to swim but he can still feel his face, so he can’t be that gone, it couldn’t have been anything too strong. The bartender comes up and asks if he wants another. Darren says yes, then fishes out his wallet and slaps down a fiver, as if that will cover his tab. The ‘tender walks away to pour Darren’s drink and the young man is left alone to wallow. Just before he slips back under the surface, he hears that voice again, but not the footsteps, just like last time.
“Holy shit, it’s you.”
Darren slowly turns around and takes in the cool drink of ice water standing behind him. She’s dressed casually – gray sweats, a zip-up hoodie, brunette locks bound in a ponytail; he gets the feeling that he’s seen her before, but he can’t quite place where or when.
“You have no idea who I am, do you?”
“I don’t,” he answers plainly, looking at her like a dog looks at a stick of celery: ambiguously, and slightly confused.
The woman takes out her cell phone and taps the screen a few times, then turns it towards Darren. He squints his eyes against the blinding unfiltered blue light. She asks, “Is that your number?”
Darren studies the numbers, which is no simple task when they’re jumping around like frogs on the lily pads floating in the pond at the top of his street… the pond where Megan parked he–
“Wait, why is my name saved as that? Who are you?”
She locks her phone without answering and pockets it, then takes a seat next to Darren. The bartender comes back at just the right time and sets Darren’s drink down, and the woman asks the ‘tender what he’s having.
“It’s called a snakebite, some British cocktail. Half beer, half hard cider.”
“Well that’s just downright fitting. Make it two, please.”
The ‘tender goes to make it two. The woman turns to Darren and locks eyes with him, then proceeds to take a sip of his drink while maintaining direct eye contact.
“Meh, it’s all right. Not bad. Probably won’t get another one, though.”
“I didn’t even realize I ordered it, if we’re being honest with each other.”
The woman arcs an eyebrow. “Wow, I can’t tell if you hold your liquor really well or really, really badly.”
They sit there without speaking for a moment. Then, “So uh… are you gonna tell me who you are? Or…”
“I’ll tell you who I’m not: fuckin’ Dracula. Bleh. I damn near had to get my stomach pumped to get the taste of blood out of my mouth.” The bartender cautiously sets the woman’s drink down and backs away slowly, not daring to ask for money. She picks up the glass, says, “That was wise of him,” then downs the cider half of the cocktail in one gulp.
And suddenly, the wheels turn. “Holy shit, it’s you.”
“There he is!!” the woman exclaims, giving him a pat on the back. “You never called me back, either. So, hope you don’t mind me asking, but uh… she make it?”
Darren averts his eyes to the bar. Then he gulps down half his snakebite without taking a breath.
“Ah… well, that’s very unfortunate. I’m sorry, Sna–… well, given the circumstances I won’t call you that. What’s your name?”
“Darren,” says Darren. “Sorry about uh… sorry I didn’t call you back. That day was, um… a little hectic.”
“Joy,” she says with a smile, raising her glass. Darren tinks it and they drink. “Don’t worry about it, dude. What’s happened has happened, and I didn’t catch AIDS or anything. No hard feelings. So… what brings you here?”
That same ambiguous look sweeps over Darren’s face but hey, at least he’s not thinking about Megan. He looks to his drink. “You know, just uh… drowning the sorrows. Was thinking about maybe pissing away some cash downstairs.” He looks back and sees that Joy is still staring at him. “What brings you here, Joy?”
Joy smiles. “Do you know what ka is?”
“Ra?” Darren earnestly asks, as the terrible music is so, so loud. “Like, the god?”
A light titter escapes Joy’s mouth. “Close. Its originally an Egyptian spiritual belief, but this author I read – some may call him the king of authors, but uh, that’s a cheesy some – he uses it to describe fate or destiny or the latent conscious intelligence that drives reality, something along those lines.” She takes a small sip of her drink, then, “You know where I’m going with this?”
“Not a single clue,” replies Darren, finishing off his snakebite. “I stopped believing in all that a long, long time ago.”
“Hah, welp. Never mind then…”
They sit in relative silence again. Then Joy gets up, decidedly not finishing her drink, and throws a fifty down on the bar. “Come on.”
She grabs him by the elbow and pulls him out into the parking lot. The sky is beginning to lose its blue in favor of warm pinks and oranges.
“What are you do–”
“I’ll tell you what you’re not doing, Darren – driving on a full stomach. My car’s right over there. Since we’re being honest with each other, I don’t know why I stopped here tonight. But there you were, and now here we are. Funny how that works, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, uhh… so what? Who are you, Joy?”
Joy smiles. “Oh would you just come on? I wanted to go for a walk anyway, so now you’re joining me. The Monksville Dam is beautiful at sunset.”
And so they go to the Monksville Dam, and the view of the sunset is beautiful.
And Darren gets his woman back.
Hello Commons, this has been the last subchapter of the ninth story from Convenient Incidents, an anthology of fifteen interconnected short stories which revolve around a man by the name of Hilter Odolf Williamson.
Convenient Incidents is part of the Third Spiral, an anthology of sorts called The Here and Now which is comprised of stories told from the various planes of Existence.
Convenient Incidents is available to read for free in its entirety on my website. Click here to check it out.
I’ve written a few other books, too. Click here to see the list.
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If you’re there, hypothetical reader, thank you for being there. Be well Commons~