Jan Irene Miller and Lisa Ventrella


Jan Irene Miller
Created using Lisa Ventrella’s story (below) as inspiration

Nothing A Little Vodka Won’t Cure
By Lisa Ventrella

You sit at the neighborhood bar, having your fourth vodka tonic.  Your girl sits beside you, having her second Coke with lime.  She’s not drinking because she’s going to work later.  It’s been a rough week and you simply need to get drunk.  As she talks, you wonder why you never cared much that her teeth are yellow and the features of her face severe.  Probably because you’ve been fixated on her hot body for the two months that you’ve been seeing her.  You have no idea what she is talking about.  You’re too busy having a revelation about her physical faults.

You reposition yourself on the bar stool and are reminded of the morning’s fishing failure as the sheathed filet knife in your back pocket presses into your boney ass.  Your girl blathers on and on, kind of like the talking head on the bar TV, while you boil inside thinking how much you stink at catching fish, realizing that your life truly sucks.  Your Dad was right. You weren’t good at school or sports.  You’ve never caught a break at the welding shop where you’ve worked since high school.  Maybe moving to a new town would help.  Maybe finding a new girl would help too.  You decide that having a couple more vodka tonics is the best solution for the moment.

Two guys who look like they live at the gym sit farther down the bar eyeing and smiling at your girl.  They lean in toward each other and whisper, probably about your girl, then guffaw loudly, the sound traveling in every direction.  They eye her a few more times, drooling like they’re at a strip joint.  You order another drink, patiently waiting for their next interruption.  Then, because you aren’t really a patient man, you decide to do something as the bartender puts the drink in front of you.  Down your drink goes, a solid gulp burning an angry trail all the way down to your empty stomach.  The liquid courage speeds into your circulation.  You chew some of the ice left in the glass, stand, and tuck in your flannel shirt.  The bartender asks if you want to settle your tab and you say you’ll be right back.  In fact, you tell him to have another drink waiting for you.  You won’t be long.

After you belch and revisit the burrito you had for lunch, you maneuver toward the two guys and approach them from behind.  Your girl thinks you’re just going to the john, most likely, as you glide away from her.  The scruffy-faced blond sees you coming and hops off his bar stool.  You look up at him, he glares back at you, and you realize he’s a good five or six inches taller than you.

“Hey.  Is that your girlfriend over there?”  He laughs when he talks.  His accent sounds slurred to you, his eyes look bloodshot.  You catch a whiff of his drunken breath.  He’s been drinking for hours, you imagine.

You say, “She’s with me.”

He looks over his shoulder at his friend, looks back at you, and laughs like he’s just heard the punch line to a classic joke.  “We like her body.  We think she like to party and have good time with nice Russian guys.”

He says something to his friend in what must be Russian.  They snort and bellow with a quick crescendo to girly giggling.

“What’s so funny?”

“We want to know if when you screw her, do you turn out lights?  She has nice body, but is dog face, man.”  He laughs so hard he spits and grabs his belly.  You notice his gold eyeteeth and wonder if they’re real.

You pause and actually think about going back to your fresh drink, but instead think what the heck, I’ve got nothing to lose and slug him in the face as hard as you can.  Good thing you joined that gym last month.

He grabs his jaw for a second, checking for damage, and then laughs hysterically.  You realize your girl is shrieking at you from the bar to stop and you wonder why you decided to slug the big lug when he obviously could take you down with his thumb. You think you should have bought those anabolic steroids off that huge guy at the gym.

The two guys talk rapidly as you rub your throbbing hand.  They’re discussing what they’re going to do with you, you think.  You wonder why the blond one didn’t just slug you back.  Your feet feel attached to the floor, your legs heavy, and yet your heartbeat stampedes out of your chest.

The bartender yells at them in their language.  You never realized this was a Russian bar, but then you usually aren’t very observant.  You guess he tells them to take it outside, or to get the hell out of his place of business or he’s going to call the cops.  But most likely he’s saying that more Russian guys will be here soon to torture this asshole.  “This asshole” is you, of course.

You start to think that you should have given up drinking for Lent, but you aren’t Catholic.  Feeling a bit dizzy and a sudden urge to pee, the four drinks catching up, you back slowly toward the bathrooms, thinking somehow the guys won’t notice.

“Hey, my friend,” says the one you slugged.

You tell him you just need to take a piss.  He isn’t having any of it as he moves toward you.  You know what you must do.  There really is no choice, you think.  Your hand slides into your back pocket of your Levi’s.  You’re reminded again of the shitty morning of fishing as you finger the knife that remains sharp and unused in its sheath.  A lousy fishing morning, it was.

Ever since the eighth-grade Boy Scouts, you’ve been a master with the knife.  Cleaning the day’s catch, preparing the campfire and jerry rigging any unplanned camp problems.  The one in your back pocket, however, isn’t a small Boy Scout knife.  No.  This one — a skinner — could easily filet the most delicate of fish and slit a man’s throat with its solid steel, two-inch wide by five-inch long blade.

The Russians move in slow motion toward you, snarling like some unidentifiable wild animal you’ve seen on Animal Planet.  They look even more puffed up now.  You think some piss rolls down your leg.  You think of making a dash for it, but you don’t want to appear cowardly, especially in front of your girl.  You wait for one to get close enough to you.  Like a stealth hunter, you gently but expertly bring the knife around to the front of your body so that just as the blond guy lunges, you pierce the silvery blade deep into his belly.  Out comes the knife still in your hand, bloody to the handle. The blond guy grabs his abdomen and you see a bright and shocking soak of red against his white shirt.  He looks up at you, eyes glazed, mouth opening and closing like a fish gasping for air on the shore.  He moans, slumps to the ground. You didn’t mean for it to go this far.

The other guy, with the gold eyeteeth, comes at you with a chair over his head ready to catapult it toward your head.  Your opportunity before you, you lunge at him and plunge the knife perfectly into the gold-toothed guy’s belly, hitting him squarely in the spleen, you think.  Instead of feeling panic at your actions, you marvel at the skill you’ve displayed with this knife.  You feel a sense of pride that you are able to perform so well under pressure.  You’re a regular James Bond.  You look for your girl, but she’s nowhere in sight.

Once the guy realizes that the knife has pierced his spleen, he gets that deer-in-headlights look the other guy had when the knife punctured his body.  He drops the chair.  By now, you notice that the bar is empty except for a few bemused drunks gawking at this chaos. You wonder when the cops will get here.  Maybe more big dudes will run out from a back room and rip you to shreds.  You stand frozen even though your senses are heightened with adrenaline searing through your body. You slump down in a nearby chair to wait and feel your heartbeat pounding in your head and chest and wonder why you can’t just flee like bad guys always do.

Just like in an episode of The Twilight Zone, time passes.  As you stand, finally ready to get out of there, you see the cops bust in, yelling, guns pointed at you. You raise your hands, drop the knife.  There is blood everywhere.  The two Russian guys remain completely motionless, tangled on the floor.  You hear sirens whining, closing in.  You feel yourself being slammed to the floor, your hands pulled hard behind your back like your arms are being ripped out of their sockets.  Your face is about an inch from one of the guys’ tiny lakes of blood.  The cops scream something at you.  You try to lift your head to see if your girl has reappeared, but they slam it back to the floor, smashing your face into the sticky blood that smells like a combination of stale beer, vomit and copper.  Guess you won’t be getting drunk today after all.

When you first went to the Joint, instead of feeling remorse about the knifings, you wonder why you didn’t just run out of that hole-in-the-wall bar.  You’re curious why you decided to take on not one, but two very large Russian guys.  You question why in the hell you struck a guy much larger than yourself, all for a dumb girl with a pointy nose and yellow teeth who was a lousy piece of ass.  You think if you had a girlfriend like Angelina Jolie, life would be perfect.  You never would have been in a crummy bar like that, not with Angie by your side.

The dog-faced girl, who really isn’t that homely, still comes to visit you in the can.  Her name is Martha but everyone calls her Marty.  She still blathers on about nothing important, but at least she stops by.  You realize that a lousy piece of ass is better than no piece of ass and you vow to stop referring to her in a derogatory way. You actually look forward to her visits every Saturday.  Somehow, an idea finds its way into your head and you think there’s got to be another, better way.

You look out to the concrete hallway from your 12 x 8 cinder block cell and think back on that gory day.  You think that being a tough guy is stupid and juvenile.  You know that you could have just walked away, found another bar to get drunk in and carried on with your life.  You think that the longer you’re here, you’ll learn to how to become a good man.  A man who understands that time is a big deal, after all, that insists on being treated with respect.

But for now, time is your friend, your lover, your nemesis, your master.  It calls the shots.
Time is having her way with you.  Your reality is that you’re stuck in this cell.  You aren’t going anywhere.  All you can do is remember that day.  Replay it over and over.

Years later you might still find yourself behind these bars, long after Marty has stopped visiting and moved on with her life, and you’ll say to yourself:  Wouldn’t a vodka tonic really be great at washing down this never-ending buffet of boredom? But, you realize a drink is out of the question, so you might as well keep taking the free classes here in prison and hope to God you make it out before it’s too late for you. You look down at your hands and notice the lines, like rings on a cut-down tree and wonder just how much more time this will take?



Jan Irene Miller
Inspiration piece provided to Lisa Ventrella

Pro Re Nata
By Lisa Ventrella

The sky was supposed to be full of red and orange and green beach ball-like balloons, similar to hot air balloons but without the basket. Inside one of them should have been the near middle-aged woman Lucy’s ex-husband before he’d become The X.  He would somehow make his way down from that balloon to Lucy, his ex-wife, on her little sailboat tossi ng about on saw tooth waves, waiting for a rescue. Lucy watched the sky rush by sideways with angry black storm clouds, the type that change shape every few seconds illuminating a dog’s face or an elephant profile.

Lucy had left work at 5:00. She hadn’t counted on balloons or Mr. X or sawtooth waves.  It being a Wednesday, with still two days to go in the week, she desperately wanted to finish her day, get home, put her feet up and have a cup of tea or maybe a margarita. Lucy’s second job as a visiting nurse brought in extra money, but she missed that lost time with her kids. She’d promised them a trip to Disney, divorce guilt getting the best of her. Only four patients tonight – all Hospice patients; she could be done by 7, 7:30 at the latest and get home to her three, two boys, one girl.

Driving around the same block for the fourth time, she had to admit she was lost. Why did I pick this second job? To help dying patients and the homebound elderly and to get those kids to Disney. She glanced at her notes again:  a 63-year-old male with lung cancer, metastasis to the liver.  At the bottom of the page, the doctor had written: Prognosis: days to weeks.

Finally, she’d found his house, a 1940s bungalow desperately in need of some upkeep. The old man opened the door before she rang the bell.

“Before you say anything, are you here to change my religion?” he said.

Lucy, flashing her credentials, explained that she needed to make sure he was okay and check that he had enough medications for the week.

“I don’t know you.” he said.

Metastasis to the brain too. He must be very confused and angry. But is was true, he didn’t know her. She was filling in for his regular nurse. Lucy continued to gently insist he let her inside so she could help. The man stood firm. This happened sometimes. She could sense something wasn’t right. Lucy thought about her kids at home with the sitter. Did they miss her too?

Still standing on the man’s porch, she felt a few raindrops pelt her hair. The clouds had darkened, erasing most of what daylight was left. There would be no Coast Guard, no rescue helicopters dropping a swinging basket for her to jump into. There would be no ex-husband, past or present.

It’s always something. Lucy looked back at the man, obviously very sick, dying. She decided to tap into her fierceness, something she used on an as needed basis or PRN – pro re nata – as they say in medicine. He will not sink this ship.

“Sir, I’m going to stand here if you don’t mind, but just so you know, I’m not leaving.”

“Suit yourself,” the man said.  “But neither am I.”


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One comment

  1. So cool. Every time you write something new, I like your work more and more. You’re hitting something deeper than before. Great, keep going.

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