By James Calemine
Above the mirror behind a liquor display, a blue neon beer sign flickered and dimmed while Luke Tarver sat at the bar. He enjoyed watching Amanda, the lovely brunette bartender, distracted with an annoying flicker of the neon light. Beautiful confusion on her face proved worth the price of any beer. Amanda’s cruel and curvaceous body drove most men to distraction. Her perfect face reminded him of some killer-eyed beauty from those high quality fashion magazines.
Luke knew she’d never correlate the flickering neon sign with his presence. He considered revealing the secret to her. He didn’t see a wedding ring on Amanda’s finger. Luke acted like he read the newspaper while she waited on her share of admiring customers in the early evening hour.
His grandmother possessed a similar inexplicable force. No watch operated on his grandmother’s wrist. It never mattered how new, expensive, or inexpensive the watch it never kept time while on her wrist, and remained a family mystery.
“Hey, how are you?”
“I’m fine. Looks like you’re busy this evening.”
“A little bit. What can I get you?”
“I’ll have a Guinness.”
Luke struggled not to stare at Amanda. He watched her glance towards the flickering neon. He smoked a cigarette while reading the sports page. She brought the Guinness and gave him a smile as he handed her a twenty-dollar bill. Luke felt lost on this woman. He looked back at the paper.
He remembered the first time he recognized his mysterious gift. When he was a kid he could pick four leaf clovers out of the lawn by pointing to them. This phenomenon he could articulate to no one. Later, he discovered a strange coincidence that street lamps often dimmed in his presence. Only when he became old enough to walk the streets alone could he verify this strange fact. Luke never drew this phenomenon to people’s attention. He didn’t completely understand his power of channeling energy, insight, or foreknowledge, and he always thought something might be wrong with him to invoke this mystical telepathy——at times he could even hear what people were thinking. This strange psychic element remained a heavy burden because people he loved often refused to believe the truth when he told it to them, especially when he possessed no proof; this occurred when he foretold them the outcome of an event that had not yet taken place or a person’s obscure motivation or actions. His burdensome insight became a double-edged sword, but the feeling he carried with him remained opposite of an inborn fear.
Many years later Luke discovered in certain instances, radio frequencies became disrupted by his presence. The frequencies became disturbed when he felt in a positive mood, being carefree and un-self conscious.
“Another Guinness?” asked Amanda after thirty minutes, pouring what remained from the bottle into his glass.
“Yes, one more,” he replied glancing up at the flickering sign to remind her. A regular barfly called out to Amanda and she walked to the other end of the bar to pour the customer another draft beer just as Luke wanted to begin a conversation with her.
Luke waited on his friend——the always late, Freddie. Freddie, a friend of Luke’s who sometimes used Luke for his insight, planned an evening out on the town tonight. Years earlier, Freddie invited several friends over to his house because for two months Freddie knew the Silver Jubilees were being broadcast live on the radio and it was Freddie’s intention to record the performance. A strong local frequency comforted Freddie. He planned everything——he kept three different stereo systems in his house to record the show, but the main stereo in the living room kept the strongest frequency.
That night, while Luke stood in the middle of the hardwood living room floor, in front of the entertainment center, they noticed reception dulled and faded while Luke stood in the room.
“That shouldn’t be happening with this antennae,” uttered a concerned Freddie a few minutes before show time.
Without resistance or negativity, Luke noticed his slightest movement altered the radio frequency. He began jesting, intentionally disturbing the frequency, by moving his arm in the slightest direction, laughing.
“How in the hell are you doing that?” asked Freddie. Even though Freddie stood amazed at this phenomenon with his other guests, he wouldn’t allow Luke in the living room during the radio broadcast that night.
The bar filled up. Luke could no longer to pretend to read the paper. He watched Amanda. She wore shorts in the mild December weather, showing her long beautiful legs. The tight tee shirt revealed a striking anatomy. Her long, wavy dark hair hung down below her shoulders today instead of her usual ponytail she wore at work. Her smile attracted many drinkers. Luke noticed her watching him out of the corner of her eye.
“I’ve never had a Guinness,” Amanda said to Luke when she made her way back to him. Her wide brown eyes mesmerized him.
“It’s health food, y’know...”
“I’m only kidding, but it’s good to drink before a meal.”
“I’ll have to drink one and try it out,” she said, smiling a telling glance as if she knew a secret and he didn’t. Or she knew his secret.
Local barflies continued vying for Amanda’s attention. Her tip jar remained full. She attracted plenty of fans to the bar that admired her every mood and move. Luke didn’t mind Freddie ran late since Amanda tended bar this evening. When she was called away by a young-looking schoolboy, Luke walked to the bathroom. When he returned to the bar the neon light began flickering.
“What’s the deal with that light?” he asked Amanda, drawing her attention towards the sign.
“It’s never done this before. It’s definitely getting on my nerves.”
They stared at the neon sign for a moment. He admired her dark eyelashes and her sly grin struck him to the bone. Luke felt slight effects of the Guinness on his empty stomach.
“If I told you I was making that light flicker, would you have dinner with me?” Amanda noticed no wedding ring on this casual stranger's finger.
“I’ve been called that before. Do you think I can make it go out?”
She pursed her lips, knitted her eyebrows and gave him a look as if maybe she believed him,
“If I make the light go out, will you?”
“Yes. And if you don’t?”
“Bring me a Bass Ale, and by the time you pour the beer, the light will be out,” Luke uttered, attempting to make this beautiful woman who looked his age, around thirty, realize this was all meant to happen. He stepped back from the bar where the electric currency seemed strongest. She brought the beer, and just then Freddie made his grand entrance.
“Amanda, that is a dangerous character you’re consorting with. You should be very careful around this man.”
When Freddie sat down, Amanda said,
“He’s promised to turn off the LeBatt’s light without touching it.”
“My dear girl, I hope you didn’t bet with something you couldn’t pay.”
When she looked up, the light was out. Luke and Amanda exchanged glances. She smiled and said,
“I get off work in an hour.”
She returned to waiting on customers as if their deal never happened.
“You sonofabitch,” said Freddie sitting down next to Luke at the bar.
“I’m in love with her.”
“You can’t go out with her tonight.”
“We’ve got business.”
“You heard the lady. I only have one hour. All I have to do is sit back, not puke on myself, and stare at her until then.”
“We’ll be back in time.”
“Fred, look at her.”
“Come on, this is why we met here, it’s close to the track.”
“Don’t give me that shit. Motherfucker, if you’d show up on time for once, we’d already be gone. Tomorrow I’ll pick a winner, I’m not focusing on that shit now, and besides you never reap luck on Thursdays anyway.”
“You’re gonna squander your talent on a woman?”
Luke only looked at his friend without responding.
“Okay, scratch that, but you can always get a date with her. I’m starting to believe you’re only sweet tooth is women. You know I’ve never asked you this, but does it bother you that you’re using that gift of yours to gamble?”
“Who says it’s a gift? And I only use it for positive reasons, to do good...can you dispute that?”
“So, we’re going to the track tomorrow.”
“Well, listen ol’ boy. I already told Malcolm I’d put five hundred on the Dark Rival.”
“You told me yesterday you had a feeling...”
“...you’re pushing too hard. I never said to make that bet.”
"Fuck Luke, that’s my rent money. I’ll be evicted if I’m late again. Don’t let me down.”
“Let you down? Hey, you jumped the gun, I told you....”
“...great, I’m fucked. Thanks for nothing.”
Freddie stormed out of the bar. After a few minutes, acting like she didn’t notice what happened, Amanda asked him:
“When I get off work in twenty minutes are you going to tell me how you turned that electric blue light off?”
“Asking the magician to reveal his tricks, eh?”
A few weeks later Luke and Amanda rode along in Luke’s new truck one late afternoon and they noticed a drunken and unkempt Freddie stumbling down Frederick Street. Luke parked the truck by a curb near his friend.
“Well, well, well. If it ain’t the golden couple.”
“Fred, where you been?”
“Well, after I pawned my stereo equipment and music collection, I bottomed out at the track. I had luck on my side in the beginning, but without your guidance ol’ bud I lost it all in the end.”
“Where you been staying?” Freddie leaned on the truck. His clothes smelled unwashed. A gambling fever controlled his life. He reeked of alcohol.
“You don’t want to know.”
“Let’s go get a six-pack,” said Luke, allowing Freddie to climb in the back seat of the truck. They drove off and Luke noticed Amanda roll her window down a bit to aerate Freddie’s unkempt scent.
“So, are you guys a couple now, or what? Amanda, has Luke told you about his freakish power yet?”
“I’ve seen a couple examples...”
“Oh yeah, the electric blue neon sign...”
Luke left them talking in the car while he ran into the liquor store. He bought a six-pack of tall Budweiser's, a big bag of cashews, and three scratch-off lottery tickets. He climbed back into his truck and handed the tickets to Freddie and said:
“Here, scratch these off. I believe you’re a winner.”
Freddie began scratching the tickets. He loved the thrill of gambling.
“Nothing on that one,” he said throwing the old ticket on the floorboard, moving to the next ticket licking his lips. Amanda and Luke glanced at one another and smiled as Freddie scratched the next ticket, and after a few seconds he began yelling,
“Holy fucking aces Luke, you just won a thousand dollars. Check those numbers and make sure I’m reading it right. Holy shit!”
“This ticket is a confirmed winner,” said Amanda, looking at Luke with wild wonder. Freddie rubbed his hands together in fiendish delight. After a few moments of silence, Luke said:
“Fred, take the money and get your rent together.”
“What? Oh shit, you’re kidding me! You mean it? You’ve saved my ass again Luke, thanks so much. Unless you’re fucking with me...”
“Take the money, but don’t ever give me that guilt trip shit again. I’m not gambling anymore after today.”
“I’m tired of all the stress it brings.”
“Brother, I’ll never question you again. But
damn, talking about stress...shit Luke, you’re gonna hate finding real work...”