Hate walked into the bar, exhausted and needing a drink. As his eyes adjusted to the dim light, he noticed Love sitting on a stool by herself at the corner farthest from the door. Her shoes were off and her naked feet kicked peanut shells back and forth on the dirty floor. She drained a large highball in one swallow and motioned to the hunchbacked bartender for another. Hate tried to duck back out before she noticed him, but was blocked by a large party of Apathies that oozed into the bar like somnambulant bees. The buzzing drew her attention. She looked up and saw Hate standing in the doorway, and groaned. Discovered, he walked over.
“Christ! Not you again. Didn’t we have an agreement to stay out of each other’s hair?”
“I just needed a little break.”
“You get the place at night, and I get it during the day.”
“Yeah, but nothing! This is the third time, Hate. What’s wrong with you?”
“I need a breather. I’m tired.”
“You’re tired?! You have any idea how tiring my job is?!”
“I’m sure it’s very hard.”
Love took another big swallow from the freshly refilled glass sweating on the bar and then spat an ice cube back into it.
“You’re damn right it’s hard… Especially having to undo your work!”
Hate remained silent as he cast his eyes down at the floor to avoid Love’s glare. A cockroach scurried across the floor and over the peanut shells near her feet. He noticed that the black polish on her toes was chipping.
“My job’s hard too, Love.”
“My job’s hard too, Love.”
Hate sighed. Her face was screwed into a scornful pout, mocking him. He studied her puckered face as she glowered at him.
She was beautiful, once. Radiant; flawless; young; alluring. Anyone who was lucky enough to discover Love was subsumed. She reveled in it. Everyone wanted her. She gave all… when she was young and strong. Love changed as she aged. She was drained and felt empty. She’d plead with Desire and Lust to cover her hours but that always ended badly and soon Hate would be called in. She started skipping shifts. The few appointments she’d kept, she sleep-walked through. She soon stopped caring and was filled with Scorn… who was a bad influence on her. She dyed her crimson hair jet black and put it up in pigtails on top of her head, like horns. She started wearing vinyl and leather, studded chokers, torn fishnets and long black streaks of eyeliner. She blasted Atari Teenage Riot, Einstürzende Neubauten and Venetian Snares on portable iPod speakers that she strapped to her belt, specifically to freak people out.
People feared then stopped believing in Love, or rather, stopped believing that Love mattered. Well, they could all suck it as far as she was concerned. Some very important eyebrows were raised, and the Director called her in and thoroughly chewed her out; warning her, in very explicit terms, that she had better get her act together or he was going to demote her to Yearning, part-time, and she would lose all her benefits. The threat was enough to elicit exemplary work… for 3 weeks. But when the Director was caught having an affair with the receptionist in Billing and was busted down to the swing shift in Limbo, Love regressed; going through the motions. It helped a bit to get tipsy before her shifts… soused after… and soon, during. Punch drunk Love. It broke Hate’s heart. It did, however, make his job easier. Though it kept him very, very busy. Even the Apathies put in double overtime.
“You just gonna stand there and stare at me all day?”
Hate motioned the stooped bartender over and scooped a handful of peanuts out of the bowl on the bar. He cracked the shell of one and popped the contents into his mouth but then spat the stale nuts onto the floor.
“Jeez. How long have these been sitting here?”
The bartender fixed him with an impatient eye, then barked.
“Midori Sour. Double.”
Love belched a snarky laugh.
He ignored her and tipped the bowl, sweeping the stale peanuts off the bar onto the floor. Then he downed the cocktail.
Hate gestured to the bartender for a second.
“Easy now. Think of your liver.”
He ignored the mocking again.
“What are you drinking?”
“I can buy my own damn drinks, thank you!”
“Just trying to be friendly.”
“I think you’ll find that off the clock, I’m quite agreeable.”
“And I think you’ll find that you’re not off the clock.”
The lights in the bar dimmed and flickered as the front door opened. A tall thin shadow appeared in the doorway. Hate lifted his second cocktail to his lips and puckered as Love grabbed his hips and yanked his body closer, spilling half the contents of his drink over his shirt and shoes.
“These are suede shoes!”
She quickly bent her knees to her chest and rested her feet on top of her barstool; pulling on Hate so that he was facing the door and obscuring her behind him.
“What’re you doing?”
Love hissed at him.
Death entered. He was a giant in black, bending down so as not to hit his head on the naked bulbs that hung below the rafters. He walked up to the bar and called the bartender over.
“Virgin margarita, please. Blended.”
The bartender scowled.
“Why don’t you just go to 7/11 and get yourself a Slushie?”
Death frowned at the bartender and made a low guttural noise. The bar fell silent as everyone nervously turned towards the bar; their glasses dancing on the tabletops.
Death laid his five bucks on the counter and reached for some errant peanuts on the bar.
“I wouldn’t eat those.”
“Hate! I didn’t see you there.”
He extended his hand for Hate to shake, but Hate demurred.
Death withdrew his hand.
“Sorry. I forget sometimes.”
“S’okay. How’s business?”
“Brisk. I’ve been pulling major overtime and I’m exhausted. I need to cash in some floating holidays and get away. How’re you?”
“The same. I’ve used up all my floaters and most of my vacation, so I drop in here from time to time for a breather.”
“Better busy than out of a job, huh?”
The bartender hobbled over with Death’s margarita and set it on the bar. Death removed the wedge of lime that perched on the lip of the glass and placed it on the bar. It turned black and shriveled in on itself.
“Good talking to you, Hate.”
“Same to you. Say hi to… uh…”
Hate realized mid-sentence that Death was a bachelor and lived alone.
“Take care, man.”
Death leaned forward and looked down over Hate’s head.
Love straightened up behind Hate and waved.
“Oh, hi! Sorry, I lost a contact and didn’t see you standing there. Ah! There it is!”
Love pretended to scoop up an errant lens from the lapel of her blouse and pop it back into her eye.
“‘Love is blind’ makes for a pithy adage, but it ain’t practical.”
She giggled nervously.
“Good to see you again Love.”
Death picked up his margarita and walked over to an empty table in a dark corner, next to the broken Arcade Games, and sat down.
“What was that all about?”
“That was definitely something.”
“Ugh… We dated.”
“So? It’s verboten. He’s management.”
Love rolled her eyes. Hate slapped his forehead.
“Oh crap! He’s management.”
“He saw me hanging out in a bar on the clock. Shit! I’m cooked! You too!”
“Relax. He’s not going to say anything. He’s decent….”
“If he’s so nice and decent, why aren’t you still dating?”
“Because he’s boring as Sin.”
“I’ve hung out with Sin. She’s anything but boring.”
“You know what I mean. He’s as boring as he is nice. As dull as he is considerate.”
“How’d you two hook up?”
“I would meet him a few times a week after work.”
Love sighed, impatiently.
“When my assignments were mishandled by those chicken-heads who’d fill in for me…”
“You mean the two who covered your ass?”
“Are you going to let me finish?”
“Sorry. Go ahead.”
“Anyway… A lot of those lovelorn whiners wished for Death. So I figured I’d give him a call and give him some referrals. It became a regular thing.”
“It wasn’t because you caught Scorn and Rumor in bed together?”
“…… How’d you hear about that?”
“Rumor gets around.”
“I’ll bet she does. Skank!”
“Sorry. I interrupted again.”
“Death was sweet… and grateful. He took me to dinners and bought me drinks. The more we hung out, the more preoccupied I became with Death. No one really knew anything about him. Except for a wave here, a smile there, he usually kept to himself. The mystery of Death intrigued me. Plus, it didn’t hurt that he was tall, dark and thin and still had all his hair. I found him kind of sexy.”
“He is quite the looker.”
“I’ll slip him your number.… I needed a thrill; something new and a little dangerous to get my mind off the mind numbing work, so I asked him out. We dated for a time, but that thrill never came. The man was as exhilarating as a tea leaf. It grew old fast. Real fast. I couldn’t take anymore museum dates, afternoon hikes or another night of jigsaw puzzles and spiced cider. He listened to Steely Dan and Air Supply non-stop! It drove me nuts! One day, while he was taking a shower, I went through his stuff to see if he was hiding some kinky or titillating side. I found his diary between his mattresses and read it.”
“I would’ve guessed he slept in a coffin.”
“Are you gonna keep interrupting me?!”
“Seriously! You’re on my last nerve!”
“Sorry. I promise. Not another word.”
Love scowled at Hate for a hot minute…
“I found his diary and read it. It was all names and dates. Nothing juicy or even halfway interesting. Just names and dates… That was it. I ran out the door while he was still in the shower singing ‘All Out Of Love’.”
Deciding against pointing out the obvious irony, Hate kept his mouth shut for fear of incurring Love’s wrath. The logistics of their relationship puzzled him, seeing as Death was clearly not someone you could run up to and hug, but he didn’t dare ask. A pregnant silence passed before Hate cleared his throat.
Love shot daggers at Hate through squinted eyes and swung back around on her barstool. She called the bartender over to order another drink.
“Why are you such a… spiteful… cow?”
Hate immediately regretted his choice of words as Love swung around violently on her stool, kicking him hard in the knee.
“You do this job and see what it does to you!”
Hate rubbed his knee as Love’s spittle flew into his face.
“You think my job is easy?”
“A trained monkey, can do what you do, Hate.”
“Zat so? You try being the patsy for all the friction and conflict and hostilities in the world. You think I don’t take any of that anxiety home with me? I’m tired of all that corrosive negativity.”
“Poor baby… YOU try having the fate of the world on your shoulders!”
“Oh give me a break, Love! That’s a little self-important, isn’t it? The fate of the world on your shoulders?”
“What does the fate of the world have to do with you? Despite the cheesy lyrics on Death’s mixtape, Love does not make the world go ‘round?”
“You think Hate does?!”
“I know it doesn’t. Thank God…”
The bartender slammed his large meaty palm on the top of the bar with a loud bang. Everyone jumped in their seats except Death, who was listening to adult-contemporary through his ear buds and doing a crossword puzzle he ripped out of the newspaper that morning. A bottle fell off the counter and smashed on the concrete floor with a loud crash.
“How many times have I told you? I don’t want to hear that name in my bar!”
“Just one more time, Hate, and I’m throwing you out those doors, headfirst.”
“Okay, okay… It wasn’t me that bent your spine, ok?”
The scowling bartender closed one eye and pointed a finger at Hate, but said nothing. Everyone returned to their conversations as the bartender pushed past Love and Hate to sweep the broken glass into a dustpan. Love swiveled her stool around and turned her back on Hate again. She lit a cigarette under the ‘No Smoking’ sign, took a long drag and exhaled with a sharp sigh. She nursed her drink between puffs of her cigarette, which she smoked down to the filter, before she spoke again…
“What makes the world go ‘round?”
“What makes the world go ‘round?”
“That knuckle dragger? Are you kidding?”
“Nope. We’ve paired up many times. The guy is a machine. Fear is an amazing motivator.”
“How does that ogre make the world go ‘round?”
“You know better than most how Fear can rule a man’s heart, Love. He’s insidious. Fear wriggles into the heart and the mind and takes root, either paralyzing change or catalyzing destruction. He keeps man from happiness and sends him headlong into mediocrity, or worse. He’s the arbiter of the status quo.”
“And also the genitor of loneliness.”
“Yeah. He’s got many talents.”
“What about those with no fear?”
“Everyone fears something.”
“But what about those who aren’t ruled by fear?”
“What about those who aren’t ruled by love, joy, sadness, hate, anger, jealousy, shame? You do what you can, you punch the clock and you collect your paycheck.”
“Well, I can’t do it anymore, Hate. I… HATE this job.”
“I’d gladly do your’s over mine.”
“You couldn’t handle it.”
“I think I could.”
“It’s yours then.”
“It’s a-l-l yours.”
“Yes, really. I’m done with it.”
“And what’ll you do?”
“I don’t know. Maybe Reiki. There are classes at the Learning Annex.”
“Uh… why don’t you take my job? I think you have the right attitude. We’ll switch.”
“Management would never go for it. That new director is strictly by the book.”
“Don’t worry about him. He and I go way back. I used to play drums in his band in college.”
“Great! I’ll have Obsession drop off the handbook of codes and guidelines.”
“My… I mean your, new intern. She’s a little thick, but she means well. She’s also the Chairman’s niece. Just so you know.”
“Barkeep! Another sour and a… What’re you drinking, Love?…”
Raffi Boyadjian emigrated from Frankfurt, Germany as a young child. He lived in Los Angeles with one very thoughtful dog and another that was pure id; both greatly loved and greatly missed. He now lives with his wife and young daughter. He’s a graphic designer by trade, a composer by heart, and a confounding writer. He’s looking forward to getting another dog; preferably male, to restore gender equanimity.
Six Questions with Raffi Boyadjian
TD: Tell us a little about this story? Where did the idea come from?
RB: I’ve been playing with the idea of emotions being anthropomorphized for years. I think the spark was Cupid as an emissary for love. It occurred to me that shooting arrows into people may get tiring after sometime and that Cupid would probably grow jaded and resent his job… and would probably want to change out of the diaper he was always wearing. That kernel sprouted a macro-universe of clock punching emotions incarnate, with a focus on a very disgruntled and surly Love and an earnest and sensitive Hate. The story is them working out a mutually beneficial arrangement in a bar.
TD: Who is your greatest writing influence?
RB: There are too many to say that I have any one great influence. I love writers with disparate voices and styles. I love Poe’s fantastical angst, Twain and Vonnegut’s everyman humor and decency, Bukowski’s raw debauchery; Neil Gaiman, Etgar Keret, John Gardner, Roald Dahl, Oscar Wilde, etc…
TD: What is your favorite place to write and why?
RB: Any place that’s quiet, relatively comfortable and I can write uninterrupted. Preferably when my daughter is napping and not trying to climb onto my lap. Reasons are self-evident.
TD: Favorite word?
RB: Nope. I like a whole lot of them (most not repeatable in polite company). I have a favorite number.
TD: Do you have a favorite reading ritual?
RB: I like laying back on the sofa in a quiet, empty house, head up on a cushion, a slight breeze stirring half drawn curtains. The lights are low, but not too low to read. Perhaps a slight drizzle dancing off the roof and tapping on the window pane. The hypnotic shushing of cars driving past on the wet street outside.
Barring that, the bathroom behind a locked door.
TD: Any inspirational thoughts for other writers.
RB: Always write for yourself first. Make sure you’re happy… then edit the shit out of your story.