This Showroom Filled With Fabulous Prizes

by Matt Bell

Like every other night, he orders a Diet Coke and sits at the end of the bar alone. It's not the kind of place he wants to keep going to but he doesn't know anywhere else, and anyway it's too early to go home to the small apartment over his dad's repair shop. The people in the bar aren't his friends—this isn't the bar he used to drink at—so he just sips his soda and listens to the jukebox and stares at the incomprehensible reruns of game shows playing on the television mounted above the shelves of liquor bottles.

The woman who sits down beside him, she's got a face full of cigarette smoke and lips wet with easy answers. He's seen her in here before with a man, a guy with a temper twice his size. He doesn't look at her, just keeps his eyes fixed on the game show, where people are busy turning their worn-out educations into something worth taking home again.

She says, "You don't drink anymore, but you used to," and he nods without looking. She says, "Are you quit for good?"

He thinks for a moment, says, "I'm trying to be."

The woman reaches over and touches his forearm with fingers still cold from the icy glass of her whiskey sour. Without moving her hand, she says, "Sooner or later, I'm going to need to do something like that." Drains her drink. He turns to look at her, then scans the bar for her man. She smiles at him like a mistake. It's an expression he knows what to do with. He smiles back, then returns to the television.

Onscreen, a contestant has just won something that makes her so happy she's jumping up and down and clapping her hands. Her smile is so wide as her family comes running out on to the stage to congratulate her. Everything happens so fast. Without any volume, it's impossible to tell what they're all saying, but still he gets the idea.

Matt Bell lives in Ann Arbor, MI, with his wife Jessica. His fiction has appeared or is upcoming in Hobart, Barrelhouse, Monkeybicycle, Caketrain, and Best American Fantasy 2008. He can be found online at