Mercy by Christian Davies

I watched the woman weeping and could only remember her first name, which was Mary. When I asked Bart what Mary’s last name was he could only remember that she liked to have her shoulders bit when he had her at the Rooster. Bart said she was the only woman he’d ever been with that wanted her shoulders bit. He said women liked to have other things bit but normally not their shoulders.

I asked him again what Mary’s last name was and he thought for awhile and I stood there watching him. But he couldn’t remember what it was. We stood there awhile longer and decided that she’d never told it to us to begin with.

Mary had lost her baby and was burying it at the Hope Cemetery which was a place that was just across Bunker Street from the Coyote. They had funerals at the Hope Cemetery all the time. Bart had found out somehow that the baby had been two months old and had choked on its own pillow with no one around to save it from itself.

“It’s a jen-yin trach-tee,” Bart said.

When I asked Bart why there were only two other people at the funeral, a man and a priest that both looked as young as Mary, Bart said that Mary was a junker from down south somewhere and that whatever family she had probably didn’t even know where she was, let alone that she had a two-month old baby that was laying its head down every night “on a murd’rous pilla”. That’s how Bart put it. He had a way of making words come to life and look you right in the eye. Like a wild bear. Like the words were taking a big hot piss on the ground at Bart’s feet to let you know who owned the patch of dirt you were standing on. I wish I could talk like that. I’ve never been any good at talking to people. I’ve never been sure enough about things I guess.

“Trach-tee don’t incriminate,” Bart said. It was the last thing he said before the two of us went back into the Coyote. Larry the owner was there and so was Charlie Winkle. We sat down at the bar and drank whiskey like we’d been starved for it, like we had one breath left and were trying to hold onto it as long as we could.


Charlie Winkle was always at the Coyote. He was a piece of its furniture just as much as Larry’s jukebox was. The jukebox hadn’t made a sound in over a year, but Charlie Winkle more or less would never shut up. He asked us what we were so damn interested in across the street. Bart told him that one of the girls from the Rooster, a girl named Mary, was burying her dead baby and Charlie laughed and said that a dead baby was the only kind of baby you could bury. Bart told Charlie Winkle he was a “hardless drunk” and was only mad because he couldn’t get it off with Mary when he tried to at the Rooster and maybe it was on account of his being “hardless in life that led him to his inaccuracies in the bedroom”. Charlie Winkle got so mad he grabbed a rocks glass off the bar and threw it at Bart’s head. Bart tried to dodge it but Charlie was such a bad aim that the glass was curving down in the same direction that Bart had turned and just as Bart was halfway off his stool the glass hit him in the forehead and a deep purple line cut open above his eye.

“Fucking what,” Bart said as he stammered on his feet. “I’m going to whip you like a nigger, Charlie Winkle,” Bart said just before falling over on his side, taking down one of the Coyote barstools with him, hitting the floor like a shot horse.

I’ve never seen a man as big as Bart get taken down by a rocks glass, but it must have hit him in just the right place; like when a boxer gets knocked over by a jab after getting punched blue all night with meaner punches but it’s the jab that takes him down. When Bart went down, the first thing I thought was that Charlie Winkle had done up and killed him. Two deaths on one day would make me want to change things.

Charlie Winkle started whooping and jumping up and down like a zoo orangutan, saying, “Big Bart done fell, Big Bart done fell. Who’s the nigger now, Big Bart? Who’s the nigger now?”

“Shut your fucking mouth, Charlie Winkle. Shut your fucking mouth!” I yelled, going down on the floor to see if Bart was all right or if Charlie Winkle had really hurt him bad.

Larry hated daytime fights. He came out from behind the bar looking ready to whip someone. He crouched down and looked at Bart’s head.

“Bart. Bart,” Larry said, but Bart didn’t say nothing back.

I felt desperate, like I was going to be sick to my stomach with Bart all sleepy looking on the floor, the blood leaking out from his brains. “Bart!” I yelled in his face. “Wake up, Bart!” But Bart didn’t wake up.

Charlie Winkle started to look nervous, like maybe he’d killed a man, and went back to the whiskey he’d been drinking and took a long chug of it. He’d at least had the sense not to throw his own glass at Bart. I wanted to take an axe to Charlie but I knew he’d get the better of me so I stayed put. Larry said Bart was going to get unfixable damage if we didn’t get him help, said he was going to have his soul bleed right out through his forehead, so Charlie Winkle, who looked saintly and desperate all of a sudden, knelt down over Bart and tried to get him to talk.

“Buh-buh-buh-Bart,” Charlie Winkle said. “You in there, old buddy? I didn’t meant to hurt you. I didn’t meant to hurt you.”

“There’s an ambulance coming,” Larry said. “Don’t touch him. Don’t move him.”

Charlie Winkle backed off of him like if he was nice enough now he could take back what he’d done. I sat there on my barstool, said a silent prayer for Bart, and tried not to cry which would get me made fun of. His whiskey was still sitting next to mine and since I figured he wasn’t going to be drinking it he wouldn’t get mad at me if I had it for him, so I finished his whiskey and dreamt that maybe we were still at the cemetery and that Charlie Winkle had never thrown that glass at his head.


As we were sitting around looking at Bart and waiting for the ambulance to come, Mary came in with the man from the funeral, the one that wasn’t the priest. As soon as she saw Bart lying there on the floor she started weeping again. The man she was with grabbed Mary and started asking us what in the hell was going on, why was there a giant man laid out on the floor. Larry told the man that if he didn’t like the way he ran his establishment, he should take his party elsewhere, and then Mary stepped in and started yelling, saying she just wanted a drink, she just wanted a drink.

“The professionals is on the way and there’s not a whole lot else we can do about it anyhow,” Mary said. She looked down at Bart like they were two twins that had been torn apart at birth and then looked away real quick and started drinking whiskey like I was.

The man with Mary, who had a fat drinker’s nose, bent down over Bart and asked what his name was and when we told him it was Bart he started saying Bart…Bart…Bart like we hadn’t tried that already.

Bart gurgled once or twice in the few minutes before the ambulance came and all of us said that was a good sign, except Mary, who kept saying it was a good omen. I didn’t know exactly what that word meant but I understood its meaning well enough by the way Mary said it.

When the ambulance came and took Bart away, Larry told them that Bart had fallen off the barstool and cracked his head on the floor because he didn’t think that Bart would want to be responsible for having sent Charlie Winkle to jail. Mary and the man with the drinker’s nose had been sitting at one of the Coyote’s four little tables, right next to where Bart was, and Mary, whose shoulders were sort of coming out of her t-shirt—the shoulders Bart said she liked to have bit—was the newest person on the floor saying Bart…Bart…Bart…except she was patting his neck real soft, which was something that neither me nor Charlie nor the man with the drinker’s nose did, which made me think that maybe Mary knew Bart better than I thought or maybe she was just the type of woman that patted injured men, the type of woman you fall in love with.

When the ambulance men came in for Bart, the man with Mary leapt to his feet and said he had a cousin who was a doctor and felt like he was the best qualified to go to the hospital with Bart. But when he said that, Mary, who had been looking very serious up until then, said that she knew Bart the best out of everyone, and she was the one who should be going to the hospital with him. Then she pointed at me and said I was Bart’s best buddy and that I should go too. The ambulance men who were working on Bart said they could only take one other person in the ambulance and I told them Mary had just buried her baby and they looked sad and concerned but then said it was illegal for them to take more than one of us, that it would put Bart’s life in danger, so Larry said if Mary was in good enough shape to drive, we could take his Buick to the hospital and so that’s what we did.

The man with the drinker’s nose wanted to come too but Mary told him she thought it was a bad idea and he would be more helpful if she knew he would be at the Coyote for her when we got back. Charlie Winkle looked at the man like a pissed-off cat. He didn’t like newcomers at the Coyote any more than the rest of us.

In the car, Mary asked me if I had any junk, that she would blow me for it. I felt bad that she would talk like that on the day her baby was buried and started to feel like my skin was going to crawl away from my body. I told her all I had was a little bit of hooch left from the batch me and Bart had made. I kept it in a little water bottle in my coat and I pulled it out and gave it to her. Mary drank the hooch as the ambulance lights flashed in her face and I thought that maybe I loved her. Or wanted to love her. I was always wanting to love things and not getting much further.

“This stuff is the shits,” Mary said, making a sad and angry face after she drank the hooch.

“It ain’t as good as whiskey but you get used to it,” I said to her.

“Why’d Charlie throw that glass at Bart?” Mary asked.

“Charlie was being ‘noxious is all. Charlie’s always acting like that.”

“He’s always throwing glasses at people?”

“No. I never seen him do that before.”

“He was just being ‘specially ‘noxious today?”

“Charlie Winkle ain’t right,” I said. “I heard he got beat on a lot when he was a little’n and now he’s got some condition they have a name for but he don’t have the money to pay for the pills that’d make him better. They say that’s part of the reason he cain’t…”

“Cain’t what?”

“Rather not say.”

“I ain’t the kind of girl you gotta be shy around, now, just spit it out.”

“They say Charlie Winkle’s craziness, since he cain’t get the right pills to make him better and all, they say it’s part of the reason he cain’t make his pecker sing.”

I felt real bad about saying that to Mary. I thought I might just open the car door, roll out on the side of the road, and keep walking straight from wherever I landed.

“I don’t want to talk about that,” Mary said.

“I thought you mightn’t,” I said. “I don’t really want to talk about Charlie’s pecker neither,” I said, lying, since the truth was I was real mad at Charlie Winkle at the time and wanted to make fun of him so I could feel better.

“You sure you don’t have nothin’?” Mary asked me. She had gray skin like a turtle but I could still see how pretty she was. “I said I’d blow you for it. Just a couple hits.”

“I ain’t got none but if I did I’d just smoke it with you. Bart said there ain’t no junk in town right now.”

“No shit,” Mary said. “Fuck,” she said. “What in the fuck, what in the fuck, what in the fuck,” she said.

“I could make us more hooch if you want. Bart taught me how to make it and he’s still a lot better at it than me but I think I could do all right. I never knew you could make booze outta all that household stuff ‘til Bart showed me you could.”

Mary took the last gulp of the hooch and made that same face again. “You guys oughta spend your time cooking junk, not this shit,” she said, throwing my hooch bottle into the back of Larry’s Buick.

After that, we were quiet for a few minutes as the ambulance kept driving on ahead of us and I thought the nice thing to do would be to ask Mary how she was feeling so that’s what I did and as soon as I did it she started crying so much I thought she was going to throw up on Larry’s steering wheel. I don’t know if I ever saw someone cry that hard. It looked like some kind of animal was trying to eat her from the inside. We pulled over so she could cry all she wanted to.

At the hospital, they rolled Bart into a room on a rolling bed that was too small for him. It made him look dead already, like the pure weight of him was too much to keep alive. I told Mary about the dead body I’d seen before. It was a guy named Ice Box Tommy Morton who got shot in the head right in front of me. I was only fifteen when it happened. I told Mary how I thought Tommy was going to spring back to life but never did, how he looked too peaceful and rested to be dead, like a big oak tree or a mountain. After I’d said that about Ice Box Tommy, Mary was quiet and I could see that she was wishing she could cry more but didn’t have any tears left right then.

“I’m sorry,” I told her. “I didn’t mean to make you think about your little’n.”

She was quiet so I was quiet. She sat there clicking her teeth. They were brown—junker teeth—but they were a nice shape and you could see how they were healthy once.

“You’re never at the Rooster,” she said.

“No,” I said. I felt hot in the waiting room and wished that Mary had not drunk all the hooch.

“Bart goes there a lot. Me and him know each other all right. He’s not so bad.”

“Bart’s got more money than I got.”

Mary looked out at the hospital like she was thinking about eating it. “Dying alone must be the worst thing possible,” she said.

“I think living alone is prob’ly worse’n that. At least dead people don’t have to be hurt no more.”

Then Mary looked at me like I had just said something she had never thought of and I felt a little bit of how it must have felt to be Bart when he talked.

“You not interested in women?” she asked me.

“No, it ain’t that,” I said.

“Or,” she said, leaning into me and whispering, “do you got problems below the beltline?” She nodded down at my pants, which made me feel kind of embarrassed and excited at the same time.

“It ain’t neither of those things,” I told her. “I just ain’t interested in the Rooster’s all. Ain’t got the money no ways. So even if I was interested I’d still be never going I guess.”

Mary looked at me like I was going to say something that would make her life better. But when I didn’t, she put her hand on mine. I started feeling real foolish, like everyone in the hospital could see what we were doing. Her hand was warm but I felt like she was taking pity on me and that’s not what I wanted from her. She was shaking and I knew that I would lose her as soon as we got back to the Coyote. I was going to have a few minutes with her while we waited on Bart’s head to get better and then she’d be gone like dust. I didn’t even know what day of the week it was. I wish time was something you could put in your pocket and look back at later. I guess that wouldn’t make things any better though. Everything from the past makes you hurt.


“You’re here with Bartholomew Sandusky?” a nurse in a green pajama suit asked us.

We had fallen asleep or passed out, I can’t remember.

“Yeah,” Mary said.

“He’s in the recovery room right now. Doctor had to put a few stitches in his forehead and he has a hairline fracture on his skull but he’ll be fine in a few weeks. It’s important that he not be in a position to take any hits in the head though. No sports. No heavy drinking. Nothing like that.”

I thought it was funny that the nurse thought Bart was the kind of person who played sports. I guess it was on account of how big he was.

“Can you help keep him away from things like that?” the nurse asked, looking back and forth between me and Mary like we were two drunken teenagers, which in every way we were. All three of us knew that nothing in the whole universe could keep Bart away from things like that and all three of us pretended to think something else.

“Do my best,” I said.

Mary didn’t say anything. She still had her hand on mine.


Me and Mary must have stunk pretty bad from the whiskey and the hooch but they let us see Bart anyway, which Mary didn’t want to do because she said the hospital was starting to make her feel sad, that she wanted to go back to the Coyote, but I told her we should just say hello before we left, that it would make us feel better if we did, but when we got to his bed, Bart was knocked out from all the drugs and me and Mary just talked about sticking straws into his veins and getting stoned off his blood.


Bart didn’t wake up while we were there. His face was swollen where Charlie Winkle had hit him with the glass but he still looked angry and smart like he always did. His chest went up and down so I knew he wasn’t dead and I felt a kind of relief about that.

“You look like shit,” Mary said to him.

Mary asked if we could go and I said yes and when I tried to hold her hand on the way out of the hospital she told me to please not do that.


We drove back to the Coyote and it took us less time to get there than it had to get to the hospital. I asked Mary on the way if she wanted to talk about her baby, and she told me that her baby’s name was Carolina and that she thought that talking about it wasn’t going to bring her baby back so what was the point. But then she started crying again. I told her I knew a guy at the Coyote who could get some junk for her. I told her that he knew people from other towns. But she told me she was going to stop at the Rooster on the way back anyway and could find some junk there.

“What about Larry’s Buick?” I asked her.

“You can drive it back,” she said. I thought about kissing her or maybe even biting her shoulder but I was worried I might have to pay for those things, or worse, that she’d like me less if I tried them, so I didn’t do neither.

Mary got out at the Rooster and I said, “I would come in if I had the money.” I wanted to tell her I’d spend the money on her but she had already turned away and had closed the driver’s side door behind her.

The Rooster looked quiet and I felt sad as I sat there looking at it. I wanted to go inside but my legs wouldn’t move. I drove back to the bar because I was too ashamed not to.


When I got to the Coyote the man with the drinker’s nose asked me where Mary was and I told him she was at the Rooster and he went running out like he was her husband.

“Is he all right, is he all right?” Charlie Winkle kept asking me. “Is Bart all right? Is he all right? Jesus, Jesus, Jesus,” he said.

The Coyote was as full as it could get and Larry said if I wanted to clean the bathrooms I could drink for the night so that’s what I did. Larry was a good man. I drank more than usual and I thought my spleen might explode and I might die but I didn’t. I sat there and drank and cleaned toilets and was happy.


Bart was back at the Coyote a few days later with a big bandage on his head. He told me Mary moved back down south after some trucker had beaten her real bad at the Rooster and he thought that maybe she was pregnant with another baby when she went. I told Bart I thought I was in love with her and he told me that I didn’t even know her last name and if I’d ever had enough money to go and be with her at the Rooster I would feel differently about things.

Bart wasn’t the same after his injury neither. His one eyelid stayed sort of crooked and the scar above his eye was like an anchor that pulled the whole side of his face down. He looked like a monster of science from there on out which is something I think he came to like. He never talked the way he used to talk, with all that authority and what not. Something about the injury, whether it was his brain cells falling out of his forehead or if Charlie Winkle had just scared him straight I don’t know, but something made him change. I still liked Bart a whole lot after he got hurt. We were still good buddies and we ran around a lot together. But I didn’t want to be like him. Not as much as I did before. He was just a man after that.

Christian is currently studying Journalism at Hunter College. He lives in New York City with his girlfriend and their dog, Bo.