Chuck looked up from the glass he was polishing as he heard the door of the bar open. In walked a dishevelled man. From his gait and general demeanour it was clear this wasn’t the first bar he had wandered into that day. Chuck sighed and put his hands on the bar and watched the man take a stool.
“Hey buddy, what’ll it be?”
“My good man, I am in need of a beer. In fact, better make it a boilermaker.”
Chuck pulled a pint and poured a shot of whisky and set them down in front of his first patron of the day. He knew he would probably regret it even as the words left his mouth but it came with the job.
“How’s life treating you buddy?”
“Well, it’s like this – ” The man looked over his shoulder as he spoke, eyeing the front door with trepidation. “It would be treating me a damn sight better if I could just shake the damn rhino.”
“Restroom is right there in the back, friend.”
The man stopped his glass halfway to his lips and frowned.
“Oh, I get it. No, that’s not what I meant. I meant the rhino that’s been following me.”
Chuck stopped in mid polish and thought about what he had just heard.
“Um, the rhino that’s been following you?”
“Yeah, I just can’t shake it. I don’t think I was spotted though.”
“By the rhino?”
The man nodded and took another sip of beer. Chuck went back to cleaning glasses, but against his better judgement curiosity got the better of him.
“Let me get this straight. You’re being followed by a rhino, as in rhinoceros?”
The man shivered and nodded assent.
“Uh, buddy, don’t you think the zoo would have put an alert by now if a rhino was loose?”
“The man chuckled. They damn sure should.”
Great, Chuck thought, of all the bars on the strip this guy had to wander into his. Oh well, might as well play along.
“So how long has this rhino been following you?”
“Six long years, buddy. It’s been hell, I tell you.”
“Have you tried telling it to leave you alone?”
“Yeah, but it’s not worth it. Trust me on this.”
“I can imagine.”
“It wasn’t always like this. At first it was fun.”
Chuck nodded and studied the man’s face. It was a mask of pure misery. He wondered what had happened to make him delusional.
“So look, how did this rhino come into your life?”
“Oh, I don’t know. I’ve tried so hard to forget. A moment of weakness I suppose. Another round bartender.”
Chuck put another shot and beer in front of the man. He usually stayed impartial and just lent an ear out of professional courtesy but this guy was getting to him.
“Tell me pal, have you ever thought about, well, you know, seeking professional help?”
The man gave him the hairy eyeball and snorted. “You too, huh? Look, I tried that. It’s always me who’s to blame.”
He waved the notion away and took a long pull on his beer.
“Well, I’m sorry to hear that. Look, maybe you should just stand up to the rhino, you know? Tell it to fuck off, get the hell out of your life. Ever try that?”
The man regarded him for a long moment and then hung his head. “I’m scared, man. You don’t know how much I’ve wanted to, but…I’m scared.”
Chuck patted him on the shoulder.
“Sometimes you just have to face your fears, friend.”
Just then the door to the bar slammed open and a woman barged in. A large, fearsome looking woman with blood in her eyes brandishing a large umbrella.
“Ernie Miller, there you are, you little worm! I knew if I searched enough bars I’d find you.”
She marched over to the bar but as she did the man nodded at Chuck and jumped off his barstool.
“Now you listen to me, you ugly rhino, I’ve had enough, you hear me? I’m through with this. I want a divorce. I want you out of my life!”
The woman stopped in mid stride, her eyes wide with horror. Her bottom lip quivered and she burst into tears. The man’s face turned from determination to a look of dismay and he put his arms around her.
“Oh, I’m sorry sweetie, please forgive me. I didn’t mean it; I’ve just been drinking. Let me take you home and make it up to you.”
As they walked out the door arm in arm Chuck shook his head and went back to polishing glasses.