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Down at Al’s Pool Hall by Robert McBrearty

I keep wait­ing for good news. But no one calls. No one knocks on the door. Maybe tomor­row.

We’re all sleepy here in our town. We slog around in the sum­mer heat, wait­ing for some­thing to hap­pen. At night, I open the win­dow of my fur­nished room and lie in the heat and hear the town buzzing like a fat, lazy bee. 

My friends here lack gump­tion, lack get up and go. Some went to col­lege, some didn’t, but we’re all stuck in dead-end jobs, or no jobs at all. We hang out at Al’s Pool Hall and all we talk about are girls, but the girls are sick and tired of wait­ing for us to come out of Al’s Pool Hall and do some­thing with our lives besides drink and play pool. 

It was dif­fer­ent when Al was still here. He gave us pep talks, told us to go out in the world, to expand our hori­zons, to find our dream, to do more with our lives than our par­ents had. If some­one was down on his luck, Al was always there to lis­ten. If we were out walk­ing, he’d dri­ve by in his big red pick-up and honk and wave. Just see­ing him cheered us up, gave us a sense of pur­pose. There’s Al, we’d say, let’s go see Al.

On one of his adven­tures, to a game refuge this time, he sent back pic­tures and cheer­ful and inspir­ing arti­cles for the local news­pa­per. One night, a lion broke into his tent and clamped Al’s head in its teeth. It dragged him out of the tent and into the brush. But we know that through it all, Al would have kept his upbeat atti­tude. This hap­pens all the time, he would have told him­self. They maul you a lit­tle and move on. 

We still hang out at the pool hall, but we’re lost with­out Al. The new man­ag­er chews us out if we hang out with­out spend­ing much or if we get too loud. One night, Al’s sis­ter comes in and walks over to the pool table where we’re play­ing. They used to live togeth­er, broth­er and sis­ter. She starts cry­ing, so I put my arms around her and hold her and she cries into my chest and tells me I was always one of Al’s favorites. 

A cou­ple of days lat­er, there’s an enve­lope in my mail­box. I open it and there’s a key inside and a mes­sage on white unlined paper that says: Al’s pick-up. Take it and go. Find your dream. You’ll need to recharge the bat­tery.

I’m already pack­ing. I won’t leave much behind. Tomor­row I’ll dri­ve Al’s pick-up down to the pool hall. I’ll honk for the guys to come out. No more wait­ing around. I’m leav­ing town. Any­one who wants can come with me. 

Down at Al’s Pool Hall” orig­i­nal­ly appeared in New Flash Fic­tion Review, autumn 2018.


From Barry Kiterman

Robert Mcbrearty is one of my favorite writ­ers.

From Don Eron

What a treat it always is to come across a McBrearty sto­ry, with his unique blend of off­beat humor and under­stat­ed wis­dom. This one is no excep­tion! McBrearty’s is an astute sen­si­bil­i­ty, irre­press­ible and bit­ter­sweet.

From K. Reilly

I’m a fan of McBrearty’s work. He has the abil­i­ty, even in his short fic­tion, to give read­ers a won­der­ful sense of place, a real glimpse into the con­scious­ness of a nar­ra­tor who has some­thing to teach us about the impor­tance of pay­ing atten­tion.

From Tom LaMarr

Anoth­er won­der­ful McBrearty cre­ation. In his com­ments about revis­ing the sto­ry, the author notes that in “nar­row­ing the focus” he “widened the scope.” I could see this, as his por­tray­al of life in the pool hall brought an entire town to life. I felt like I knew his char­ac­ters, not only because we’ve all hung out with them at some point in our lives, but also because the eco­nom­i­cal sto­ry telling was incred­i­bly evoca­tive. I loved the trade­mark McBrearty humor, as well, was glad to know Al kept held onto his upbeat atti­tude when dragged from his tent by a lion.

From Tim Hillmer

A unique and sim­ple tale that cov­ers so much nar­ra­tive ter­ri­to­ry in such a brief series of events. I love the end­ing and how McBrearty seem­ing­ly invites the read­er to escape as well and go along for the ride. This piece reminds me of some of my favorite song­writ­ers: Jason Isbell and John Prine. It also echoes Denis John­son and Fat City. A bril­liant lit­tle gem.I’ll always go along for the ride with one of McBrearty’s sto­ries.

From Mitzi Mabe

I love this sto­ry! Well, it’s true I haven’t yet read it–however, giv­en Robert McBrearty’s record as a short sto­ry genius, a writ­ing-archer who’s quite mas­tered his craft, I have no doubt he hits the mark–again. Know­ing this work will be anoth­er bull’s eye strike from the mas­ter­ful McBrearty, I’ll read it lat­er when I need a boost. Bra­vo, Rober­to! Keep pulling arrows from the quiver! When you win, your read­ers do, too.

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