19: Clem Kelso

Clem Kelso is three hundred pounds of good-natured regret in a Hawaiian shirt. He’s got forearms like hamhocks, big enough to break up bar fights even considering his lack of practice. When he’s opening the place up at ten in the morning, when he’s closing it down at four, he smiles with his mouth and lets his eyes go soft as he polishes the neverending cascade of glasses behind the bar at the Blue Tip.

The Blue Tip is an ounce of half-remembered class in a metrick fuckton of godforsaken swamp. The runoff from the oil refinery upriver sloughed through here years ago and left everyone dead or insane. So insane is what Clem makes due with, listening night after night as stories devolve into arguments devolve into brawls across the scuffed mahogany bar. The lights are dim, which worked just as well for a class joint back in the day as it does now for a grubby hole in the center of a larger, grubbier hole.

It’s not that he’s above it all. Hell, Clem wouldn’t own the damn place if he didn’t like it. He lives for the dirty jokes, rewards them with a laugh so rich it sounds like a roar and vibrates sensitive eardrums. If one of the patrons scrapes enough together to buy him a drink he can even be goaded into telling the one about the blind priest and the bag full of peaches. So it’s not as if he doesn’t like it, no. It’s the opposite if anything. It’s the only thing he has a hope of liking. The Blue Tip is his home, his ex-wife is a belligerent ghost in his head, his family is a bunch of blackout drunks slowly gearing up for the evening’s brawl across the bar. The closest he’s got to a son is a hard-drinking imp with a bobble-head and knife-sharp hands who stumbled into the place months ago.

But at the center of Clem there is some thing, some millstone constantly working, that hates this poisoned pit his hometown has become. A part that doesn’t want to bother waking up day after day, giving a boost from the gutter into a slightly nicer gutter. He wants to leave. If only he wasn’t needed here.

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