Wilson Koewing

Wilson Koewing is a writer from South Carolina. His work is forthcoming in Wigleaf, Gargoyle and Hobart.

SOUR by Wilson Koewing

To escape the midsummer heat, I ducked inside a bar specializing in sour beers on the fringes of Five Points in Denver. I ordered from the happy hour menu, drank sour pours then had my debit card declined.

“I tried it nine times,” the shaggy hair bartender said.

“Try it again.”

“Won’t go through.”

“I don’t know what to tell you.”

Another bartender, one of those effortlessly beautiful women who always seem marooned in restaurants, came over.

“Nice ink,” I said, noticing an eight ball on her wrist.

“Do you have another card?” she asked.

“I don’t,” I said. “Where do you play?


“Well, something has to give,” the shaggy hair bartender said, crossing his arms.

She leaned close, “If I cover this, can you Venmo me in a couple days?”

“Sure,” I said. “I could do that.”

She wrote her Venmo name on a ticket.

Outside, I smoked on the sidewalk under the late afternoon sun.  

It wasn’t so much that I was poor, it was more that I didn’t work. My folks sent money sometimes and if they didn’t, I lived modest, rode couches and occasionally ate meals I wasn’t certain I could pay for.

Almost everyone who lived downtown were millennials, working for startups or dispensaries or in the service industry saving for ski bum winters. Either that or virus fired, so nobody cared if you were broke. The prevailing belief was we wouldn’t always be. If you could get in with the right people, asking if you could Venmo later was better than credit. 

I went inside a liquor store up the street. I assumed I had some money on my card, just not enough for the tab.

The card ran.

I exited with a pint of tequila. A guy passed by, down on his luck, and asked for a smoke. I gave him one and offered the pint.

“Nah,” he said. “Gave up drinking.”

“What’s your story?”


“How many cigarettes for you to tell me your story?”

He clasped his hands behind his head and cut down an alley growing smaller and smaller as he went. I tucked the tequila in my pocket and headed toward downtown.

Denver was beautiful at dusk. The buildings appeared rusted in front of the sky.

When the sun slid behind the Rockies it bathed the front range in hard shadow creating, for about twenty minutes, a soft half-light that made the city feel quiet and surreal.

I passed through the tent town on Stout. I had friends who lived there. They weren’t bums but were considered as such. Really, they were burnt out on the bullshit.

Hundreds of tents lined the sidewalks. Trash tumbled by on a furnace breeze. I planned to check in but didn’t consider the time.

No one was around. Everybody was in the dinner line over at the mission.

I crossed Broadway to the 16th Street Mall. The only sign of life was businesspeople scurrying from office buildings.

I continued in the direction of the river looking for Cosmo. He sometimes got high at the confluence. Cosmo was a wild Russian who climbed cranes for Instagram posts. Finding him was dumb luck. His phone only worked when he had wi-fi.

I walked down Little Raven by the high-rise residential along the St. Vrain, crossed the pedestrian bridge into Lo-Hi, and spotted him on the rocks by the water.

“Fuck it,” he said as I approached. “If they don’t construct more buildings, I’m leaving.”

“Back to the Kremlin?” I asked, offering the tequila.

“Pacific Northwest,” he said. “Seattle is growing faster than Denver.”

“Rainy up there.”

“Good,” he said. “I’m sick of all this sunshine.”

“I like it,” I said. “Keeps my depression at bay.”

“Americans,” he laughed. “You think every day should be sunshine.”

As night fell, we got high and watched the windows of the buildings around downtown light up. Around ten, we entered the lobby of the Block 162 South tower. The guy at the desk was asleep. We climbed the stairs to the third floor and took the elevator to the 45th. Once you got a few floors up you could take the elevators without a key.

We accessed the roof through a door with an alarm that Cosmo disarmed with scotch tape. I peered over the ledge. The city took on a green haze. Quiet. The sway of the building was evident and that, coupled with the slow crawl of the cars below, created an Einstein on the bus effect, which is why I couldn’t jump on cranes.

Cosmo was unfazed.  

“Be careful,” I said.

“If I lose my grip, I won’t feel a thing.”

He hung off the ledge, dropped onto a platform, sprinted and leapt onto the long arm of a crane where he dangled by one hand and took a selfie before pulling himself up, moving fast along the arm which led to an under construction building several hundred yards away. I lost sight of him along the way but knew he would make his way down through the building, fucking with whatever hapless security guard happened to be working. I wouldn’t see him again.

I smoked and stared west toward the front range which was visible because of light pollution from the city. From up there, the gradual climb of the peaks humbled, and if you stared long enough, the crisp black of the horizon started to push back.

I rode the elevator down and stepped outside. The return to witnessing life at normal scale always shocks the system. I walked over to Tarantula’s, which was only a few blocks away. The bartender from the sour house mentioned she played there. I figured since I asked it might be on her mind. Maybe we’d run into each other and shoot a game. If not, I’d play for beers, maybe win a few then call around for somewhere to crash.

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HAP’S by Wilson Koewing

Harry and Al were at the bar when I showed for my six o’clock at Hap’s. A young couple smoked in the back booth; a bluish cloud hovered over them. Four roughs fresh off a rig huddled around bottles at a tall table. Decent crowd all told. 

I prefer showing at six instead of four. It’s hard on Huck since I’m here until two, but the four to twelve loses late-night tips and four to six isn’t money anyway. 

That time of evening the sun cuts sharp angles across the bar so bad you can’t sit some places. I ducked and moved around bullet trails of sunlight staying busy. 

“Claire, what’s Huck up to?” Al asked. 

“Watching the baby and his shows.”

“Whatever happened to that college boy used to come in carrying on about you?” Harry said. “Seemed awfully smitten.” 

“Just another barking at the tree, Harry.”

 “You didn’t seem to mind.” 

“Anyone can look and say what they think about what they see,” I said. “Free country, still.” 

“I’m not so sure,” Harry said.   

Harry wasn’t long divorced. Al was long since. Can’t imagine the friendship helped either. Those two aren’t all bad, but the women they get in with all are. 

I remembered the college boy. Corn fed, blonde mop. Somewhere Midwest raised. Football player at UT Permian Basin, so not much good at it. I was flattered, but Huck and I been together ages, plus the youngin’. 

I set sights on wiping glasses clear and Harry and Al hunkered down to discuss things that had been and could of. 

The sun settled and the night crept calm until Kenneth showed up the same time the young couple was leaving. He watched them go with their hands in each other’s back pockets, buzzed, and making no attempt to hide what they’d be embarking upon next. 

“Always the same sad fucks in here,” Kenneth said, dropping a duffel bag on the bar with a clank. 

Kenneth lost work at the refinery about six months now. Each time in it’s worse.  

“How you making out, Kenneth?” Harry asked. 

“Hell is it to you, old man?” 

“You little piss ant—,” Al said. 

Harry grabbed Al’s arm. 

“Fuck’d you say, old man river?” 

“Let it go, Kenneth,” Harry said. “He’s a drunk.” 

Kenneth and Al stared each other down. 

“Double whiskey, beer, Claire,” Kenneth said. 

I slid a double whiskey and a Lone Star. Kenneth killed the whiskey then hurt the Lone Star. 

Around the same time, a fella wandered in who appeared lost. Noticed the emblem on his jacket—West Texas Wind—and hoped Kenneth didn’t. 

“You ain’t even gotta say it, fella,” Kenneth said, noticing.  

“What’ll it be, hon’?” I asked the wind man. 

“Tequila and a beer, ma’am.”

“You here about the wind?” Kenneth asked. 

“Ah hell, Kenneth,” Al said. “Leave him alone.” 

“I said you here about the wind, boy?” 

Kenneth got close enough to kiss him and poked a stiff finger into the wind emblem. 

“Yeah, you are.” 

“Kenneth, don’t you have anything better to do than harass people just trying to take a load off?” Harry asked. 

“No, Harry, I don’t,” Kenneth returned to staring at the wind man. 

“We still putting this on grandma Margie’s tab, Kenneth?” I asked.  

A hush fell over the bar and it felt awfully like I shouldn’t have said it. But I can’t very well let Kenneth make everyone uncomfortable because he’s on the low and has been. 

“Huck know you got stones to talk to men that way?” Kenneth said. “Out here making money for a baby he can’t support?”  

Harry held Al back. 

“What are you going to do, old man?” Kenneth said. “Besides make me mad?” 

“Kenneth, you never heard of a man staying at home with a baby, and a woman making the money to support it?” I said. “Attitude like that might be the reason you’ve got woman troubles.” 

“You’re right, Claire, I’m sorry.” Kenneth said after a moment. “That was out of line.”  

“He ain’t sorry,” Al grumbled.  

I poured Kenneth another double hoping to make peace.

“Best get control of this old son of a bitch,” Kenneth said.  

I pushed a tequila and a frothy draft in front of the wind man. The others watched like I was the momma and him the favorite. He sipped the tequila. I knew he was in for it. 

“Jesus, you fuck that way, too, boy?” Kenneth said. “You drink like a damn baby. You probably spew in a second.” 

Kenneth killed his whiskey in a gulp. 

“Miss, I believe I’ll settle up,” the wind man said. 

“He ain’t paying yet,” Kenneth said, slamming his fist on the bar. 

“He can pay if he wants,” I said.  

“He ain’t fuckin’ leavin’.” 

Kenneth watched me slide the bill over, watched him sign and slide it back. 

“Leave, I’ll shoot you dead, wind man,” Kenneth said.

The wind man fell blank as a simple one. All the air in my lungs rushed out at once and I couldn’t figure out how to let any more in. Harry and Al stared at their bottles. 

Kenneth finished his Lone Star and addressed his terrified audience. 

 “I’m sure ya’ll know Carrie left don’t ya?”  

“I’d heard,” Harry said. 

“Who could blame her?” Al said.  

Harry stared at Al with eyes big as a couple planets. 

“You’re lucky I like you, Al,” Kenneth said. 

 “I like you, too, Kenneth,” Al said.

I witnessed something bad click in Kenneth as Two Tickets to Paradise by Eddie Money came on the jukebox. He and Carrie danced to it in Hap’s one night must have been eight months. Only two dancing at first. By the second time the chorus hit, whole bar was dancing.  

“Ya’ll know what happened?” Kenneth asked. 

No one seemed hot to answer. 

“Give me another,” he yelled in no particular direction. 

“He’s had enough, Claire,” Harry said.  

The wind man remained still. 

I poured Kenneth another and promised myself it’d be the last. 

“Carrie’s staying at the Royal Inn with a new fella,” Kenneth said. “A Mexican.” 

“Maybe it’s time to move on, Kenneth,” Harry said. 

“No, Harry, I don’t believe it is,” Kenneth said. 

“Seems clear she doesn’t want you around,” Al said. “Ought to respect a woman’s wishes.”   

“Yeah, well maybe her new fella isn’t supposed to be in America at all,” Kenneth said. 

Kenneth dug in his duffel and pulled out a pistol. 

Until then, I hadn’t a clue what I believed Kenneth capable of. In the moment, I couldn’t be sure of what I believed him not. 

“Now, Kenneth, listen–,” Al said.  

“Al, I do like you,” Kenneth said, “But you need to learn when to shut up.” 

Kenneth pushed Harry aside and pistol-whipped Al. He crumbled to the floor. The wind man blew right out the door running.  

I wrapped ice in a towel and hustled around the bar. 

The oil men stood at the commotion. A bar chair crashed to the floor.  

Then Kenneth pulled out an AR-15 and spun it to sit the oil men down. 

“I’m going to that fucking motel,” Kenneth said. “Who wants to stop me?”

No heroes among us. 

Kenneth lowered the rifle, tossed the duffel over his shoulder and pushed open the door. The darkness outside consumed him. 

I dialed 911 and said what happened.  

“He’s going to get himself killed,” Harry said. 

“I hope he does,” Al said. “Tired of him ruining my drinking.” 


When I got home, the news was on every channel. Huck scooped me up and squeezed so tight I remembered feeling. You see love when someone’s face betrays that they’ve been thinking how much they’d miss you. 

Kenneth was dead. Shot by police. Killed Carrie, her lover and six others. Stalked the second-floor balcony executing whoever came out. I wouldn’t have believed it if you told me. 

I went in the nursery. The youngin’ was sleeping sound. I kissed her tiny head. It still felt fuzzy and smelled new. She rustled just a touch. I sensed Huck watching from the doorway. 

“Let’s go to bed,” Huck said.  

We spooned in the silent darkness of our little bedroom in our little house. He ain’t nothing but sweet. I turned over and we got to kissing. Then my clothes were sliding off just like perfection. I figure if we’re living in a world this confusing and full of hate, nothing I can witness will stop me from making love.  

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BONES by Wilson Koewing

I slide the glass racks to the side and peer into the dish pit where Bones struggles mightily to scrape the charred remnants of bread pudding from a hotel pan.  

“Bones, how are you holding up?” 

“Good, Chef Adam,” Bones says. 

“Let me know if you get overwhelmed.” 

“Ah, shit,” Bones laughs.

Bones is pushing seventy. He’s worked the dish pit at the country club for seven years. When he can escape the pit, Bones sweeps by the dumpster or deep cleans the upstairs banquet kitchen—tasks that take him far from the watchful eye of Executive Chef, Craig. 

I discovered the nickname Bones came from his high school running back days. Bones because he was hard as bones. He received a scholarship to Auburn but blew out his knee. I could still see the running back in him.

When I pass Bones later in the afternoon, he’s on one knee scrubbing a drain by the walk-in cooler. I enter Chef Craig’s office. He swivels in his chair. 

“Is Bones still cleaning that fucking drain?” 


“I watched him clean a pot for twenty minutes earlier,” Chef says. “He thinks he’s clever.” 

“I think he’s just old, chef.” 

“Feel free to fire him.” 

“I’ll keep an eye on him.” 

“He’s your responsibility. Now get started on those stocks.” 


To make beef stock, I toss oven-roasted veal bones in a tilt-kettle with onions, peppers and spices. To make crawfish stock, I retrieve a sack of live crawfish from the walk-in. Their tiny claws pinch at the sack’s purple netting. I place the sack in a deep sink and fill it with cold water to purge the crawfish. 

After adding the trinity (onions, peppers, celery), I pour in the purged crawfish and crush them with an electric mixer. I can’t watch them change from living creature to mush. I always look away. When what remains resembles a reddish batter, I fill the tilt-kettle with water and crank it to high. 


Ally is asleep upstairs when I get home. When we met, I was finishing culinary and she was two years into med school. I studied days and worked nights. Now we only spend nights together when she stays up to watch our shows or when things align “for us to try.” Ally says we can’t wait to have kids. Her orthopedic work with elderly patients has exposed how quickly we degrade. 

I pour a scotch and go to the patio for a cigarette. Smoke rises toward our bedroom window. Ally’s beside lamp turns on, and I follow her path to the bathroom where she flips on the light. My phone buzzes. 

Working late?  

Yeah. Grabbing a drink after.  


I slide onto a stool at Molotov and order a Sazerac. I watch Kelly tend her tables. On her way to the kitchen, she’s stopped by an older gentleman at the bar. He’s been coming in a lot lately. Always the same stool, always a Vieux Carre. Kelly’s face flushes. She places her hand on his arm and continues. Noticing me, she mouths, “twenty minutes.” 

The sign for the Hotel Monteleone bathes Kelly’s living room in red light. I sip scotch and stare out the window at the Quarter below. Kelly emerges from her bedroom wearing pajamas.  

“Make me one?” 

I point to a glass on the coffee table. 

“Expensive scotch,” I say. 

“It was a gift.” 

She lands on the couch and reaches for the glass.

“Who is that old guy at the bar?” 

“Who? Ron?” 

“How old is Ron?” 

“Late forties, maybe.” 

“He graduated high school before you were born.” 

Kelly grabs a joint from a cigar box on the table and lights it. 

“Ally came in the other day,” Kelly says. “I recognized her from your Facebook.” 

I crack the window. A drunk couple stumbles through the bloom of a streetlight. 

“You shouldn’t smoke in here.” 

“No recognition whatsoever,” she continues. “I guess you’ve wiped me from your social media footprint entirely.” 

I take a seat beside her on the couch. 

“Dylan’s doing well at school,” she says, inching closer. “They’re studying human anatomy. I bought him one of those life-sized wall-hanging skeletons with Velcro bones and organs he can place where they’re supposed to go.”

“You’re still getting along okay with five hundred a month?” 

“Yeah,” she says. “Just wish you’d try and see him more.” 

“I told you I can’t take being introduced as ‘mommy’s friend’ anymore,” I say. “He’s getting older. Things will start to click soon.”  

“I never wanted it to be this way,” she says. “It would crush Ally, remember?” 

She straddles me and starts unbuttoning my shirt. 

“But you just can’t stop coming over, can you?” 

Before going home, I peek in Dylan’s room. He’s curled up in a pool of moonlight shining through the window. He-Man and Skeletor do battle on his pajamas. I can see both of us in his features, but he will only see his mother’s. Hanging on the closet door is the skeleton. The bones and organs are perfectly placed except for the heart, which is too high, practically in the skeleton’s throat. 


The next day, after a hellish lunch rush, I’m drawn by a fracas from the dish pit. Bones is sprawled on the ground holding his chest. I hold his hand and comfort him until the EMTs arrive, place an oxygen mask over his face and take him away.  

I drop the beef and crawfish stocks through a China cap into five-gallon buckets so nothing solid enters the liquids. Once the stocks are dropped, only the bones remain. We receive them as bones and dispose of them the same. In between, we suck everything we can from them. With a metal paddle, I scrape the remnants into plastic Lexan containers then spray the kettle clean. I hoist the containers onto a cart and push it outside where I toss the bones in the dumpster. 

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