“Dave, wanna get together for a good drink?” I asked on recognizing his voice on the phone. Neither of us had said hello. “With Scott and me?”
“Love to, Donnie.”
We were three guys who drank together. Bottle buddies. Booze hounds. All in our mid-twenties, we had lapped up the hooch together since high school. At least I think that’s where I met Donnie. Scott was a friend of his.
Donnie had a girlfriend, who, now that she was pregnant, he would marry soon. It was all her goddamn fault, too. He drank to punish her.
Scott’s last girlfriend ditched him for some mainland loser with a big car, and besides most women were bitches. He drank to stop feeling so fucked up all the time.
I didn’t have a girlfriend these days. Not since Cindy. Wasn’t interested in replacing her. I drank to stay numb in the closet.
Of course Donnie and Scott would never drink with some fairy, so I had my own moans about how hard it was to meet a bitch you could trust. That sort of thing.
We would get together every month or so for a good drink. That’s how it would start. Donnie would call to say, “Let’s get together with Scott for a good drink.” If he didn’t, Scott would call to say, “Hey, Donnie’s here for a good drink. Come on over.”
It had been over a month since I’d heard from either of them and I longed for a real good drink myself, but I was always shy to start the ball rolling. I was happy having that good drink by myself. Alone it was easier to wallow in my own morass of “woe is queer me stuck in the sticks and terrified someone will find out.”
It was Donnie who called this time. Once we got where the good drink would happen settled he continued. “So, Dave. How’s it hanging?”
“Same old, same old. How’s Trish?”
“Bigger than your house.”
“Set a date?”
“Not ‘til after the kid. Not enough taffeta to cover her now. She’s been off to see her folks for a few days now.”
“You mean she needs a break from cleaning up after you?”
“Yeah. Whatever. Listen, I’m catching Scott at Stoners. Why don’t I pick you up? Seems like ages since we’ve had a good drink.”
Stoners, a tavern near where Scott worked, was the Stone Workers Hall from when there was once a quarry outside of town. Now it was full of stoners of other sorts. Some nights there would be live music. Scott had a little band, Pals Of Mine, that played there sometimes.
I knew that meant we’d hang at my place for a while to give us time to have a few good drinks before we went out for more good drinks. We’d probably come back here for more, once Scott’s gig was done. I had enough to hold us for a few hours. A full bottle of Johnny Walker. A forty pounder. I hefted it and the weight of good times made me feel complete. Good friends. Good times.
I was in the kitchen for clean glasses when the doorbell rang. I had the glasses in my hand when I answered the door. “That didn’t . . . Oh, Cindy?”
“Expecting company?” She handed me a gift as she scuffed her boots on the welcome mat.
“Sort of.” I could tell by the look in her eyes she knew exactly who I was expecting.
“The guys on their way over?” She said.
“We’re . . . ”
“Having a few before heading down to Stoners. Some things never change.”
“If you came here for the same old argument you might as well leave.”
“Dave,” she shook her coat and hung it on one of the hooks by the door. “When are you going to give up on them?”
The smell of her perfume brought back such good memories, I realized how much I missed the time we spent together. I put the glasses on the coffee table. “Cindy, we’ve been through this. How long has been now, almost a year?” I had last seen her during the summer.
“I was hoping you might have changed.”
“I haven’t.” I poured myself an inch of Scotch. “There’s some red wine in the kitchen.”
“Not for me. Thanks”
Things with Cindy might have gone on indefinitely, but she wanted more and more of what I knew wasn’t in me to give. Marriage. Children. None of that wasn’t for me. The second time she had a pregnancy scare I brought things to an end. I didn’t actually think she was sleeping with anyone else, but that was as good as any excuse to end things. Then how could I really trust anyone else, right? The perfect out. I never let her know how much I missed her as a friend, but that would never have worked. A clean break was best.
“I don’t need a ‘good’ drink?”
“For me it’s more like ‘enjoying’ one.” I swirled my drink around the the glass. I loved the smell of it.
She never understood my need for a good drink, but I also knew that a part of what attracted her to me was thinking she could change me, that there was something I needed her to fix. What she never suspected was that what needed fixing was something deeper than my love of a good drink.
“The same way you enjoy those jerks.”
“Cindy, you can’t blame them for what didn’t work out between us.” It was easier to let her think that than tell her the truth.
“They’re just an excuse to feel better than someone, hanging out with such losers lets you feel superior to them. It boosts your ego.”
“If this is what you came over for, Oprah, you might as well leave. Before those losers arrive.” There was some truth to what she said, but the guys never challenged me on anything the way she did. Plus they envied me my house, my education, my job, and I enjoyed that drunken envy. “I know you hate to see a man enjoy a drink.”
“It’s never a drink but a Goddamn drunken spree. You just get drunk. Falling-down stupid drunk. Is there such a thing as a bad drink?”
I had no answer for her. Once again she became a threat to my comfort, whereas a good drink let me stay numb to what I was afraid of admitting to anyone.
“Season’s greetings to you, too.” I finished my Scotch and poured another.
“I’m sorry, Dave. I can’t help it, I guess. I thought there was a real connection between us.”
“So did I until …”
“Look I didn’t come back here to go over the past. I wanted to drop by and see how you were doing. It’s frustrating to see you still doing this to yourself.”
“Not much else to do in this one-horse town, right.” I poured myself another drink. A smaller one this time. It allowed me to look away from her eyes.
“You’re looking good, though. I like this.” She reached to the moustache I had let develop the past few months.
“Yeah, makes me look a little older, don’t you think?” With her hand so near I wanted to hold her. Could she handle a truth that I didn’t even know how to deal with myself?
“How’s your Dad?”
The phone rang. I grimaced to her as I answered. It was Donnie.
“Listen Dave, why don’t you drop by here. Less driving for me.”
“Sure, Donnie. Give me say half-an-hour to change my socks.” I laughed and hung up the phone.
This happened pretty often. It meant Donnie had started in already. He didn’t like to drive with only a couple of drinks under his belt. After a few good ones, he’d drive anywhere but the first few made him paranoid.
“I hate to bring this to an end but . . .” I helped her into her coat.
“Your duty calls. Can I give you a lift?”
“Thanks, but no thanks. I’ve been in the house all day. The walk’ll do me good. Thanks for the gift.”
Once she was gone I changed out the jeans and sweatshirt I’d been wearing all day. My socks and boxers would do for a night of drinking. I hesitated at the bathroom but figured my face was clean enough to waste time on it. Same with my teeth. A beer would settle my breath easy enough.
I pulled on my parka, laced up my boots, tucked a mickey of bourbon in the inside pocket and headed out. The mickey was one I had bought for my Dad as a Christmas gift, but there was another couple of weeks before then so I’d have time to buy him another. Last year, it took me three trips to finally get him the pint that he got. Always pays to have something portable on hand.
The wind from earlier in the day had died down, and the snow had stopped. Cloudless and clear. The Christmas lights looked like the bulbs had been freshly washed. The street wasn’t too slippery. Some people were out shovelling their walks. Mine could wait for morning.
I was tempted to stop at one of the corner stores to grab some mix, but figured Donnie’d have something in the fridge we could use. If he didn’t, his folks would.
As I walked up the driveway to the back of Donnie’s house, I tapped the basement window with the toe of my boot to let him know I was there. He lived in the basement of his parents’ house. He had a separate entrance so it wasn’t really like living at home.
The warm apartment smelled of fried onions and hot dogs. That was Donnie’s specialty. If you were good, he’d throw in some sliced tomato.
“Got the place to yourself?” I pushed my boots off at the door and dropped my coat on the floor by the couch.
“Yep. Trish’s gone up to her folks for a few days. Baby’s not due for a while. But man! What a pain she can be about stuff. You know?”
“I’ll take your word for it.” I put the bourbon on the table beside his half empty bottle of beer. His face lit up.
“Ahh a real drink for a change.”
“Got something to go with it?” I could hear footsteps overhead. “Is that Ma and Pa Cattle practicing their two-step?”
“Yeah. Can’t wait till I can get moved out of here. They’re off to bingo soon enough anyhow.”
Once they were out, we could turn up the record player. Until then, noise was to be kept at a minimum.
I stood in the doorway of the tiny kitchen while Donnie rinsed a couple of coffee mugs for us. The sink was filled with dishes. There wasn’t much counter space. Even the stove had dirty dinner plates on it.
“How long has Trish been at her folks?”
“A couple of days.”
“Looks like a couple of months.” I nodded at the pile of dirty clothes by the washer.
“Yeah, well. Takes me a little longer to get things done when I’m on me own. You know.”
“Yeah, right.” I took the mugs and dried them off with the tail of my shirt rather than use the crusty towel on the floor.