Unmasked

For the summer I’m looking at my Brown Betty chapbook. All the pieces dealt with growing up in Cape Breton.

Unmasked

background:
Hendrix: burning the midnight lamp soon 

… I wish I was a merman 

 

foreground:
messy coffee table
open bottles wine beer Scotch
weed rolled in papers 

too thin to write on 

yet strong enough to hold 

a shared dream 

 

midground:
three of us
Del me Kathy
share this joint enterprise
laugh at a phrase 

I was going through 

hands touch to pass
the precious opener of minds  

or rather the opener of pants 

as Del loudly called it
his eyes on Kathy 

she gave him a look
that said ‘see you later’
then left 

with her cigarettes 

and the remains of the wine

 

‘uptight bitch’ Del laughed 

as the door shut
he stayed
the supply on hand
held more appeal than
the supply leaving the room 

that Jimi guitar
hooked its way around our brain
led our vision across patterns
my voodoo child eyes would wander
all along the corduroy
that hugged and held Del

he invitingly pushed 

the coffee table away 

to make room on the floor
we had become so smoke soft 

only the backless floor 

could hold our floating rolling bodies 

till we found ourselves
naked 

 

I could feel the crosstown traffic of my heart 

the sensation of his tongue on mine
the coarse grind of pubic hair on stomach
a move for a breath of air 

to refresh the disguise of liquor 

thighs hands lips
trimming a midnight lamp
that still burns today 

but no longer needs
a smoke-screen
the bottled mask of permission

A snap shot of an older me in my mid-20’s. I wasn’t ‘out’ but after a few drinks, in the right circumstances, I wasn’t as guarded. This piece revolves around Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland. The situation wasn’t unusual either though it was a pleasant surprise when ‘Del’ pushed that coffee table away.

There are lots of references to songs on the album of which my favorite is ‘all along the corduroy.’ A variation on ‘all along the watchtower.’ The line also refers to a famous photo of Henrix in form fitting, deep red, corduroy that seem to barely contained his cock. You’ll have to listen to the album to track down all the references.

Del & Kathy aren’t the actual names, the events come from a few occasions. Some of guys I drank with had rather cavalier attitudes towards their girlfriends of the moment & would often say things like ‘opener of pants.’ Often parties would end when people ran out of smokes.

I wasn’t really a fan of grass & rarely used it directly. Second hand smoke was close enough but when things went as they did here I did my best to get with it 🙂 I guess the pants Del was talking about were his.

I knew a couple of guys who were ‘explorative’ after several drinks. I would always know they were in the mood when they showed up at my little place on the East Coast with a forty-ouncer under their arm. One guy was a great kisser. But they needed that liquid permission. So did I then. I no longer do but I recently heard a gay podcast host confess that he’s never had sex sober – so I guess some still count on bottled permission even when they aren’t wearing a mask.

previous Brown Betty posts:

Man With A Past 1 https://wp.me/p1RtxU-3B3

When I Was A Young Boy  https://wp.me/p1RtxU-3By

Home (not of the brave) https://wp.me/p1RtxU-3Cg

Nailed https://wp.me/p1RtxU-3D9

Dad’s Pockets https://wp.me/p1RtxU-3E0

 


Hey! Now you can give me $$$ to defray blog fees & buy coffee on my trip to Cape Breton – sweet,eh? paypal.me/TOpoet 

Winter Whisky – Part Three


Winter Whisky – Part Three

“Earth to Dave.” Donnie shook my arm. “You were out there with Santa.”

“I was thinking about Cindy.” I leaned back in my chair. “Hard not to this time of year.”

“I know what you mean Dave. I didn’t know how I could live without Suze, you know? I never met a girl like her before, you know? I was such an idiot for letting her get away. Fuck. I should have set fire to that guy’s place.”

We’d heard Scott’s Suze moan so many times now, Donnie would recite it word for word. Soon he’d pull that photo of the two of them on some beach in Mexico. Susan, the one that got away before any of us met her.

“Didn’t you say she met him when she moved to Alberta after she left band you started in Toronto?” I reminded him.

“Says who?” Scott’s scowl was comic. He reached for his glass and missed it.

I envied him. When he came back after his attempt to make it big we saw he was more than disappointed. He was broken. All Donnie and I could that first year was make sure the booze that numbed his pain didn’t drown him.

Through that I envied him. I wanted to know what it was like to love someone so much the pain of losing them could hurt years later. He’d met other women since then, but none of them made him love Susan less. What hold did she have over him?

“She was well rid of me anyway. She was right, you know. I’m just a drunken guitar player who’ll never get further than playing at the next bar for tips. She was well rid of me. Fuck.”

He downed his glass and signalled for another.

Jen came over. “Sorry boys. Time to close up. I wanna get out of here without a snowplow.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Donnie nodded. “Time we got out of here any ways. There’s more where this came from at my place any who.”

“Yeah, sure.” Scott fumbled to put his jacket on. 

But we sat at the table, immobile in the dusty yellow light of the bar. The other tables were empty. Hector turned off the swag of Christmas lights that dropped in loose loops over the dusty mirror behind the bar. The dim house lights got a little brighter.

“Time to haul ass, guys,” Hector shouted. “You’ll aha etc follow the snow plow home. If he’s going your way, that is.”

Hector was a large, heavy man no one sober would want to tangle with. His sturdy arms and shoulders needing a good massage was the one fantasy I had about any of these guys. “So get the fuck out of here so I can get home to my dog.”

“I’m gonna leave the guitar here. Bad enough we have to go out on a night like this.” Scott shut the lock on his batter guitar case. 

“Put it under the tree.” Hector said. “It’ll be as safe there as anywhere.”

“Thanks, Hec. You putting out beer and a pickled egg for the bearded one.” I said as we headed the door.

“Sure enough guys.” He said then locked the door once we were out. 

Outside the the night air was bracing. The snow had stopped. The sky was empty of all but a wisp of black cloud against its own black.

It took ten minutes to clear the snow off the roof of Donnie’s car. While it was warming up one of us suggested food. 

“Polly Cracker’s Chicken.” The three of us shouted at the same time.

The smell of the fried chicken filled the car. It made my mouth water.

“Has any of you every had Polly’s without a few good drinks first?” Donnie reached behind to me in the back seat and pulled a potato wedge out of the bag.

“Can’t say I have.” I pushed a wedge into my mouth. It tasted of salt and pepper but not of potato. 

“So where to now?” Scott asked biting into one of the wedges. “Man these need more than salt and pepper. I hope one of you put some hot sauce in here. He wiped his hand on the front of his parka. “I said, where to now?”

I knew he meant let’s go to my place. Both had parents to deal with who wouldn’t put up with our late night carrying on.

“Okay, okay. Let’s go to my house.” I rolled the top of the bag closed to keep them from eating it all before we got out of Polly’s parking lot.

Donnie started the car and carefully headed into the street. Luckily, there was no traffic. There were tracks from the snowplow that had recently been through. The streets were slippery from the snow, and Donnie was hunched over the steering wheel, squinting hard as he drove.

“I should cover one eye. I’m seeing double.”

“Come on, asshole. We want to get there while the chicken’s hot.”

We drove in silence for about ten minutes. It started to snow again.

“Hey! You missed the turn.”

Scott nudged Donnie’s arm. The car skidded to the gutter.

“Careful!” I clutched the bag with our chicken in it.

He pulled the car back on the road and turned down the next street. The steering wheel spun in his hands and the car continued to spin. It turned two or three circles and stopped.

“Look what you made me do, fuck-head.”

Donnie gunned the motor and tried to back up, but the car wouldn’t move. The wheels spun on the ice.

“Don’t baby it, for Chrissakes.” Scott leaned over and jabbed his foot onto the gas. The car jolted forward, and we were over the curb and into the trees.

“Where those fuckin’ trees come from?”

Donnie tried to turn the steering wheel, but we were on our way down the side of a hill. Branches smacked the windshield until the car bumped to a halt with a loud, tree-snapping crunch.

Donnie turned to Scott and pushed him in the face. “You dumb fuck.”

I opened my door. There was about three feet between me and the ground. I could smell gas.

“Let’s get out of here before she blows.”

“Blows up?” Scott sniggered. “You’ve seen too many movies.”

He opened his door and stepped out.

“Holy fuck!”

He dropped to the ground.

I let myself down cautiously.

“You okay, Scott?”

I made my way over to him.

Two fir trees were wedged under the front of the car, the front wheels spinning in midair, the back resting on the ground. Donnie had to crawl out of Scott’s door as the driver’s side was jammed shut by another tree.

“You got the chicken, I hope.”

“The hell with the chicken, Donnie. How are we going to get out of here?”

The car’s headlights didn’t give much illumination through the trees.

“Back up the way we came.”

“Get the fuckin’ chicken anyway, fer Chrissakes. At least we won’t starve.”

I boosted Donnie back into the car. He turned off the motor and handed the chicken down to me. The front wheels stopped spinning.

The way up had been cleared by the car’s descent. Clambering over bent and broken trunks, we were soon back on the street.

“Where the fuck are we?”

“Franklin Road!” I guessed. It was one of the areas that faced the wooded ravine.

As we slogged through the snow I could see a street light. I couldn’t figure out how we had gotten so far down Franklin without realizing we were even on Franklin.

“Fuck Donnie, you must have turned left instead of right at Kelly Road.”

Donnie was panting as he pushed through the drifts. “It’s not my fault the only place open to get food was Polly’s, the way the fuck out here.”

“Come on.”

Scott was a few feet ahead of us.

“If we go any slower, they’ll find our bodies in the spring.”

We got to the streetlight and stood leaning against the pole as the snow swirled around us.

“Can’t be much farther,” Donnie mumbled.

“Here.” I pulled the mickey of bourbon out of my inside pocket. “Seems like the right time for a good drink.”

The whiskey was ice-cold. I couldn’t gulp more than a mouthful before I passed it on. After Donnie and Scott, it came back to me half empty.

“Sure hits the spot. Maybe we should have a little something to eat with it.” Scott opened the bag of chicken and we each pulled out a piece. What was left of the greasy warmth was a welcome relief.

We lurched back into the storm. After a few steps the snow stopped. The wind died down. It was as if we had drunk ourselves into calm.

“Scott, isn’t that Saint Aggie’s hospital?”

A large building with random lights glowing in many of the windows faced us.

“Yeah, Donnie. What if it is?”

“If it is, we’re going in the wrong direction. My place is north of here, not south. I think we’re heading south.”

“No we aren’t. You are drunker than a skunk, Donnie my friend.”

“Where are we going then, Scott?”

“To Dave’s, right? We’re going to his place. Remember?”

“Shit! I thought we were going to my place. That’s why I took that turn back there.”

“Like fuck. That’s not even the right way to get to your place. Last time we’ll let you drive.”

We were on the bridge over the creek that ran behind the hospital. 

Scott stopped and leaned on the railing. “Let’s serenade them.”

“Who?”

“The dying fucks in there. Oh dying tonight.” He sang out to the tune of Silent Night.

“Quit it.” Donnie began to laugh.

“Oh you’re going to die tonight,” I joined in. 

Our thin voices echoed in the cold night air.

A couple of lights came on on one of the floors. 

“Come on. Let’s get out of here.” Scott nudged me. “Don’t want to get busted for singing out of key.”

“You should talk.” Donnie laughed as we pushed back into the dark.

“Where the fuck are we going?” I asked. The mickey was nearly empty. “There’s just enough in here for one more round.”

“I thought we were going to your place?’

“So did I, but this isn’t the way to anywhere.”

The wind came up again and we huddled at the next street corner. Snow was whipping around the light poles and the stop sign.

“This way.” I turned towards my place. The wind was coming from that direction.

We finished off the mickey, had another bite of no-longer-warm chicken and headed into the wind. In the distance we could hear snow plows.

We trudged in silence for what felt like hours. Up one hill, through the park and, at last, my place was in sight. The wind died down again though the snow continued to fall. Wisps of smoke rose into the dim moonlight along the rooftops.

I kicked snow off the back porch and opened the door. I glanced behind at Scott and Donnie. They were covered with snow and ice.

“Hope the fuck you’ve got something to drink in there.”

“Don’t I always? Basement,” I slurred. “Head for the basement.”

We trundled down the basement stairs. I fumbled for the pull cord on the laundry room light that swayed back and forth as we pried off layers of snow-encrusted parkas and pants.

Donnie reached for the pile of dirty clothes and pulled on grey sweats I had been wearing yesterday.

Scott sniffed first and wasn’t willing to do the same. Neither was I. I dashed upstairs in wet socks and undies to grab some towels and tossed them down.

“Here, dry off with these. I’ll find us something to wear.”

Winter Whisky – Part One: https://wp.me/p1RtxU-39y

Winter Whisky – Part Two: https://wp.me/p1RtxU-3fR

Hey! Now you can give me $$$ to defray blog fees & buy coffee on my trip to Cape Breton – sweet,eh? paypal.me/TOpoet 

Winter Whisky – Part Two

Winter Whisky – Part Two

I opened the fridge and behind some A&W take-out bags found the remains of a big bottle of Coke. Enough mix for the first few drinks.

We went back to the living room. I moved a pile of clothes off the saggy sofa to sit down. I recalled helping him drag the sofa he’d found outside someone’s house down the stairs.

“Here, I’ll put them away.” He sniffed them. “These are clean.” He flashed a big smile. “I guess I’m learning. Next comes folding. ” He disappeared into the bedroom.

“Ironing comes before folding.” I called out as I poured us each a couple of fingers of his Scotch.

“Don’t get too far ahead without me.”

He came back. He pushed some newspapers off his favorite chair and reached for his glass. “I’ll save the mix for later.”

He gulped the Scotch. “Nothing like that first bite. Right?”

I wasn’t up for raw yet. It took me a few mixed drinks before I was able to gulp them down the way he did.

“Now, that’s what I call a good drink.” He turned his head and wiped his mouth on the upper sleeve of his tee shirt.

He poured himself another and downed it. “Been keeping okay?”

He leaned back in the armchair.

“No complaints.” I finished my first drink. The flat pop didn’t quite mix with the Scotch. So I didn’t use as much with the next one. I drank it down as fast as Donnie had. It hit the spot.

“So how long has Trish really been gone?”

“About a month. She’s here nearly every other day though, so it’s not like she’s really gone. If she weren’t preggers, I’d tell her just to piss off, you know? But that’s just not in me. She’s a nice one. My Mom tells me not to lose this one.”

“You mean she puts up with your b.s.?”

“Something like that.”

He gave a short harsh laugh.

“Plus, she loves me. At least, she tells me she does. Nice ass, too. Yeah.” Donnie pushed himself up out of his arm chair. “Com’on see what I’m working on.”

We went through the kitchen to the unfinished part of the basement. This was his workshop. I had to stoop a little so I didn’t hit the door sill top that he had no trouble getting through. The workshop was as neat as a pin. This was his domain. His living room would always look like a storm had hit it but his workshop would be in apple pie order. 

It wasn’t often he’d ask me in to see what he might be working on. Often it was some cabinet or a gun rack. His wood work business had taken a few years to get established but he was doing okay, even after the recent housing project closed down. People always needed kitchen cabinets.

The trouble was I never quite got whatever it was he showed off to me. Joints – dados all that stuff. I couldn’t tell a piece of pine from a piece of walnut. 

This time it was a crib.

“Looks great.” I tried to sound enthused.

“Yeah. I found this here old crafts book and sort of copied it from there. Turn of the century. See.” he touched it and it rocked back and forth gently in its frame.

“Very sweet.”

He grinned. It was only when he smiled this wide that I caught a glimpse of his two broken side teeth. In the clear light his redness seemed almost unnatural. Red hair. Red freckled face. A big kid bursting with pride.

“Being a dad may suit you after all.”

“I hope the fuck so. It’s not like we’re getting a dog or something. But as long as there’s a good drink nearby, I guess it won’t be so bad. I’m going to do some carving along on the backboard here. You think deer or rabbits?”

“No legs on a rabbit to deal with.” I laughed a little. 

“I suppose Bambi is good for boys or girls.”

We went back to the living room. I turned the TV while Donnie went to take a shower. I watched the screen without the sound on. My eyes drifted out of focus so all I saw were undefined blobs moving back and forth on the screen. 

“Okay, m’boy I’m as clean as I need to be.” Donnie plopped heavily on the couch beside me. “But I needs one more to mellow me out enough to drive.” He grabbed the bottle of Scotch and gulped down the last of it.

………..

Stoners was near empty when we arrived. Not a good sign for a Saturday night.

“Sheesh. What’s up?” I asked. “Nobody like your Christmas decorations? Maybe it’s time to invest in a new tree.” 

Lazy loops of tinsel garland had been strong along the lights along the back of the bar. The tree leaned in a corner, one of the legs on the base having been bent out of place in a fight two years ago. According to Hector, the bartender, replacing the silver aluminum tree wasn’t possible as they had been discontinued as fire hazards.

“Looks like the snow’s kept most folk in t’night.” Hector poured doubles for each of us without being asked. “Even Scott’s band couldn’t make it.”

We took our usual table near the stage. I always made sure I sat where I couldn’t catch my reflection in any of the mirrors around the room. Even in the dim lights I didn’t like to watch myself when I was drinking. I waved to Scott.

“The driving didn’t seem that bad, did it Donnie?”

“Hard to tell with all that friggin’ snow.”

We laughed.

Scott was alone on the stage. “The rest of the band get caught in the snow up in Meat Cove?” I called up to him. The rest of the band would have been a bass player and a drummer.

“I’m going to close with one of my favourites.” Scott tuned his guitar. 

“Close? What time is it?” I looked at my watch. It was nearly midnight. It had been around nine when I went to Donnie’s. Where had the time gone? We left there around eleven. It was usually a twenty-minute drive from Donnie’s to the bar.

“It’s for someone I loved once. And well . . . still do.” He sang Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne.

The love of his life was a Susan none of us ever got to meet. Depending on his mood, the song would stick to the original lyrics, or if he was a little down in the dumps he’d add verses. Tonight was one of those morose nights as he sang, “Suzanne puts you down, deeper than t…he river, even when you give her all the tea in China.”

“Ooh,” I thought, or at least I thought I thought it, but I must have groaned out loud because Donnie gave me a hard nudge. “Not so loud, eh?”

Jen put a pitcher of draft on the table with three glasses. Again we didn’t have to order. I liked that. What we wanted was ready for us. “Ta, Jen. Busy later?” I asked.

“Who wants to know?” she laughed. “I’ll let you know when I counted up m’tips.”

Every guy who drank there hit on her at some time or the other. Some of them never figured out that her easy going way was primarily for the tips. If a guy didn’t behave she’d just nod to Hector and he’d come over to put him in his place. 

Jan wasn’t a bad looking gal so it was easy to flirt with her because she knew it was just flirting. It allowed me to pass for one of the typical drunken bozos who’d hit on anything in a skirt.

The song went on. ‘Just as you start to kiss her, she tells you she has no love to give you.’

The only light seemed to be the overheads on the stage. I peered around and couldn’t make out much in the gloom around me. Even Scott’s voice slipped into the darkness. Scattered applause around me pulled me back to the room.

Scott put his guitar into its tattered case and sat at the table, poured himself a draft. “So how are things in the chalk mines?”

“Dusty.” The chalk mines referred to the school where I taught drafting to teens who often couldn’t draw straight line with a ruler.

Even though I showed promise in university the competitive drive in my dream field of architecture was more than I wanted, so I settled for something more practical. Teaching. I pushed the pitcher of beer over to him. “How’s things in the grease pits?”

“The pits. Haha. Same old, same old.” Scott downed a double with a quick beer chaser. “Now that’s a good drink.”

Scott worked at Turcott’s Auto, the service station his dad owned, which he would own one day. There was always that smell of oil about him. At six foot something, he was taller than either Donnie or myself. His brownish and sparse facial hair made him seem to scowl. But if scraggly was good enough for Bob Dylan then it was okay for him. I found it hard enough to listen to Dylan let alone look at him.

“Must be nice to have weeks off at Christmas.” He signalled for another pitcher of draft. 

“Would be if I didn’t have papers to worry about. Just because I’m not at the school teaching, doesn’t mean I’m doing nothing. Even during the summer there’s something.” 

“Yeah, yeah, yeah.”

“Besides, you mechanics make more than we teachers do. Even Donnie makes more than I do.”

“You hinting that I get the next round?” Donnie patted his pockets for his wallet. “Looks like I left my wallet at home.”

“Again.”

I couldn’t resist. Donnie leaving something behind was business as usual. Many’s a time we had to come back to Stoners to get his jacket or hat, once his shoes.

“Smart ass,” Donnie snorted.

“John McAuley’s one of the teachers at your school?”

“Yeah.”

“Well,” Scott’s voiced dropped, “he’s a fucking useless cock-sucker. A gear-box. He was in the garage the other day pawing at Mark, the kid my Dad hired last summer. Seems he was McAuley’s favorite. All over him he was. Made me sick. Isn’t it against the law for queers to teach? If it isn’t, it should be.”

“All over him?” Donnie asked. 

“Practically!” Scott made a limp wrist and lisped. ‘Ooo Mark your jeans are so oily.’ He went back to his usual self . “You could tell he wanted to slip on that oil and into the kid’s jeans. So I told Mark to get to friggin’ work and asked McAuley what he was lookin’ for?”

“Which was?” I poured draft into each of our glasses.

“Not the oil change he was hoping for.” Scott laughed. “He was gettin’ his winter tires.”

“Just in time too.” Donnie looked into his empty glass. 

John taught two grades ahead of me. I had heard whispers at school about him, and so I kept my distance. Mark had been in my class as well. He was repeating a year after getting out of ‘junior detention.’ 

Keeping that distance was a part of my life. Everyone had some secret and this was mine. I was safe as long as I saw to it that no one suspected. Letting go of Cindy was part of that, too. It allowed me to pretend I still had feelings that kept me from pursuing other women.

Cindy was a fun woman to be seen with. Pretty and always all over me in public. But in private there was really nothing. I had learned how to satisfy her sexually, but all the touching and rubbing never did much for me. Sometimes I couldn’t even get hard with her. Had to think of some man I had seen in the street or the drummer from Scott’s band. When she wanted that final commitment, marriage, I had to get out of it. Told her it might be wise if we saw other people for a while.

Winter Whisky – Part One https://wp.me/p1RtxU-39y

Hey! Now you can give me $$$ to defray blog fees & buy ice-cream in Washington at 2019’s capfireslam.org – sweet,eh? paypal.me/TOpoet

Winter Whisky – Part One

Winter Whisky

Part One

“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.

Hey! Now you can give me $$$ to defray blog fees & buy ice-cream in Washington at 2019’s capfireslam.org – sweet,eh? paypal.me/TOpoet