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

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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.

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