What Are You Doing Here? by John Wirebach
he's working the wipe rag down the bar and she spots me as soon as I sit down. She tosses the rag in the water and shakes her head.
"What are you doing here Charlie?" She sounds weary. She looks over her shoulder at the owner who's standing at the other end of the bar. "I don't want any trouble."
"I didn't come to fight. I took a ride. I got hungry..."
She shrugs. "All right. I can't stop you." She reaches under the bar and slaps a menu down in front of me. "You want a drink?"
"A ginger ale."
"Sure," she says and without another word she goes to the soda hoses. A good looking young guy is there and they exchange a few words. She leans over, running ginger ale into a glass, giving the young guy a good show. She leaves him with a smile.
"You're a little late with that," she says, pointing at the ginger ale.
I order a steak and I watch her work her way back to the kitchen and drop off my order. The bar is starting to fill up and she's busy making drinks and talking to each of the customers. She's good at her job. She looks good. She's hanging out all over. She probably makes a lot of tips.
Finally she makes her way back to me with a knife and fork wrapped in a napkin. She actually smiles at me.
"You know, I don't feel gloomy any more, Charlie."
"I'm having the time of my life. I'm taking hotel management courses every morning, and learning to deal with real people."
"You don't say."
"I've been reexamining my life, you might say. Considering the possibilities."
"I'm glad to hear that, Mary. I really am." I catch her looking away at a young couple sitting at a table. They're talking and drinking a few, sweethearts, getting ready to eat something, I guess.
"I feel like them," she says. "A new start."
"All those dreams," I say, smiling at her. "We had plans and dreams. Once." And we could have them again, I think. She's leaning over and I can see a mole I used to kiss.
She wipes the bar to look busy. "We never had plans, Charlie. We just had schemes. And they never worked anyway."
She leaves the rag on the bar and walks away to take care of her other customers. Give them a show, I think. Maybe one of them will take care of you.***
She just said Charlie, I gotta go. We had it once, now we don't.
I knew what she meant. We were all acting crazy then.
I was chasing strange women and booze and mostly finding the booze. She had something going too. His name was Earl and he worked at Wal mart. He wore one of those little red vests. I used to find two coffee cups on the table. Every night she was coming home with Wal mart junk we didn't need. My oldest, Charles Junior, had all the girls he wanted. He didn't care what happened. Only my little girl Lynette was the only one with nothing going on and she walked out. She was going to school then. She said she was going her own way. She said we were all crazy and she was right. She was only sixteen and she knew more than we did.
"Ah, sit down, babe." I was drinking heavy then. "Let's talk about it."
"I've had it. I want out. Tonight. This minute."
That was then; this is now.
Somebody shouts and I look over and see one of the young sweethearts yelling. Then I look again and she stands up and hurls her drink down on the table. A few drops spill on his tie.
"Ah, hon, look what you did. My new tie." He pulls it out and stares at it.
"Wrap it around your head." The woman is throwing the arms of a sweater over her shoulders.
"Where you going?" he asked.
"For a walk." The whole place is staring but she doesn't care. She's raring to go. I know just how she feels. I've been there.
"Can I come?" The guy looks crazy too. I know just how he feels. I've been there.
"Nuts on that."
"Sit down, sweetie. I'll get you another drink." He sips his drink.
"Cheese and crackers. Is all you can think about?"
I watch her run out. The guy never moves a muscle. He just sits there, holding tight to his glass. I want to walk over and tell him to get off his butt, get after her. Chase her down. It's not too late. People see everything and you can't take it back.
But I stay with the steak.
I finish my steak and tap my glass lightly for another ginger ale but my ex won't come near me. The owner's looking over at me. The two of them meet and talk and I can hear her say, I can't stop him. He strolls down the bar with a big grin on his fat face. He puts a big palm over my hand.
"Look fellow. You had your dinner. We don't want any trouble."
"I just want another drink. It's ginger ale..."
"We don't want any trouble," he says again and walks away. I'm right as rain but as far as he's concerned, I'm flagged.
I get up and take a walk, heading for the lake. The water is nice and smooth and surrounded by tall trees. All around the water there are little lights in the cabins and a fire burning on the beach. A girl sits on a log, singing with her guitar, to a little crowd. The woman is one of them.
We used to come up here a lot then. We had a little cabin her parents loaned us whenever we wanted. There weren't so many people then. Most days it was just the two of us on the water. I used to fish and she'd sit on the bank watching. Sometimes we'd head off into the woods and lay down beneath the trees. Or go for a swim and she'd hold her wet body next to mine. Sometimes she'd go back to the cabin and make some soup and bring it to me in a thermos. If I caught a fish, she'd watch me clean it and then she'd cook it up with some potatoes and onions and big red peppers and we'd eat it right out of the pan.
Sometimes I taste that stew when I sleep and I wake up.
Then the kids came and that was all she wrote. There was no time to fish, no cabin time. I started working two jobs and she went off to work too. You can tough out hard times when there're only two of you but you can't mistreat your kids.
That's what she said. Then she said she was tired. Then I started drinking. I gave up. I couldn't see any future in our lives. Rented houses, debts and beat up cars.
The girl with the guitar is singing old songs and the kids listening to her start singing too. I thought I remembered the song but the songs she is singing have never been my favorites. But the woman from the bar sings right along. The song ends and everybody claps. I don't know who they are clapping for.
I'm still watching and listening and the girl is singing again when the guy walks right by me. His woman from the bar sees him and he stops. They stand like that for a few minutes, looking at each other. Finally, the woman walks up to him.
"I'm sorry, sweetie," he says.
"I'm sorry too."
"I've got to take it easy on that stuff..."
"You can do it. I know you can."
They kissed. Right there. Like they were all alone. There you go.
The girl with the guitar begins to play a slow song and the two begin to dance. Real slow, real close, real tight. Like high school. No one seems to notice.
It's really something to see.
"I'm sorry," I say. But there is no one to hear me.