100 Letters

I tell him how I don’t look back much – wreckage, wastelands, memories in little dirty boxes.”

“What are you smoking?” B asks.

“Oliva, Series G.”

“Dumb ass. Not the cigar. What are you smoking? Never mind. You’re one of the most stable guys I know, except for Jimmy.”

Jimmy laughs when he’s flattered, big guy, works for the post office I think. We call him the comedian for some reason.

B is behind the bar this weekend. He’s worked at the Perfect Ash forever. He incessantly taps keys on his cell phone, Facebook fanatic and all that, anything to make it through his shift.

I sit at the end of the bar, which is one of my favorite places to write. I’m writing this shit right now as I smoke a cheap stick. I quit drugs, alcohol and smoking years and years ago. Killed my marriage but saved my life, such as it is. I’m a fucking addict for cigars.

Jimmy sits next to Ardo with his elbows on the granite slab. It’s a nice spot to spend a few hours. I ask him what he’s smoking. The stogie in his mouth has to be an 110 x 9. It takes a blowtorch to light it, but he’s happy. Something tells me, all of us maybe, that he’ll be happy for the rest of his life.

“What do you think of what B said, Jimmy. Am I stable?”

He laughs but doesn’t say anything. A lot of guys in recovery end up here, but I don’t think Jimmy is one of them.

“You’re snarky today,” B says, not looking up. “If you don’t like what’s behind you, fix it.”

I take a draw on my smoke and exhale. “I gave up trying to fix this one. I may as well apologize for growing hair.”

“You should. You’re hairy bastard.”

Jimmy laughs and chokes at the same time. “Gorilla,” he says and slaps the granite with his free palm.

“Gave up on fixing what?” I ask, knowing full well what he’s talking about. “You my shrink now, B? You get your license yet?” I have a thing apparently for picking up shrinks as friends. Shrinks and wolves.

“He has a license,” Jimmy says, slapping the granite again. “Driver’s license.”

“Are you sure?” B asks.

“OK, shrink this,” I say. “My ex got in touch. I pinged her name a  month ago. LinkedIn rats you out even if all you are is curious.”

“It’s called stalking,” B says.

“No. It’s called networking. Who goes on LinkedIn as a farmer?”  That’s what she is now. She grows hops with her husband. Gary has been making beer since he was in his twenties.

“I like him already,” B says, “What kind of hops?”

“Hops hops,” I say.

“If they grow hops I like them both.”

“You don’t even drink, B.”

“I didn’t know you were married before.”

“If at first you don’t succeed,” Jimmy says, laughing, more like a  cackle. I can’t for the life of me remember why we call him a comedian.

“Anyway, her email address is on her LinkedIn site. I wrote to her. She wrote back. I wrote her again and that’s it. Maybe eight sentences between us. She says she wants to talk. Screw that.”

“Talk to her. It sounds reasonable to me,” B says. “You shared a big piece of life together.”

“Sounds reasonable for a normal person, not me.”

“You’re so unique. My God. Get over yourself. How many years were you married?”

“Seven. Well, legally seven years but spiritually maybe four. The last three I was taking on water. Took a lot of crap.”

“Drinking related?”

“If I weren’t a drunk I wouldn’t have gotten married. That’s not true, but when my drinking went bad, I screwed up a lot. Fucking cliché. I can’t stand talking about it.”

“But you quit. That should have helped.”

“Quitting made it worse. She had to deal with the real me and to be honest she didn’t ever truly respect the true me, not in that body, mind and spirit kind of way. What she wanted was the big swinging dick.  It wasn’t me so she got pissed, made my life miserable and tried to drive me away. In the end it worked.”

“That’s because you don’t have a big swinging dick.” Jimmy’s laughter is loud and obnoxious.

“I smoke small cigars, too, Jimmy.”

B is wearing his wire rim glasses. His butch haircut fades at the sideburns. Beard starts a half-inch lower and doesn’t say uncle until it passes the collarbone. But if you need a friend, you can’t do  better than B. Prick doesn’t let you get away with anything.

Fuck. I’m half way through my final stick. I exhale a plume of dense smoke. “I don’t know where we’re going with this conversation. How’s your real job going?”

“If your ex wants to talk, you should call her.”

“I can’t do that.”

“You can.”

Now I laugh.

“What’s her number?” B asks. “I’ll call her for you.”

“That’s the thing. She wanted to talk but didn’t give me her number. I probably wouldn’t call even if I had it.”

“I don’t buy that,” B says.

“Someone has a resentment,” Jimmy says.

Be tell me that if he had her number, he’d call right now. “Where does she live?” he asks and then adds, “You don’t call because of what? Finish the sentence.”

“I come in for a cigar, the only one I can afford, and you want me to work. I carry a lot of horrible images – her on this guy’s lap in the garage making out, me a drunken idiot, laughingstock of all my ex-friends. There’s nowhere to go with that except inadequacy.”

“You’re inadequate. So what?” B asks.

I exhale again, make smoke rings and watch them drift away. “So I don’t look back because there’s nothing I can do.”

“So why don’t you call her? That would be looking ahead.”

“No number, asshole. But there’s this other thing, as I think about it. She doesn’t need it. She doesn’t need my call. I do so there it is again, the position I was in all along.”

I feel uncomfortable. I stand and head to the cooler. I grab a Ginger Ale, hand B my last quarters and return to the stool.

“What the hell happened that was so bad? This guy fucked your wife?”

“Dah! I think I just said that in so many words, but yes. He screwed one of my girlfriends’ years earlier, too. Didn’t find out about that one until I’d been divorced a few years. Actually she banged everyone, V and George both. Both of them did my women, including my wife, counting. He stood up in my wedding and then he banged my bride. Years later, but you get the  picture.”

“You have the worst luck with women,” B says.

“Small dick,” Jimmy says and slaps the granite again.

“Established,” I say.

“Seriously,” B says. “That’s some serious betrayal.”

“Women like guys with big dicks. What can I say.”

A customer comes in and asks for an ounce of Captain’s Mate pipe tobacco. I finish my cigar and drop the foot into a snuffer. “This is bullshit,” I mumble.

“I heard that,” B says.

“It’s gone and done. I’m not strong or smart enough to get beyond it. I mean I am beyond it, but it’s all just too much.”

“You’re not done with it.”

“Fuck you,” I say, and laugh.

“Just saying.”

“What are we talking about,” the customer asks. “Women?”

“Go figure,” I say. “Of course.”

“His ex went to bed with his best man,” Jimmy says.

“Whatever,” I say.

“This one guy tried to bang my wife once,” the customer says. B is making change for him. “I shot his tires out.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” I say. He leaves.

“This is over 25 years ago and he want’s me to shoot the guy’s tires  out. I already stabbed his house. Didn’t help. Besides, the guy passed away the same week my ex got in touch.”

B laughs. “You stabbed his house?”

“Not proud of it. That’s all it was, high display. I didn’t know where to go with my emotions. He was going to shoot me with his 45, but he didn’t.”

“He’s dead huh. There must have been something between you that was good if he stood up at the wedding. What about the letters?”

“It’s stupid.”

“She kept your letters all these years, want’s to talk. Doesn’t sound  stupid to me. Maybe she wants to apologize or talk about the guy who died.”

“Whatever.” I think about pulling the spent stick out of the snuffer, seeing if I can get it lit. That’s just desperation.

“Thing is,” I tell B, “At this point it’s better to let sleeping dogs lie.”

“That dog ain’t sleeping,” Jimmy says. He bursts out laughing again.

“That may be the most intelligent thing I ever heard you say, Jimmy,” I say. “That’s what I’ve been rambling on about.”

“Has she read the letters?”

“Hell if I know. Actually, I think not, or only some of them.”

“Some? Like how many.”

I can feel my face turning red. “Half of them probably.”

“How many is half?”

“I sent one every day all of one summer. She’d left me, B. Didn’t want anything to do with the marriage. I did the only thing I could do to hang on. I wrote letters.”

“And it didn’t work.”

“Didn’t work. She came home at the end of the summer, probably for practical reasons, to go back dancing she needed a place to stay,  someone to pay the bills, but really it was hell from then on. I don’t want to talk about it anymore.”

“What does your current wife think?”

“She thinks it’s too short.” Jimmy says.

I roll my eyes and laugh. “What is it with this guy? We’ve been discussing her ex for 20 years. I was even the guy’s golf partners for a while. But I can’t mention mine. My wife comes unglued and makes my life miserable if I even mention her name.”

“So you’re stuck.”

“Is there a better word for it?”

“I feel your pain, brother. So what are you going to do?” B says.

“First thing is I’ll write about it. I see shit on the screen, like right now, and I know better where to go. After this story, I don’t know.”

“You’ll forget all about it,” Ardo says.

“He speaks!” B says.

“What would you do, Ardo?” I ask.

“Well,” he says. “You guys have been talking for a while, gave me time to think. I like what that other feller said. Shoot his tires out.”

“But he’s dead,” B says.

“So what.” Argo says. “Where’s his car?”

Everybody’s a fucking comedian around here.

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