License – Chapter 55
LICENSE IN GRAY ASH
Bigwigs seemed totally dark after the bright sunshine of the August day outside. Boyd peered into the dimly lit interior until his eyes adjusted to the change in light. Déjà vu.
The place was almost completely empty. There was no group of ‘mulanyans’ at the far end of the bar, no one sitting at any of the tables, just a couple of unsavory types with their backs to the door, their derrieres hanging over the edges of their adjacent stools. They must have been buds since they sat side by side instead of spaced a respectable distance apart like strangers would normally sit, but there was no conversation between them. They sat hunched over their beers, lost in whatever addled thoughts they might have been capable of having.
Boyd sat down on the same barstool he’d sat on in January, when he’d come to meet his brother. The bartender headed his way and Boyd recognized him as Marko, the same bartender that had been there in January too. Maybe he was the owner. Who else would still be working in a dump like this seven plus months later?
“What’ll yah have, Dude?” Marko asked with little enthusiasm.
“Bring me a beer. Something in a bottle. Do you have any Sam Adams?”
“Yeah, sure, coming right up. You know, you look familiar. You been in here before?”
“Maybe.” Boyd stared him in the eye, willing him to remember, waiting for Marko’s memory to jog into place and picture Boyd’s face at the receiving end of a hard thrown punch. “Maybe not.”
“Well, if you don’t know, I sure don’t.” And Marko walked to the other end of the bar for the beer.
Boyd reached into the bag he had with him and pulled out a plain cardboard box, the size of a tissue cube. He placed the box on the bar in front of him, right where the four shot glasses filled with the mystery whiskies had been lined up on that wintery January day, whiskies that his brother had tried to force down his throat.
“You pulled your stunts one too many times, Tom,” Boyd said to the box, “And now here you are.”
It was a week ago that Boyd had stopped at his parent’s place after work to pick up baby Pamela. He was whispering sweet nothings into her tiny ear and tickling her little belly. She was smiling her wide and toothless grin, giggling and squealing with glee. Each dimple and coo melted Boyd’s heart.
“I made a tuna casserole for you to take home, Boyd!” his mother said cheerfully from the kitchen, “Now neither one of you will have to cook tonight! All you have to do is stick it in the oven. 375 for half an hour.”
“Thanks, Mom. Was Pamela a good girl today?”
“Oh, my little dumpling’s always a good girl. A total pleasure!”
And then the doorbell had rung. Who could that be? And his mother had skipped happily to the door like a little girl herself. Maybe it was a friend of hers stopping by. She could show off her darling granddaughter to them!
Boyd heard a deep voice saying something he couldn’t make out and then the loud, unexpected sound of something clattering as it hit the floor. He rushed to the door to see what had happened, with Pamela balanced on his hip. His father came hurrying out of the bathroom, drying his hands on a towel, concerned as to what the sudden commotion was all about.
It was the casserole dish that had fallen, spilling saucy tuna, peas, mushrooms and noodles at his mother’s feet. She had forgotten to set it down and had carried it with her to the door in her excitement to greet a friend, but there was no friend at the door to greet. Instead, it was a police officer that stood there, looking grim and uncomfortable. He had come to deliver unwelcome news. Tom was dead.
It had happened in a bar in Northboro, Pennsylvania. Tom had been his usual self – drunk, unruly, getting in peoples’ faces, pushing the wrong buttons. A fight had broken out and Tom had fled out the door like the coward that he was. But in his stupor, he had tripped on the threshold, stumbled and fell, ramming his head into a fire hydrant and cracking it wide open. Passersby had tried to help, an ambulance had arrived in less than five minutes, but there was no saving Tom. Death had been almost instantaneous.
Boyd had just stood there at the news, frozen, his face a blank mask. Some kind of emotion churned inside him but he didn’t know what it was – Sorrow? Jubilation? Relief?
His father had been as frozen as Boyd was, staring straight ahead with vacant, dead eyes. Finally he shook his head, closed his eyes and when he opened them again, tears that had pooled behind his lids trickled down his cheeks and dripped off his chin. He wiped them away, almost angrily, with the side of his hand.
Boyd’s mother had rushed, flustered, into the kitchen for a towel to clean up the mess she’d made. She dropped to her knees by the spilled casserole, the towel pressed instead to her face, hiding her anguish, muffling her sobs, soaking up her tears.
They cried, not so much over the life that had been lost or because of what Tom was, as they cried over the life that had been wasted, of what Tom wasn’t, of what they had hoped he still might become, of what there was no chance of his becoming now.
Boyd made the three hour drive down to Northboro the next day, to positively identify and take possession of the body. His parents had instructed him to have the body cremated and to then scatter the ashes in a place befitting Tom’s memory.
The Northboro police gave Boyd everything that his brother had had on him, which was nothing but a worn leather wallet and its contents – two twenty dollar bills, an expired New York State Driver’s License and a scrap of paper with two phone numbers scribbled on it. One said ‘Mom and Dad’, the other said ‘Boyd’.
“Hey, Marko. Keep your eye on my beer. I gotta take a leak.”
“No problem, Dude.”
Boyd picked up the box and headed for the men’s room. The putrid stench of dried pee and old barf met his nostrils, filthy walls inked and etched with words from the pen or the knife met his eyes, proclaiming Veronica K. to be the best in town, urging him to call Tammy for a good time or advising the best way to increase the size of his junk.
The door to the stall hung crooked and unclosable, ripped half way off its hinges. He walked in anyway and lifted the smear stained seat with the toe of his shoe. He opened the cardboard box and slowly started to pour its contents into the bowl, watching as the course gray ash that had been his brother sank to the bottom, falling like gravel and dirt through the water. Several times he pushed down the flusher with his foot to make sure the cremains didn’t clog up the pipes.
The empty box, he dropped down onto the tacky floor, smashed it flat, and shoved it into the corner along with the strips of toilet tissue, crumpled towel paper and empty cigarette packs that spewed and overflowed from the pail meant to hold them. Then, he washed his hands and went back out to his beer.
“I’m in the mood for a shot,” he informed Marko who was bsing with a newcomer several stools down, “Got any scotch?”
“Of course I’ve got scotch! This is a bar, you know. I run a fine establishment here,” Marko replied, looking offended. He reached to the top shelf and brought down a bottle labeled White Horse Blended Scotch Whiskey.
“Pour shots all around, for yourself too. I want to make a toast.”
Once the shots were poured, Boyd raised his glass in the air, indicating that his four bar mates should do the same. “To my brother, Tom. And to this fine establishment we have the pleasure of imbibing in.”
“To Tom and this fine establishment!” the others mimicked, looking a little confused since they didn’t know who the hell Tom was or what fine establishment this joker could possibly be referring to, and Marko looking pleased with the compliment to Bigwigs, even though he knew it was a fake.
And down their hatches the golden colored liquid flowed. Boyd grimaced as the whiskey burned its way down his throat, like fire water, or like gasoline. White Horse my butt. He drank down his last swig of beer and stood to leave.
“Thanks,” he said to Marko, who was grimacing himself.
Boyd reached into his back pocket and pulled out the two twenties, smacked them down onto the bar and walked out of Bigwigs and into the day. Out of the dark and into the light; the bright sun making him squint, bringing tears to his eyes.
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