It’s Me – Chapter Five

Fleming wondered if the man on the last stool at the end of the bar was being, as he had called her, a smart-ass, or somewhere buried deep in the crevices of his psyche, he had a playful sense of humor.  But a sense of humor didn’t match the way he spoke.  He had the slow, deliberate, emotionless voice of a serial killer.

The next night, Fleming came in and sat next to the man on the last stool at the end of the bar.  She ordered her usual, then turned to him and asked “do you eat?”

With an almost sneer, the man on the last stool at the end of the bar, repeated “do I eat?”

Fleming said, “since you said your name was Forrest Gump, I imaging that you at least eat shrimp…maybe all twenty-one different ways to fix it.”

“Are you asking me to have dinner with you?” he said.

Fleming didn’t miss a beat when she said “thank you.  I’d love to, but if we’re going on a date, I think I should at least know your first name.  Your real first name.  I mean, I can’t keep thinking of you as the man sitting on the last stool at the end of the bar.”

He looked at her and said “not that it matters but, my name is Luke, and you don’t want to go on a date with me.  Did anyone ever tell you that you’re pushy?”

Fleming smiled and said “yes.  You did and I take that as a compliment.”

Luke turned away from her and said, “then I must have said it wrong.”

Gil, who was rarely out of earshot, looked at Fleming and gave her the “I told you so look.”

Fleming acted like she didn’t hear what he said and asked “shall we meet here or do you want to meet somewhere else?”

Clearly, Luke was irritated.  He looked at her and said “we’re not meeting anywhere because we’re not going anywhere.”

Having said that, he got up, took a twenty out of his wallet, tossed it next to his glass and walked out.

Gil walked over and said “I told you.  You’re wasting your time.”

Fleming said “at least I got him to tell me his name.”  Gil said “yep.  You did do that.  You know, something happened to him.  Something that was so traumatic, he became reclusive and I’d be willing to bet that he’s touch-starved.”

“Touched-starved?  What does that mean?” Fleming asked.

Gil said “it means that people who don’t have physical contact of any kind, become touch-starved.  People actually die from it.  We’re a societal species and we need contact.  When we don’t have that contact, we starve from the lack of touch.  Some people are so touch-starved for so long, if they don’t die, they actually think they might die if they are touched.”

He looked at Fleming and said “you’re not touch-starved but something’s missing in your life.  You come in here and chat and watch, but you don’t really have anyone.  If you did, you wouldn’t be in here every night.  I won’t pry, but I wonder what your story is.  And I wonder, with all the other men in this bar, why you’re so focused on him.”

 

 

To be continued_________________________

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Me – Chapter Four

Gil walked over to Fleming and said “you must have struck a nerve.”

Fleming looked at him and said “no…that was foreplay.”

Gil laughed out loud.  He was thinking that he wasn’t the only one who could read people.  Then again, it could just be that Fleming had a delicious sense of humor.

Fleming wondered aloud to Gil, if the man on the last stool at the end of the bar would come back.  She wondered if she had been too intrusive.  Gil said “only time will tell.”  She said “I have pretty good instincts about most things and I have a gut feeling that he will be back.”

Gil was torn between wanting the man on the last stool at the end of the bar to come back, and wanting him to be left alone.  On the one hand, it would be interesting to see the interaction between a man who was fighting demons…and losing, and a woman who was like the National Enquirer.  She had an “inquiring mind who wanted to know.”

On the other hand, sometimes inquiring minds are not allowed to know.  Sometimes, a person is already dead inside.  They’re just waiting for physical death and Gil had never seen a man who was more ready for physical death than the man on the last stool at the end of the bar.

The next night, Fleming walked in and there was the man on the last stool at the end of the bar.  She sat next to him and ordered her usual Club Soda.

After he served her, Gil was covertly eavesdropping as he pretended to be wiping glasses.

Once again, without looking at her, the man on the last stool at the end of the bar said “do you have any more questions…about my story…or my heart?”

She looked at him and said “do you have any more insults?”  He motioned to Gil for another drink and said “stick around.  I’m sure I can cut you down to size.”

Fleming didn’t miss a lick when she said “take a break.  You don’t have to be a prick every day.”

As Gil poured another glass of whiskey to the man on the last stool at the end of the bar, he knew he was witnessing a game of “one-up-man-ship.”  It was just a matter of who won and he was giving them even odds.

Staring at his drink, the man on the last stool at the end of the bar turned to Fleming and said “you remind me of someone.”

Fleming asked who, and he almost inaudibly said “someone I used to know.”

His answer was fraught with obvious pain and anguish and it was clear that the man on the last stool at the end of the bar was not one to bare his soul.

Still, Fleming knew that he had a story but for now, she would be patient.

Her sense of humor again caught Gil by surprise when she asked the man on the last stool at the end of the bar “so…should I call you Mr. Prick or do you have an actual name?”

Gil hoped his little snicker couldn’t be heard.

The man on the last stool at the end of the bar, stood up, took a twenty out of his wallet, tossed it beside his empty glass, turned to Fleming and said “My name’s Forrest Gump.  People call me Forrest Gump.”

 

 

To be continued______________________

 

It’s Me – Chapter Three

The next few weeks, Fleming came in, ordered her Club Soda, chatted with Gil and watched the man sitting on the last stool at the end of the bar.  When available, she always sat one stool away from him.  There seemed to be some sort of understanding that no one ever sat right beside him…at least she had never seen anyone sit there.

Night after night, he stared into his glass, seemingly oblivious to his surroundings.  He never glanced toward Larry and Mel when they started getting rowdy, nor did he ever glance toward her.

Gil had noticed her watching him every time she came in.  He finally leaned over and whispered, “you’re wasting your time on that one.”

Fleming said “well, then what’s your story?”  Gil smiled and said “my story is my story and if and when I get ready to tell it, I’ll tell it.”  She wondered if that was psychological mumbo-jumbo or if Gil was just a private man.

He told her that owning a bar and being everyone’s counselor had its advantages but it also had its drawbacks.  He said “I listen to people’s problems, much like a priest, only I can repeat everything I hear.”  That was followed with a burst of laughter.

Fleming queried “and you know nothing about him?  Not even his name?”

“Nothing,” Gil echoed.  “And I figure, like me…if he wants to tell his story, he will but he hasn’t told it to me.  He looked at her, as if telling her to mind her own business and said “and I haven’t asked.”

Fleming said “he just looks so…lost.”

Gil said “most of my regulars, and there are many, look the same way.  They come here to drink and forget and for a while, they do.  But when they wake up the next morning, their problems are still there, only they’re there along with a screaming headache.”

“You sound like you’re speaking from experience.” Fleming said.  Gil looked at her and said, “yes, and I still do my little dance with the devil from time to time, but not as much as I used to.”  He looked at her and winked.  “We all have to have our pity parties now and then.”

The next night, Fleming came in and sat down right beside the man on the last stool at the end of the bar.  She waited to see if he would react in any way, but he didn’t even seem to notice.

Gil was watching the scene unfold.

After a few minutes, she looked at him and came right out and asked…”what’s your story?”

With eyes that couldn’t be bothered to look into hers, he said “what makes you think I have a story?”

Fleming said “because everyone has a story.”

He smugly said “and what makes you think that I want to talk to you?”

She said “oh…so you’re one of those people.”

He actually turned, looked at her and sneered as he said “what do you mean…one of those people?”  She said “one of those people who think they’re special.”

Gil was watching and listening with intensity as their conversation began its infancy.

Fleming’s straightforwardness must have piqued the interest of the man on the last stool at the end of the bar.  He said “well, Fleming.  You’re a bit of a smart ass aren’t you?  And you’re pushy.”

She was surprised that he knew her name.  Had he asked Gil about her?  Or had he just heard her tell him, while they thought he was immersed in his whiskey?

She ignored the implied insults and asked “who broke your heart?”

The man on the last stool at the end of the bar stood up, took a twenty out of his wallet, tossed it beside his glass and walked out.

 

 

To be continued______________________

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Me – Chapter Two

Before Gil could answer, he heard a commotion.  “Geeze,” he said as he slowly looked toward the other end of bar.

Fleming watched as he sauntered over, talked a bit and then poured two draft beers and sat them down in front of the men who were having a rather loud “discussion.”

He walked back over and said “That’s Larry and Mel.  They’ve been friends since they were little boys and they get into arguments over the damnedest things.  Tonight, it’s over who was the best soccer player who ever lived.  I’ll tell you, they act like an old married couple.”

Fleming laughed and said “it doesn’t seem to have been very serious.”

“It never is,” said Gil.  “I go over and tell them to calm down, give them a free beer and then they’re best friends again.  Sometimes I think the only reason they have those little tiffs is to get a free beer.”

He shook his head and smiled as he continued.  “Larry works at Earls’ Tire and Lube.  He’s been the mechanic there since he got out of high school and is probably the best in this entire county.  People come from other counties to have their cars worked on, not only because he’s the best, but because he’s as honest as the day is long.  He fixes cars and promises that not only will they run, they’ll roar.”

“Larry’s a real ladies man,” Gil continued.  “He’s a sworn bachelor and says he intends to stay that way.  I tell him that he’s not getting any younger and one day, some young filly just might sweep him off his feet.  He always laughs and says ‘hey, I may not be the sharpest crayon in the box, but I’m smart enough not to end up like Mel’.”

“Like Mel?” Fleming asked.

Gil, a little more somber, said “Mel…now Mel is a cut from a different cloth.  He was quite the ladies man too, and sharp as a tack.  He was a little more ambitious than Larry and had high aspirations. He used to always say ‘I’m going to be rich and famous some day’.”

He shook his head and laughed when he said “I’ve never seen two people who were more different than Larry and Mel but for some reason, they forged a lifelong friendship.”

“After high school, Mel went to college, got a Master’s degree, graduated summa cum laude and…now he owns Earls’ Tire and Lube.”

Fleming almost laughed out loud.  Surely Gil was pulling her leg.  “You’re not serious,” she said.

“I sure am,” said Gil.  “Mel was a highly respected professor at an Ivy League college.  He met his wife there.  A girl named Aubrey.  She had brains and beauty and everyone said they looked like Barbie and Ken.  They got married and became the local ‘it’ couple.  They really enjoyed the high life and all the accouterments that went with that high life and they were the perfect pair, until…”

“Until what?” Fleming asked.

Gil said “until Mel made a fatal mistake.  He met some floozy at the local college bar and well, you know what happens when men meet loose women.  Aubrey found out and left him.  He tried and tried to get her to forgive him but she just couldn’t.  He lost just about everything he had in the divorce and I can’t say that I feel sorry for him.  He had a beautiful wife and a wonderful marriage and he threw it away for a piece of trash.  Sorry if that offends you.”

“It doesn’t,” said Fleming.  “But how did he come to own the Tire store?”

Gil said “he inherited it from his father and God rest his soul, his father couldn’t have passed at a better time.  Mel lost his reputation and his job, of course.  He came back here and was washing dishes at a local restaurant.  It was a sad sight to see but like I said, when you dance to the music,  you have to pay to the piper.”

Fleming ordered another Club Soda and said as she glanced at the now empty last stool at the end of the bar, “Gil, you were going to tell me his story.”

Gil said “well, I’m pretty good at reading people but not when they have never said more than six words to me in almost two years.”

“Six words?” Fleming asked.  “What six words?”

Gil, wiping a glass with a cloth before putting it on the shelf, winked and said, “Single Malt and keep them coming.”

Gil scanned the room and then stared at the empty last stool at the end of the bar.  He looked at Fleming and said “I don’t know his story or his back story but I do know when a man is trying to drink himself to death.”

 

 

To be continued________________________________

 

It’s Me – Chapter One

Bars were not a place she frequented with any regularity but she took a deep breath and walked in.  The smell of stale cigarette smoke and pungent liquor hung heavy in the air like a dense fog.

On the last stool at the end of the bar, sat a man who seemed to lack awareness not only of his surroundings but also to the crowd of rambunctious patrons, drinking themselves into oblivion.

She took a seat one stool away.  The bartender, walked over and said “what’ll it be?”  She ordered a Club Soda.  “Alright,” he said.  “I haven’t seen you around here before.  Are you new in town?”

She answered “not really.  I’ve just never been in this bar.”

He was an older gentleman, maybe in his mid to late fifties and lacked the profile of the traditional tired, gruff, weathered bartender often portrayed in movies and books.  He was average height, average weight, average build and had average looks but he had piercing light grey eyes that matched his hair.

He made her drink and said “my name’s Gilmer but most folks call me Gil.  And who might you be?”

She smiled and said “Fleming.  My name is Fleming.”

“Well, Fleming,” Gil said.  “Welcome. How long have you been sober?”  Fleming wasn’t sure she was more insulted or more surprised.  She asked him what made him think that she was recovering alcoholic.

Gil said “recovering alcoholics come in, order a Club Soda and just sit there and nurse it.  I think it’s some sort of right of passage or something but I don’t mind.  I’m not a drinker myself but I’ve seen my share of drunks and owning a bar tends to shed light on what alcohol can do.  It can get a hold of you and before you know it, you are its slave.  Some are able to shake it but some aren’t.  I watch these people and wonder what their lives are about.  Some are here to just have a good time and some are here to drink their sorrows away.  That doesn’t work, you know, but they don’t want to hear it.”

Fleming didn’t say what she was thinking.  She was wondering if alcohol had gotten “a hold” of him.  Instead she said “you own this bar?”

Gil smiled and said “I do.  I’ve owned it for almost ten years now.  It just kind of fell into my lap you might say.”

Fleming laughed and said “fell into your lap?”

Gil said “it’s a long story.”

“Do you enjoy bar tending?” she asked.

“Yes and no,” said Gil.  “I have a Masters’ Degree in Psychology, but as I said, this bar just kind of fell into my lap.”

Fleming wasn’t surprised about his degree.  Gil not only didn’t fit the normal profile of a bartender, he didn’t sound like one.

“Maybe someday, you’ll tell me your story,” she said.

Before Gil could say anything, the man on the last stool stood up, took a twenty out of his wallet, tossed it next to his empty glass, and left.  Fleming looked at Gil and said “what’s his story?”

 

 

To be continued_____________________________

 

The Light In The Middle Window – Chapter Ten

What Hiram hoped was going to be a joyous reunion was instead, a tragic discovery.  He had forgotten about the well deep in the back yard, covered with rotten boards.  That’s where they found Jenny.

He watched as they pulled her little body out of the rancid water, covered in leaves and dirt.  Her pink ribbon fell out of her hair as they carried her away.  He finally admitted to the sheriff that he had sent Jenny outside to play.  Even though her death was ruled an unfortunate accident, he would never get over the guilt nor would anybody let him.

He recounted the aftermath to Jones.  “People in town stopped speaking to me.  Some of them called me a killer.  Thessie divorced me.  My business was ruined.  I became a recluse.  I still went to church for a while but everybody pretended that they didn’t see me.  After a few weeks, Deuce got nervous and asked me not to come anymore.  He said that my presence was ‘too disruptive’.”  

Hiram managed a sarcastic little laugh when he said “and they’re supposed to be God people.  Isn’t He supposed to be forgiving?  Aren’t they?”  He took another swig of whiskey and said “I guess some sins are just unforgivable.”

Even though Hiram was a self-proclaimed coward, Jones felt sympathy for him.  He and Thessie didn’t have any children and they weren’t attuned to the fact that children are curious by nature and must be watched like hawks.

Hiram told Jones that he stayed in the house for a few years but it became unbearable.  “All of those memories,” he said.  He told him that he had seen the light in the middle window and believed that it was Jenny’s spirit.

“And the trees,” he said.  “The trees began weeping the day they found her and they never stopped.”

He asked Jones if he would like to have the little pink ribbon.  Jones was surprised but said “yes, if you’d like for me to have it.”  Hiram said “you can put it with the rest of your treasures.”

Jones was startled.  Had he told Hiram about his treasures?  If he had, he didn’t remember.  Had Hiram sneaked up to the house, peeped through the window and seen them on the two-tier table?  Or had Hiram been the one who left them behind for him to find?  Obviously the doctor hadn’t found them or if he had, he wasn’t interested.

His thoughts were interrupted when Hiram began to speak again.  He said “you know, I think we’re put here for a reason but I don’t know why I was put here.  When I was young, I did everything right.  I was a good son, a good friend and a good husband.  But I was selfish and that selfishness caused the death of a little girl.  Was that why I was put here?

He looked at his now empty glass and said in an almost sneer as if reprimanding himself.  “I didn’t want to be bothered.  I didn’t want to be bothered, so I sent her outside to die.”

Jones tried to placate him by saying “you made a mistake.  We all make mistakes.”  Hiram looked him in the eye and said “how many little girls have you sent to their death?”  Jones didn’t answer and Hiram said “exactly.”

He didn’t look at Jones when he said “I have to pay penance and my penance is length of years.  I have swallowed a bottle of pills every night since Jenny was found, hoping that it will cause the big sleep.  But every morning, I wake up to my world of exile.  Sometimes, I wonder if my debt will ever be paid.”

He handed Jones the ribbon and opened the door.  Jones thanked him for the ribbon and the information and headed back to the grand lady.  When he got there, he wrote down Hiram’s story and sealed it in an envelope.  “This will stay with the house,” he said to himself.

Jones put the little pink ribbon between the armless green soldier and a pair of milk glass doorknobs.  It was in start contrast to the other hard, rusted, time-worn pieces of metal.

Jones never went back to see Hiram.  He had gotten the story and he knew that Hiram wasn’t looking for a friend.  He just wanted to be left alone.

Eleven months later, Jones got word that Hiram had died.  There was no fanfare, no funeral, no wake, no service, no place to leave flowers and no one to cry for him.  He had left a will, stating that he was to be cremated and his ashes were to be “scattered to the wind.”

Jones mourned for him.  He was a man who by all rights, had everything going for him and then one day, cruel fate stepped in.  After Jones heard the news about Hiram, he noticed that he never again saw the light in the middle window and the trees stopped weeping.

A week later, Jones bought a bottle of Jack Daniels Whiskey in honor of Hiram Meaders.  That night, he took a chair out and sat under one of the trees that no longer wept.  He poured a glass and raised it as he looked toward the star-filled sky.  “To you, Hiram.  Paid in full.”

 

C’estla fin de l’histoire.

 

 

 

 

The Light In The Middle Window – Chapter Nine

“Miss Tinsley was right,”  Hiram said.  “One of the owners does still live here, but not one of the original owners.”

“Okay,” said Jones.  “Can you tell me who it is?”

Hiram poured another glass of whiskey and said, “well, it would be me.”  Jones picked up his glass and this time, he did more than touch it to his lips.  He watched as Hiram got up and walked over to the little table beside the door.  He reached down and picked up the little pink ribbon that Jones had thought seemed so out of place.

“Old man Moody died,”  Hiram said.  “He owned the local hardware store and had been here for as long as anybody could remember.  Everybody in town knew him and respected him.  He was a kind man but he was no pushover.  He would walk ten miles to settle a debt he owed but he would walk twice as far to collect what was owed to him.”

“My folks had always talked about me taking over the family business but I wanted to travel and see the world.  When they died, it just seemed wrong not to honor their wishes, so I did,” he said.

“I had married a little gal named Thelma.  She was the cutest little thing I had ever seen.  Everybody called her Thessie.  Being a funeral directors’ wife didn’t bother her one bit, even though it meant that dead bodies would be resting in the front room.”  He looked out the window and in a soft, almost inaudible voice said “oh my.  How I loved Thessie.”

Jones was wondering why Hiram jumped from old man Moody to Thessie but he was patient and tried to gently nudge him back to the present.  “You were talking about old man Moody,” Jones said.

“Yes,” Hiram said.  “Old man Moody died and we took care of all the arrangements.  The viewing was on a Friday and it seemed like everybody in town came by to pay their respects.  His son, Oscar and his wife Lillian brought their little daughter with them.  Why, I’ll never know.  A funeral parlor is no place for children.  They don’t understand death and dying, and they shouldn’t.”

Hiram took another big swig of whiskey and refilled his glass.  He offered Jones another and wasn’t met with refusal.

Hiram sat and wound the little pink ribbon around his finger and then took another sip.  His eyes began to water as he continued.  “That little girl was running around all over the place.  She’d run up the stairs and then slide down the banister.  She’d run up the hall and then back down.  I knew her folks were grieving but they weren’t paying any attention to her at all and she was annoying me.”

After he took another sip of whiskey, he took a deep breath and almost forcefully said “I told that little girl to go outside and play.  I told her that there was a tree house in the back yard and plenty of room for her to run around and play without being under foot.”

Jones was still in a state of shock but not shocked enough to realize that Hirams’ hearing didn’t seem to be as bad as he had pretended earlier.  He finally asked, “what was her name?”

Hiram said “her name was Jenny.”  He held up the pink ribbon and said “and she wore this ribbon in her hair.”

That liquid courage was doing its job for both of them.  Jones held out his glass, Hiram poured him another drink and then Jones asked him what happened.

Hiram sat back in his chair and said “she went outside.  A few hours after the viewing was over, it was time for everybody to leave.  Old man Moody would be stored in the ice box and then taken to his final resting place the next morning.  Oscar and Lillian were the last to leave and they called to Jenny but she didn’t answer.”

“I was too big of a coward to tell them I had sent her outside.  They searched the whole house, while I sat there and said nothing.  They went outside and began calling her.  I joined them, still pretending that I knew nothing.  Oscar and Lillian called the sheriff and he and two of his deputies came over.  They were worried that maybe somebody had taken her.”

“The word was put out that Jenny was missing and almost the entire neighborhood came to join the search,” Hiram said.  “We searched all through the night, calling her name until we almost lost our voices.”

He sat there for almost a full minute.  His voice cracked as he said “it was might near dawn when we heard somebody say ‘I found her’.”

 

 

To be continued_________________________