He dug his hands deeper in his pockets. It was getting to that ridiculous time of the year, and just like the last time this particular month nodded at him, he grumbled about it. Inwardly, to himself, of course because there were so many others who looked forward to the holiday season. And the snow. And the cold. And skiing. And eggnog.
Frowning, he trudged on, neck bent in a vain attempt to reduce exposure to the north wind. It didn’t matter though. The capricious breeze danced and teased him, sneaking up against him, in brittle busses at his ear lobes and at the back of his neck. Even one of his ankles got in on the action. This was a slutty draft, willing to get busy with any and all comers, turning white skin to red. A city bus would have been a good idea, he thought. Or a taxi. A taxi would have gotten him there by now.
And like that his fickle mind switched gears. It couldn’t b helped. A bluesy electric guitar solo had begun to warble in his mind and a grin escaped before he could catch it. The warmth of the bar, the laughter of friends, and soothing wine all glowed in his memory and his footsteps picked up in anticipation. The distance didn’t exactly fly by, but it seemed to glide a little easier at least. Not for the first time he acknowledged that if he suddenly lost all of his senses and became immobile, he knew he’d be okay. He would have his music, deep in his soul, to keep him entertained and alive.
Soon enough (though not soon enough) he saw the glowing sign of the bar. A different draft greeted him as soon as opened the huge wooden door and stepped inside. A woodsy rich warmth enveloped in before he could get his coat off. Inwardly, he sighed.
Looking around, he realized none of his friends were there yet. He was early. There was a set of four thick velour-covered armchairs that were mostly empty, waiting to make him comfortable. The only occupied chair contained a gentle-faced bearded man, who was reading a newspaper. He noted that the guy’s stomach overflowed the arms of the chair, precariously pushing the boundaries of his heavily stained white shirt.
After sitting down, he heard a voice. It was the Beard.
He looked at him.
The Beard’s voice was gentle. “Hope you don’t mind. I’m waiting for my students to join me.”
He stood up. “Oh sorry. I should have asked.”
The Beard smiled. “No problem. I’m using a wheelchair, and they’re …..” His voice was lost. Either that or in his haste to find another spot for him and his friends, he had stopped paying much attention to whatever The Beard was saying.
“No problem. I’ll just sit over here.”
“Sorry about disturbing you.”
Disturbing. That was an odd choice of word. “No problem” he said again, nodding.
Just as he was sitting down to a table, his friends arrived, laughing and joking. “Over here!” he said, and they made their way over.
The discussion was just as bright as he anticipated. Except of course for their cheerful thoughts about the coming winter. With the exception of one wayward remark “you know – I frigging HATE winter. So shut up about it already” he mostly kept his opinion to himself. They would only laugh anyway. Saying more about it would be redundant.
The wine and beer flowed, and the laughter got a little raucous. The owner of the place enjoyed a variety of music, which provided a pleasant backdrop to their conversations. This, he knew, was what set this place against others. Here, you could talk and expect to be heard.
As the night wore on, he looked over and noticed that The Beards’ students hadn’t joined him.
As he came back from one of his many bathroom visits, The Beard said something to him.
He turned back and looked at him. “Sorry?”
“I wonder if you could do me a huge favour?” he asked.
The Beard’s hand dove into his deep pants pocket, and after a lot of grunting and shifting, he eventually wrestled out a tangle of keys.
“Would you mind going out to my white SUV – just outside the door – and getting me my asthma inhaler? It’s in the glove compartment. I’d do it myself but I’m in a wheelchair…”
He glanced around and couldn’t for the life of him see the wheelchair. The Beard was large enough to need one though so he let it go.
The Beard continued. “And I’ll pay you for your troubles.”
He shook his head. “No problem. And no need to pay me.” He took the keys. “The white SUV, right?”
The Beard smiled. “Right. Oh, and you’ll have to go in the driver’s door, because the passenger side is broken.”
He took the keys and went out to the parking lot. He saw the SUV immediately. As soon as he opened the door, a soul-destroying fragrance assaulted him. His ever-lingering entomophobia raised its ugly head. The presence of this stink must warrant a party of bugs, he just knew it. Of course, the glove compartment was nowhere within reaching distance, so he knew he’d have to climb into the driver’s seat. The stinky, probably bug-filled driver’s seat.
Right away he noticed the piles of newspapers, and all of the unopened packages of meat. There was a lot of them, all with their store stickers still attached. He wondered how old they were. Hopefully The Beard had just purchased them. If not, this could be the source of the horrendous stench. It could just as easily be body odour though. Or bugs. Millions of bugs.
After finally locating the inhaler, he couldn’t get out of the SUV fast enough. His skin rebelled as if trying to crawl off of his frame. He knew his first job after the bar was to jump in the shower. Maybe his clothes needed to be burned. He wasn’t sure yet.
As he handed the inhaler to him, The Beard said “oh, thank you. I’ll pay you. How much do you want?”
Why was this guy talking about paying him? Where did that come from? “No, it’s OK. No pay required.” He gave The Beard a sick smile.
The Beard smiled back. “Thanks. Oh, and would you do me one more favour?”
He looked at him.
“Would you ask the waitress for a pen? I’m going to do a crossword.”
That was easy. “OK. Sure.”
He got the pen and gave it to him.
The Beard said “thanks. And would you mind asking the waitress to…”
He interrupted him. “Sorry – I have to get going.”
“Oh” The Beard said. “Well ok. Thanks again.”
His friends were curious. Jim said “what was that about?”
“Oh nothing. Guy just needed something from his SUV.”
He didn’t’ mention the stench, or the packages of meat and the newspapers. He was still trying to process it all. Something was seriously amiss with this guy. Evidently he had money, and a big appetite. And maybe a hoarding problem. He didn’t know whether to pity him or continue to just be horrified, as he was just then.
“Listen guys. I have to cut the night short. It’s been fun. Catch you later, OK?”
Peter nodded. “See you later. You driving?”
“No. I’ll catch a bus.”
He left, puzzled and anxious to get home to that hot shower.