by Barry Wood
I was watching TV, lying on my hideaway bed with two pillows tucked under
head and a blanket over me. It was chilly but I wouldn't turn up the heat. On
the coffee table within easy reach were my cigarettes, an ashtray, Thom
Fitzgerald's rental movie The Hanging Garden (which should have been
returned four days ago), and a half bag of potato chips. During commercials,
I read John Steinbeck's East of Eden which I had picked up at a flea market
for fifty cents.
It was the first sunny day we'd had for weeks; the wind strong and chilling.
Newman, my old cat, sat on the window ledge basking in the thin April sun coming
through the bachelor window, which was caked with driveway grime. His right ear was
missing, the result of a fight with a dog several years ago in a park. I
tried to pat him during a commercial break, but he hissed. As daylight
faded, he jumped down onto the sofa to lay across my legs until I pushed
him away to take a shower. Afterwards, I dressed warmly, complete with gloves and scarf and walked to my favorite bar.
At Adam's Place, I sipped red wine and watched the bartender, David. He
filled the fridge with beer and cans of pop, and cleaned everything in sight
using a spray bottle of Vim and a cloth. He was a good worker, cheerful and easygoing. In fact he worked like a dog to please the owner, Adam, who, it
was well known, screwed anything that moved. The electric clock with big
black hands against a white face that hung on the wall above the colorful
bottles of booze read ten-fifteen.
The bar was on the second floor over a shoe store, and overlooked Spring
Garden Road in Halifax. There were only two other customers, two men sitting
together at a table flapping their hands while they talked and smoked. I
had seen these two guys many times, always together, usually playing pool.
Music came through ceiling speakers. At the moment they were busy playing
Elton John's "I'm Still
Standing." Dim lights reflected against the windows. I ordered another
glass of wine and then went to the washroom.
A stranger was sitting at the other end of the bar when I returned. He was
tall, dark and handsome: the sort of guy my dour aunt liked to read about in
romance novels. On the floor beside his chair sat a gym bag. I noticed that his hands were
quite large. He appeared to be around thirty, which was three years older than I was. He wore
his black hair short. His face was smooth and his eyebrows were thick. He
was wearing a crisp, white shirt.
My sister used to say that I was wiry. Despite that, people are surprised
strength. This man was physically my complete opposite--the kind of man who turned my
crank. David talked with him and drew two large glasses of draft from the
tap. The stranger nodded and accepted them eagerly.
The bartender turned and unloaded the glistening glasses from the steaming
dishwasher that had
just stopped running. Cher's song, "I Found Someone", was now playing. I stared
at the stranger. A little smile developed on his face, just a hint. Perhaps
he was musing over a private thought, or enjoying the effects of his drink.
David asked if I would like another wine. I passed my empty glass over,
saying I'd have one more, and then I would definitely have to leave. I had
spoken much louder than necessary so that the stranger would take notice.
David filled my glass and set in front of me.
"He's cute, eh?" David allowed, smiling. He wiped my area of the
with his cloth and gave me a clean ashtray.
"Well, yeah, I suppose," I admitted, glancing again at the stranger. "He's
probably in town overnight on business. Or married. Doesn't matter. He
hasn't any interest in me."
"No interest? He asked if you had a tab and wants to pay it!"
"Ah! What a lovely guy!" I said cheerfully.
David turned and started to wipe off the bottles of spirit. Two things were
sure: one, Adam's Place was the cleanest bar in town, and, two, the stranger
was attracted to me. More customers arrived. The bar was filling. Some of
the customers were now playing pool.
Most guys were dressed in blue jeans and T-shirts; a few were in leather,
strutting around like peacocks. There was one drag queen, Marsha. She was
thinner than I, actually, and about twenty-two. Her clothes were stunning;
her makeup was perfect. She looked a bit like Celine Dion. I smiled as she took the
seat next to mine.
"Hi, sweetie," she said. "If it wasn't so cold I'd go up around
later, but my feet are killing me." She was wearing heels that were at least four
"Is it cold out, Marsha?" I asked, knowing damn well the answer.
I chose this as a safe
subject, and I didn't want to engage in a heavy conversation. I was afraid
the stranger at the end of the bar would think I'd lost interest, or that I
was into drag queens.
She wore a backless dress that was very short and very tight. "Oh, yes.
really fuckin' cold out, sweetie." She shivered dramatically.
She opened her purse and took out a pack of cigarettes. She lit one and took
a deep drag, announcing that she needed to get laid. David came over and
asked if she cared for a drink. She shook her head.
I excused myself and walked toward the washroom. I approached the stranger
and whispered in his ear that I'd be right back. My lips touched his ear
and I could smell his spicy cologne. The urge to kiss him right then and
there was powerful. However, realizing I had drunk way too much, I moved on
to stand in the washroom lineup. Normally by now I'd have gone home, but at
the moment I couldn't have cared less.
I smiled as I returned, but was disappointed to find his seat empty. I also
noticed that the stool next to mine
was also empty. I glanced around the smokey room liked a hawk. I didn't see
him, and he definitely hadn't gone into the washroom.
"He's gone," David declared as I returned to my seat. "I'm sorry."
I was stunned and turned to face him. "What? I don't believe it. I thought
he liked me. He took off fast! He left without saying goodbye?" I felt both
angry and sad.
"Well, he wasn't alone. He left with Marsha. You know Marsha, don't you?"
David said gently.
"Yes, of course I know Marsha!" I snapped, "That fucking tramp!"
David cringed. I immediately said I was sorry, and that I was just
disappointed. I had really developed an interest in that guy.
"It's okay. I understand. Don't worry about it," he said, giving
me a smile.
"By the way, he didn't pay for your drinks either."
Automatically I said: "Figures." And I started to chuckle. David
into healthy laughter, flinging his always-handy cloth at me, and calling me
a silly goose.
It was nearly two when I arrived home. Newman was snoring, asleep on the
hideaway bed beside the Steinbeck book. I ate the open can of beans in the
fridge, then poured some fresh milk in a saucer for Newman. I was feeling
exceedingly amorous, but by morning I would welcome being alone. I'd be able
to rise and shower, and make toast and tea before I left for work.
I crawled between the chilly sheets thinking about that stranger at the bar.
I tried to pat Newman, but he hissed. Eventually, carefully, he cuddled
under my chin. It tickled and I finally had to laugh. In no time I was
In the morning I was having my tea and a cigarette after breakfast when I
heard the morning news. A man had been slashed to death last night in his
Southend Halifax apartment. Police said the weapon had been the broken end
of a bottle. The police have a man in custody who had been seen leaving a
gay bar with the victim.
Memories reformed. I had hidden in the stairwell waiting for the stranger
to leave Marsha's
apartment. I had watched through the slightly open stairwell door until the
stranger came out into the hallway. I heard Marsha's voice.
"I hope to see you again, sweetie. You're a special guy. Maybe at Adam's
"Sure! That sounds great! Later, then."
I heard the sound of a kiss. I waited until he had gotten into the elevator
and the doors had closed before knocking on Marsha's door. She opened the
door with a big smile.
"Couldn't stay away?"
Then she'd seen the broken wine bottle in my gloved hand.
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