All My Life
here needs another vodka."
blame me. It was the guys who killed rock 'n roll." The tall red-haired
man nods at Solly the bartender as he heads for the door.
"All my life
I have to listen to these stupid Greta Garbo jokes." Greta takes a
sip from the vodka tonic Solly places in front of her.
"She was a beautiful
woman." Solly shrugs.
"Yeah, so I'm
not and it's funny to call me her name?" Greta pulls a cigarette out
of the pack lying next to her glass. "What do I care? I'm old now.
You should leave the old alone."
down the bar to empty the ashtray of a young couple so immersed in
each other they don't notice. At the end of the bar sits a fat guy
about 50, wearing a khaki fishing hat. He's flipping channels with
the remote and muttering at the TV. "When you gonna actually buy a
TV, Emmett?" Solly calls.
"Why don't you
pay your cable bill so's we'd get the game?" Emmett shoots back.
"You want a
sports bar, go over to Balls & Bats," Solly grumbles as he sloshes
a glass though the soap scum in the sink.
"This is the
Old Bats & No Balls," Greta says, twitching her cigarette left and
right with her long bony fingers. "I believe you've made a mistake."
The young couple
look at Greta as if she might have said something witty, but they
didn't quite catch it. One of the Blondes in Booth 2 comes over to
get a dish of pretzels. Blonde and Blonder, Solly calls them. They
come in Thursday nights in the summer and wait for the softball team.
In winter they just come in and wait.
for Jeopardy. He pushes an imaginary buzzer but Solly doesn't let
him shout out the answers anymore.
There was one
week about three years ago when a young pimply guy from the community
college came in and he and Emmett competed every night till some old
man in an oily raincoat started yelling out the right answers. The
pimply guy never came back. "Got a girlfriend," said Solly. "Got fired,"
"Have you seen
Melanie?" Greta asks Solly.
"Not in awhile,"
he replies. "Vince's been in."
got another black eye," Greta says, pursing her lips. "Someday he's
gonna wake up with a hatchet in his spine."
at Greta over his glasses. "I doubt he'd be waking up then."
on her stool and laughs. "Yeah, maybe. You must know just about everybody's
Solly says. "It's part of the job." He pushes another vodka tonic
at her. She doesn't have to ask. "That's your welcome home present.
Getting out of the hospital calls for a couple of drinks."
her eyebrows and lifts her arms in feigned astonishment. "You sure
you're not just trying to get me drunk so you can steal my jewels?"
would that be?" Solly asks, pouring himself a ginger ale.
my mother of pearl rosary that belonged to my great grandmother."
"Of course I
may need that to give to Jake so's he'll bury me out back with his
"I didn't know
Jake was doing funerals."
"It's a special
deal." Greta tilts her head. "'Cause I bought so many used carburetors
from him over the years."
over and grabs the paper Solly keeps under the counter. "Let me read
about people blowing each other up," she says, "it'll make me feel
is over, Emmett pulls out a ratty paperback copy of The Red Badge
of Courage and starts to read. He's decided to go back to all
the books he had to read in high school and read them again. "I've
got a different perspective now," is how he explains it.
The young couple
leaves, a lone quarter setting near their empty glasses. Two guys
with too much gel in their hair come in and sit down with the Blondes.
A few regulars drift in. Everybody seems depressed. "It's the atmospheric
pressure," says Mike, a butcher who became a postal worker, which,
more than one person commented, was perfect preparation.
All day it felt
like rain. At 11:00 it starts. The drops hit the windows in a steady
slap and a silence falls over the bar except for the muted sound of
Solly's radio playing Gershwin.
music, the rain," Greta says.
"I like it,"
Solly shrugs. "It's good to fall asleep to."
to sleep," Greta says. "I'm afraid of pain more but I want to know
when I'm dying."
there the same if you're sleeping," Solly says.
"I have to go
by what I do know," Greta replies. "One thing I know is Greta Garbo
never said that line 'I want to be alone.' Did I tell you that already?
I can't remember how I knew that. I can't remember anything."
"You get to
be our age," Solly says, wiping the counter, "there's not much room
left for remembering."
"Not much room,
not much room," Greta echoes. "I gotta go home and lie down."
you. I got that big umbrella." Solly reaches for his coat. "Emmett,
time to go. I'm locking up." Emmett is the only one left in the bar.
He says goodnight to Clint Eastwood and leaves.
even protest. She's too tired. "Who was that guy I said 'fuck you'
Solly shuts off the lights. "You knew his dad Michael a million years
ago. He died in that car accident, him and his wife."
Greta pulls a scarf over her hair. "Left five kids. Who took them
here and there, it's a big family," Solly replies, opening the door
to a gust of wet wind.
"And now I'm
telling one of them 'fuck you' after that kind of heartbreak. What's
wrong with me?" Greta takes Solly's arm.
"It was just
joking," he said. "Don't worry about it."
"I never used
to talk so bad," Greta says as they turn the corner.
on into the wet, dark night that smelled of oil and exhaust and loneliness,
thinking about the past.