By Jim Beane
Elaine and I met by accident at Timmy’s Grill on Valentine’s Day. Timmy’s is the only restaurant I pass on my walk home from the bus stop. Timmy’s serves drinks and hosts a Friday Night Happy Hour. When I hopped off the bus at Delaware and Sixth, the rain started. After a half-block trudge through the downpour, everything below my knees was soaked. Hard rains come and go, but wet and cold is wet and cold anywhere. I ducked in Timmy’s, went to the bar and ordered whiskey. The whiskey warmed me up, and I ordered another.
The bar stools were all taken, and most tables were full. I lingered at the bar but noticed one woman sitting alone at a table with two empty chairs. I walked over to her table.
“Mind if I use one of these chairs?”
“Yes,” she said.
Before I could protest, a beefy arm brushed my hand off the chair. A gruff voice grumbled.
“Get lost,” it said.
The voice seated himself across from the woman in the chair I’d been holding. He kept his back to me. The woman was young enough to be his daughter. He tossed his wet hat and coat on the remaining empty chair and turned to look at me over his shoulder.
“Something else?” he asked.
His size intimidated me. I shrugged off the question and squeaked away in wet shoes.
A man and woman seated by the front window stood to leave and I grabbed their table and signaled the waitress. Two more whiskeys and I got comfortable watching raindrops big as nickels pound the streets.
The storm was worsening. Traffic crawled. Horns blared. Nerves frayed.
I ordered another whiskey and lit a cigarette. A haze of smoke hovered above the bar swirling in the slow spin of the ceiling fans. The waitress passed and I ordered another whiskey, then tossed a ten-spot on her tray.
I grinned and felt a little light-headed.
The bar clock read ten after ten. Better get food, I thought, before the night slipped away. I looked up to signal the waitress and found the unfriendly woman I had approached earlier standing before me without her surly escort. She placed her hand on the back of the empty chair across the small table from me.
“Mind if I use this?” she asked.
I couldn’t speak but nodded yes and she pulled the chair away from the table and sat down. She hopped it closer to me.
Shoulder length auburn hair shined under Timmy’s dim lights. She leaned toward me, her eyes were clear, lucid. Beautiful.
“Had enough?” she asked.
“Enough what?” I was trying to be cute.
“Time to go home,” she said. “I’ve called you a cab. Tell the driver your address when he picks you up.”
“The storm has passed,” I said. “It’s a nice walk to my place.”
“No thanks. The taxi will get you home.” She pushed her chair back and stood. She looked down on me with pity, as if I might be someone in need of her help.
“C’mon, we can walk to my place. It’s not far and we’ll have drinks.”
“There is no we,” she said.
“Okay, okay…” I held up my hands in surrender. “Then let’s have a drink here.”
“I don’t drink,” she said. “And you’ve had too much. The cab will be here soon.”
“Whoaa…hold on,” I said. Standing proved difficult. Walking was worse. She wouldn’t let go of my arm. I stopped at the front door and leaned against the frame. She nudged me out the door.
“How do I know your pal the moose is not lurking around the corner?”
Her hand pressed against my spine, and we were back outside in the cold.
Under Timmy’s canopy, she hooked her arm inside my elbow and clasped her hands so I couldn’t pull away. But pulling away had not crossed my addled mind. I wanted to remain like we were beneath the green canvas canopy at Timmy’s. She relaxed her grip and hesitated before speaking.
“He’s not my pal,” she said. “He’s my sponsor. I call him when life gets rough for me. He takes me out to dinner and cheers me up. We talk.” She looked at me. “We all have rough times…”
“My name is Henry,” I said.
A cab pulled up.
“Take care, Henry,” she said. “Give me a call, when you’re ready.”
The business card she slipped into my coat’s chest pocket had Elaine printed on it, no last name, and a phone number. Two bold black capitalized A’s were embossed in the lower corner of the card. One day at a time was scripted like a slogan beneath her name.
Elaine patted my back and helped me into the cab.
“Henry,” she said. “Don’t forget to call.”
* * *
Jim Beane’s fiction has appeared in numerous print and online literary journals including The MacGuffin, The Evening Street Review, The Baltimore Review and the anthologies Workers Write and DC Noir. His five-story collection was published by Wordrunners in 2019. His forthcoming novel, The Deadening will be published in 2024 by Mandel Vilar Press/Dryad Press. He is a mentor for the Veterans Writing Project, an instructor for the Writers Center in Bethesda, Md and lives west of Baltimore with his wife and family.