I wrote a novel back in 2006-07. It is for all intense purposes the only romance I’ll ever write. Even then the romance folks won’t publish it because it isn’t bodice-ripping enough and there isn’t this big happy ending. No the ending is more an individual victory, which to me is a happy ending. But, you know many folks in the publishing industry have what I like to call formula brain. It – this manuscript called ‘Wink’ – doesn’t fit the formula or the mold of former success; no one is going to buy it. To their credit the buying public can be that way (I’ve worked in retail in the past, there does seem to be a bit of sheeple-ness to purchasing matrixes). At any rate, I have to give you this back story, because my Free-Range Fiction piece this week is based upon a prompt and incorporates two people in the story. We won’t mention that the main character of Bernie has been speaking to me again lately and she has more stories to tell. (Dear Bernie: I’m not Jennifer Weiner any more than I am Stephen King. You may want to find a different channel.)
This is the prompt as stolen from A Working Writer’s Daily Planner: “Picture a conversation between two people you know who will never get a chance to speak to each other. Real people in your life who, for whatever reasons, are highly unlikely to ever meet. Yet suddenly they have. Why? Without your being there, what are they saying? Do they realize they know you? What would they say about you if they make the connection?”
Except that these are two who people reside in Bernie’s life. Not mine. Without further ado…
Carrying Bernie’s Scent
“Jack with a beer chaser.”
“Preference on the draft?”
The bartender gave a little courtesy laugh and shuffled his feet behind the bar between the well and the tap. The clock on the wall behind him with old English-scripted numerals read 11:05. The sun outside told the world it was a.m. Charles, as his name plate on his black vest read, felt a wave of sadness for the man sitting at his bar. He wasn’t one of the overnight plant workers, or the retirees escaping their overbearing spouses, or a unit of the cluster of the functional alcoholics that normally would be in The Okra Pig this time of a day. This kid – yeah, he was a kid – was at the crossroads and he chose to spend his Wednesday morning to fill up a bar stool and empty a glass, or two or three or god knows how many. Charles presented the Jack and Abita draft.
“Ohio?” Charles answered.
“Are you from Ohio?”
“Ah, yeah, North, like I thought.”
“Yeah. Kind of a side effect of this job,” Charles said. He stuck out his hand, “Welcome to Baton Rouge.”
“Daniel,” The dark-haired, young man shook the bartender’s hand. “Daniel K. Stokes.”
“Charles,” he smiled. “Charles P. Briggs.”
“Nice to meet you, Charles.”
Charles gave him a sympathetic smile. Daniel downed the Jack and followed it with a sip of beet. He slid the shot glass over to Charles. The older man filled it up with more whiskey. He watched the young men only take a sip of this shot as opposed to downing it like earlier, as if it would burn the sadness in him. He made work by stocking bottles and washing glasses. Daniel nursed his beer and second shot, starring into both glasses as if they were a television, with programs on that only the young man could see. Charles mind wandered for a moment on whether or now there would be any other customers any time soon.
Daniel let out a sigh and looked to Charles as if he was going to say something, but then he just pursed his lips tighter. He pulled out a handkerchief, one that obviously had belonged to a woman – needlepoint trim in lavender – and took a deep breath. Then he set it down on the bar and looked at that.
“Not a lot of men would do something like that in public,” Charles said without reservation.
Daniel shrugged, “A lot of men haven’t met Bernie.”
Charles raised his eye brows. Daniel downed the last of the whiskey in the small glass that had T-O-P etched into it like some sort of monogram.
“Of course,” Charles smiled, his white teeth gleaming against his tanned skin. “Isn’t it always?”
“Hadn’t been for me,” Daniel looked at Charles. “Bernie was one of a kind. But I couldn’t seem to make her love me.”
“Nah, you can’t do that to anyone. Not ever. I don know that feeling. There was a Bernie once that I knew. She made all the men crazy. Course she was crazy, too. Wore all these different hats each day.”
Daniel looked up, then immediately stood up, “Holy…”
“What’s wrong? You okay?” Charles didn’t need the aide car coming to the pub today. He didn’t need the liquor commission knocking on his door.
“You know Bernie,” Daniel’s eyes widened and looked in brilliant bewilderment at Charles. “You know MY Bernie.”
“Different hat, crazy…fucking fantastic Bernie,” he sighed again and sat back down on the wooden bar stool. “How do you know Bernie?”
“She lived down here, a long time ago; she was just a pup then. Used to even work here – when this place was the go-to place for the university kids.”
“She never told me – course we only had a few months together. It was all I needed to know I loved her. Man, she just slipped away.”
“Brother,” Charles said. “It’s for the best. You ever see her on a full moon?” Charles thought about how Bernie had kicked out a gang of bikers who had tried to steal her tips with nothing but a lashing of her tongue and a waving of a very pissed off finger.
“Yes, and I even loved her then.” Daniel thought about how Bernie had thrown spaghetti at him after she had overreacted to something he had said and how they had made love in the kitchen even with the sauce simmering on the stove.
Charles shook his head and poured the boy another shot, “You got it bad, son.”
Daniel just nodded, “Thanks.”
“You have a place to go when you finish here?”
“Yeah, I’m staying in the Colonial Inn.”
“Good, I’ll make sure your body gets there in one piece,” Charles said. But I can’t do shit for your heart, son, he thought.