I see this effort to promote my fiction as “public relations for myself.” The story continues:
She was petite and frail, but still had purpose and determination in her grey eyes. Baby, a friendly, matted little grey mutt with a consistent limp, was Catherine’s companion. Her children would visit, she said, only because they had to. Baby filled the void in a life that once was filled with people who counted on her. They were alike, woman and dog. Better times had passed, yet they accepted each day for what it delivered, and did so with quiet dignity. He couldn’t fathom what would happen if one of them were no longer around.
“Hello,” she said. “Baby, behave.”
“Oh, she’s fine,” he said, petting the dog as she rushed to greet him.
“Did you get your gutters cleaned?” she asked, having seen him negotiating the extension ladder earlier.
“No, I was just caulking a little around one of the windows. I’ll wait until next week before I take care of the gutters. There’s a few more leaves on that big tree on the corner. Some will find my gutters, I’m sure.”
“You’re always working.”
“Keeps me young,” he said, wanting to keep the conversation short.
“Oh, you’re young. You’re young. It’s no fun when you get to my age. Medicare. Waited 30 minutes and the doctor sees me for five minutes. It costs me nothing. But Baby. Ten minutes at the vet costs me $120! With medicine.”
“Well, I’ll let you and Baby get on with your walk before it gets too dark. She looks like she wants some exercise.”
“She needs to do her business. She hasn’t been doing her business.”
“Yeah, that’s gotta be tough. Well, I’ll let you continue. Goodbye girl.”
“Hey, do you think it’s going to rain tonight? I heard on the news that it was going to rain.”
“Uh, I don’t know. It is starting to get cloudy out to the west.”
“I think it’s going to rain. Rain is good, you know. Rain washes away all the bad stuff in the air. Everyplace. I like it when it rains.”
“Me too. Well, I’ve got to keep moving. Bye. Bye Baby. Don’t get caught in the rain.”
He turned and watched Catherine and the small, grey dog as they drifted away – measured step by step — in the fading, dying light of that gloriously dismal weekend afternoon. They defined each other, he thought. They gave each other purpose.
At Wellingtons, the mood was relatively subdued, even with the blaring music by bands he never heard of. He looked for his seat: the seat by the window, and he felt relieved it was unoccupied. Wellingtons was built to be a tavern. It had permanence and it survived the slow, cruel bedlam that drove taverns, bakeries and shops in other parts of the city to surrender the character and idiosyncrasies that defined them. The bar, known as Hanka’s when they bought their modest two-flat a few years before prices soared, was housed in a stone corner building with an apartment above and a few in the back. The back bar was solid oak and featured ornate carved columns made by true craftsmen, Europeans who came here generations before for opportunity and to escape bad conditions, like his grandparents did. The pride and permanence of their work was preserved for a new generation; but he wondered if the current patrons appreciated the role places like this played in the neighborhood. At least the new owners, young guys who were smart enough to recognize and seize an opportunity, kept the heart of the place – the beautiful oak bar – intact. Their changes were generally cosmetic. Across from the bar, a bank of Lava lights and wall of bad art replaced the faded, old metal signs promoting beer brands no longer brewed.
The modest room now was mostly populated by kids a few years beyond legal who escaped small town boredom or the sameness of their suburban split levels. Like him, they found little to like in the more antiseptic taverns and clubs further east, where pounding gentrification took a foothold years and years ago. He liked most of the kids, with their spiky, colored hair, piercings and skinny arms resplendent with blue and red tats. Sometimes he would try engaging them with an anecdote, sometimes he stared at himself in the mirror on the bar back, sometimes he stared out the window across the street at the flowering pear tree, ablaze in color for a few days in May, now stark against the darkening sky.
Gone were the regulars like Butch, Harry, Armando and Joey, tradesmen, bus drivers and retirees who rented the same bar stools day after day to escape for a few hours from the direction life took them. They stopped coming because the room lost what brought them there in the first place. It evolved, but they refused to. He “inherited” Butch’s window stool because he felt he deserved it. And, it gave him the opportunity to witness the outside, its beauty and its ugliness, unfolding. Sliding into his perch, he flagged down Samantha.