Sunny Wagon Ride – Tom
Buckets of sunshine raining down. The unremitting blue sky left him no place to hide. He sat on the sidewalk outside of the cafe wondering how long he had before the darkness came and he could forget the afternoon. He wished he could peel back a rock and crawl underneath it. He visualized his headache, nails gently and unremittingly being driven into his temples tap by tap. Days like this, lifetimes like this, he just longed to have nothing to do, nowhere to be, and no awareness of any of it.
Not that there was much to do today. Louise was out of town and the kids were his for the weekend. Mo had deftly deserted him, immediately really, in favor of a party. And Tim, well, he was currently getting a weekend dose of superhero at the cinema. He was visibly relieved when I had informed him that I would not be going in with him, or even standing outside with him on line. Joe handed him the cash and waved farewell.
Not that he and Ben were left unobserved on the sidewalk. Ben’s dad, George, watched them surreptitiously from across the street. Not that they were really worried, but you build habits and, well, you try to let go as smoothly as you can but it’s not all that easy.
He sipped his mid-afternoon coffee and watched George cross the street, making his way toward him. George ducked inside to get his own coffee.
Joe stared into the traffic, hoping to lose all the details. The bills he was juggling, the stalled work projects, how much he really wanted to get a beer. He’s been on the wagon for two weeks now – not because of his dismal behavior on St. Patrick’s Day, but because ski season had pretty much come to an end. Not because of spring or a lack of snow really, but because of little league and soccer, coaching and chauffeur duties. And he knew that it was good to stand up straight and fly right, even for a little while. It kept him from getting too gloomy.
Besides, you have to be alert to the signs, listen to what the world is telling you, and sometimes you are repeating things out of habit rather than out of fun. Give him some down time though and he didn’t know what to do with himself. He felt like a raw nerve, and when he wasn’t paying attention he found himself thinking progressively gloomier thoughts.
It wasn’t so much that he wanted to get drunk. He craved forgetfulness, something to combine with a certain inertia that would allow him to escape the set of observations and obsessions that was pervading his Saturday afternoon psyche. He really wanted a shot and a beer, because it made him feel good to see them there on the table, like they were a pathway to some happier place. But repeated experimentation had finally made him accept that this was not so. They were a rather blunt path to a large tab, a brutalized gut, a higher chance of some further regrettable behavior, and finally unconsciousness. He needed a slower path or a brighter distraction. It seemed that the darkness was gone, and he missed it.
George got his coffee and sat down with him.
“How’s it going?”
“It goes. Another blissful Saturday afternoon. Kids and chores. I think the boys are hoping they can have a sleep-over at my house tonight.”
“Nice. Nobody even mentioned it. Hardly an unexpected development.”
“Looks like you are flying solo.”
“All revved up and don’t know where to go.”
“I’m sure you can find something around the house to keep you busy.”
“Louise didn’t even leave me a list of things she hoped I would get to. I’m in unfamiliar territory here. Expendable. Unnecessary.”
“Used up is more like it. Spent. You’ll just have to bask in the sunshine, enjoying your coffee.”
“Just look at all the lovely people wandering by.”
“Look, we’re talking Seattle here. It’s not eighty degrees.”
“Yeah, but the rain jackets are gone. Dresses. I’m seeing some legs and shoulders on the ladies out there.”
“Sure. I’m a bachelor for the weekend, sitting here in downtown Columbia City watching girls with you. My heart wells with pride.”
“You have to do what you can. Are you nearly done with your month?”
“I’m more than half way now, but it’s begun to feel like a heavy lift. Not cravings so much, but irritation, an unreasonable frustration with the world around me. A raw nerve, a toothache.”
“Wagon rides are cheerless. You are morose to begin with. Now look at her – she’s looking good.”
“How can you tell? She’s on the other side of the street. More than a block away. Well you might be right. I have to admit she looks pretty good.”
The young woman in question kept moving their way. By now they had stopped their watch, sitting quietly delaying any decisions. A nice feature of sitting with an old friend – communal silence did not have to be uncomfortable.
Joe looked up, and watched the woman cross the street. She was looking at him and walking their way. Now he was beginning to feel bizarre, like he was about to be called out as some lecherous creep. He began to anticipate an extremely uncomfortable social scene.
She walked right up to them, and it wasn’t until she took off her sunglasses that the two of them recognized her as Sarah, a girl they had both coached in youth soccer more than a decade before. Mercifully she addressed them as Joe and George. And no, she had not seen them watching her (or did not let on), and sadly and happily had them categorized in such a way that she never would have suspected them of such a thing.
They watched her go in for coffee, and were still there when she returned. They waved goodbye and watched her saunter down the street.
“Boy, do I feel really weird now.”
“That was all your fault.”
“No, it was yours. If you aren’t on the wagon this doesn’t happen. We wouldn’t be out in the sunshine feeling and acting all creepy. “
“You’re right, we’d be across the street, inside. Safe. Enjoying some cheery libations.”
“Well, what are we going to do?”
“I don’t know. I’m dreadfully sorry.”
“Let’s go somewhere safe.”
I should have understood the tide a while ago. But now, my course of conduct was clear. No spouse, no kids, and this whole Sarah thing.
“I’ll text Mary, see if she can pick up the boys.”
“I don’t care – you can be on point for that. I’m going to have a shot and a beer.”
They deserted their coffee and sprinted across the street, ignoring (or perhaps in some small way savoring) the blinking red hand in the crosswalk. The bar was open, empty, and for some reason had the air conditioning on.