Disturbing the Comfortable—Clark Humphey
Reenie (short for Renee, not Irene, as she’d had to tell everyone since third grade) walked straightforwardly, without even a hint of anxiety, across the short gravel parking lot. She briefly thought of past occasions when she would enter this building striding and leave it stumbling; if she even remembered how she’d left it. Reenie had heard the place was under new management, but she hadn’t been back since long before then. Since she stopped (for real, finally) her old ways of existence, she’d had an aversion, or at least no particular attraction, to revisiting her more haunting old haunts. Besides, if she wasn’t going to get shitfaced drunk and/or pick up some probably-married man anymore, why go? The ol’ place had never known for a fine atmosphere, scintillating conversation, or even semi-edible food.
But now Reenie was heading back. Beckoned by an emergency cell call by a woman from her main meeting. Why any woman would go to this place was an idea that had always confounded her, even while she was going there. It would be especially toxic to a woman who was still in the still-regularly-backsliding stage of her sobriety.
Reenie braced herself for the onslaught of bad noises, worse smells, and even worse memories.
The exterior was more or less as it had been when she’d been a regular, aside from signage expressing a newly-found love for the Seahawks. Her first hint that things had significantly changed came when she pulled on the door. It didn’t stick, but opened smoothly.
Inside, though, everything was the same yet completely different. It didn’t smell of spilled beer! The lighting fixtures all worked! The walls were painted the same basic shades of black, but were now free of cigarette-smoke stains! The juke box played at a non-ear-splitting volume, feeding speakers that didn’t crackle! The two all-sports TVs were on mute! The floor looked like it had never been vomited onto!
It didn’t even seem hardly scary. Which made it MORE dangerous, Reenie thought. Now that it was at least slightly closer to being woman-friendly, more women would come here, linger longer, come back, and more “respectably” ruin their lives.
Sure enough, Reenie soon found her intended subject at the bar, chatting up the barmaid (since when did women ever work here?), feeling little pain and making little sense. Tish sat up straighter than Reenie had ever seen her do at an AA meeting. Tish was actually making eye contact with the barmaid and completing her own verbal statements, as scattered as they seemed.
Reenie stood behind Tish for a minute, just listening. Tish seemed at first to be talking about her own adventures in drinking and non-drinking, mixed in with asides Reenie knew actually came from stories told by other people at the meetings. The gist, so far as there was one, was that sobriety sounded all high and mighty and all that, but there were times when a person just NEEDED to blot out the cares of the world.
Reenie could tell the barmaid’s eyes were staring at Tish but her mind was perhaps a thousand miles away. The barmaid had an almost regal stance, holding one arm halfway up with fingers seeming to hold an imaginary tea cup. Reenie thought this was just the sort of woman Tish never paid attention to at meetings. It was the barmaid who first noticed Reenie’s presence, and who, with a businesslike smile, called clearly yet politely for Reenie to approach her and to state her business.
Reenie politely stated she was here only to retrieve her friend Tish, whose bill Reenie would like to settle.
Before the barmaid could walk back to the POS terminal, Tish exhorted her, with only slightly slurred speech, for another red wine for herself and whatever her friend was having.
Striding up beside Tish, Reenie proclaimed that neither of them was having a drink at this time, and that they were leaving now.
Tish motioned for Reenie to sit at the next bar stool. She apologized for having called her to come over, and that she was now feeling much better now thank you very much, and wouldn’t she sit down and stay a while?
Reenie did sit down. She told the barmaid she would have nothing to drink. She reminded Tish about the panicky nature of her phone call; how Tish had gotten anxious, started driving without a destination, parked at the first bar she saw, and just KNEW she was about to take a drink unless Reenie came right now to stop her.
Tish apologized again, and again said she didn’t need Reenie’s help any more. She said she didn’t think she’d like it here, such a dark and lonely seeming place. But the woman at the bar here was a total princess. She knew how to make a girl feel welcome.
The barmaid introduced herself as Annabeth and daintily extended a hand for Tish to shake. She kissed it instead. Annabeth withdrew the hand with an instant shudder.
Reenie told Annabeth what Tish had been veering in and out of sobriety for the past month and a half, and shouldn’t be served.
Tish butted in that she’d only gone to those stupid meeting because of a plea bargain in a first-offense DUI case. A FIRST OFFENSE, mind you. And she wasn’t endangering anybody. She was just driving home from celebrating her divorce, and she was just over the limit. By JUST THIS MUCH, she said as she held out her hand with her thumb and forefinger almost touching. Besides, she said she’s much more comfortable here than at any stupid meeting. Annabeth here understands her and she doesn’t ask silly questions.
And, Tish added, Annabeth has got some big plans. Why, she’s going to turn this comfy little hole in the wall place into a errific little restaurant. It’ll be the best in town, maybe the best in the whole country.
Reenie asked Annabeth if this was true.
Annabeth affirmed that that was indeed her ultimate goal, as soon as she could raise the financing with a down payment from what she was earning as the owner here.
Reenie asked Annabeth to look around. Yes it was the middle of the afternoon, but even then this dive should have more people in it than just herself and Tish and a few scattered, half-asleep male barflies downing cheap beer slowly. Reenie said she wasn’t going to ask if Annabeth was even turning a profit on this place as it now was.
Annabeth kept a steely, stoic poker face.
Reenie said she suspected Annabeth was, and she knew Tish was, in complete denial. It was something Tish would have learned had she been paying any attention at the meetings. If you got too comfortable in a situation that was actually bad for you, you’d end up like a frog in a pot of water on a stove, water that got just a little bit hotter at a time until it boiled the little creature. And this little creature, Reenie said as she pointed toward Tish, deserved not to get boiled. Or drowned in booze. You just had to get out and not look back.
Annabeth broke her silence to dryly state that a man who’d come into the bar one night recently had told her something similar.
Reenie replied, while she was mothering Tish into standing up and donning her coat, that Annabeth was wise to not blindly trust something a guy said, especially the kind of guy who’d go to a place like this. But it was true anyway.