Inside the bar, you plant yourself on a stool at a deserted table and zone in on the TV Doreen told you about. The Twins vs Red Sox at Fenway Park. More than ever, you admire Johnny. You’re impressed. Johnny’s a man with follow-through. Mookie Betts slugging a double homerun.
Johnny sets a pitcher of beer and a glass on the table, says, “On the house. Anything for Doreen’s boys.” You nod. His moustache is groomed into perfect handlebars, his grey hair slicked into a braid. He pours you a beer then disappears.
The warm beer still tastes like piss. The faces here are mostly the same.
Someone smacks you upside the head. “Aha! I knew there weren’t no boys. No use being alone when you’ve got an option.” Doreen heaves herself onto the barstool across from you. Her fat ass hangs over the edge. “Whatcha moping about, Douggie? Don’t tell me it’s the game either. I’ve known you since you were a pimply little shit.”
Johnny’s voice echoes overhead, “Let’s put our hands together for Wayne and his Wailers! All the way from down the block.”
“Nothing much changes around here,” Doreen says.
“TV’s impressive,” you say.
“Must have a new woman,” Doreen says, pointing her wobbling chins at Johnny. “That man couldn’t braid his own hair if his life depended on it.”
Drew Pomeranz takes the mound. Chris Sale would’ve been the wiser choice.
Doreen says, “Wanna talk about regrets? These slippers, silver leather smooth as butter. Bought ’em for a wedding. Shameful waste. Unlike marriage, these’ll last a lifetime. Make every day as goddam special as you can.”
Talking about shoes makes you think of Candice. Before her, you were saving up to build a tiny house. If you got tired of one view, you’d just hitch it up and pull it somewhere new.
Candice was horrified when you showed her the plans you’d drawn up, said, “Where would I keep all my shoes?” So you got a job at the potash mine and worked away the fucking daylight hours and she filled the apartment with new shoes.
Johnny shows up with a plate of nachos. “Doreen,” he says, nodding. Doreen beams a fake smile.
Johnny looks at her shoes, shakes his head at the screen, says, “Pity Sale fractured his foot, ain’t it.” Then he’s gone.
Doreen munches heartily, but her eyes look wet. In the time you spent in the tunnels undergoing, Doreen and Johnny crumbled. They looked so happy the last time you were home. She elbows you, “What’s the sense of dwelling? You’ve been through worse, Douggie. Compared to your mother, Candice is small potatoes.”
You stare at the cheese grease that’s dripped onto Doreen’s sweatshirt. It’s true. You watched your mother shrivel until she disappeared. You take a swig of beer. Screw Candice and her fucking shoes.
A puppy would be loyal. Or maybe an older dog—less work. Or, like Doreen, you could foster a bunch of strays. You and the dogs could watch the Red Sox play whenever you choose—no more ridiculous shows about housewives. And you’d never have to worry about someone leaving when you can’t buy them shoes no more.
You’ll save up for that tiny house. Build a doghouse as big as your tiny house for the strays.
You down another beer. The band strikes up. Someone claps you on the back. Then another and another. Doreen’s asked the boys to come. She’s still as good at taking care of you as she was when she first took you in. She’s so good at loving the least lovable because she’s always felt unwanted too.
Staggering to the washroom to take your first piss, you think about Candice buying shoes and manicures and sleeping with other men while you worked miles underground in the potash mine. You picture her face on the antiseptic block as you take a piss. It cracks you up. You laugh so hard you end up pissing all over the floor.
Back at the table Johnny is mopping up beer. He looks at Doreen the way he always did, and you realize that maybe that’s just how it is. Nothing changes. And yet everything does.
Doreen throws her arm around your shoulder, pours you another beer and says, “In life, Douggie, there are few constants. You’ve got family who’ll always love you. You’ve got eating, shitting and sleeping. And the rest? Variables. Grab on to what makes you smile and love it while it lasts. Leave it behind when it don’t.” Like she did with Johnny. Like you’re going to have to do with Candice.
You grin at Doreen, at her silver shoes. Johnny’s plasma screen. Imagine a future filled with Red Sox games and an old mutt to keep you company.
Rachel Laverdiere writes, pots and teaches in her little house on the Canadian prairies. She is CNF editor at Barren Magazine and the creator of Hone & Polish Your Writing. Find Rachel’s prose in journals such as Atlas and Alice, Lunch Ticket, Anti-Heroin Chic and Pithead Chapel. In 2020, her CNF made The Wigleaf Top 50 and was nominated for Best of the Net. For more, visit www.rachellaverdiere.com.