Still life in Brown & Blues

Chapter 22

       How strange and wonderful to see a place, a place not familiar, in a whole new light of a whole new day. 

       Celia was no longer riding around in that strange fog of polite but impenetrable austerity. All the mystery was just tossed out like an old ugly love seat from the last tenant.

       The folks who ran Torado’s were now exactly what they seemed. Babby was a monument to the scene she escaped. Penny’s civility could only have been forged in the belly of incivility. Who else? The list was long and ponderous.

       Miles. Whoah. Miles didn’t make any sense at all. Man’s like a platypus. A duck-billed egg-laying venomous mammal. A life made from spare parts and no assembly instructions. Once you got through the smoke and mirrors, any educated person would know Miles had an IQ through the roof, a capacity for organization second to none, and all wrapped up in the personal hygiene of a dung beetle. U-huh, Miles, check.

       Butch who runs the filling station, u-huh. That nice skinny woman who runs the record/antique store, u-huh. The nice Mr. Franz who teaches the half dozen or so children before they ship out to middle school in the next more populous town.

       A very strange thing was overwhelming Celia now. Instead of playing in a brilliantly crafted fiction, she was living in a brilliantly crafted fiction. And playing. And authoring, since her decisions or her assigned role in this affair could bring the production to an abrupt termination.

       There was one watering hole in Ardensville. A V.F.W. on the very edge of town and Celia had a package for the proprietor: Morris Balstalambo. Celia had been in the V.F.W. once before one morning. The door was open and no one there, so she left some letters on the bar, all addressed to Morris. Celia really loved that bar in the quiet vacant moment she found it. 

       There were no vulgar beer banners or advertising of any sort. There was a smallish pool table in good repair. The bar was orderly and the old ornate cash register shined brightly. The juke box shined and the windows shined and everything else pretty much was wood. The few windows were high on the walls, and on the bar there were kitch figurines of Chaplain, Laurel and Hardy, and Fields as Micawber. A little saw dust on the floor and the smell of beer was tamed by the soft embrace of polished cedar.

       This is where Falstaff might have come to refresh with Hal or Balzac with everyone. Place just had soul, deep as the ocean.

       On this day, late in the day, there were cars and trucks parked around and the juke box and the clacking of pool balls could be heard as Celia approached with her last delivery of the day. 

       Morris stood behind the bar, and his presence and being was the soul of the V.F.W. She knew immediately he was not local. He was from another place, time, and quite a few other lives no doubt. 

       Whoah, you betcha. 

       Celia put the box down on the bar in front of Morris. He didn’t really move and somehow turned to address her.

       “You must be Celia.”

       “No, I’m Morris, you must be Celia,” Celia replied, ever more uncomfortable when confronting how she was common knowledge to people she had not even met. 

       “Awe lighten up. It’s a small town. I’m Morris,” and he reached out to shake hands with a woman. Celia took that hand like she was being lifted onto the deck of a boat.

       Morris must have been cute as a young man, and now he sort of drooped. That which had been muscle had returned to being skin and it hung loosely onto bone, generally. Morris had a lot of scars. Some looked like stitching and some looked like cuts that didn’t get stitched. All kinds of scars wherever his t-shirt revealed flesh. There were the scars that Celia recognized as tattoos that had been removed, removed cruelly one might add.

       There was a great serenity that inhabited Morris’s eyes while there was a great gravity that occupied everything else. Celia imagined a charging bull would make a sharp left were he to look into the eyes of this sphinx.

       “Are you done for the day, IF you don’t mind me asking?”

       Celia lightened up. “Yep, you’re my last drop.”

       “Well then, I think a beverage is in order, on the house.” Morris seemed to have his hand on a bottle of Beam before the words passed Celia’s lips. As Morris put coaster and glass on the bar before Celia, their attentions were grabbed by raised and contentious voices coming from the opposite corner of the establishment. Who was yelling was irrelevant as they appeared in every way identical and what they were yelling about was equally irrelevant as they both enjoyed identical speech impediment, tooth decay and finite vocabulary.

       Morris smiled with a little exhale and said, “Please drink up, I’ll be right back.”

       The two men in overalls, denim shirts, and brimmed caps didn’t notice Morris's approach, but they knew he was there when the vice that clamped upon their shoulders close to the neck caused their mouths to become paralyzed.

       “Hunk, Jefferson, how you boys doing tonight?” Since Hunk and Jefferson could neither speak nor move, they both blinked a positive response to Morris’s inquiry. From not too great a distance, Celia could not make out what Morris was saying. She only heard the low rumble of a voice that possessed unimpeachable authority.

       “Now you know I wouldn’t mind the cussing, but we happen to have a lady in the bar. What I have to object to though is that you guys, you guys are disturbing the serenity of this establishment.”

       Morris looked at both parties to be sure his thought was effectively expressed. Hunk and Jefferson blinked much while their limbs swung limply like damp clothes on a line.

       “Now if I couldn’t maintain a peaceful serene environment, I bet two ole’ buddies like yourselves would not seek out this establishment for refreshment and a game of 8-ball, and I value your business too much to let that happen.” Hunk and Jefferson blinked like the dickens.

       “Have you finished your rack, your beers?” More blinking. 

       “Then I think you need to remind each other how good a good friend is. How much that means.” Morris released his grip.

       With their semi-functional arms, they replaced the pool cues to the rack, picked up their half-drained beers, and left them on the bar on the way out. Hunk stopped, turned, and removed his cap.

       “Good night Morris, good night Mam. How’s it goin for ya at Irma’s. Irma’s good people ya know.”

       “Good night Hunk,” Morris poured Celia another Beam.