••• The International Writers Magazine: Relationships
One Last Drink
Paul Weiss glanced at his watch and lit a cigarette. He was sitting at the bar. It was almost eight on a January night in San Francisco. Outside it was cold and foggy. The bar was a small one, a neighborhood place where people stopped in for a drink after work. Right now Paul was the only one there.
Jim, the bartender, brought Paul his drink, a whiskey sour. “Since when did you start smoking again?” he asked Paul.
“She’s late, huh?”
“Yeah, women are always late.”
“Not Carol. Seems to me you’re usually the one who’s late. She working today?”
“Yeah, you know her. She had to go in.”
“How long you two been coming in here?”
“I don’t know. About a year.”
“Too bad about her father. Is he still in the hospital?”
“Yeah, but he’s out of danger now.”
Jim swabbed the counter with a towel. “What was it, a heart attack?”
“How old’s he?”
“Not that old, about sixty.”
“Well, I can see why she thinks she has to go back home.”
“Yeah, but he’s better now.”
“Still, who knows. Anyway, she’ll be coming back.”
“You think so?”
“Sure. What the hell, either he gets better or he dies, right? Then she comes back.”
“Yeah, then she comes back.”
Paul heard the door to the bar open. He turned around and saw Carol coming in, still in her nurse’s uniform, carrying her coat over her arm. As always when he saw her, he thought, What a great-looking girl. She was in her late twenties, blonde and fair-skinned, with flushed cheeks. She seemed to bring with her a glow that lit up the dark bar.
She walked quickly up to Paul and gave him a light kiss. “Hi,” she said. “Sorry I’m late.”
“Had a long day?”
“Yes. There were a lot of good-byes.” She looked at his cigarette, burning in an ashtray. “You’re not smoking again, are you?”
“Because it’ll kill you, that’s why.” She picked up the cigarette and ground it out.
Jim asked Carol if she was ready for a drink. “Whiskey sour?”
“Yes, thanks, Jim.”
They took their drinks and sat down at a table furthest from the door. Paul said, “I’m glad you came.”
Carol gave a little shrug. “Well, one last drink,” she said.
“I didn’t want you to leave without seeing you after last night,” Paul said.
“Last night was something, wasn’t it? Our big fight.”
“Look, whatever I said, I didn’t mean it.”
“Yes, you did. But it’s all right.”
“Have you heard anything new about your dad?”
“Yes, this morning. They think he’ll be able to go home in a few days.”
“That’s good news. But I suppose you’re still going.”
“Yes, I told you. I wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t go.”
“Yeah, you told me.”
“Someone will have to be there to take care of him.”
“And it has to be you.”
“Paul, I’m going. Don’t make it any harder.”
“Okay, you’re going. Have I told you I’ll miss you?”
“You’ve told me. I’ll miss you, too.”
“Well, watch out for the bears.”
“Sure, the bears. Don’t the bears come down from the hills in Minnesota when it’s winter?”
“Yes, I forgot about that.”
Paul looked down at his drink, as if the answer to some important question was contained there. “You know,” he said, “about getting married. Well, I could think about it.”
“Wow, you must really think you’ll miss me. But you know you’re only saying that because you don’t want me to go.”
“You’re right. I don’t want you to go. Don’t go.”
“Paul, you know I’m going. Maybe you’ll be relieved when I’m gone.”
“Well, you won’t have to worry about getting married.”
“I told you, I’m willing to think about it.”
“And moving out of the city?”
“Why would you want to move out to the sticks?”
“The suburbs, not the sticks. And what about having kids?”
“Maybe there won’t be any kids.”
“Then why get married?”
Paul shook his head in exasperation. “Christ, why can’t you be a self-respecting feminist like everyone else? How did I find the one girl in San Francisco who wants to be married and have kids?”
“Just your luck, I guess.”
“Well, look. We can talk about all those things when you get back, right?”
“Yes, when I get back.”
Paul didn’t like the flat tone in which she said that. “You are coming back? I mean, when your dad’s okay. Then you’ll be coming back, right?”
“I told you. I can’t give any guarantees. I’ll have to see how he does. Don’t let’s argue over this again.”
Paul was ready to resume the argument but she was giving him her level look, mouth and chin stubborn. “Okay,” he said. “No guarantees. “ He saw that she’d finished her whiskey sour. “How about another drink?”
She shook her head. “No, I better not. We’ve had our one last drink. I should go. I have to finish packing. “ She stood up and went to the bar. Paul followed her. “Well, goodbye, Jim,” she said to the bartender.
“So long,” said Jim. “Don’t take any wooden nickels.”
“I won’t.” She put on her coat.
Paul said, “You’ll call me when you get there?”
“Are you going to be worried?”
“Yeah, I’ll be worried.”
“And you’ll write? Tell me all about life on the farm?”
“It’s not a farm, just a place out in the country.”
“Okay, write me about life out in the country.” He took a step toward her and reached for her arm. “Come on, I’ll walk you to your car.”
She took a step back and said, “No, it’s right outside.”
Paul stopped abruptly. “Okay. How about tomorrow? Do you want me to drive you to the airport?”
“No, you’ll have to go to work. I’ll take a taxi.”
“Okay. Well, good-bye then.” Before she could say anything, Paul moved quickly forward, embraced her and kissed her on the lips. “Christ, I’m going to miss you,” he whispered in her ear. She let him hold her for a moment, then she broke away and went to the door. Before she went out, she turned and waved,
“So long, kiddo,” said Jim.
“No wooden nickels, Jim.” Then she was gone.
“I guess she’s not coming back,” said Jim.
“No,” said Paul. “I guess not.” He lit a cigarette. “Better give me another drink.”.
© Martin Green 2018
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