A Toast in an Empty Bar

by Jay Cantrell

Copyright© 2012 by Jay Cantrell

: This is a short Memorial Day tribute to brave men and women in the United States Armed Forces.

Tags: Military  

I pulled my car into the gravel parking lot as I'd done a half dozen times in my life. There wasn't a car in the lot that I recognized.

It was drizzling rain, so I pulled my ballcap down over my eyes and walked to the door.

The place was dark as it always was, even though it was the middle of the afternoon.

"Budweiser," I called to the bartender. He was the same one who'd been there the last time I was in the bar. "Bottle."

He nodded and I slipped a ten-spot on the bar. I was a little disappointed he didn't ask for ID.

"Make it two," I told him.

He glanced at me a little funny but added a second one beside the first.

I walked back to vacant table and sat down, pushing the second beer across to an empty seat.

"I thought I'd catch you up on things," I told the air. "I know it's been a while since talked. I'm sorry about that. I just don't know what to say most of the time."

The few men in the room stopped their conversations and turned to look at me, wondering if I was talking to them.

"I'm in college now," I continued. "I'm studying to be an engineer. No, I don't want to drive a train. I want to build bridges and roads. But driving a train might be cool."

I paused for a moment.

"I didn't join the Army," I added. "I thought about. I thought about it real hard. I just couldn't do it. We still fly the flag in front of the house every day. But I guess I'm just not as patriotic as you."

With a deep sigh, I started to talk again.

"Jenny got married in the spring," I said. "I was surprised but I guess I was the only one. Everyone else seemed to think it was just a matter of time. I thought we'd be together forever. I guess he's an OK guy. I don't like him, though. I guess I always thought she could do better. I always guessed that that had done better once. Maybe that's why she married the guy. I don't know. I don't really talk to her anymore. She still comes by every now and then but I try to make sure I'm somewhere else at the time. I know you liked her so I'd thought I'd mention it.

"The football team made the playoffs this year – first time since '98. The coach is pretty good. He graduated in 2001 so he's still young. I'm not sure about next year. The team had a lot of seniors. Oh, the Burger Palace is gone. It burned down last winter. They said it was an electrical fire but I think Old Man Walker just wanted rid of the place. The new Wendy's down the road had almost put him out of business."

My talk was interrupted by an old man who ambled over.

"Son, are you alright?" he wonder.

I looked up and nodded.

"Yeah," I said. "Just catching up on old times. It's been a while since I've been here."

The man looked confused but was content to walk away.

"Where was I?" I wondered. "Oh, yeah, you're not going to believe what they did to Main Street. It has three lanes now. The center one goes either direction. It's a mess. Whoever thought that up needs a kick in the ass, I'd say.

"I wasn't sure how tell you this part. Uncle Steve passed away last year. He just dropped over one day at work. Aunt Sarah still acts the same but I know she misses him. We all do. He was a good man and he loved us like we were his own. He never did get his Little League team to the state final. That might be the only regret he had."

I felt the tears come to my eyes and I shook my head to clear them. I swallowed more of the beer in front of me. The one at the opposite chair was still full. I pondered the incongruity of it.

"I'm not sure what else there is to say," I decided. "Nothing much changes in life, especially around here. In fact, I think the same folks are sitting in the same chairs as the last time we were here."

I gave a grim chuckle at the memory, only to have the bartender intrude on my privacy.

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