He swaggers into the bar, drunk already.
“ You know we close early today” I try.
“And a very important closing too”- he stumbles through the words –“I cant imagine treating this day like any other, our oh so precious-“
“What do you want” I cut him off.
“Vodka Redbull- it’s the fuckin holidays, lets get excited, get some life in us!”
He high fives himself when I don’t put my hand up.
I wander over to the back of the bar- maybe if I take long enough- if I fumble with the glasses; he’ll forget. I glance back; his eyes-wet with anticipation- answer with their emptiness.
The Redbull fizzes into the cup.
“Big plans tonight?” I ask automatically.
Even I know that hurts; the bee stinging the bear.
He stares into the wall with a hungry smile on his face
“Rudy?” I try to bring him back.
He starts to shake his head.
I absentmindedly pour myself a drink, trying to fill the time.
“Tskk Tssk Tssk. Come on Don. You know damn well I’m not doing anything tonight.”
The vodka red bull stands empty in his hand.
“You don’t have to pity me-patronize me- like every year.”
He pushes the empty cup towards me. I refill it.
“Fill my drinks and pretend we’ve never met”
He stares at me, the smile fading.
“It makes it easier for both of us”
He picks up the menu.
“Brisket and egg!”
The smile returns, somehow bigger than before.
“I’ll take it medium rare…but only if Carlos is running the grill!”
His laugh, squeaky and loud, explodes out of him.
I yell the order back to Carlos.
He pulls a wadded pad of partially congealed tissues; pushes it onto his already red and raw nose.
“You know Don, I don’t like to be sick.”
He puts the tissues away.
“But I am. Every damn winter! It’s just I can’t not work on the Shelby in the winter. I can pretty much get most of my face covered. But I think it’s the nose. It’s got to be the nose that gets me sick. I leave it out and Bam!’
He snaps his fingers.
“A week later I have this damn cold. I always say I’m going to get a…a… one of those face masks- a backlava”
He looks up at me.
“Unless you want some sticky Greek pastries on your face I’d suggest you go with a Balaclava instead” I answer obediently, he knows I will.
He chuckles and wipes his nose.
“You gotta quick wit Don, that’s why I liked you better than the others.”
“Being quick doesn’t really get you places” I say, motioning around me to a wood grain that could make a 80’s station wagon jealous.
“Neither does being different” he answers, wiping his nose.
What’s could be more disgusting: his childish bitterness or his nose, snotty and red?
“Quick wit, but bad acting Donny” he laughs.
“I could have seen that disgusted look from a hundred feet in the air”
His eyes have been poring over my face; finally they find an anchor in my eyes. He refuses to let go of this tether, this one sided connection.
“You know I don’t like you and I’m awfully sorry if I haven’t outright said that before; because I admire that you’ve been overtly transparent about your disdain for me since the day I met you”
“Look Rudy, I was dumb, a kid, trying to fit-“
“We’re both special. You know that? Theirs only been 9 of us…in total! Yet here we are.”
He raps his knuckles on the bar.
“Here we are”
He does it again, nearly breaking through the cheap plywood.
“That means give me the check.”
“Its on the house”
He turns to leave. I go to grab his hand.
“Look, I’m about to head home. How bout you let me give you a lift-“
He doesn’t say a word. His eyes are wet again, anticipating what, I don’t want to know. The muscles in his cheek ripple under the stubble. The snot is dry above his lip.
“DON’T YOU DARE FUCKING TOUCH ME DONNER! I don’t give a shit if you tell SC, I don’t give a fuck what any of you think anymore”
He wipes his nose with a 20-dollar bill, placing it on the table.
“A Christmas bonus for an old friend.”
He walks out of the bar; Buick keys held tightly.
The kids woke me in the morning. We rushed downstairs, still half asleep.
The newspaper lay on the front porch.
I was surprised when I read the headline plastered across the front page, not from the line itself, but the gut feeling, the true uncontrollable pity.
At least it ended up being true; he will go down in history.
“DUI claims life of local grandmother; suspect Rudolph “Rudy” Johnson, in police custody”