Old Dave, 2/4

“Was she beautiful?” I asked him, smiling. “Your wife?” 

He looked at me, long and strange, his yellow eyes wavering, glancing down, coming back to me. He opened his mouth a little, his lips curling around his old, toothless gums. His head trembled and jerked on his neck. Then he grinned like a boy, gazing at the bar, his entire face pulled up and gleaming.

“Oh, Jeannie,” he said, his voice breaking. His grizzled face fell back into deep lines and shadow. He shifted on his bar stool, his dirty wool coat twisting around him as he reached for his drink. He swirled the honey-colored contents, looking for a moment like a dignified old man.

“I thought she was beautiful,” he said seriously, looking straight at me. “Her mother thought she was a plain girl, but to me she was so…pretty.” He stared into midair, his eyes focused on a face I couldn’t see. Then he sort of collapsed back into a soggy heap over his bourbon. He drank deeply. “She died in 1985. Lung cancer.” Old Dave shook his head. 

I considered that as I threw back the dregs of my own drink. It burned in my throat. I glanced at Old Dave out of the corner of my eye and thought about how losing something or being left behind could change a man’s entire life. Leave so much as your wallet at home and the path of your life suddenly springs a new branch. I twisted the gold band around my ring finger. Then I pushed my empty glass forward and signaled the bartender for another round.