Three people walk into a bar . . .my sister, my brother-in-law and me. We are in Small Town Ontario, it is late afternoon. We have just dropped my niece off at the ball park where she’s doing whatever it is that ball players do to prepare themselves for the big game, and we have some time to kill.
Every small town in Ontario has a local hotel. Every one of them is called “The Queens” or something similarly grand. They all have charm and character. They all serve cold beer.
We sit at a small table on hard wooden chairs and the lady behind the bar shouts across the empty space asking us what we’ll have. Three of whatever’s on tap, my brother-in-law law shouts back. And how about you, Charlie, she asks, the usual? Charlie has joined us at our table, although there are vacant spots everywhere. The only other occupied seat is a stool at the bar where a big bearded man sits with his elbows embracing his glass and his hands supporting his head, mesmerized by the sports cast on the overhead tv.
Charlie smiles at us and nods as he raises his hand in a wave of assent to the bar tender. We all smile back at Charlie. He is a little rough around the edges, somebodys forgotten grandpa, plaid shirt and oil stained ball cap as old and wrinkled as he is himself. I think perhaps we have innocently chosen to sit at Charlies regular table, and he is not about to give up his usual space.
How’re ya doin’ he wants to know, and what brings ya ta here. And what do ya think o’ the damned temperature out there, ain’t it on the high side fer this time o’ the year? Charlie taps his stubby fingers on the wooden table top with one hand while caressing the grey stubble on his face with the other, listening to our polite replies. When his beer arrives he grabs it with both hands to take long thirsty swallows, bangs his glass back down, and then releases a thunderous belch, for which he does not apologize.
I glance at my sister, who is staring at the beams overhead, her lips pressed hard together suppressing what I’m sure would be a loud guffaw if she let it go. I clear my throat too loudly and take a long drink, hoping I won’t choke, spitting beer all over Charlie’s table. We sit quietly for a minute. The television drones. The bartender hums as she rearranges some glasses and swishes a bar towel across the counter. We look expectantly at Charlie but he has stopped talking. His eyes are closed and his chin is resting on his chest. He still clutches his beer glass in both hands as if someone might snatch it away from him when he’s not looking.
We enjoy the rest of our beer, anticipate the up coming game, check our watches, and then prepare to go. The shrill jangle of a land line phone pierces the quiet and the lady behind the bar starts to curse. Oh my Lord love a fucking duck, this Jesus phone has been ringing off the damned hook all fucking day! What the damned hell, I can’t take this any longer! She grabs the receiver and shouts HELLO!
We quietly make our escape. I ask the other two if they heard the phone ring more than once while we were in there and they both say no. I wonder what kind of emotional stress we might have caused by ordering a second round. And when will Charlie notice that we’re gone? Three people walk out of a bar laughing and don’t look back.