A Drink Among Friends
by Eric Nelson
A pickup truck pulled into the gravel parking lot of the bar, rattling and shaking until the engine was cut. The owner walked in and looked toward a corner booth with a grimace, watching a dozing barfly’s whiskers rise and fall with every breath. The bartender’s head turned from the television.
“Beer and a shot, Carl?”
“You got it, John.”
He poured a generous shot of Old Crow and opened a Mickey’s. The whiskey felt warm in his throat and stomach and the glass was refilled. It had been a long day and he wasn’t looking forward to returning home.
“Where’s your pal?”
“Late as usual.”
He sat watching basketball highlights when the door opened, propelled by a whistling spring wind. The bus pulled away from the curb as the door closed. The old man in the corner snorted in his sleep.
“Hiya Tim,” said the bartender.
“Hey Johnny. Gimme a Mickey’s and a shot.”
“You got it.”
He turned to face Carl, short and slim with a boyish face and dirty nails. Tim sat on his stool, face unshaven and scarred, muscles wide and sagging showing the wear of years of adulthood misfortunes.
“Did you get that fan belt in stock yet?” asked Tim.
“Nope. Should be in tomorrow. Did you talk to Boss Wilson at the school about vacation days for the fishing trip?” “Yeah, we’re good. Those floors won’t collapse if I don’t buff em for a few days.”
Carl nodded. They drained their beers and ordered more. Tim examined the turkey sub his wife packed him for the night shift while Carl let his feet rest from a day’s work.
“Debbie expecting you home now?” asked Tim.
“Not immediately, but soon. Buddy got in trouble at school, throwing wet toilet papers at a teacher,” said Carl.
“Takes after his godfather,” grinned Tim.
“Yeah. Well, he got it good from Debbie, but I’m sure once I get home, she’ll start shit with me until I slap him too.” “You should just have her call me and I’ll smack him enough for both of you.”
“No, he doesn’t need a beating. Nobody touches my kids but me and Debbie. Besides, you don’t have any kids.”
“So?” asked Tim.
“So…you’ll hit him too hard. You get out of control. Remember that time when you put me in a sleeper hold and I passed out?
“How many times do I have to say I’m sorry? That was years ago! And we were drinking!”
“Well unlike you, I don’t enjoy hitting people.”
“When it’s deserved, it feels good,” replied Tim. Carl wondered if Debbie deserved the bruise on her face he saw her with last week.
“You also made that kid Petey the Retard leave town in junior high,” said Carl.
“Also bullshit. His mom got transferred to Houston.”
“Houston,” muttered Carl.
“You remember his goat? Pete’s goat that we used to throw rocks at and shit?”
“Yeah I remember.”
“I loved that kid,” said Tim under his breath.
“Come on, let’s go outside for a smoke,” said Carl.
In the cab of the F150, they flicked cigarette ash out the window, sipping from a half pint of Evan Williams, laughing about Buddy, bringing them back to their own childhoods. Both men celebrating free time before and after punching a clock to play father, salesman, janitor, husband. The once-major defeats and victories, taunts, games and jokes of two decades hung in the air.
“We went bad early, Tim.”
“I just never cared for teachers or parents. Still don’t.”
“You weren’t there for some reason. I don’t remember you being there because you would have said something, but remember when they found that goat dead?”
“No, but I heard about it the next day,” said Tim.
“My folks thought you did it, actually,” blurted out Carl.
“I mean, a couple of people thought you did it, but when the newspaper ran that little article on it and mentioned a prank and kids, you know…”
“Papers always make shit up.”
“Yeah.” Carl paused. “Although there is one thing I always wondered, especially cuz we didn’t get to be friends til high school, but was that you?”
Tim’s face grew red.
“What do you think?”
“Exactly, ‘What?’ What-do-you-think? Do-you-think-I-killed that kid’s goat when we were little?” Carl shrank, searching for words in the dark.
“I don’t know. I’m not sure.”
“How long we been friends, fifteen years? Best men, godfather, all that shit and you’re asking me if I killed Petey’s goat when I was twelve? Jesus Christ!”
“Alright, relax Tim.”
“Don’t tell me to relax, pal. I’m on my way to mop floors for fucking eight hours and want to have a coupla laughs before I go in and you bring up bad shit.”
“I’m sorry I asked.”
The two sat in silence. Tim sighed and tapped his fingers on the dashboard. He opened his mouth and turned to say something, but paused and turned back, tapping his fingers louder. Carl waited, his hands glued to the steering wheel.
“Yeah, fine. You know what, if this has been bothering you, I’ll tell you once, the whole story.”
“Thank you!” said Carl, peelings his sticky fingers off.
“You aint gonna be saying that in a minute, buddy. The truth is yes, I did kill Petey’s goat.”
He turned and gave a crooked smile, his glassy eyes narrowed, arm resting half-drunken on the windowsill.
“Not only did I kill Petey’s goat, but I fucked Petey too.”
“You heard me, I caught him playing basketball in the alley and took him into the shed and tore his ass up good.”
“Get the fuck out of here, Tim!”
“No, I’m serious, Carl.”
Carl lit another cigarette, a numbness enveloping.
“So you raped little Petey? Little Petey the Retard?”
“No, asshole. I’m not a rapist. He liked it. It hurt him at first, but I wasn’t too rough, you can’t be. And don’t call him that.”
“I can’t believe this. So one day you just jumped Petey’s bones?”
“It wasn’t just one time. We met a few times.”
“So you’re saying you’re a queer?” asked Carl.
“No, I mean I guess it’s fine if you are…”
“Well, I’m not. I was a kid and I took what I wanted. We grew up too fast, you said it yourself.”
“But you fucked him in the ass!”
“Yeah, so? You, me and him are the only ones who know.”
“Wait a minute, yeah. How did that happen? How’d you keep it a secret?”
Tim paused, sighing a stream of smoke.
“Why do you think I had to kill the goat?”
It grew colder in the truck’s cab. Tim continued. “I liked him in a different way than any guy I’ve met since then. But he was gonna say something and it was either him or the goat and the goat was easier in comparison. Break the neck and cut the throat. Twenty years later, it’d be the same deal.
“Well, anyway, it worked, It scared him enough to keep his mouth shut. His mom DID get transferred to Houston, though. Of course, none of this really pertains to you or me or anyone we currently know, buddy. And as you know, this is something that stays among us.”
He nodded. A thick wave of nausea passed. Tim opened the door.
“Let me ask you one more thing.”
“Have you seen him since? Like years later?”
“I told you I’m not queer.”
“I know, I know.”
Tim stepped out and grinned through the window.
“No Carl, I didn’t see him.”
Both men laughed and walked back in.
“Let’s have us another round for both of us. Wake old shithead up in the corner too and give him a beer on me,” said Tim, suddenly jovial.
“No, I better get home, Tim.”
“I thought you said you could dick around some,” said Tim, licking whiskey from his lips.
“Yeah, but she usually has dinner on the table for me by now and I gotta deal with the little shit-for-brains, so…”
“Yeah. No, I understand.”
He looked at Carl’s funny expression, his face red and twisted. The pair stood, sizing each other up. Tim broke the ice.
“Hey is Buddy still talking about not coming back to Little League?”
The nausea returned.
“….’cuz I need him as my star pitcher again this season. Kid’s got an arm like a goddamn rocket!” said Tim.
Carl’s hands began to sweat.
“I don’t know. I’ll have to ask him. I’ll let you know.”
Carl waved with one hand to Tim and called a goodbye to the bartender exiting the bathroom.
“You’re fucking-A right he’s not coming back to Little League,” he thought, walking to his truck.
In the bar, the old man began snoring loudly.
“Hey Johnny, I got a joke for ya. How do you stop an eight-year old from choking?”
Eric Nelson is the son of a nurse and grew up in industrial northern New Jersey. His book of short stories The Silk City Series was published in 2010 by Knickerbocker Circus and he has performed coast to coast. He co-curates the reading series Fireside Follies, lives in Queens and wears his heart on his sleeve.
Art by Margarita Korol.