Contest #21 shortlist ⭐️

I Think I’ve Got At Least One More Year In This Place, Kid

Submitted into Contest #21 in response to: Write a short story about an inn-keeper wondering whether this will be their last holiday season in business.... view prompt

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A dirty white rag moving counterclockwise on a mahogany brown table. An image so well-ingrained in my head that I would often catch myself wiping down these same tables in my dreams, night after night. 40 years in the business and there were a number of things that I would never forget: the smell of beer mixed with the cleaning solution, the specific songs on the jukebox that played over and over each night, the crack of pool balls, and the warm ring of laughter. These days, some of those things were more common than others. The beer and cleaning solution mixture was constant, that never changed. The laughter, however, that had faded as the town had suffered. Even on Christmas Eve the atmosphere was not what it once was.

             Since the closing of the mines about 2 years ago, the town had started to empty out. Brigsdale had once been a bustling hub of coal miners and their families. However, with the energy market transitioning away from coal, the company operating the mines no longer found the business profitable. Once the gates were put up at the entrance to the mine and the shaft was sealed off, people found themselves out of work and the town had started to empty out. In the good old days, my wife and I used to run this bar together. Jake and Molly’s Bar was the most popular spot in town after 7pm and we ran it proudly. Molly had always tended the bar; she was the nicer one of the two of us and she was also easier on the eyes than I was. I did the heavy lifting while we were open and then all of the cleaning once we closed while she counted the register. We made a good team. Now the only thing left of her were pictures that hung on the mirrors behind the bar and the memories contained in them.

             When Molly passed 8 months ago, the entire town had come out to her funeral. Over the next month, I had a couple of people reach out to bring me food or offer to tend to my front lawn. I appreciated the help, and the support from my neighbors meant the world to me. At the end of the day, however, life just wasn’t the same without her. Work at the bar felt like it dragged on later into the night than it used to. The comforting familiarity of the jukebox songs just didn’t feel as warm, the crack of the pool balls became a bit more abrasive, the smell of beer a bit harder to tolerate. I did my best to pick up the slack behind the bar but, I’ll admit, my patience got shorter as the nights felt longer. I just didn’t have the charm that Molly did, and it showed in the cash register counts each night. I just couldn’t bring the tips in like she could. Of course, it didn’t help that the town’s population was thinning out faster than my hairline.

             This weekend was my 70th birthday and it would be the first one that I would spend without her in 52 years. Growing up, I had hated how it coincided with Christmas, but that was a long time ago, even if it didn’t feel like it, and since then it had grown on me. There was a certain pleasantness to being able to celebrate my birthday with everyone in the holiday spirit. The holiday timing also meant that nobody had work or school, so I was always surrounded by family. This year, my son, James, had brought his two daughters and his wife down from the suburbs of New York and my daughter, Emily had come up with her fiancée, Mike. James and Mike were currently sweeping the floors of the bar so that I could close down faster, and we could get home to the rest of the family for Christmas Eve.

             Over the sound of the jukebox, I heard James say something that was just a bit too quiet for me to hear. My ears aren’t really what they used to be, and I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing hearing aids like a helpless old man.

             “You say something to me?” I asked, setting down the chair that I was about to invert and place on the table I had just wiped.

             “I’ve been meaning to ask you something,” came the response.

             “Well, go on then.”

             “How would you feel about closing down this old place and moving up to New York near Janice and I? I know you’ve got enough money saved up, it would be nice to have you closer by, and with Mom gone, what’s really keeping you around here?”

             “You want me to shutdown the bar?” I shot back at him with a bit more of an incredulous tone than I intended. “This bar was your mother and my livelihood for 30 years! We practically raised you and your sister in here. I can’t do that, I can’t give up this bar. It was like a second home to us.” My response was a stubborn no, but in truth, I had thought about shutting down the bar after Molly died. A life of retirement didn’t sound too bad. However, hearing it said out loud felt offensive to the memories that Molly and I had made in this place.

             “Oh, come on Pop. Don’t think of it like that. You and Mom put your everything into this place, but you know you have to move on at some point. With Mom gone don’t you think it would be nice to be closer to family? I worry about you down here by yourself every night, what if something were to happen?”

             “Bah, nothing’s gonna happen down here. The people respect this place too much to do anything to me or this bar.”

             “I’m not talking about fights; I’m talking about something unexpected. What if you have a health issue now that Mom isn’t here to make sure you’re taken care of?”

             “There are people around here who have my best interests in mind who would take care of me.” I responded. To be frank, I wasn’t all that happy about my health being called into question. I was fine.

             “Yea but there isn’t a hospital within a half hour of here and the clinic that you and mom always took us to closed down when the Robertson’s left, remember?”

             “Don’t worry about me, I’m fine.” I could see James’ face contort in response to my stubbornness.

             “Well, what about seeing your grandchildren? If you lived up in New York with me you could see them as often as you want. You could pick them up from school and take them out for ice cream sometimes. I’m worried you’ll get lonely here, pops.”

             “Hmmm…” I hummed audibly. “I do like my grandchildren and you don’t bring them down here to see me as often as a good son would.” My last breath had an air of humor about it. James and I frequently joked about this topic so he knew it wasn’t serious. Mike, on the other hand, was not so familiar and shifted uncomfortably.

             “I could find you a nice condo up by us. I could help you move your stuff up. You’d be closer to your grandchildren, only Emily would have to drive during the holidays instead of both of us, and in a condo you wouldn’t have to worry about maintenance of your house. You could be a bit freer and could explore; you could get that dog that Mom would never let you get.”

             “You make a compelling argument. You certainly are your mother’s son. I’m just not sure if I’m ready to leave this community behind, this place is my home.”

             “Brigsdale?” He asked in mild disbelief. “This place is a shithole!”

“You watch your mouth.” I snapped. I did not raise a son who swore at his father. Mike had shuffled awkwardly into the kitchen.

“Okay, I’m sorry.” He backtracked. “But you do have to agree that this town is nothing like what it was when I was growing up. You can’t seriously be thinking about staying? What is there to stay for?”

“You are right that this town has emptied out considerably; and I would be remiss if I said I had not considered the idea of closing down shop more than once or twice since your mother passed.”

“I think it’s the right move here, pops. Janice knows a couple of good realtors in our area and she can find you a place that you’ll like.

Just then, our conversation was interrupted by the high-pitched ringing of a bell and the sound of voices outside the door. Mike had just come out of the kitchen carrying a handful of clean rags that I had run through the dishwasher. He looked confusedly at the door for a second and then shot James and I a puzzled look that was answered with the sound of a knock on the door. A smile crept onto my face. Mike opened the door and the sound of laughter and shrieking children filled the bar. The worry had completely gone from James’ face and in its place was a smile filled with warmth.

James and I followed Mike out of the door to the bar. We were greeted by the cold winter air of December. Snow fell softly, illuminated against the dark night sky by the incandescent light of the bar. Each flake could’ve been another star in the already densely populated night sky. A group of 15 or so children, members of the church choir, stood in front of the bar that Molly and I had treated as a second home for so many years. Their beautiful smiles shone out from under the layers of warmth that their parents had wrapped them in. As they started to sing, I felt my heart begin to warm. My shoulders straightened ever so slightly, and my back didn’t hurt quite as much. The pain and heartache of Molly’s passing felt less cumbersome and for the first time in a while I felt happy. My reaction to the carolers was not lost on James who was eyeing me with interest. With a smile on my face, I threw my arm around his shoulders and pulled him close to me.

“Look at this.” I said “I’m not ready to leave this town just yet. I think I’ve got at least one more year in this place, kid.” From the look on my face, James could tell I was not to be swayed. After the carolers had left, we finished closing up the bar for the night and went home to the rest of the family. I was happy to have them with me. I was even happier to have them with me in Brigsdale, my home. 

December 26, 2019 22:16

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1 comment

Antonio Forsythe
09:28 Jan 02, 2020

A lovely story, i really felt the down to earth reality of someone making decisions whilst desling with bereavement. I became worried for fhe old man Jake and wanted him to go, nis wife was no longer there, the children that he had raised had grown and flown the nest and the town had mkved on slightly, i liked the sense of age or change, when you mentioned that fhe pool balls sounded more abrasive.. i coukd almost picture the old air, from years of being open, also that the balls were maybe used to the loint where they sound different. well...


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