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Friendship Fiction Drama

He couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t hear anything but the buzzing in his ears. It was like a swarm of bees circling his head in a flow of never-ending noise.

Buzz. Buzz. Buzz…Buzz…

Beep! Beep!

The buzzing was shut out by the sharp alarmed cry of a car horn. He jumped in his seat. He jerked the wheel to the side, just as a car in the lane beside him screeched past, the driver holding his hand out the window and putting up a furious, obscene gesture.

He’d been weaving between lanes. He was lucky the oncoming Chevy hadn’t scraped or rammed his truck.

Stop, Bob. A voice in his head urged. It sounded like his wife’s voice. Stop before you get yourself killed.

Bob’s shoulders slumped. He licked his dry lips. He swallowed at his parched throat. He was thirsty.

Thirsty for liquor.

Bob stared out into the fog that stretched over the road ahead in an ocean of oncoming white. The fog licked at his semi’s windows and covered the road in a hazy cloud. The street lights that lined the highway couldn’t break through the dense sheet of persistent, whirling mist. Bob wasn’t worried about the fog. He’d started driving trucks for a living when he was twenty-three. That was over twenty-seven years ago. Lack of visibility out on the road didn’t scare him. He could handle that hands down, no problem.

At least…

He could handle it when he wasn’t shaking. He was okay when his fingers weren’t violently twitching on the wheel and his head wasn’t throbbing and feeling lighter than a feather.

“Okay, okay.” Bob muttered to himself. He pulled his rig over to an exit ramp. “I’m stopping.” He licked his cracked lips once more. Bob bit the inside of his cheek, eyeing a service sign off by the exit sign.

Gas, Rest Stops, Food, and Bars.

***

After exiting the interstate, it didn’t take long for a bar to appear on the side of the road. The bar had a wide, square-shaped parking lot. The building was built up with thick, dark wooden logs. There was a sign above the front door that announced, in flashy green lettering:.

Saturday Every Day!

Perfect. Bob pulled his truck into the parking lot. He parked over by the side of the building. Bob clambered out of the truck with a grunt as his stiff and cramping joints creaked in protest. He shrugged the old, blue, down jacket he wore further up on his shoulders and shoved his hands into the pockets. Bob’s breath misted in the air as he crossed the lot. Stepping onto the porch of the bar, Bob noticed a dog lying at one end of the patio. The dog, a mutt if he'd ever seen one, didn't move to greet him. The animal’s brown fur was ragged. He wore a leather strap around his neck that was torn and seemed to be sinking into his scruff.

Bob opened the door. The dog’s eyes flickered to him for a brief moment before the animal let out a quiet huff and continued to stare listlessly up at the evening sky.

Bob made a face.

“Stupid dog.” He chuckled humorously to himself. He slipped into the bar, not sparing another glance at the lifeless animal.

***

The pub was quiet. There was an older couple sitting in a window booth, sipping on glasses of tea, and enjoying the evening. The bar was home to two young men downing bottled beverages and exchanging friendly teasing, and a trio of girls in tight clothing with faces lathered in makeup, gossiping away in excited whispers.

Bob stepped up to the bar. He placed sweaty palms on the bartop, tapping his fingers impatiently.

A young man, probably in his early twenties, was cleaning and putting away glasses. He spotted Bob and carefully put away the glass he’d been working on.

“Hey, hey.” He greeted, his voice sounding like that of a peppy game show host. The man tossed the wash towel over his shoulder and leaned against the bar. “What’s your poison?"

Bob opened his mouth. His words caught in his throat. The bartender was wearing a shirt with a Minecraft sword embroidered on the front. Bob’s stomach twisted.

“My son used to love that game when he was a kid.” He murmured, mostly to himself. Stevie used to beg him to play the video game with him. But that was after Bob’s best friend, Henry, had been killed in a car crash. That was after the drinking had started. That was after he’d become a slave to the longing for booze, giving into its every desire.

One day, Stevie stopped asking him to play. Actually, he’d stopped asking him for anything. He’d moved away from home as soon as he could, tired of his dad’s distantness.

“Ah, well. Who doesn’t love good old Minecraft?” The bartender grinned charmingly. He winked. “It’s a classic.”

“Yeah… I’ll take a scotch, neat.” Bob started to sit down on one of the bar stools. He faltered as the bartender blinked at him, eyes blank.

“That not popular round these parts?” Bob asked.

“Nah… I mean, I  dunno."The kid scratched at the back of his neck uncomfortably. “It’s just… We don’t serve alcoholic drinks at this bar.”

My ears must be buzzing still. Bob rubbed at his ears. Because it sounded like this skinny punk just said that the bar doesn’t serve drinks.

“I’m sorry.” Bob squinted at him. “What did you say?”

The bartender shrugged, a goofy, devil-may-care smile on his face.

“We don’t serve alcohol here at Saturday Every Day. See, with the area we’re in, right off the interstate and all, lots and lots of travelers and truckers used to stop here, get sloshed, then try and drive... and, well, the owner didn’t like being a factor in all that harm, so he decided that we should just serve food and non-alcoholic drinks here. I can get you a rootbeer, or-.”

Bob ran his hands up and down his face. His heart began to pound in his chest.

What’s wrong with you? A voice in his head—a voice that snipped and scolded him in his wife’s voice—said, Here you are, shaking and sweating like a dying man, all because you can’t get your hands on booze. And what is it you were telling your sweet old wife? You said you were fine. You said you didn’t need any help because you don’t have a problem. Bob let out a raspy breath. You drove Stevie off, and now he wants nothing to do with you. Your wife can’t even look at you without bursting into tears. How much longer before she leaves you too? All because you’re weak, and you can’t stop this!

“Please, I…” Bob swallowed. “Do you have any drink? Real drink?"

“Well.” The kid clicked his tongue. He peeked over Bob’s shoulder. “We do have Bucket of Beer.”

Bob scrunched his nose.

“What is ‘Bucket of Beer’?”

“Him.” The bartender pointed toward the door. “Technically, his name’s Bucket of Beer. But we all call him BOB.”

Bob turned around. The big, mangy dog from earlier had nudged open the door and come inside. Bob noted that there was a dog bowl beside the door. The dog lapped at the water, paying no attention to the human activity around him.

“Bucket of Beer?” Bob whispered, shaking his head in disbelief. “You’ve got to be kidding me."

“Nope. That’s his name.” The bartender laughed. “He’s not even our dog. Not really. He just showed up on the porch a year or so ago, and we’ve been feeding him and letting him come in to stay warm and all. He's aloof at best and downright mean at worst. We all figure he must’ve had a bad master or something in the past, because he pushes everyone away, almost like he’s afraid to get close to anyone.”

Bob felt a twinge of understanding for the ugly mutt. He knew what that was like. After Henry’s death, he’d wanted nothing more than to be alone. The man he’d known and thought of as a brother since middle school was dead. He hadn’t wanted comfort. He hadn’t wanted his wife or his little boy; he’d just wanted to be alone and to shut out the unbearable pain.

“So no drinks?” Bob cleared his throat. “Just the dog?”

“He’s a nice dog.”

Oh, Lord Almighty. Help me before I strangle this boy. Bob took in a deep, calming breath.

“There’s no alcohol.” He grunted, wanting confirmation.

“No, no alcohol. Sorry, man. But I can-.”

“That’s fine. That’s… dang, what kind of bar doesn’t serve beer?" Bob drew his hands through his graying hair. He gave a bitter laugh. The back of his shirt was soaked with sweat. His eyes were blurring around the edges. He clenched and unclenched his hands into fists.

The bartender wasn’t smiling anymore. His brow furrowed, and he pursed his lips wearily.

“Sir, are you okay? Hey, if you’re hungry, we have-.”

“I DON’T WANT FOOD, I WANT SOME FRICKIN’ WHISKEY!” Bob kicked the base of the bar. Someone’s glass slipped off the edge of the bartop and shattered with a sound that managed to silence the entire pub. Bob’s desperation and frustration turned to instant shame and regret.

“I’m sorry." He backed away. The bartender’s eyes flickered from the pile of glass on the floor to Bob. He gave a wave of his hand. The half-hearted smile he gave reminded Bob of his son. Stevie had always been the same way—reassuring and gentle to Bob, when Bob was the one who should’ve been comforting him.

“It’s alright, sir. Go. Go get off the road for the night and get some rest, huh?” The young man told him softly.

***

Bob fell back against the side of his truck. He banged his head against the metal wall. He buried himself in his jacket the way a turtle buries into its shell. The light had completely faded from around him. The Saturday Everyday parking lot was engulfed in a cloud of fog. Bob could barely make out the bright, green lettering through the haze.

He felt light-headed. He could barely see straight. His body was shaking, more from the need for something to drink than from the bitter December air.

Bob drew in a gulp of air. He tried to get to his feet, but he was too out of breath. He sat back down, trying to gain control of himself.

He felt his eyes water. His hand slipped into his jacket pocket. He felt the smooth, orb-like surface of a compass. It was a compass Stevie had given him. The last present his son had given him before he’d given up trying to form a relationship with his father and had resigned himself to sending yearly Christmas and birthday cards.

Because I ruined it... I ruined what I could have had with my son and with my wife. Bob closed his eyes, a single tear slipping down his hot cheek.

“Ruff?”

Bob opened his heavy eyes. The dog was there. The dog was standing a few feet from him. The animal’s eyes were keen, and his nose twitched curiously.

“Get!” Bob spat at him; his voice gurgled. He picked up a pebble and chucked it at the dog, at BOB. Bucket of Beer—what a dumb name!

The dog ducked. The pebble flew over his head. BOB eyed the rock, then his eyes—a cinnamon hue with a deep understanding shining in them—rested on Bob’s face. Bob sagged against the truck, the fight leaving him in a sigh.

“You know.” He murmured. BOB perked his ears. “You and I have something in common, dog. We both chase away the ones who only want to love us.” Bob slapped his knee. “And why? For what reason? Do you know? Because I sure don’t.”

BOB licked his chops. He tilted his head.

“I don’t want to drink anymore, BOB, but I don’t know. I…” Bob lowered his voice. “I can’t stop now. It’s been a part of my life for so many years; I don’t know how to live without it now."

Bob had never before confessed that to anyone. Now, here he was, alone in the dark and the fog, telling it to a dog. A mean old dog with no pedigree and mange, from the looks of it.

A dog named Bucket of Beer.

How low could one get?

BOB moved closer to him. The dog stopped just out of reach. He stood with the wisps of fog rushing under his feet like a stream of white water. Something about the undeniable empathy and sorrow in the dog’s genuine gaze made his lip tremble. Not even his wife looked at him like that. Not anymore.

“You’re a good dog, aren’t you?” Bob soothed. He held out a trembly, sweaty hand. “Come here, BOB. Come here, good boy.”

BOB hesitated. Slowly, the dog crept over to him. Bob started to place a hand on BOB’s ears, but the dog flinched. He pulled back, eyeing Bob fearfully.

“It’s okay.” Bob promised. He held out his hand, trying to keep it steady. “I won’t hurt you. I never meant to hurt them…”

Images flashed through his mind like a fast-forward movie. He saw Stevie, still little and wearing a sky blue shirt with that block man from Minecraft on the front, tugging at his sleeve, his voice soft and soothing, helping Bob get up from the porch where he’d drunkly collapsed and into the house.

He saw his wife sitting across from him at the table, her lip trembling and her face squeezed with displeasure.

“You can’t keep drinking on the road, Bob!” She reached out to place her hands on his. He pulled away, glaring stubbornly out the window at the street.

“Bob, please.” She whispered, her voice trembling. “You’ll get yourself, or someone else, killed! I don’t know what else to do. It’s like you’ve built up a wall around yourself that no one can get past, not even me.”

Not even her.

Not her or Stevie.

Bob sniffed hard. He buried his head in his arms, his puffy jacket pressing into his burning face.

He cried his heart out. His tears staining his coat sleeve and snot pouring from his nose. Bob felt something cold and wet press against his cheek. He peered up.

BOB had his paw on his shoulder. The dog was holding his round, berry-like nose against Bob’s face. BOB whined, his own eyes moist.

If Bob didn’t know any better, he’d say there were tears in the old dog’s eyes.

“It’s okay.” He choked, his voice strangled by years of regret and brokenness, all coming out from inside him because he couldn’t get his hands on the very thing that’d caused the turmoil.

With a gentleness he’d thought dead along with Henry, Bob wrapped his arms around BOB’s neck and pulled the mangy, unwanted dog with the silly name to him. BOB pressed against his chest, and Bob rested his chin on the dog’s broad head.

Looking at them from an outside perspective, Bob imagined you’d see a strand of undeniable fire passing between them, tying them together in a covenant promise like the day God made His covenant with Abraham.

You look out for me, the promise echoed in their very souls. And I’ll look out for you.

***

Jennifer Northfield sat at the dining room table. Her head was in her hands. The position was a familiar one to her. One she always assumed as she waited for her husband to return from his long hours on the road.

Bob had been a trucker since he was twenty-three. He was experienced. But it wasn’t the road, the weather, or other vehicles that made her worry for him.

It was him. His drinking and driving terrified her in ways that she couldn’t even express.

One day, she knew something was either going to have to change or Bob was going to get himself killed.

Jennifer heard the deep rumbling of Bob’s truck coming up the driveway. She rubbed her hands once more over her tired eyes. Then she slipped on a jacket and stepped outside.

Her mouth dropped at what was waiting for her in the driveway.

Her husband was leaning against his truck. A dog, scraggly and with a great, big smile on his snout, was leaning out the window, his front paws sticking out and his head resting on Bob’s shoulder.

What in the world? Jennifer gaped. She blinked, wondering if she was dreaming.

“Hey.” Bob greeted. He opened the truck door. The dog hopped out and wagged his tail at Jennifer.

“I’m home.” Bob laughed. Truly and genuinely laughed.

Jennifer felt like she was seeing things in slow motion. Or maybe she’d stepped into the twilight zone.

Bob hadn’t smiled in years. Let alone laughed.

And his eyes—they were clear! Not only that, they were bright and full of a life she’d thought to be dead in him.

“Is Stevie home? I know you said he was visiting for the holidays.”

“He was here yesterday... I think he said he’d come by again today before he drives back to South Dakota.”

“Good. I want to see him.” Bob kneeled down, gently running his hands along the dog’s ears.

“Did you get anything to drink on the way home?” Jennifer blurted out, because this was all too good to be real. Bob smiled dryly.

“Just a BOB.” He murmured. Jennifer furrowed her brow.

“What’s a BOB?” She asked, half of her trying to recall a specific beer brand by that name and the other half busy pondering what, in the name of the good Lord, her husband was doing with a dog.

Bob affectionately patted the dog’s broad shoulder.

“He’s a Bucket of Beer.” Bob chuckled, a sound that warmed Jennifer to her core. “My BOB.”

January 20, 2024 02:40

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1 comment

Mary Bendickson
15:35 Apr 12, 2024

Can’t get much better than a man and his dog story.

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