Francis & Wilson at the Glowing Ember

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic
First of a short story series chronicling the adventures of two mid-twenties army veterans stepping back into civilian life

Submitted: May 13, 2010

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Submitted: May 13, 2010

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Francis & Wilson:

At the Glowing Ember

 

The Glowing Ember Bar slash Grill was only just bright red enough inside to not let the city’s nightlife in through the windows. Instead reflections of bleary-eyed waitresses with trays of catsup and cocktails and bleeding steaks.  A young man in a dark booth. Slapping his wineglass against a jazz poster in animated one way conversion. With a bored to tears younger woman in reading glasses. A old lady in a darker booth. Sprightly sipping margarita. Studying her drooling husband chip away at a quarter cherry pie. And discreetly not watching the two very obviously soldiers in the window booth puffing cigarettes into three or four empty Merlot bottles under the table.

“What, uh, was I saying?” Francis emerging from under the table in a cloud of smoke. “Ah, yes. The Greeks. See, they taught us that tragedy only happens to the serious. Then again. The Greeks taught us everything.”

“Not how to drink this fairy French wine like schoolgirls. Not how to give these non-smoking folks cancer. Pretty sure your Greeks didn’t teach me that.” Wilson sliding under the table. Like an arthritic slug and back.

“Merlot is Italiano bud. But what I’m trying, what I’m saying is. Take Oedipus for instance. Your average nice serious guy. But that’s all he is. And what does that get him in life? I mean, besides sixty-nining Mommy and blinding himself with a ballpoint pen. And a few malformed crib midgets with a taste for rim jobs and glue. But that’s it. Tragedy, man. Tragedy. Want a drink?”

“Yes I do. Bourbon.”

“You have read my mind. So have the waitresses. They’ve been avoiding us like the plague.”

“Like Bible salesmen with herpes.”

“Indeed. But my point is. You need to cut the whole depressed loner alcoholic cowboy thing, man. Otherwise you’ll be like the Greek Tragics. You’ll wake up one day and look back on your life and say, ‘Shit, I took myself seriously. And all I got was a shitty tragic life.’ Know what I mean?”

“Not a clue, hippy.”

“Me neither anymore. Forget it. I thirst. Jack and Coke, where are you?”

“Nah, just Jack. And that waitress. I’d let her bend me over the bar—”

“Sorry to bother you gentlemen.” The old lady with the pie husband appearing nervously out of thin air beside the table. “But I just wanted to say. Thank you for your service to our country. We all really appreciate what you’re doing. No matter what anybody says on the television.”

Mumbled awkward thanks from Francis & Wilson while the old lady fishes through a suitcase size leather purse. “Harold and I would like to do a little something.” Producing a taped together fifty. “To help pay for your meal.”

“Wow. Thanks. Hey, Jacko. That means you won’t have to take out a loan tonight. To pay for your transvestite hooker.”

Crash pause and “Wilson didn’t mean that, ma’am. He’s been a bit off the mark since coming back stateside. PTSD and sunburn. Bad mix. But thanks indeed.”

“Oh, nothing these ears haven’t heard, child. Or seen. After all. My grandson Lucas has been addicted to child pornography ever since he could eat animal crackers. When you have to deal with something like that. So. If you don’t mind me asking. How was Iraq?”

“Well, bad, if you believe the New York Times. We were in Afghanistan. Nice vacation spot, but no sea. No beach. That part depressed me. It’s probably what drives the Taliban insane too.”

“I tend to think it has more to do with the fact that they don’t masturbate, frankly. At least that’s what I gather from The Chronicle. Well, I should get back to Harold before he wakes up and realizes he’s not eating blueberry cobbler. They haven’t baked a blueberry cobbler here since God knows. But he refuses to believe it.”

“Well, if he doesn’t wake up, swing by and we’ll order you another. Margarita, is it? And thanks again. You shouldn’t have.”

With mischievous twinkle in the eyes the old lady bends forward, pressing forefinger into Francis’ shoulder. Loud whisper. “I only drink them when Harold is out flying in Loo Loo. Terribly naughty I know but what’s an old lady to do with her time. I shall return shortly.”

And with the grace of a woman forty years younger glides to the far corner of the Glowing Ember.

“Huh-oh. She wants you Jacko. She wants to jump your bones. She wants you to fondle her flapjacks. Marga Rita. Are you serious? You were checking her out? You’re scarin’ me, son.”

“I got bored staring into your blue eyes, man. What can I say? The romance has lost its spark. I can’t get it up without thinking about other men. Nah. I was right on. I figured she was the type to tip us the moment I spotted her. In the corner. I’m getting pretty damn good at sniffing out the armchair patriots.”

“Yeah. Well the haircuts won’t last forever. We’ve been freebirds for two days and. Five hours and eight minutes. No fucker touches this beautiful mane with a sheep shears again.”

“Don’t say that too quickly in this economy. We need every dollar we can scrape off the sidewalk. Besides. I think you’ll be recalled. Just you. They need you in Iraq, man. They need you.”

“Oh. We have a comedian. Die. And a waitress. Hey. Hey you. Two double Jacks over here.”

“And a margarita.”

“Senior discount for the margarita. It’s for Don Juan’s girlfriend.”

“Pardon?”

“Two double Jacks and a margarita. We’ve been waiting all night.”

“I was just by your table ten minutes ago. And I’m calling the manager if I smell any more smoke.”

“That’s not smoke. It’s my aftershave. Hickory Lumberjack Axe Effect. You dig it? You dig it.”

“Wilson.”

“She digs it. She wants this.”

The waitress pirouettes nose up away from the table toward the bar. Mad enough to maybe conceal a contagious laugh.

“Where’s my lighter?”

“Don’t know.”

“It’s in your pocket.”

“Oh. Yep.”

“Give me that thing. I had it engraved in Kandahar. See? Cody Andrew Wilson OEF Seven 2006 to 2007. Badass. And you dare to put it in your pocket? You’re not worthy, son. Not worthy.”

“You have my cigarettes.”

“Cry about it a little more. I may think about giving you one.”

“Please do. I could use your Axe Effect right about now.”

“You can’t handle it. Suzy the waitress will rape you right there in your booth and you’ll be shrieking like a banshee. I don’t need the embarrassment.”

Suzy the waitress appears. Delivers the drinks with tense arms and leaves on tense legs.

“I thought I could smell a fresh margarita. May I?” The old lady slides in next to Wilson with only  slight crackle of the spine and pop of joints.

“Jack by the way, ma’am. And this is Wilson. Cody.”

“Delighted. Samantha. Lockwold. Ma’am is for ladies who feel old.”

All three down drinks to half way. Francis shoots Wilson an eyebrow over the rim of his glass.

“Ma’am. Samantha. No need to nurse your drink. I jest. You could have won a few drinking contests in the Army.”

“I hardly think so. But I don’t want to know what the grand prize is. Do I?”

“A fat girl. Or boy. A hangover from hell and a liver dangling out of your ass.”

“He’s right. I’ve seen the fat girlboy push Cody’s liver back into place more times than I care to admit. Please keep that on the downlow.”

“Oh, that’s nothing, dear. My grandson Lucas has been addicted to child pornography ever since he could eat corncakes.”

“You don’t say.”

“My daughter doesn’t believe it. To this day. But my suspicions were confirmed in April. The Fifteenth, I believe. When I visited with a plate of my trademark cranberry cookies.  Ah. Yes and little Lucas buried himself in his bedroom as usual. Not very fond of Grandma’s kisses, he isn’t. Or at least I always told myself that.  It’s a better thought than what I felt deep in my soul. Which was. Lucas is all too fond of pornographic images. It’s in his. Jaundiced eyes. And the way he walks. Always lurking against the walls. He’s in his room staring into his supercomputer. At bare chested spread eagle pinup models I though. Perhaps Mexican donkey shows. I could imagine that much. I saw one myself in ’72. A donkey show, I mean. In Tijuana.”

“No kidding.”

“Well, only part of it. Quaint, but rather interesting, I must admit. But Paco, my significant other at the time. He ruined it all by fainting. As I later found out, he had been in love with the poor Incan señorita since some time, and couldn’t bear the sight of her with another creature. Jealousy runs very deep in Latin American region, let me tell you.”

“A donkey is fairly hard to compete with. Can’t fault him there.”

“Well, apparently so are underage girls. As I was saying, I could imagine my grandson going as far as playmates and donkeys. But when I chanced into his room that day. Absolutely earth shattering. Nothing phases me anymore. Nothing.”

“Yeah. Yeah. I believe that might do it.”

“Might? Child. If my Annette called me right now and said. Do you know what I just caught your grandson Lucas doing. I’m afraid I wouldn’t even stop to consider Marijuana. Or. Cigarettes. Or. The town whore. No I wouldn’t. No. I believe what I would say is. Quite sure I’d say. Annette. Yes I do know what my grandson is doing. And I warned you didn’t I. How many time did I warn you Annette. And what did I say would happen. What did I say. No. I said. When you start with child pornography. When you start with child pornography before you can even spell child pornography there isn’t much left in this sorry life to hold onto on the way down. So yes Annette. I know what Lucas is doing. Lucas is doing. Himself. With his left hand, oddly enough. While clutching a photo of Shirley Temple spread eagle. While hanging from his scrawny neck by a noose to the ceiling fan. Fairly whipping around the room like a crazed circus monkey. So hellbent on getting his little rocks off he can’t even acknowledge Grandma Sam. In the doorway. With a silver platter. Of cranberry cookies and a set of dentures. They do make a rather presentable margarita here. For a north of the border bar, anyhow. Do you boys mind if I order another?”

“Can’t argue there. Wilson. Another?”

“I hate alcohol. I’ll take a bottle of Grey Goose.”

“Fine. Two doubles and a presentable margarita for the lady.”

“Are you trying to piss me off, son. I said. Bottle. Grey Goose. Now. Snap to, soldier. Make daddy happy.”

“Ha. It’s probably my civic duty to warn you Samantha. He gets like once in a blue moon. Every night actually. It’s the flashbacks. He still has visions of younger more ambitious punks in uniform telling him when where how to soil his diaper. Right bud?”

“Yes. Powder my ass crack. It burns. And feed me a bottle of Grey Goose. You dig? Hey. Hey. There’s Suzy Lou.”

“Suzy who? Oh. Ha. Dear me. You mean Mary. She started here. Hmm. Almost three years ago I should think. Mary’s trying desperately to work her way through a business degree at Ritters. I don’t give her much chance frankly.  But she’s a dear. I tip her eighteen percent. Every—”

“Eighteen. Are you trying to break my ass, woman? I already have Jacko and his starving trannies to feed. Any more and I’ll be selling this gorgeous body for food stamps. Screw Mary Lou and her eightee—”

The old lady turns and waves airily at the waitress.

“Mary. How are you this evening. Would you mind too much bringing these gentlemen and myself another drink? Thank you dear. Yes the same. How is Emory? Oh. I’m so glad to hear it.”

The waitress trotting away just out of earshot, the old lady hunches in over her stem glass of ice shavings and lime.

“She’s a single mother. Emory. Her son. Had a terrible bout of croup, poor thing.”

“Is that the bad cough where you bark like a clubbed seal? I have that too. Tell him to lay off the cigarettes.”

“Yeah. Coming from Wilson. The only white man who keeps the Newport factories working overtime.”

“Ha. You know, it’s simply astounding how many diseases these youngsters seem to catch these days. It’s really no wonder then. Why this country is on the verge of Swedish health care. I suppose it’s for the best. Lord knows it will come in handy for my daughter when Lucas collapses of starvation. Masturbation. Lack of sunlight. And who knows every other symptom of the chronic child porn addict. I wouldn’t wonder if he doesn’t catch everything but a sexual disease.”

“Don’t worry, Samantha. He already has one. An STD. Scientific name Vita. Who was it that said? Life is the one sexually transmitted disease that is one hundred percent fatal. Or something like that.”

“Why. Mister Francis. How very philosophical of you. Ha. I’d never thought of it quite like that before. But it—Ah. Thank you Mary. Splendid.—Well. Boys. To life then.”

“To life.”

“Life.”

Cling cling cling fresh glass on glass on glass echoing lightly on the general din in the Glowing Ember. And reflections dark and rich in the windows. Of a sprightly old woman. And Francis &Wilson, still pulsing with a last gasp shining twinkle in the eye from giddy lucid new freedoms of a foreign homeland fading fast in bourbon.


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