John Shubbard remembered the first time he saw someone else’s face in the water. It was nearing the end of August in 1978, and he was out fishing with some friends. He had just caught the end of a net and was bragging to James how many trout he was going to catch-James, getting angry as he always did, almost pushed him into the water; he stumbled, and righted himself; his ankle throbbed with pain. He twirled around to face him, his expression one of anger-the anger on his face was intense, and it made John cringe inside. He wasn’t used to the anger he saw on his face. James was usually a very mellow guy.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing!” he spluttered. “I could have fallen into the water! Don’t push me in!”
James Wilcox laughed-he guffawed and slapped his leg. “You’re such a wuss, sprout!” he declared. His grandma always called him sprout. John shoved him. James glared at him, his nostrils flared.
He looked like a fish who had jumped out of water and was having trouble breathing.
“Don’t talk like that about me!” he exclaimed. “I don’t know why you’re being so rude! We’re supposed to be friends!”
“Friends is as friends does.”
“What are you talking about?”
James winked at him. “You know what I’m talking about,” he gloated.
He glanced down into the water. He thought he saw the shimmer of something just beyond his reach, but he wasn’t sure. He shook his head, and frowned. Maybe it was nothing. John had a tendency to turn a lot of nothings into something. Scott Morrow put a hand on John’s shoulder, as if to steady him.
“It’s how he is,” Scott said softly. “Remember his sister? He ain’t right adder the car addident.” Scott had a little lisp and didn’t pronounce certain words correctly-d’s, and f’s, were always difficult for him. Jim’s parents abandoned him when he was a baby. John got a feeling it traumatized him to this day and he didn’t like to talk about it, but he knew how to relate.
Scott was lucky. His aunt took him in. John had gone to his cousin and then to foster care. It was a tricky passage. His relatives didn’t like him and he didn’t want to sound like a baby and ask for help. He had been homeless as a teenager. John’s parents used to hate him to death, and wish he were dead-they’d said so on many occasions. John nodded and stuffed his hands in his pockets.
He narrowed his eyes, in remembrance. He didn’t like it, though. He especially hated the remembering part. How he was always to blame for the problems. How his parents hated him and wanted money to go on a vacation and how they didn’t have enough money and this and that.
He glanced into the water again-something strange shimmered on the surface of the ocean, then it was gone, like a flash of lightning or a piece of string that had drowned. He needed to get laid, but his mind was playing tricks on him again-he must be tired because it looked like a woman’s face had been in the water.
He was thirsty. He needed to get something to drink.
He said goodbye to his friends-they were fishing again, and James had calmed himself down, that’s how it always happened and James was calm again and able to think rationally.
James didn’t have any problems in his family and John wondered why he acted like that but he did anyway and it wasn’t anybody’s fault but his own-he jumped into his car and drove downtown to a bar called Sherman’s. It was an Irish/Country bar. He didn’t have many friends there, but there was a woman named Hope Peppersen who was always flirting with him and he enjoyed the attention. He wanted to sleep with her, but she confessed she was married and although she liked John, she thought it was unnecessary.
“Maybe I’ll see you outside of the bar,” he’d said, winking at her.
She’d nodded happily, laughed and tossed her hair in his direction. He’d winked back. That was how it always was when they were in the bar together. The bartender laughed at him about it. John’s mind drifted back to reality. He had walked at the bar and was sitting down at the booth and looking at a large menu. The stools were red and brown. He pushed his hair back behind his face and sighed. He was tired. He didn’t realize how late it was. He should have gone home, but he wanted to see if there were any women tonight and to get a few drinks inside him. Maybe he would get laid tonight. Maybe he wouldn’t. He was hoping for the best. He looked around for Hope. He didn’t see her at the bar tonight. At least not yet. It was still early. He thought she said she still worked, but he wasn’t sure. He raised his hand and snapped his fingers and the bartender waddled over happily. He was an overweight, balding man and had beady eyes and curly hair. He was married.
John sneered at him. The man was pitiful. He needed a weight loss program and some dentures-his teeth were yellow and crooked. John knew he was married because he had a ring on his finger. He thought the woman must be very fat and desperate in order to marry someone like that. John fantasized about marrying for money, but it didn’t please him. He could make his own money. He was going to marry a supermodel and live in a large house and have 12 sports cars. He wanted 12 sports cars because he saw a comedian with 12 sports cars on television and thought it might please him if he had some, too.
“What do you want, man?” the bartender asked him in a slow, slurred speech. John thought he had learning problems.
“I want a slice of pizza and a glass of Diet soda,” he told him.
The bartender raised his eyebrow. “Soda? In a bar?” he said.
“I’m waiting for someone. I can’t drink when I’m irritated.”
“Irritated?” he’d said, and laughed.
John didn’t know the bartender’s name and wasn’t about to ask-he just called him the bartender. John waited, tapping his hands on the table. It was brown and made from plastic. The chairs were plastic, too. This was a high-scale place.
Hope came in and sat down next to him. “Hey, guy,” she said pleasantly. “How are you?”
“I’m fine,” John replied. He eyed her skimpy pink dress. “You’re wearing pink.” He sounded sarcastic but he was pleased.
She tossed her hair in his direction. “Yeah, so?”
“I thought you hated pink.”
“I like it, now,” she laughed.
“Because my husband and I are going on our second honeymoon.” She winked at him. “No imaginary sex for awhile, I’m afraid.”
John smiled at her and didn’t respond. That was when John realized he didn’t like Hope anymore. But, he still wanted her and it made him even more angry than he was before and he didn’t know why. He suddenly realized he got angry-a lot. And he liked it. He put her out of his mind and decided to concentrate on work. Work didn’t have heartache in it. Work didn’t have pain. He barely glanced at his female coworkers. It was for the best. He was going to have to get used to it.
* * *