The Deepest Cut
I wrote this for my grandmother to console her after the loss of my uncle. Many people had varying opinions of him (including myself), but I wanted to remain objective for her. I read it at his funeral.
I sat on the stool and felt the left leg fall forward a bit before catching its balance, the right on the opposite now ascended in mid-air. I peered through the layer of smoke in front of me at the draft beers, tapping my finger as I pondered what I hoped would be the most difficult decision I’d make that evening. My fingers paused as they found a groove in the stained wood, unconsciously tracing the letters carved in front of me, reading them as if I were blind. As I finished the last crudely drawn line, I noticed a man sitting to my right, a few feet removed from the rest of the patrons.
“Best seat in the house,” I thought.
I tried to make out his features, possibly out of boredom, as service seemed so far away. A heavy beard, baseball hat, and dark eyes were the best that I could do from my position, and the poor lighting didn’t help me identify this man from Adam. He sat without a drink, much like myself, but his thoughts were not in that bar with us. They were far outside the windowless wood paneling – maybe concentrated on a loved one or better-loved moment. Even simple men seeking simple pleasures indulge in compound contemplation intermittently; I could tell that this was one of those occasions.
I turned back to see the bartender waiting, nodding his head towards me but never directly asking what I’d like. I pointed towards the cheap stuff as my other hand fiddled for cash, then said, “And one for my friend in the corner,” gesturing towards Mr. Melancholy. The cold glass made a familiar tap as it was placed within reach, but I watched as the forlorn stranger’s thoughts dissipated when the second drink became his own.
He looked up at the bartender, but instantly recognized that this one wasn’t on the house. He gazed next in my direction, and I confirmed my donation to the lost souls’ fund with the raising of my glass. While it remained difficult to see the face behind the whiskers, I could tell that his expression had changed for the better. I thought his lips mouthed, “Thank you,” as he picked up his drink, but either he was too soft-spoken or the white noise was too loud to know for sure.
As I sipped my drink, he began to watch me as I had watched him, choosing to question my face rather than my reasoning. It seemed like he was beginning to enjoy his night a bit more with beer in hand, but nothing could quite withdraw that, “Brother, can you spare a dime?” pretense from his eyes. Maybe he beared regrets. Maybe his weather-beaten skin was evidence of more than just the cold outside. Maybe the drink was a blessing and a curse. Whatever the case was, I wouldn’t hear it from him directly. I was content with that.
Unintentionally, I had emptied my glass at the same time he had his. We placed them on the bar in unison, and my fingers moved from the etching in the wood to the bills a few inches away. I ordered another and turned to see if the man in the corner still looked thirsty.
Just as quickly as I spotted him, however, he was gone. As I started on drink two, I stepped down from my uneven stool, which tilted back again, and walked over to his former spot. The fingerprints on his empty glass would soon be washed away in the back room, removing any trace of his patronage. I was just about to circle back when the splintered wood gave away another message, the sweat from the glass filling the grooves of the letters as my fingertips had done.
I read it, then smirked.
Yes, you were here. Maybe it wasn’t the most profound statement carved into nature by man, but yes, you were here. However brief, however transitory, you were here.
We all ruminate our deepest cut. At least I did mine over a few more rounds.