Thursday, July 22, 2010

Perchance to Dream

I walked into the Tractor Bar, smelling the smoke of French cigarettes and Cuban cigars coming from the little beer garden as it wafted in through the open double doors.  The bar was almost empty, with only a few Finns the size of small tractors playing darts in the back.

The Marilyn Monroe look-alike tending bar smiled at me.  Without asking, she passed me my usual, a Lapin Kulta poured into a beer glass big enough to drown in.  I settled down on the bar stool and started sipping at my beer.  It had been over a decade since I'd had one, and I was going to enjoy every drop.  The beer was strong, and dripped down my parched throat like warm honey.  Ahhh, bliss. 

As I drank, I read over the newspaper I found laying on the bar.  The front page was mostly taken up by a story about the war in Afghanistan, and a smaller story about problems between Georgia and Russia.  Since I was in Helsinki, the problems in Russia were closer to home, but I read both articles from start to finish.

As I turned to the second page, I heard someone at the other end of the bar ordering a Black Jack and Coke.  As I glanced down to see what other American was in the bar, I was surprised to see an old friend.  He looked just the same way he did the last day I saw him, 20 years old and healthy.  The intervening years hadn't grayed his hair at all, and he was the same Irish/French-Canadian Massachusetts fire plug he'd been in Monterey years before.

"Hi DB, how's life been treating you?" he said between sips of his drink.

"Not bad Sash, where have you been?"

"Oh, here and there.  How's my name sake?"

"OK, I guess.  He started his freshman year of college a couple of months ago.  Seems to be doing well so far."

"Good to hear.  What brings you here?"  His smile brighened his eyes, and I swear his red-blonde hair looked even brighter than normal.

"I was about to ask you the same thing.  We lost touch when you left Monterey.  Now you show up at my favorite bar in Helsinki." 

"Oh, just travelling around.  There's a few of us who are going to be here tonight."

I gave Sasha a quizzical look, but he just smiled and turned back to his drink.

I took another look around the bar, and at one of the tables, two tall, thin men were playing chess.  To my amazement, I recognized them.  They were privates from the MP company next to my unit in Bosnia.  To be honest, I can't remember their real names.  We all just called them Iff and Biff, the twin brothers of different mothers.  These two were closer to each other than most blood family, and you never saw oen without the other.  We'd met when I'd shown up to a Dungeons and Dragons game with my old worn out dice and a pencil.  They'd become good friends during my time there, and had been a part of the close knot of friends that had kept me from going off the deep end when I got a Dear John phone call.  They saw me looking at them, and waved hello before turning back to their game.

Turning back to the bar, I found the seat next to me occupied.  A pretty girl with short, dirty blonde hair was stirring the ice in a Pepsi. 

"Eileen!  What are you up to?  I haven't seen you in decades, and no-one else has either!"

"Oh, not much.  Just coming 'round to see everyone.  How are you doing?"

"I seem to be having a pretty good day. Four old friends show up in my favorite bar.  I wonder what's going on."

"Well, that's something we wanted to talk to you about" said a deep voice from behind me.

I turned to find a tall, thin, dark haired man sitting in the stool across from Eileen.  He looked familiar, but I couldn't place him.  He was dressed in a pair of old faded Levi's and a blue work shirt.  The smoldering Camel cigarette in his hand was about half gone, and he placed it in an overflowing ashtray next to a large cup of coffee.

"DB, we all know how much we meant to you once upon a time, but as things happen, we've lost touch." the dark man rumbled as he picked up his mug. "It's no-ones's fault.  Life makes it hard to stay in touch when everyone's in motion all the time.  Heck, I'm not surprised you didn't recognize me after all these years"

"But I've tried to find all of you.  Google searches, posting my name and email on bulletin boards, joining trade groups, you name it."

"Well, some of us didn't quite make it to the digital revolution."

From across the bar, Sasha raised his hand.

"And some of use don't want to be found."

Eileen looked down into her glass of soda.  Iff and Biff smiled from across their knights and pawns.

"And you?" I said to the tall man.

"Well, let's just say it's best that I stay in the shadows.  When the time is right, we'll meet up."

"What we're all trying to say, DB, is that it's not your fault or anyone else's that we've all floated away from each other." said Eileen.  I could see the ouline of a small tear forming at the corner of her eye, and reached over to gently wipe it away.  Eileen had been the big sister I'd never had, and was loved by everyone who knew her.  Seeing such a good and gentle woman cry was enough to break anyone's heart.

"Yeah, we all try our best, but when it's time to go, it's time to go" remarked Sasha from the end of the bar. 

"And we all remember the good times" chorused Iff and Biff, now walking over to the bar.

"So we all know how much we mean to you, and our memories of the good and bad times won't ever vanish like we did." explained the tall man.  Everyone nodded their agreement.

"Well, I need to get going." said Eileen.  She gave me a quick hug and a peck on the cheek in the same way she'd said goodbye the night before I graduated in Monterey.

Sasha came over and clapped me on the back a little too hard, the same way he had when he'd last said goodbye.  Eileen and Sasha walked out of the bar together.

Iff and Biff came over and gave me a hug together, the same way they had the morning I flew home.  They left the bar hand in hand, leaving me alone with the stranger.

"Well, it's about that time.  Better finish your beer, son.  You'll be leaving soon too." he said as he finished his coffee.  He took his unfiltered Camel with him as he headed towards the door. 

Just as he got to the door to the beer garden, he turned around.

"Take care of yourself and my grandchildren, DB.  It's time you got back."

And then he left.

BEEP BEEP BEEP      BEEP BEEP BEEP

"Honey, wake up.  We've overslept,and I need you to get BooBoo ready this morning." said the Irish Woman, shaking me awake and back to the real world.

Some dreams vanish the instant you open your eyes.  But I swear I could still smell the cigarette and taste the beer.

2 comments:

Scott McCray said...

Outstanding - you made me feel as if I were there, too.

Christina LMT said...

That's amazing. I usually only remember fragments of my dreams.

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