Scotch, he said to the bartender, Wes. I was on my third whiskey when Bill walked in. What’s new, I said, and Bill looked at me like he’d just heard the word. I don’t know what’s new. I know what’s old. Me. I’m old. Older than God.
Bill had been a reporter back in the day. Worked thirty years for the Kingston Gazette. I finished my whiskey and caught Wes’ eye. I held up one finger. He gave me a nod.
Why do we do it, I said to Bill.
Drink. Why do we do it.
To laugh. To enjoy. Some people, to cry. I know a guy who drinks to remember. Me, myself, I drink to forget.
The jukebox was on. It was warm in the bar, and I heard the first chords of “Fortunate Son”.
I ever tell you I was in Vietnam, Bill said. He stirred his scotch with the tip of his finger.
In the service, you mean?
No, he said, I was there for a story. Gazette sent me there. I was still just a kid. Twenty-two. Twenty-three. Great opportunity for a young cub reporter. I was thrilled, of course. I was also about to piss in my pants.
Bill lifted his glass. He nodded to Wes.
So I get there, he said, and the first thing I notice is how dry it all looked. Arid. Parched. The land, the people. Everything seemed to be screaming for water. And one day I’m out in this parched, arid field. Girl comes up to me. Little girl, I mean. Seven or eight. Good time, she says. Good time, you like, and she holds up a finger. She means one dong. Like a buck in the States.
Someone played “Hush”, that old Deep Purple song. I could picture the girl. I could picture her eyes. Empty, and dry, like the land Bill described.
Anyway, he said, that’s why I drink. So I won’t see her face and I won’t hear her voice. I drink to forget.
Doesn’t seem to be working, I said, and I smiled.
No, he agreed. It used to, though. It used to work. Now I drink and I drink. And I’m literally afraid of going to sleep.
When he lifted his glass, the light through the ice made little tableaus. Drawing rooms, forests.
Someone played “A Hard Rain’s a Gonna Fall”.
Afraid you won’t wake up, you mean?
No, he said. Afraid that I will.