THE EXPIRATION DATE OF OLD MEN
“You’ve got to admit …” Harold smiled. And hesitated. There was a belch rising. And there was a word he couldn’t find. He searched through the thesaurus. Called his brain. What was the word that fit the situation? …Situation. And then there was gravity.
A small man, Harold was dressed in a t-shirt that advertised some coming event that had long ago since passed. On his head sat a dark blue beret. With a little nipple on top. Carefully, he attempted to lean against the pillar outside the Canadiana Restaurant, making sure that his shoulder was well placed before turning to his friend. Perhaps he shouldn’t have had that last beer. Or two.
“You didn’t handle that situation… well.” Harold added. There was a sense of confidence now. The pillar was solidly behind him. And he had discovered the word he needed and it worked. That wasn’t always the case. Recently.
His friend, Gerald, looked up at him. Gerald, a man of similar stature also wore a beret. His was black. Gerald’s legs wobbled as he attempted to stop. Rising up on his toes before settling back on his heels. Gerald stopped. On his t-shirt was imprinted the face of rock star Bruce Springsteen. Gerald looked at his friend. Did we pay our bill? He could not recall.
“I didn’t handle… it well?” Gerald’s words were slurred. As if his lips were hooked by the serifs. Gerald loved to fish. He thought like a fish. Sometimes he smelled like a fish. Gerald squinted. Like a small mouth bass through the weeds. His old friend looked blurred. Like television on rabbit ears. Gerald stuck a stick of gum into his mouth. He began to chew the words – stuck a stick.
Gerald leaned over and placed his half full glass of beer on the ground.
“I thought I handled it… appropriat… very well. You want a stick of gum?”
Harold shook his head. Gum made him clausterphobic.
“Why are you chewing gum?”
“I have to hide my breath,” Gerald responded. “I don’t want the wife to know that I’ve been… drinking. And then there’s my condition.”
Gerald fell back a step before catching his balance.
Harold nodded. “Oh that.”
“Besides,” Gerald continued, “its nicotine gum.”
“You don’t smoke.”
Gerald stared at Harold for a moment but did not respond. Stuck a stick had gotten stuck in his head. Like a hook in the throat.
“What do you mean calling me an Italian?” Gerald asked.
Harold looked at Gerald.
“You’re Italian. You’re parents were Italian. As far back as any of your..”
“I’m no more Italian than you are.” Gerald stared at Harold for a moment while he thought. “What the hell are you?”
“Irish,” Harold responded. “Mostly. A little Scottish. French. Native.”
“Indian,” Harold responded.
“You ain’t no Indian.” Gerald laughed. “I think I know an Indian when I see one and you, my friend, are no Indian.”
“When did you ever meet an Indian?” Harold asked.
Gerald thought for a moment then responded, “In the movies.”
“Those were Italians,” Harold responded. “Italian actors playing Indians.”
Both men were silent. Gerald stared into the parking lot. Harold felt like throwing himself in front of a car. Gerald smiled. Some image had filled him with satisfaction. Satisfaction threw him off balance. He staggered backwards. In order to correct this mechanical error, he threw himself forward. Just stopping before he fell off the edge of the sidewalk.
Harold watched Gerald’s performance for a minute. God, he’s a good dancer.
Gerald waved his hands in the air.
“You ain’t whatever you say, and I ain’t Italian.” Gerald pointed at Harold. “We’re Islington boys. Boys from the Six Points. That’s our nationality.” Gerald had trouble pronouncing nationality.
Harold looked down. Mistake. Things began to spin. And then he discovered the beer in his hand. Saved. He took a swallow.
“And she was giving me the eye,” Gerald said with added relish.
Harold pushed away from the pillar as he attempted to reach into his pocket. He pulled out his cigarettes and waving back and forth, lit one up. He offered one to his friend. Gerald shook his head.
“For Terry,” Harold said.
Gerald’s eyes filled with tears. He licked his lips. Then angrily grabbed the package of cigarettes out of his friends hand.
“Why’d you have to mention his name?” And lit up a cigarette.
Smoke drifted out of Harold’s smile.
“She wasn’t looking at you.”
Gerald’s mouth dropped, a gob of smoke tumbling out of his mouth.
“I miss him.”
Harold stared at Gerald. “God, she was so young. Do you remember what that must be like? Holding a body. It ain’t going to happen again. You know that.”
Gerald stared back at Harold, the cigarette dangling out of his lips.
“What the hell are…”
“I ain’t going to fall in love again. Won’t happen.” Harold wiped the tears from his cheek.
“Don’t do that.” Gerald said.
Harold shook his head. “Remember that girl. The one Terry almost married.”
Gerald grimaced. “Don’t.”
“Remember, she always used to wear red dresses. I used to have dreams about her.”
“Ya.” Gerald sighed. Defeated. “But she was Terry’s girl.”
“She was French or something.”
“Belgian.” Gerald smiled. “Like Brigid Bardot.”
“She didn’t look like Bardot.” Harold shook his head. “She was tall. Remember her legs.”
Gerald smiled. “And her breasts. In that red dress. ”
“Why would she wear any other colour?” Harold said.
The two old men were silent again. Each lost in memory.
Gerald shook his head. He kissed the end of his cigarette.
“Why did they break up?” Harold asked.
“Why did Terry break up with any of them?”
Harold shook with laughter. Beer lapped up the sides of his glass. Trying to escape.
“What’s so funny?” Gerald asked.
“I hated Terry.”
“Ya. He always got the girl.”
“He left us here. Alone.” Harold finished his beer.
“I thought we were going to go through this thing. Together.”
“Like the three musketeers.”
“I hated Terry,” Harold repeated.
“We were such kids,” Gerald replied, shaking his head. “Such a long time ago.”
The two friends fell silent again. Gerald leaned over and picked up his beer. A few inches. Then put it down. And then unable to rise. Lowered himself. So that he was sitting. Beside his glass.
Gerald turned to Harold.
“What did you say to that waitress?”
Harold laughed then coughed, smoke spewing out of his mouth.
“I’m glad you’re amused.” Gerald shook his head.
“It was nothing.”
The two men chuckled.
“These things are going to kill you,” Harold said looking at his cigarette.
“Nothing got us kicked out of the bar,” Gerald responded.
Harold waved his hands at Gerald.
“I said I liked her dress.”
“You said you liked her dress?” Gerald asked.
Harold nodded. “Her red dress.”
“There must have been more,” Gerald said.
“Well what?” Gerald demanded.
“I said that I’d like to see her red dress… around her ankles.”
Gerald broke out laughing. Smoke shaken from between his teeth. His eyes going white. His face turning red.
“Where would you come up with a line like that?” Gerald asked.
“I heard Terry use it.” Harold took a deep breath. “He got that girl in the red dress with it.”
“You were there?”
“Well…” Harold looked at Gerald. “Terry told me.”
The two old men started laughing. Gerald rolled over holding his stomach. Spilling his beer. Harold held onto the pole. His cigarette dropping out of his fingers. When they had regained their composure, Harold staggered over and helped his friend to his feet.
“We need another drink,” Harold said.
“We got kicked out,” Gerald said.
“You’re going to apologize to the waitress,” Harold said.
“Why should I apologize?” Gerald asked.
“She’ll never listen to me,” Harold explained.