“What’s the weirdest thing ever happened to you, Kev?”
Kevin put his Bud down and raised an eyebrow. Smitty had put the puck in play for their nightly shooting of the shit. That suited Kevin just fine. After a day on the line, his knees were killing him, and shooting shit at the bar was more interesting and less painful than standing at the pinball machine. “Whaddaya mean, weird? Weird like my mother-in-law hitting on me? Or weird like being kidnapped by aliens?”
Smitty’s eyes popped. “Holy crap! Did Gina’s mom really hit on you?”
“C’mon, Smitty. Get real.”
Smitty looked disappointed. Kevin’s former mother-in-law was pretty hot. Italian women seemed to keep their curves ‘til about fifty, but then turned into little round grandmas overnight.
Kevin and Smitty were matching beers at the corner bar, pretty much like they did every night. That was the routine—off shift at four, grab a pizza at Pisanello’s, head over here to the Dead End for a few cold ones at the counter. Check the action, shoot the shit, play some pinball, go home and watch the Bruins’ game. Real men of leisure.
This was the in-between hour. The after work mix had left for home already and it was too early for the partiers and serious drinkers. Just a handful of in-betweeners at the tables and one old drunk nearly face down at the bar. The afternoon sun had disappeared behind the wall of office buildings across the street and the shadows had started to crawl in across the chipped tile floor. Lonely pinball machines popped and squealed and blinked in the dark corners while Bird and Magic battled it out silently on the TV in some prehistoric NBA game. A couple burgers had started sizzling on the grill and the smell of grease crept out from the kitchen.
“So whattaya mean, weird?”
“Anything. Something that really blew your mind. Something you’re gonna remember your whole life.”
What really blew Kevin’s mind was that two primo thirty-something hunks like them spent most of their lives in pretty much four places: the assembly line, a pizza joint, a cheesy corner bar and bed. Alone. And except for bed—and he wasn’t totally sure about Smitty—they wore the same fucking jeans, sweatshirts and shitkickers the whole time. Did that qualify as weird?
Weird. What would seem weird to Smitty? There was something. But he hadn’t thought about for a long time. Didn’t really want to, actually.
“What?” asked Smitty. His blond hair spilled into his eyes as he leaned in. “There is something, I can tell. C’mon, Kev, spit it out.”
It sounded so unbelievable now Kevin wasn’t sure if it really happened or if he’d dreamed it. But if it was a dream, it was real as hell. Kevin tossed his Bud and waved to the bartender for a couple more. Real enough to destroy his life.
He and Gina’d been married about three years and things were going pretty good. They’d dated in high school, then drifted apart when they graduated, then hooked up again a couple years later and tied the knot. There were just the usual complaints—the kind all the guys get, you know? He hung out with Smitty too much, drank too much. Yada, yada. She wanted to talk about having kids, but he wasn’t ready. She said that was because he wasn’t ready to give up being a kid himself, which for some reason really pissed him off. But there were more good days than bad, and that seemed like a pretty good batting average, at least in his neighborhood.
The basketball game was over, now, and the barkeep snapped off the TV and put a coin in the old juke. Billy Joel. Piano Man came tinkling out. “A mime.”
“A mime?” asked Smitty. “That’s clever, with all the shit they do with their hands, but it’s not weird.”
“This one was.”
He leaned in and gave Kevin the eye over his fresh beer. “So?”
“I’m in the park. You know the one, down by the river off Kingsley. Late June, eight or so, sun going down. The crowd had wandered off, street lights starting to flicker on. I’m waiting for Gina—she had to work late again. There’s a cool breeze, I’m sitting there feeding popcorn to about a dozen pigeons running around my feet, when I hear this voice in my ear, real clear, like somebody’s standing right behind me. ‘Your wife’s having an affair.’”
Smitty’s eyes popped again and he sat up straight. “Gina? No way!”
“Yeah. I spin around, but there’s nobody near. Just this mime about twenty feet away, doing his thing with the hands and feet.”
“Park’s empty as my sock drawer. Just me and this mime. He has the white painted face with the big red painted smile. Gloves, funny little hat, white t-shirt, big funny striped pants—the whole bit. He’s doing his routine, off in the grass by himself. So I say, ‘What?’ He doesn’t look up, just keeps doing his thing. I yell it, ‘What did you say?’
“He looks up and smiles, but just keeps making with the clever moves. So I get up and walk over to him. ‘Did you just say something to me?’
“He shakes his finger at me like I was a kid done something naughty. Then I look down at his money box on the pavement, this old beat up cigar box, taped together with gray duct tape. Oh, yeah, crap. Feed the kitty. I pull out a buck and toss it in. ‘So what did you say to me? Do I know you?’ Then he picks up his box and starts making these little moves like he’s opening a door and stepping through it and closing and locking it behind him.”
The bartender hadn’t showed for a while, so Smitty thumped his bottle on the bar a couple times to get his attention. “So this dude ever answer you?”
“He looks me straight in the face for a couple seconds and winks. Then he turns and peels out, tears down the sidewalk toward the street. He’s a skinny little fuck and he’s got running shoes and I’ve got these clodhopper work boots, not even tied, but I take off after him. I lose him for a bit as I hit the street, with all the dinner crowd out by now, suits and ties and dresses and all. Old ladies out walkin’ their dogs. But then I catch a glimpse of him just as he’s gettin’ in this yellow cab at the corner. The cab’s stuck at the light for a minute, so I make it up to the cab and pound on the window. ‘What the fuck did you say to me?’ I scream.’ What do you know?’”
By then Smitty had a new beer, but hadn’t touched it. “So…?”
“His face was right against the window and I could see he was all sweaty from the run. He must of had paint on his hands, cause he puts two fingers up to each eye and draws red tears running down his face. Then he winks again, and the light turns and whoosh! He’s gone. I’m standing there staring out into traffic.”
“Fuck!” said Smitty.
They sat for a few minutes in silence. Kevin drained his beer and waved at the bartender.
“That’s weird alright. So whadya do?”
“You didn’t call Gina out on it or anything?”
Kevin didn’t say anything and the barkeep slid another Bud at him. It was a long time since he thought about that night. Didn’t know what the hell happened then and he still didn’t. He glanced around the bar. A few new bodies he recognized had drifted in and now Willie Nelson’s voice spilled across the room like a truck dumping a load of gravel.
What was he going to tell her, that some painted bozo in the park he’d never seen before had spilled her secret? It would just end in a big fight. And for what? The clown probably never said anything—he’d just imagined it. But it started him thinking—all those late nights working…
“Did you ever see that guy again?”
“I went back to the park maybe a half dozen times. Daytime, evening, weekends, but no. Never saw him again.”
He couldn’t get it out of his mind. After that, it seemed that the sex was off, that she was distracted or something. They fought more about stupid things. And she stopped talking about having kids. In fact, she pretty much stopped talking altogether. Was it somebody at work? Her boss? He never brought it up. He didn’t want to hear the answer. He started hanging out more. Little by little, they drifted apart. And then she was gone.
She’d never actually given him a reason, not anything he could put his finger on. But what stuck was the line about not being ready to give up being a kid. Hell, it wasn’t so different from his life now. But what if he was wrong? What if she hadn’t been playing?
Kevin looked up at the ceiling. It was dark, but not so dark yet he couldn’t see the exposed wiring that ran between the joists, keeping the string of Christmas bulbs blinking on and off over the bar.
“But here you are,” said Smitty. “Divorced.”
Kevin stared at the unopened beer in front of him, then pushed it in Smitty’s direction. “I’m workin’ on that, Smitty. I’ll let you know.”
In addition to literary fiction, Bob Beach has written science fiction and children’s works. His stories have appeared in The Saturday Evening Post, The Penmen Review, The Woven Tale Press, The Oddville Press and many other publications. He has a long history as an advertising copywriter and holds BSc and MFA degrees from BGSU. He is currently in a MA creative writing program at Wilkes University. He resides in Toledo, Ohio.