So here it is, the thirtieth of January, and Gus has not been any more than twenty miles from home since he left The Cities. I have gotten a lot of walking in, all of it down in the frozen-over wetlands outside of town. They've been good hikes, and they help me to feel better about being so isolated. I think I mentioned before that Gus needs people. Yes, he does. But as I said, the hikes have been good. The dog and I are able to walk across the frozen beaver ponds and the marshes that we would normally sink into. The beavers have been very busy along the river, and have left behind fields of stumps everywhere. We haven't had much snow this winter. In fact, all told, I think there are about six inches of it out there right now. Nor has it been very cold. The small ponds have been frozen over, but the river is still open.
We went out one afternoon while the snow was falling heavily. We crossed two ponds and then reached the river where we stopped and looked around. There was no wind, and the falling snow was so thick that it muffled the sound of the distant highway. The snowflakes falling on the dry marsh grass was louder than the faint hiss of cars.
Another afternoon we were hiking along a well-packed track and I noticed a spindly winged insect walking on top of the snow in the sunshine. Further along was another one, flying, and it was so light and delicate that it was caught up in the wake of my passing by.
Gus did get away for an hour or so to a town about fifteen miles from here. There were errands to be run, and cat food to be purchased. Oh, and there was a six-pack of a really nice porter to be purchased. I have told myself that I can not open one until this posting is complete. Cruel Gus. And on the way out of town I decided to stop in for a beer.
And here is where I run into difficulty. The thing is, I go to certain drinking establishments that I would just as soon keep anonymous, unless I'm going to write a review of them. And in this instance I am not. It's a hangout for me. My friend J and I stop in for a few beers and bar food and to unwind. ("But Gus," you say. "What do you have to unwind from? Your life is idyllic!" Well, yes, it seems that way on the outside. But nobody knows Gus's inner turmoils. Oh, the pain! The pain of being Gus.) So yes, we unwind. Sometimes we mock, sometimes we commiserate. Sometimes we fall down if we're there too long. But those times are few and far between.
The place was quiet, except for one guy lecturing another about how to make cheesy cauliflower. "See, the trick is to not cook the cauliflower all the way through. You cook it until it's still crunchy, but really hot, and then pour the melted Velveeta over it. I usually go through a whole brick of it." "A whole brick?" "Well, yeah, or it won't be cheesy enough!" I sat down the bar a ways before any other recipes got burned into my brain. The guys voice carried though, and his friend seldom had a chance to respond as he jumped from topic to topic, an expert on all of them. They were both drinking Lite beer.
I had thought the stool beside mine was unoccupied. There was an empty glass on the bar, and nothing else. The barmaid came over and muttered something along the lines of maybe I want to sit at a different stool. Before that had a chance to sink in, the door of the ladies room opened and a slightly drunk woman came out. She was not bad-looking, but very skinny, with, I'm sure, augmented breasts. Not that Gus pays attention to those things, except as details in the picture. Her hair was straight and blonde, and her pants were awfully tight. The two men turned and watched her. She seemed more drunk as she got closer and pulled up the stool next to mine. The barmaid was pulling a mug of beer for me, and gave me grimace of sympathy. She set the beer in front of me and started to walk away, but the girl stopped her.
"Hey, I'll have another one of those...drinks."
"You sure? I thought you were done?"
"Nooo! I'm walking home anyway, okay?"
The barmaid shrugged and mixed a gin and tonic and set it in front of her.
I get along pretty well with this bartender. We used to compare notes about driving our parents to their appointments. Oddly, our fathers died within a few weeks of each other. I remember walking in there a month after and asking her how things were going. She said, "Well, my father died." I told her mine too, which seemed like an awfully dumb thing to say, but I didn't know what else to say, and we ended up telling funeral stories. We both made an effort to keep the stories light, in spite of how we both felt. It was comforting in an odd sort of way, and I always hoped that it was for her too.
The drunk girl looked at me in the backbar mirror. "I'm getting a divorce," she slurred. I saw the barmaid cringe.
"Well," I said. "Um...is that a good thing?"
"Yeah, it's about time. All the time he thinks I'm off...effing someone, and I'm not."
"No! I'm not like that!" The barmaid smiled to herself at this. She was putting away glasses behind the bar. She looked across the bar at the back door, then over to the front. Something about her looking seemed furtive. The girl sitting beside me did the same thing, though not as smoothly. She had to turn on her stool, focus on one door, then the other. Without meaning to, we were suddenly eye-to-eye. Well, one eye. Her left eye turned in suddenly toward her nose. "Shit," she said. With an effort the eye seemed to pull back. It was disconcerting. We both turned back to face the back bar.
"Yep, he was always checking on me. Won't let me do anything. Always picking fights with anyone I talk to..." I glanced at the barmaid. She was nodding in the affirmative.
"Well, that's not good," I said.
"Do you do that to your girlfriend?"
She was suddenly leaning in closer to me, breathing gin in my face. The barmaid looked a little panicked and looked at the doors again. The girl next to me glanced as well, then slowly focused back to me.
"You're expecting him, aren't you?" I said.
It took her a long time of thinking before she finally said, "Well, no, I don't think so." But it didn't matter to me one way or the other. I told her, "You know, I think I'm gonna go down there and get some popcorn. I'm waiting for someone anyway."
I got halfway down the bar when the front door opened. I jumped a little, but took the nearest stool and acted nonchalant. But the person who came in didn't seem to know the girl, and sat down a few stools away from her. He had his beer in front of him, and was looking at the bar menu when the blonde girl leaned across toward him, looked quickly at both doors, then said, "I'm getting a divorce!"