All My Women Friends

I recently posted a short excerpt from my current work-in-progress, “All My Women Friends,” and had such a great response, I thought I’d share another one. Hope you enjoy it!

Chapter 1 — Waiting on Charlie

In the town where I live, elderly men sit guard along Main Street, residents set their watches to the noon whistle, and all the old hippies drive station wagons. Big, rusted, gray-topped gas hogs that sport faded messages from the sixties. Ancient slogans like peace, love, and legalize pot now! Pot has already been legalized, or so I’m told. Ever since Charlie came into my life, I’ve seen all sorts of people and places I never saw before.

Do you know there’s a gas station on the south side of town that sells cheap cigarettes and expensive gas? Have you ever seen the man on Oak Street who washes his picket fence with a small cloth? How about the woman on Franklin who walks her cat on a leash? I’ve lived here my whole life and I never noticed them. Not once. Charlie said that’s natural; that most people don’t have a good feel for where they live. He thinks I should be thankful to see them now.

Charlie swooped into my life about five years ago when I wasn’t sure about anything. Mama had passed away suddenly, and I spent nearly every night crying myself to sleep. For the first time in my life, I was alone. There I was, fifty-nine years old and no idea how to fend for myself because Mama had always done everything.

Anyway, Charlie and I settled into each other, leaning on our habits and ways. He learned to like casseroles and I learned to make omelets, beating the eggs until frothy, and perfecting the proper folding technique. Always in thirds, never in half.

There is one part of our relationship that sort of bothers me, though. He makes me go everywhere with him; to the barbershop, the hardware store, and even to Grady’s, his favorite bar. It’s a dark, hole-in-the-wall place where aging barflies wiggle their cellulite at anything male. They throw their heads back and cackle, at least it sounds like cackling to me. I know all this because I actually went inside once.

“I won’t be long. Just gonna have me a couple of beers,” Charlie said one night a couple of years ago. “Have you got your blanket?”

“Yes, but couldn’t I come in this time? Even for a few minutes?” I squinted at him and hoped it looked like a wink.

“Now, Rebecca, don’t start that again. It’s better this way, trust me.” He kissed my forehead.

I sat there for a while, and watched people come and go. I memorized the most intriguing ones so I could ask Charlie about them later. Who was the woman in the faded red tights? I saw the mayor puke in the rhododendrons, not once, but twice. Should we vote for him again?

My excuse to go inside came gently at first, a mere nudging. The bathroom. I shifted slightly and pulled up my blanket. The urge pushed harder, stronger, until suddenly, I found myself in front of the door.  I stepped inside and was greeted by the smell of old men and stale cigars. I nearly gagged.

There was Charlie, one foot resting on the rung of the bar, a mug of beer clutched in his hand. He was busy talking to the bartender so I crept to the far corner of the room by the pool table. The women didn’t look at me twice. One of them, a redhead, shouted at Charlie and he laughed the funny way he does when he wants sex. My gaze narrowed at him.

“Hey Charlie, over here!” A man called out, and waved a pool stick in the air.

I froze.

Charlie held up a hand. “In a minute,” he said. That’s when he saw me. He stared. I stared back.

to be continued…

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