Tara hadn’t seen Charles, the haughty retired chemical company CEO with the piercing blue eyes, for nearly two months. The last time he was in, he suffered some sort of intestinal attack in the men’s room and required the help of fellow customer Champagne Mike and dishwasher Thomas to dislodge him from the toilet. That night, he snuck out the back door; Tara assumes he’s been too embarrassed to return.
So, when she emerges from the walk-in refrigerator carrying limes and lemons, she’s surprised to see Charles at his usual place at the bar. He’s talking in low tones to a lovely older woman with angularly chic silver hair. Tara has never seen her before.
“Well, hello Charles,” Tara says. “Nice to see you.” She is way too diplomatic to mention his prolonged absence and what she assumes is its cause.
“Hello to you, Tara,” Charles says, with a smile. “It’s nice to be seen.”
Tara is puzzled, and not only because he got her name right. She’s never known Charles to show any warmth, or to use any phrase that could be construed as even slightly humorous.
“I’d like you to meet my wife, Deborah,” he says. Deborah extends her slim hand; Tara puts down the limes and lemons and wipes her hands on her pants before taking it. Deborah’s handshake is firmer than Tara would have expected.
“Hello, Tara,” Deborah says. “Such a pleasure to finally meet you. Chickie has told me so much about you, and about Stenny’s. He loves it here.”
Tara hears everything Deborah says, which allows her to respond appropriately, but part of her brain is stuck on She calls him Chickie.
In the next two minutes, Tara finds out Deborah would like a house Pinot Grigio, pours her a glass, and prepares a Rob Roy for Charles. She sees him reach for a cup of pub mix a few feet away. In the past, he’s always insisted on being served a fresh batch, so she says, “I’ll get you a fresh batch, Charles.” To which he replies, “No, this is fine, thank you Tara.”
Tara thinks What the fuck is going on? but then gets busy with other customers, one of whom is Champagne Mike. When she gets a free moment, she asks Mike if he’s ever met Deborah.
He responds thusly:
“A thing of beauty is a joy forever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.”
“So that’s a yes?” Tara asks.
“Yes,” Mike answers.
“What’s the story? He’s so different around her. Human, almost. And no poetry, please.”
“Have you ever heard of John Wemmick?” Mike asks.
“Is that the guy who owns the Tru-Value hardware store in Oreland?” Tara answers.
“No, no. Well, maybe, but that’s not the John Wemmick I’m thinking of.”
Tara senses this could take a while. “Hang on, let me get Stan a drink, I’ll be right back.”
When she returns, Mike picks up right where he left off. “I taught Great Expectations to my students for many years. That’s Dickens, you know.”
“Yes, Mike, I know. Please continue.”
“John Wemmick is a bill collector, works for a lawyer named Jaggers. His job requires him to be cold-hearted and disdainful. He’s good at it, Dickens describes him as having the same air of knowing something to everybody else’s disadvantage, as his master had. That’s a direct quote.”
“I figured. Go on,” Tara says, while thinking You pompous old fart.
“But he’s a split character. Completely different at home than at work. He’s devoted to his father, calls him the Aged Parent. He lives with him in a house that looks like a castle. It even has drawbridge and a moat. They have a very pleasant existence. The house itself is like a character, it protects Wemmick from the harshness of his profession.”
“Okay,” Tara says. “I get that.”
“Charles is the same sort of character. There’s a complete divide between his public face and his private face. The twain only meets when he goes somewhere with Deborah. He’d rather you see his private face than for her to see his public face.”
“We all act differently depending on where we are, but that’s a bit extreme,” Tara says.
“I suppose,” Mike says. “But there’s an enchanting purity to it, don’t you think? The light of love, the purity of grace, the mind, the music breathing from her face….”
Tara cuts him off. “Thanks, I have to pick up food from the kitchen. The whole thing is interesting. I just hope Chickie is a better tipper than Charles.”
If you like this story, please check out my completed book, “Butts in the Seat”; one reviewer said it was “amusing, entertaining, and provides therapeutic value.”