We haven’t spent much time with Charles lately, and Larry is perhaps the most obscure of the characters we’ve met, so a re-introduction is in order.
Charles is a retired executive who acts like a steely-eyed prick unless his lovely wife Deborah is around; he then becomes warm and kind. Champagne Mike, our retired English teacher and Anglophile, says such a dichotomy is a distinctly Dickensian trait.
Larry is dull beyond compare; he has no personality to speak of (or not speak of). He’s so dull that no one has even bothered to give him the nickname Dull Larry; he’s just Larry. Baffling to all who know him, he doesn’t appear to have any but the fuzziest notion of what his own job is.
Tonight, a Tuesday in early March, brings a circumstance that has never before occurred. Larry is sitting on the bar stool next to Charles—the warm and kind version of Charles, as Deborah is also present.
“Larry, right?” Charles asks.
“Yes, right,” Larry answers.
“I’m not sure we’ve ever officially met. I’m Charles, and this is my wife Deborah.”
“Hi, I’m Larry,” Larry says, apparently forgetting that’s already been established.
“Hello Larry,” the lovely Deborah says. “So pleased to meet another bar friend of Chickie’s.”
“Chickie?” Larry says.
Charles laughs. “That’s what she calls me. It’s a nickname for Charles.”
“I never knew that,” Larry says, and stops talking.
Deborah attempts to make conversation. “What is it that you do for a living, Larry?” She has no idea, nor does Charles, what a difficult question this is for Larry.
“It has something to do with data,” Larry says.
Deborah assumes, incorrectly, that Larry doesn’t want to bore her with details. She says, “I love data! I was an actuary before Chickie finally convinced me to retire. What type of data to you work with?”
No one has ever asked such a specific question, and Larry literally does not know how to respond. He is then struck with what is, for him, a veritable brainstorm.
“It’s confidential,” he says.
“Oh, I’m so sorry. I understand,” Deborah says.
Larry is glad that Deborah understands, because he certainly doesn’t.
Stephen is bartending, and checks in to make sure their drinks don’t yet need to be refreshed. He refills their pub mix and heads off toward Ben and Kiki who, for once, seem to be having a civil conversation.
Charles has been watching Larry and Deborah’s conversation—if you can call it that—with the intensity that made him so formidable when he ran his chemical company. But his former employees would not recognize the approach he now takes.
“Son,” he says gently. “Does your work make you happy?”
The directness of Charles’ question coupled with the look of concern in his eyes jolts something in Larry.
“No,” he says.
“What would make you happy?” Charles asks.
“I don’t know.”
“Sure you do.” Charles’ eyes are still kind, but there is a glint of steel.
Larry responds to the prodding. “I like animals,” he says and pauses for a few seconds. “I’d like to take care of animals.”
“You’d like to be a vet?” Charles asks.
“No, I’d just like to walk them and bathe them. Things like that.”
Deborah interjects. “And you don’t because that doesn’t pay well?”
“No what, Larry?” Charles asks. “No it doesn’t pay well or no that’s not the reason?”
“No that’s not the reason. My grandparents were very wealthy. They set up a trust fund for me. I have plenty of money.” No one at Stenny’s ever had the remotest clue about this.
Charles shows a flash of the annoyance that so terrified his employees for so long. “Then why the fuck do you do something you don’t like?”
“Chickie!” Deborah says reproachfully.
“No, it’s okay,” Larry says. “He’s right. My father thinks I should have a real job.”
“How old are you?” Charles asks.
“Thirty six,” Larry answers.
“Does your father control the trust fund?”
“No, it’s from my mother’s parents. But she doesn’t control it either.”
“Not that it really matters, but what does your mother think about what you should do for a living?” Charles asks.
“She just wants me to be happy.”
“So in effect you are making your mother unhappy by being unhappy?”
“I never thought about it like that, but I guess so,” Larry says.
“How old is she?” Charles asks.
“Seventy, I think. Something like that.”
“So she may have five years left to live, or ten, or twenty, or two minutes. Make the rest of her time happy by being happy yourself.”
Deborah places an elegant, perfectly manicured hand on Charles’ forearm. “Perfectly said, Chickie. End it there.”
Charles obeys his wife, leaving Larry deep in thought.