“It wasn’t always like this, you know,” says Frank. We sit at a table against the window of the mostly empty Dugan’s Bar. He swigs his third Coors Lite. The uneven table wobbles as he rests his hand on it.
“When Mom and Dad first moved us here, before you were born, this was Sticksville, U.S.A. That’s what we called it, anyway.”
On the street, a car horn blares as a sleek, black Mercedes forces its way in front of a red pickup.
Pointing with his beer bottle, Frank says, “And that shit, right there, never happened. Do you know we actually drove tractors into town? For real. If you were going to town, you were probably coming here. This place used to be called Grundy’s Farm Supply.”
“Grundy’s?” I make air quotes around the goofy-sounding name while rolling my eyes.
“Yeah, Jack Grundy owned it. Now, I have no idea who runs this joint. Probably some dude from Detroit,” he says, making a dig at me for moving away from his beloved speck on the map.
I smirk and sip my beer, glad for my city life and the freedom it has afforded me. “I’m not moving back, Frank.”
“Why the hell not?”
“Look, it was fine when we were kids, but there’s nothing for me here. What the hell would I do for a job?”
“You’d find something.”
“That’s not how it works. You don’t move somewhere and just find something,” I say, air-quoting again.
Frank scowls, his dark eyebrows forming one bushy caterpillar across his forehead. Avoiding the challenge, he returns to his recap of Jack.
“Where the bar is, that’s where the counter used to be. Old Jack would sit behind it, on his wooden stool, chewing tobacco and listening to the Farm Report. When folks came through the door, he said ‘Hi’ to them. Didn’t just play on his damn phone—like that chump.” He motions to the twenty-something kid behind the bar.
I scrape at a hunk of shiny grease on the table top. Little bits of it curl up into tiny scrolls.
“Just because she left me, doesn’t mean I can’t take care of myself, you know? Doesn’t mean I have to come running home.”
“I know that,” says Frank, picking at one of his raggedy cuticles. “I never said you couldn’t”
“No, but that’s what you meant, isn’t it?”
Uncomfortable with the accusation, Frank gives the greasy bits I’ve liberated from the Formica a hard stare. “This place was clean, too. Might have been a feed store, but it was clean. Jack never let no dust gather on the shelves. He took pride in his work. Seriously, would you look at that fool?” Frank glares at the bartender again.
I toss the kid a glance. He’s reclining against the black lacquer of the mirror-backed bar, staring at his cell. The backlighting shines through the green and amber liquor bottles, and a collection of glassware dangles from an overhead rack. Five TVs drone with different sporting events. No Farm Report for Jack.
“If you were here you wouldn’t be, you know—alone.”
“What’s wrong with being alone?” My patience is wearing thin. “You’re alone.”
“Why? Because you’re a man? Because women need a big, strong, man to take care of them?” I cross my arms over my chest.
“Look, I just meant that if you came back, you might meet someone new. You know, it might be a little easier.”
“For who? You? That’s what this is really about isn’t it? It’s not about me or my happiness. It’s not about me being dumped and alone. It’s about me being with another woman and you being embarrassed by it.” My voice rises a notch, and the kid behind the bar shifts his focus from his cell to us.
A flush creeps into Frank’s cheeks. “People are staring.”
“Let them stare. That is what this is about isn’t it? You think you can fix me if I come back to this close-minded, podunk, little hell-hole, and then you won’t have to be embarrassed by you sister, the lesbian, any more. That’s what you think, isn’t it?” My cheeks burn with an angry blush.
Frank twists one corner of his mustache between his stumpy fingers, permanently blackened around the nails from years as an auto mechanic. “You weren’t like this before you moved.”
“I was like this before I moved.” The words hiss out from between my teeth with a familiar disbelief. “Are we really going to have this conversation again? I’m gay, Frank. I always have been gay. I always will be gay. It’s who I am, and there’s not anything you can do to fix me.” I toss my final set of air quotes at him. He flinches back from my anger and returns to working on his cuticle.
Our waitress, clad in tight shorts and an even tighter tank-top, bounces across the worn wooden floor, her high pony tail keeping time with her pace.
“How about another round?” she asks, approaching our table.
Frank glances first at the bartender and then at me. I lean back in my chair, cocking one eyebrow. His shoulders droop. “Na,” he says, “What’s the point?”
Joie Gibson is a graduate student at Southern New Hampshire University where she is studying English and Creative Writing with a Concentration in Fiction. With a passion for short stories, and small moments in time, Joie’s stories focus on uniquely female experiences and relationships. She lives in Fort Worth, Texas with her wonderfully supportive husband and two cats where she works as a Policy and Procedure Writer and Editor. Additionally, Joie is the Contributing Short Story Writer for StreetZine in Dallas, Texas.