But What About A Baby?
Art hadn’t seen Larry in a few months. It was unlike the brothers to go this long, but a lot of things got in the way. Art and Jennifer were trying again for one thing. They’d been close before, almost four weeks to be exact, until Jennifer woke up one morning in August with horrible cramps. When the blood came they knew. It disappointed Art for sure, but Jennifer took it the worst. She did nothing but cry for a week. Every time Art tried to console her she’d start crying again. She’d tell him, “Art, I had it in me but I lost it.” He tried telling her that they were in it together, but his comfort had no effect on her well-being. Art called his mother and she said to give it some time. Art called Larry and cancelled their weekly bullshit sessions over beer at The Moose. He said he had to cancel everything indefinitely. Larry told Art to do what he needed to do, that he and Denise would be there for them if they needed it. Art was thankful for this. Larry always came through for him.
“So just like that she got over it?” Larry said, sitting down with a new pitcher of beer.
“It wasn’t just like that,” Art said, pouring Larry a draft and then himself one. “It took time.”
“But she’s okay now?”
“Jen is doing fine. She wants to try again.”
“Sure.” Art looked around The Moose. “This place is ugly.”
Larry laughed, had some beer. “It’s always been ugly.”
“Yes. But do you remember when it didn’t bother us?”
“It still doesn’t bother me.”
“Because you don’t think about things,” Art said. He lit a cigarette but then put it out. He remembered the new smoking ban inside of bars and restaurants. “Anyway, I have Carla on my back as well.”
“I think,” Larry said. “I just don’t worry the way you do.”
“Didn’t you hear what I said?” Art asked. He had more beer.
“I thought you ended that.”
“I did. But after Jen lost the thing I got confused and all tangled again.”
“And now what?”
“Now I have two of them on my back,” Art said.
Larry took a long pull on his beer and nodded. Someone played The Dead on the jukebox. It was the same old story in this bar. Someone always played The Dead. The joint was filled with a bunch of old castoffs from the 1960s, guys who could be Larry and Art’s father, but could never be. Their father was a conservative man. He wore ties when he didn’t have to anymore. The guys in The Moose kept their hair long and wore earrings. Larry was somewhere in the middle of this. He kept earrings and his hair was turning gray, but he kept it short. Art liked to dress like their father. Not a tie all of the time, but he enjoyed wearing them. He had a collection of ties with baseball teams and cities and famous paintings on them.
“This place really is ugly,” Art said.
“A baby,” Larry said.
“How soon ago was it?”
Art thought for a moment. “About four months since it happened.”
“We haven’t been out in four months?”
“Jen waited for the doctor’s okay,” Art said. “I thought she’d wait longer but here we are.”
“Have you tried again?” Larry asked. He had more beer and looked around The Moose. The bartender was huddled in the corner having a shot with a coke dealer. They were both smoking cigarettes. “It might be okay to light up now.”
“Huh?” Art said.
“A cigarette.” Art handed Larry one mechanically. “I meant you. I quit.”
“When?” Art asked, putting the new smoke in his mouth. This time he lit it and smoked without reserve.
“Last month. I didn’t want to tell you because you were going through it with Jen, but it damn near killed me. It killed me,” Larry said. He shook his head and thought about it. The Dead ended on the jukebox and a few of the guys at the bar grumbled. Sammy got up from his stool to play another. “I almost ran Denise off, I was so miserable.”
“What worked?” Art asked. He took a drag on his smoke then placed his cigarette hand underneath the table.”
“I stared at a wall for the entire day,” Larry said.
“No, I got that bad.” Larry finished off his draft and poured another. The pitcher was empty. “I had to go on the patch, you see?” He pulled up a sleeve revealing a small, beige colored patch on his shoulder. “I still need the nicotine.”
“Remember when dad quit?” Art asked.
“It was while mom was pregnant with Gayle,” Larry said.
“See, you don’t really remember.”
“I do. I was five back then.”
“But you don’t remember,” Larry said. “You don’t remember like I do because I was eight.”
“I remember locusts,” Art said. “There were locusts that summer.”
“Yes, there were,” Larry said. He signaled over to Kenny at the bar. Kenny grabbed another pitcher and began filling it, as another Dead song came on the jukebox. “Do you remember playing with Kurt and his cousin Samantha?”
“Of course I remember Kurt,” Art said. “Kurt was my friend.”
“And Samantha?” Larry asked. He got up to get the new pitcher of beer from Kenny then came back. “Do you remember Samantha?”
“Where were we living?” Art asked. He took a last pull on his smoke then put it out on the floor.
“Buffalo,” Larry said, pouring them more beer.
“It was that year?”
“Around that year.”
“I think I remember Samantha.”
“You do or you don’t,” Larry said.
“I was five. I remember her.” Art had some beer. “What does this have to do with Gayle or dad’s smoking? What does this have to do with them?”
“Mom was miserable that year. She never wanted to leave Cleveland.” Larry picked up Art’s pack of smokes and fondled it before putting it down. “She didn’t do anything that year but cry and fight with dad. Dad took that job in Buffalo and we moved there.”
“She was miserable and we moved there. She did nothing but cry. She cried and we watched television together most of that summer.”
“Where was I?” Art asked.
“You were five,” Larry said, having some beer. “Mom had you over at Kurt’s.”
“Why weren’t you there?”
“He was your friend,” Larry said. “I came over after Samantha showed up.”
“Samantha was a brunette, right?”
“Blonde. She had short blonde hair,” Larry said.
“Just like Denise,” Art said.
“Denise dyes her hair.”
Larry had more beer. Art picked up his pack of smokes and fondled it. He took one out. “Do you mind?”
“I’ve got the patch.”
Art lit a smoke and shook the match until the sulfur smell was gone. The Dead ended on the jukebox again but this time a Hot Tuna song came on. “Does the patch really work?”
“Do you remember Samantha’s dad?” Larry asked.
“I don’t really remember Samantha,” Art said. “I was five. I remember Kurt and the locusts.”
“Samantha and her dad came to live with Kurt’s family for about a month or so. He was a strange guy do you remember?” Art shook his head. “He was really thin and had a head of shaggy hair. He wore sunglasses all of the time and had a beard with flecks of gray in it.”
Art took a drag on his smoke and looked around. “Like the guys in here?”
“He wasn’t like dad at all,” Larry said, having some more beer. He looked at Art’s pack of cigarettes. “The patch doesn’t work as well as I’d like. But it keeps Denise and I on decent terms.”
“I’m going to have to quit if Jen gets pregnant this time?” Art said.
“She doesn’t smoke.”
“Charlie,” Larry said, suddenly. “See, I didn’t think I’d remember his name. I thought I’d have to call him Samantha’s father but his name is Charlie.”
“Charlie who was nothing like dad,” Art said. He took a drag on his smoke and a long pull on his beer. “What’s with Charlie?”
“Charlie came over to our house a lot that summer after Kurt’s mom introduced him to our mom,” Larry said.
“Oh,” Art said. “He came into our house with his sunglasses and beard?”
“Yes. You see, you don’t remember,” Larry said.
“...Kurt and locusts. And you think Samantha was a brunette.”
“Okay,” Art said. He finished his beer and got up. “Have it your way, bro. Tell me about Charlie.”
Art went to the bathroom as the Hot Tuna song was ending. Larry sat there and had some more beer. He touched Art’s pack of cigarettes and then rubbed the patch underneath his sleeve. On the television there was a hockey game on. Larry had hated hockey ever since Buffalo. He pulled out his cell phone and checked the messages. There was one from Art that he never listened to, and another three from Denise. Larry had more beer and decided to check them later.
“Okay, so tell me about this Charlie,” Art said, sitting down.
Larry poured them both some more beer. “Mom was miserable that year.”
“I know. Because dad moved us to Buffalo.”
“She was miserable before then as well,” Larry said.
“Charlie made mom laugh. I remember once we were all in Kurt’s yard with the locusts signing and Samantha did that belly flop on the Slip’n’Slide.”
Art’s eyes lit up. “I remember that! She was a brunette!”
“No, no, you’re thinking of someone else,” Larry said. “You were only five.” Art nodded and fumbled with his cigarette pack. “Oh, let me have one of those, for Christ’s sake.”
“But Denise,” Art began.
“She won’t know,” Larry said. Art gave him a cigarette and offered a light. Larry declined. He just held on to the smoke and listened as Tom Petty played on the jukebox now. “She won’t have a clue.”
“Carla wants me to quit smoking,” Art said. “She’s always on me.”
“But what does she matter?” Larry asked.
“Come on and tell me about funny Charlie.”
Larry coughed and had some more beer. He held onto the cigarette. “Samantha did that big belly flop on the Slip’n’Slide. Remember that Kurt’s mom wasn’t home and we weren’t supposed to be in the yard when she wasn’t there. Charlie was watching us but he wasn’t there.”
“Where was he?” Art asked.
Larry gave him a look. “Where do you think he was?”
“No. Funny Charlie was with mom?”
“I don’t know what they were doing,” Larry said. He had more beer. He put the cigarette in his mouth but did not light it. Then he took it out. Art watched him the whole time. “I went next door. I went home to get Charlie because Samantha did that belly flop on the Slip’n’Slide and she was crying.”
“What did you see?” Art asked. He had more beer. Larry said nothing but drank his draft. “Jesus Christ, tell me. What were mom and funny Charlie doing?”
“They were sitting at a table,” Larry said.
Art fell back in his seat. “Oh. That’s all?”
“You were too young, you don’t remember. They were sitting at a table. Mom was crying but she was laughing at the same time. Charlie had his sunglasses on but you could see that his face was red too.” Larry had more beer. He fondled the smoke. “Hey, give me a light, okay?”
“Can you smoke that with the patch?” Art asked.
“I don’t know.” Larry rolled up his sleeve and took the patch off of his arm. “Give me a light, okay?”
Art gave Larry a light. Larry sucked in on the smoke. He took a deep drag and then chased it with some beer. “Be careful,” Art said.
“They were sitting at a table laughing and crying,” Larry continued. “Mom and funny Charlie.”
“That’s it,” Larry said. “And when I came in the door they acted like nothing had happened.”
“Because nothing did happen,” Art said, pouring the last of the new pitcher. “Nothing happened.”
“You don’t remember,” Larry said. “You were only five.”
“Okay, smart ass. What happened?”
“We moved back to Cleveland for one thing,” Larry said. “Dad put in his notice with the new job after the school year and was able to get back into the place he used to work. After we got back mom got pregnant with Gayle.”
“And dad quit smoking!” Art nearly shouted. “See, I do remember some things!”
“Yes. Dad quit smoking after we moved back to Cleveland.”
“Have you talked to Gayle lately?” Art asked.
“No. Have you?”
“She and Regis are trying too.”
“That’s good,” Larry said.
“What happened to Samantha? And good old funny Charlie?” Art asked.
“I don’t know,” Larry said. He took another deep pull on his smoke and then his phone rang. It was Denise. “I have to take this.”
Larry got up and went outside the bar. Art lit another cigarette and tried to remember that year in Buffalo. He couldn’t picture funny Charlie and he was still set on Samantha being a brunette. Mom was miserable that whole year, he thought, only Art didn’t remember misery. He just remembered Kurt and the locusts. The Tom Petty song ended and suddenly the bar was quiet. Larry came back in looking green.
“Is it Denise?” Art asked.
“No. The cigarette is making me sick,” Larry said. “I shouldn’t have.”
“We should go,” Art said, taking the last of his draft.
“But what are you going to do?” Larry asked.
“Something always happens,” Art said.
The brothers said goodbye in the parking lot. They promised to meet next week for another couple rounds, or the week after if something got in the way. Larry went over to his car and just stood there for a few moments. To Art he still looked green. Art waited for Larry to open his door and pull out before he made a move. Then he walked over to his car and got inside.
The whole ride home he thought about his mother and funny Charlie. He thought about what Larry saw that day in the window, laughing and crying and holding hands. Art tried to imagine himself in Larry’s place. He tried to imagine what he would’ve seen had he been the one who’d come home to get Charlie instead of Larry. He imagined coming home and stepping up to the window, seeing his mother somewhere between grief and joy. He pictured Charlie. Sunglasses and a beard flecked with gray. Art knew he wasn’t picturing the real Charlie, but just an amalgamation of all of the guys in The Moose. Charlie was nothing like their father. Art imagined being the one to come upon that scene, laughter and tears, and then the weight of it hit him like a ton of bricks. He wished he could remember more.
The living room was dark when Art got home, but the television was on. Jennifer was watching that show again, the one that Art hated. That was why he picked Wednesday nights to go out with Larry. He picked that night because he wouldn’t have to stay home with Jen and that goddamned show. He picked that night because Carla worked Wednesday nights. Art thought about Carla and his mother and funny Charlie. Then he got himself a beer out of the refrigerator.
“Hey,” Jen said, coming into the kitchen. She was wearing a burgundy robe that went just above the knees. He long, black hair looked tussled, as if she’d just gotten out of bed. Art drank his beer and watched his wife, trying his hardest to suppress all desire. “How was it?”
“It was fine,” Art said.
“How was Larry?”
“Larry quit smoking,” Art said. He took another pull on his beer. He finished it and then went into the fridge for another one. Art took a large pull on that beer as well.”
“Careful,” Jen said. And then she smiled devilishly. “Don’t get too, too drunk. Someone is ovulating tonight.”
Art pulled the beer away from his mouth. A sickness welled deep inside of him. Something was coming up, bile, or beer, or something else. He was beginning to remember. Art was beginning to remember all of it. “Jesus Christ,” he said. “Not that. Not tonight.”
“But what about a baby?” Jen asked. “What are we going to do about a baby?”