“Carvings. Wood carvings. That’s what they are. For a moment, I thought they were paintings. From a distance, it’s hard to see that the pieces are three dimensional. Have you ever done any wood carving? I used to, when I was a kid, but that’s obviously been years ago. I’m afraid I’d slice my hand off if I tried it today.” Alabaster Peal grinned and looked up, as if he were remembering a particular time when he nearly cut his hand off.
Both Alabaster Peal and Speck Masters kept up the pace of walking while they—mostly Albaster—talked, passing by shops and galleries at a rapid clip.
Speck could barely contain his annoyance with his sidewalk companion’s constant banter. His eyebrows worked up and down in parallel with the repeating sneer of his upper lip. You didn’t even pause long enough to breathe after asking me a question and then moved on without waiting for an answer.
“Hey, Peal, you up for a beer? There’s a nice little beer cellar middle of the block ahead.” Speck managed to slip in the sentence when Alabaster had to stop long enough to breathe. Both of them kept up the pace of walking while they talked, passing by shops and galleries at a rapid clip.
“Lord, no. Didn’t I tell you the doctor said I need to lose a good thirty pounds? Beer’s how I got this damnable pot belly. I used to drink three or four a day, but no longer. I’m on an exercise regimen, too. I have to credit Nancy for keeping me honest about it, too, as she’s always kept up with me as far as the beer drinking goes. But she doesn’t gain an ounce. But she’s agreed to stop with the beer, too, as long as doc says I need to lay off it. Speaking of weight, looks to me like you could stand to use a few pounds, Speck.”
By the time Alabaster finished his response, they were in front of the Sixth Estate Tavern and Speck had heard quite enough from his friend of forty years, whom he had not seen in ten. Speck did not bother responding, nor saying a word to his friend. He simply veered left, opened the door to the Sixth Estate, walked inside.
Alabaster, whose declining peripheral vision had worsened in the past year, did not notice Speck’s absence until he realized he’d not gotten a response from Speck. Alabaster stopped, turned around, and stared in the direction from which he came. He slowly retraced his steps and stopped in front of the Sixth Estate Tavern. Peering in the front door, he saw Speck sitting at the bar, a glass of brown liquid in front of him.
Alabaster stood in the doorway and called out to his friend.”Speck, didn’t you hear me say I didn’t want a beer?”
“I heard you. I heard you too damn much. I needed a break from you running your damn mouth.”
“Well goddamn, Speck! Aren’t you the diplomat?! If you were so damn tired of me running my mouth, why didn’t you just say so?”
“Peal, I haven’t seen you in ten years and one of the first things you say to me is to tell me I’m fat?”
“Well, which is it, Speck? Are you upset with me running my mouth or are your feelings hurt because I stated the obvious?”
“Why don’t you just go for your speed-walk? Get rid of those thirty pounds of beer-fueled fat while I enjoy some peace and quiet and an oatmeal stout. I’ll see you back at the house when I’m good and ready.”
The bartender, who had been watching and listening to the exchange between the two men, entered the fray. “Gents, do you mind having your conversation either inside or outside?”
Looking toward Alabaster, the bartender said, “You’re blocking the way for paying customers trying to get in to buy a little winter padding.”
“All right, then,” Alabaster said, “I’ll leave you here to drink yourself happy, pal. Maybe Nancy and I ought to find another place to stay for the night. Obviously, you find the two of us hard to swallow. If you’d said that from the start we would have just got a motel. We thought you’d want to see us after ten years. After all those years of being friends, I thought we’d hit it off like we’d never missed a beat. But I guess I’m the—”
The bartender cut him off. “Sir, can you please move out of the doorway? I’ve got to pay the bills.”
Alabaster, his face flushed and sweat beading on his brow, stomped his left foot. “All right, goddamn it! I’m leaving. Speck, I’ll leave you a hundred on the bed for last night’s lodging!”
Alabaster stormed out the door.
The bartender shuffled toward Speck. “Listen, pal, I’m sorry if I offended you or your friend, but—”
“No apology needed. He’s been this way for forty years. I could tolerate it for the first thirty and I’ve not seen him for ten. But I can’t tolerate it any longer.”
Speck pulled his cell phone from his pocket. He punched an image on the screen and the phone lit up and began making tones. The audible ring of the phone was interrupted with ‘Hello?’
“Honey, I just had a little flare up with Alabaster. He’s on his way home to get Nancy. They’re going to leave; he’ll find a motel for the night.”
“Thank god. If I had to spent another night listening to Nancy drone on about Alabaster’s quest to lose thirty pounds, I think I’d strangle her.”