A Bitter Reunion
Bernard left the therapist’s office and turned onto the main street. The wind whipped through the buildings and Bernard had to bundle up against the cold February chill. The sky was overcast and the streets were painted in whites and greys. Bernard walked a few blocks until he found a familiar bar. The bar brought up unwelcome memories of his and Clara’s relationship, but he knew this area better so he made the sacrifice. Bernard hoped his old friends would walk through the door. They all used to frequent this bar on Fridays. Bernard was a little bit early so he sat down and ordered a light beer. The barkeep recognized his face. “Hiya Bernard, how’re you doing’?” she asked. “I’m fine,” he murmured. “How’s Clara?” she asked. Bernard froze; had it really been that long? “We’re not together anymore,” he said. She grew flustered and clearly didn’t know what to say. “It’s okay Frieda; you don’t have to say anything. I’ve had enough sympathy for the day.” Frieda walked away with her eyes down and busied herself with a couple in the corner. Bernard sighed and turned back to his drink. He wondered how so much had changed in such a short amount of time. Frieda was still at the bar, so that was a constant in his mind. He still smoked, so that was constant. Bernard wondered when he had seen his friends last. They used to come to the bar every weekend and play pool. He couldn’t remember the last time he had played a game of pool.
Tired of waiting to see if they would come through the door, he pulled out his phone and called them. The first call went through, but it wasn’t James who answered. Apparently he had changed his number or moved. Bernard called Isaac and Roy next. Both of them answered and agreed to come to the bar, but Isaac said he couldn’t stay for very long. Bernard ordered another beer for the wait and sipped it coolly. He considered what his therapist had said; had he really been making Clara and object of blame? He didn’t think so. They clearly just didn’t belong with one another. He became upset thinking about Clara so he tried to just focus on his beer. He found it hard to focus. Every time he looked at it he remembered the dates he had with Clara here. He would drink this same beer but she would be sitting next to him, laughing and admiring his resolve to study philosophy. Bernard sighed and took a new seat in the corner of the bar to allow his friends a space to sit.
Bernard didn’t immediately recognize Isaac and Roy when they entered the bar. Isaac’s familiar clean-shaven appearance was gone under a thick, curly beard. He wore a pair of wire-rim glasses and his body was more filled out. The last time Bernard had seen Isaac he was lanky and had a mop of hair. Now his hair was neatly parted and he wore a smart button-down shirt. Roy looked mostly the same, but his hair was thinning and his former dominating appearance seemed to have vanished. In the past Roy seemed to fill a room, but now he just filled the doorway. Bernard motioned to his friends and they came over to the table in the corner of the bar. Frieda recognized them immediately. Bernard wasn’t sure if they were regulars or if she just recognized them in conjunction with Bernard; either way, their appearance didn’t throw her off so he figured it must be one of the two.
Isaac and Roy both followed Bernard’s example and ordered light beers. Silence pervaded the group for a few minutes before Bernard spoke up. “Well, it’s been a while hasn’t it? How are you guys?” Roy was the first to speak. “I haven’t been here in a while Bernard. It sure brings back some old memories.” So now he knew that at least Roy hadn’t been here in a while, maybe things had changed more than he thought. Isaac spoke up. “I haven’t seen this place in ages either; do you still come here regularly Bernard?” Bernard shook his head. “For some reason I thought about the old times at the bar and I figured you guys may still come here. Do you guys want to play a game of pool?” Isaac coughed and shook his head; Roy considered it for a minute before declining. Isaac seemed to be mulling something over in his head and Roy looked around nervously. “You know Bernard,” Isaac began, “You abandoned us when Clara came into your life.” Bernard was shocked. How could he say such a thing? “Well you didn’t like her,” Bernard stammered. “No, we did,” Isaac said. “You were just more concerned with spending time with her than you were with spending any time with us.” Bernard looked at his friends. This wasn’t his fault, it was their fault for not understanding how busy he was; he was sure of it. “Well you’ll be happy to know Clara and I have separated.” Isaac and Roy were taken aback. “Why the hell would that make us happy? We liked Clara.” Roy said. “We were only upset that you didn’t have time for us anymore.”
“Well now I have all the time in the world.” Bernard said. “I’m sure you two are still free to hang out; you were always so carefree and spontaneous.” Isaac coughed nervously. “I’m married now Bernard,” he said. “I have a daughter now too. That’s why I can’t stay very long; I have responsibilities and business I have to take care of.” Bernard was shocked, but he turned to Roy. Roy was always free to do something. He was the bachelor of the group. The only responsibilities he had were always at work and apart from that he lived wild and free. Roy must have known what he was thinking because he shook his head. “Bernard I’m engaged to be married,” he said. “I don’t know what you were expecting calling us up, but things have changed.” Bernard was speechless. What had happened to the fun they all used to have playing pool and drinking? Isaac excused himself. “I need to go home to my wife and daughter,” he said. “I’m already running late. He paid his tab and left. Bernard looked hopefully towards Roy. “Will you play a game of pool with me? Please?” Roy shook his head. “I’m sorry Bernard but I promised Deandra I would have dinner with her parents tonight. I really need to go so I won’t be late.” Roy paid his tab and slipped out of the bar. They were gone just like that. Bernard grew angry and ordered another beer. How could they just leave like that after all of the good times they used to have? Why couldn’t they entertain one night of nostalgia?
Bernard called out for his tab and sat brooding. Frieda glanced at him with pity and hurried off before he noticed. Bernard left the bar and walked back out onto the main street. The air had become considerably colder and he had to double up under his thin jacket. His hands and face grew red as he walked the blocks back to his apartment. He didn’t want to be in his apartment. His thoughts were a whirlwind of self-hatred and blame, and he didn’t want to sit alone in his apartment to think about them. He walked the streets aimlessly to pass the time, hoping that he would tire himself out and let exhaustion overwhelm him so he could avoid his own mind. The streets were mostly empty. Every now and then he would pass someone rushing by to escape the cold; he seemed to be the only one that wanted to be in the cold. Bernard walked a few more blocks until he found an unfamiliar bar where people wouldn’t know his name. He ordered a gin and tonic and warmed up at the bar. He finished the gin in a matter of minutes and ordered another one. The bartender eyed him warily. “Somethin’ the matter son?” he asked. Bernard glanced up and said “Divorce.” That was true. Bernard was divorced from his wife and he felt divorced from his friends. The constants in his life were diminishing and he was beginning to feel divorced from himself. He wondered why constants were so important to him. He asked the bartender if he could smoke. The bartender said it was fine and pulled out an ashtray. Bernard lit a cigarette with tenured skill and inhaled deeply. Tendrils of smoke rose from the tip of the cigarette and dissipated in the rafters. The bar was mostly empty so no one really seemed to mind. Bernard started thinking about the constants in his life again. Okay I have cigarettes, writing, booze, therapy, books, and family; none of those have changed. Don’t I have more than that? When did the list grow so small? I used to have school, Clara, and friends at least, but now all of that is gone or all of it has changed. What’s so important about constants anyway? Regardless of whether or not they’re there I’m still Bernard Everett. Is the shifting environment uncomfortable? I suppose I may find comfort in constants. Can I reasonably expect things to stay constant while I change as a person?
The thoughts sped through Bernard’s mind. His cigarette had burned down to the butt and a long piece of ash fell off into the ashtray. Bernard called for his tab and pushed the ashtray back towards the bartender. The bartender wished Bernard a good night and Bernard responded with a forced smile. Back on the street, Bernard turned for home. The alcohol and chilly air made his cheeks look like two bright red spheres in the night. His thoughts were muddled; he had achieved his goal. The longer he could avoid thinking through the present issue the longer he wouldn’t have to be stressed out by its existence. He made it back to his apartment and sighed. It was a mess, but it was something he would have to deal with later. He didn’t want any more reminders of his current position in life. He made it to the back room and laid down on a futon he had bought after the divorce. It wasn’t particularly comfortable but he figured it was better than sleeping on the floor. A pile of half read books lay stacked next to the futon. He picked up the one on top. It was A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce. He really enjoyed the writing style but he couldn’t seem to finish it. He couldn’t remember the last time he had finished a book; it seemed that every time he started reading something came up or there was another book he needed to read. He forced himself to read more of the book by a dim lamp. He made it through one page before he fell asleep.
Aaron Weddle is 23 years old and holds a B.A. in Philosophy from the University of West Georgia. He will be attending school for his M.A. in Philosophy this fall and is ultimately aiming for his PhD. Aaron seeks to couple philosophy and fiction, to blur the lines of academia enough to present new and original ideas.
In his free time he likes to write short stories and novellas, and he is currently working on his first novel. The short story included here is an excerpt from an unpublished novella, which catalogs a man’s journey with anxiety and depression and explores the fragility of the bonds of friendship and how they are affected by time.