She gave me a smile so littered with teeth that you would have thought she needed two sets of lips to cover them. Then she blew me a kiss.
“Oh Jack, you were supposed to catch it.” I’d sooner catch two guys with machetes in my tub but I kept that to myself.
“So Jack,” she said as she moved closer and placed her hand over mine, “how have you been?”
Now I’m good with faces. You have to be when you own a bar. But if the face wants to hide and I’m not one to search we could be two strangers drinking together for years. Still I couldn’t see this face finding a hiding spot even if it wanted to so I figured she must not be playing with a full deck, so I should just play along.
“You remind me so much of my. . . .”
“Oh boy, here it comes. First love. The one that got away.”
“Dog.” Chester laughed. I gave him a look that only made him laugh harder. He called out, “What kind of dog do you have?” She turned and hung that same smile out to dry and sent a second airborne display of affection. This time the kiss was caught.
She said, “Mexican hairless.” Chester laughed again. “I think you just insulted your dog. Did you see that, Jack? Did you see where I was going with that?”
A blind man could have seen where he was going with that but since Chester and humor spend so little time together I let it go. As Chester was repeating his joke for the fifth time I decided to head next door to borrow a socket wrench or, more to the point, to ask Tess what the hell a Mexican hairless looks like.
As I headed out I heard her say, “I’m Eloise, from Monowi, Nebraska. You ever hear of it?” Chester shook his head. “No reason you should I guess. It only has a population of 1. It used to be 2, but my husband died a few years back.”
Chester said, “Oh, I’m sorry. Do you bake?” She nodded. He said, “The key to banana bread is applesauce.”
“I love banana bread.”
“I like pumpkin bread almost as much as banana.”
“Me too. Almost.”
“I hate banana bread. Not crazy about pumpkin either. I don’t even understand the allure of pumpkins. If you ask me, anyone who grows pumpkins needs their head examined.”
Chester said, “That’s Edgar.” Eloise turned to Edgar and smiled. Edgar yelled out, “Ahhh! My God. How many teeth do you have?” No kiss was sent Edgar’s way.
By the time I got back Edgar had already refilled his drink, taken a seat at the bar right between Eloise and Chester, and was saying, “I don’t care what you think, you know, it takes more than one person to be a town. There has to be a council that meets regularly. A levy must be certified each year. And public services must be provided for a town to be considered functioning.”
“Well, I’m the mayor, the librarian, and I run the tavern. Those are public services. And the sign behind the bar reads, ‘Coldest beer in town,’ which of course it is since it’s the only beer in town.”
She laughed. Chester laughed. Edgar grunted. “There’s no public so those can’t count as public services.”
“The sign says town.”
“It’s your sign.”
“It was approved by the mayor.”
“You’re the mayor.”
“The census recognizes four other towns with one person. Lost Springs, Wyo., Hibberts Gore, Me., Erving’s Location, N.H. and New Amsterdam, Ind.”
“The census.” Edgar laughed. “The census. You want to talk census. Let me tell you something about those census takers. They’re all on the take.”
I knew if Edgar got started on his census taker conspiracy theory Chester wouldn’t stand a chance so I said, “Edgar, Tess wanted you to come over.” Edgar stopped cold. “Really?” I nodded. “Tess wants me to come over?” I nodded again. Edgar jumped off his stool.
“Excuse me.” He ran to the door then doubled back. “Jack, you have any breath mints?”
I said, “Yeah,” and slid the bowl of mixed nuts down the bar. He grabbed a few, gave his hair a spit shine and ran out. I hated to do it to Tess but I figured after she showed me what a Mexican hairless looked like she owed me one.
Chester knew Edgar would be back soon. So he settled up and asked Eloise if she’d like to take a walk. After I apologized for missing the second airborne kiss they were gone. The next time Chester showed up at the bar he was carrying a suitcase and a one-way ticket to Nebraska.
“Have you lost your mind? What the hell is there to do in Nebraska? And waking up every day to those teeth. What do you have, a death wish?”
As fate would have it, Edgar was also at the bar that night. “What are you going to do with your bakery?”
“I thought I’d sell it.”
“You’ll never find a buyer.”
“Then I’ll close it down.”
“Go out of business. What kind of man goes out of business for a woman?”
After about 10 minutes of Edgar sharing his thoughts with Chester, Chester turned to me and said, “What do you think I should do, Jack?”
I said, “Why a one-way ticket?” Maybe I shouldn’t have said anything. But Chester has had that bakery for 40 years, and he’s known Eloise for two weeks. Chester didn’t go to the airport that night. He went back to baking. Things went back to the way they were.
A month or so later, it’s just Chester and me at the bar. Something about the way the sunlight was hitting the tap created a rainbow. Chester and I noticed it at the same time.
Chester started to wipe his eyes. I knew what that meant. I said, “You still have that ticket?” Chester nodded but then whispered, “She found someone else. I remembered what you said, why a one-way. So I called to say I’d come for a visit, stay a few weeks, see if we didn’t still feel the same. That’s when she told me about him. They met on the plane. Can you believe that?”
I stared at the rainbow. “I should have been on that plane, Jack. I could have opened up a bakery there. I called her back a few days later. I said I didn’t care if she met someone else. I really wanted to come for a visit. You know what she said, Jack? The town wasn’t big enough for the three of us.”
There was something funny about that line but I wasn’t about to get a laugh off another man’s heartbreak. A few regulars bellied up to the bar. Chester didn’t say much after that. Even the rainbow decided it had heard enough and moved on.
Later that night as I was closing up I thought about Chester. I stopped sweeping and poured myself a drink. Love doesn’t always give you a second chance, that’s for sure. Not that I ever asked for one. I was going to tell Chester that opening a bakery in a town of three probably wouldn’t have been a huge success.
But then I thought, well, he could put up a sign that said, “Best bakery in town.” And who would argue. And how many times in life does a man get to say he’s the best at something. And have a sign to prove it. I’d like to think Chester would have hated Monowi and soon after that resented Eloise. I’d like to think that. I know if I ever get to Monowi I’m going to let Eloise know that there is no way I look like a Mexican hairless. I’m much, much taller.
Kat O’Neill has written for the stage, screen, TV, and radio, and recently began a blog for moms called “Giggles N Grit.” Other stories in her “Uncle Jack” series have been previously published by The Star.