by Amanda Yskamp

Ruth had gotten drunk and lonely enough to venture out. Between her place and the bar was a little more than a mile; less, if she cut through the woods. But with her fibromyalgia, she’d better take the dirt road to the main road. Ruth pronounced it “fib-my-algae.” The first time it was a mistake, but ever after, she said it because she thought it sounded back-woodsy.

“If my fib-my-algae hadn’t flared,” she said to the assembled regulars, then boosted her big butt onto a barstool at the end of the bar.

“Mary just told me about your father,” Jerry said.

“Can you at least wait until I have a drink?” she snapped.

The TV was on to football, muted. Mary was there, Florence, Will, and Earl, Jerry, along with a mash of river tourists, those playing pool, those instagramming images from the walls, plastered with old magazines.

Somebody was always dying somewhere, Ruth thought, fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters. Don’t look now: the hooded scythe guy was waiting for you too. Ruth saw her reflection above the skyline of lit bottles. She should have brushed her hair before coming out. Maybe she shouldn’t have come at all.

“I’m sorry,” Mary leaned past Will to take her wrist and give it a squeeze. “I know you two have been out of touch.”

Ruth sat there. The long sip of scotch drilled a column of esophageal heat downwards. It smelted the room’s glow with the fellow Rob Roys from her place, and 30 years of amber emanations and entreaties.

“I heard Don took third for his piccalilli,” Ruth said. “Tell him congrats from me.” Because what could she say? That the man who’d sired her sloppily and fathered her grudgingly had reaped what he’d damn well sown? It was not her fault nobody found him for a week, though that was bad. Bad. Here, nobody knew her well enough to imagine what and how she might grieve.

Mumble mumble mumble was what they offered her: the leaf litter of gestures and platitudes.

Ruth took another draw from her Rob Roy. It was her old man’s drink of choice too, come to think of it. She remembered playing waitress, bringing him his drink and a candy dish of nuts on a teak tray. Spilled it once, and that was that. “I’ll get my own damn drink,” he said, and after that, he did. Sometimes, after a few, he sang Where or When, his voice a little high for a man’s, more Peggy Lee than Sinatra, but on key.  Sometimes, he’d fall asleep in his chair, and she’d slowly take off his glasses and fold the temples and lay them on his newspaper. Once, when she was maybe 10, he’d brought her home a wooden box inlaid with mother-of-pearl. But so what?

On her way to the bathroom, she fell headlong against the jukebox: a general shout of “Hey” arose from around the pool table. CDs turned end over end in the display, refracting light to rainbows. Shut up, Ruth thought. Just shut up. What do you have to yell about? Anybody might fall; any song might skip.