James Babbs


Barlow lifted the bottle to his lips and took a long slow drink.  The beer was cold and he thought it tasted especially good today.  Barlow kept glancing up at the ceiling fan and watching the fan blades spinning around and around.  He lifted the bottle again and took another drink of the good beer.

Barlow had been trying to write a story but he couldn’t get the words to cooperate.  Barlow kept seeing bits and pieces of the story in his mind as if it were a movie playing on a screen but putting it into words on the page had Barlow hung up.  He decided he was better off just drinking a few beers as the heat of the late afternoon sun began to wane.

When the doorbell rang Barlow took another long drink before putting down the bottle.  He went to answer the door and found a pretty woman with long dark hair standing in front of him.  Barlow covered his face with mock disappointment. 

“Oh,” he said.  “It’s only you.”

“Ha, ha.  Very funny.”

Barlow laughed before hugging the woman and pulling her into the room.  “Gwen,” he said, “how have you been?”

“I’ve been good,” she said.

“Well,” said Barlow, “you look great.  Care for something to drink?”

“Oh,” Gwen said.  “I thought you’d never ask.”

Barlow led Gwen into the kitchen and sat her down at the table across from his place.  “I’ve been drinking beer,” said Barlow, “but I think I have some wine up in the cupboard.”

Barlow went over to the cupboard above the stove and pulled down two bottles of red wine.  “I was saving these for a special occasion but for you I’ll make an exception.”

Gwen laughed.

“Ah,” said Barlow.  “At least I could always make you laugh if nothing else.”

“Sometimes,” she said, “that’s all I needed.”

Barlow opened the wine and poured Gwen a glass.  He sat down across from her and picked up his beer.  He raised the bottle toward Gwen.  Gwen raised her glass and looked at him.

“What should we drink to?” Gwen asked.

“To death,” said Barlow.

“To death?”

“Yeah,” said Barlow.  “It hasn’t found us yet.”  He touched Gwen’s glass with the bottle and drained the rest of his beer.

Gwen took a drink of wine and smiled at Barlow.  “Is this that same cheap stuff you were always so fond of?” she asked.

“Of course,” said Barlow.  “Only the best for you, babe.”  He went over to the fridge and pulled out another beer.

“So,” Gwen said, “you been writing anything, lately?”

Barlow sat down and took a drink of his beer.  He leaned back in his chair with the bottle still in his hand.  “Now, Gwendolyn,” he said, “you know I don’t discuss my writing.”

“Oh, yes,” she said.  “I forgot.”

Barlow took another drink and studied the label on the bottle.  “I was thinking,” he said, “of writing something about two old friends.  You know, a man and a woman who’ve known each other for a long time.”  Barlow took another drink.  “Maybe they were even lovers at one time but for whatever reason it didn’t work out.”

“What happened?” asked Gwen.

“Well,” said Barlow, “maybe the man was a fool.  Maybe he didn’t know how to be in a relationship.  Maybe he had been alone for so many years it was hard for him to relate to another person.”

“That’s sad,” Gwen said.

“Well,” said Barlow.  “Maybe there was something wrong with the woman.  Maybe she was crazy or something.  Beautiful, but crazy.”

“No,” Gwen said.  “I like the other explanation better.”

Barlow laughed.  “Yeah, well, sometimes they still get together.  Sometimes, they still get together and drink and talk about old times.”

 “Speaking of drinking.  I could use some more of that cheap wine.”  Gwen turned, looking for the bottle.

“Oh,” said Barlow.  “I thought it was on the table.  I guess I left it on the counter.”

Gwen laughed.  “That’s okay.  I’ll get it.”  She got up and brought the open wine bottle with her to the table and sat back down.

“You know,” said Barlow, “it isn’t much of a story.  Something unexpected needs to happen.”

“Like what?” asked Gwen as she refilled her glass.

“I don’t know,” said Barlow.  “Maybe the man gets up and suddenly kisses the woman.”

“What if she doesn’t want to be kissed?”

Barlow took another drink of beer.  “Maybe the man gets up and slaps the woman across the face.”

“Maybe,” Gwen said, “the woman slaps the man across the face and then storms out of the house.”

Barlow held the beer bottle in front of him.  “If she was going to do that,” he said, “why’d she come over in the first place?”  Barlow looked at Gwen.  “She’s probably just sitting there, waiting for the man to kiss her.”

Gwen drank some more wine and then set her glass back on the table.  She sat there for a moment studying her hands.  “Okay,” she said.  “What if the man gets up and comes over to the woman and he grabs her and pulls her close to him?  What if he brings her face right up next to his and she can smell the beer on his breath and maybe, even, what he had for breakfast that morning?  Then he kisses her.  Not in any kind of gentle way but a really rough kiss.  Almost violent.  And then the woman pulls out a gun and shoots the man dead.”

Barlow leaned forward still holding on to the beer.  “What?”  He said.  “Why the hell would she do that after they’ve known each other all of those years?”

Gwen was touching her glass with just the tips of her fingers.  She shrugged.  “I don’t know,” Gwen said.  “Maybe it was something that had been building up for a long time and she finally just snapped.”

Barlow finished off the beer and put the bottle on the table.  His hand was a little shaky so the bottle fell over and hit the table.  Barlow picked up the bottle again.  “Hey,” he said.  “What if the woman suddenly got up and kissed the man and he didn’t want her to kiss him?”

Gwen laughed.  “Nobody would believe that.”

“Yeah,” said Barlow still holding the empty bottle.  “You’re probably right.”

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