It was a little after nine one evening and Oscar figured he would grab a drink. It wasn't a hard day, nor had it been an easy one. It just seemed to be more of the same old, same old. He had been feeling this way a lot lately. Oscar stepped into the pub and was overcome by a warmth, a refuge almost, from the bitter fall weather. A wooden plaque hung above the entrance. It read: Tomorrows, Est. 1948.
Oscar loosened his scarf as he walked across the room, taking in the handful of other patrons in the joint. He looked to be the youngest person there. He took a seat at the bar, removed his flat cap and waited for the bartender to come over. He was talking to a man at the other end of the bar with tattoos running up and down his arms.
Oscar didn't mind. He wasn't in a rush. In the meantime, he went through the sorted bottles displayed on the shelves behind the bar. Many of them probably hadn't been opened in years, as this part of town didn't get much foot traffic. The oldest label he saw belonged to a half empty bottle of Burgundy, which if read correctly, was dated 1979.
When the bartender finally came over, Oscar ordered a locally brewed pale ale that was on tap. It wasn't too strong, which is how he liked his beer. He looked at himself in the mirror behind the bar and thought back on his day. It's almost tomorrow, he said to himself. I really don't want tomorrow to come just yet.
On his third or fourth sip, Oscar noticed someone sitting in the corner. Oscar was surprised he didn't see this person earlier, as they were sitting right by the pub's entrance. He leaned forward, out of the shadows, and locked eyes with Oscar. It was a man in his fifties; sporting a thick beard and wearing a trucker cap. He kept staring. Oscar didn't know what to do, so he simply raised his glass to the man and went back about his own business. The man grabbed his drink off the counter, walked over to Oscar and took a seat next to him. Oscar was annoyed at first, but realized he wouldn't mind the company.
The man introduced himself as Arnold. He asked: "What brings you here tonight?"
"I don't know," said Oscar. "I guess I just needed a drink."
"I hear you there," Arnold laughed. "What do you do for a living?" Oscar went to speak, but Arnold interrupted. "I'm going to tell you what I always tell people around your age. How old are you? Twenty-four? Twenty-five?"
"Twenty-six," said Oscar. He noticed the hesitancy in his own voice.
"I have three words for you," Arnold said. "Federal. State. Local," he counted with his fingers. "If you get in with any of those three, you're set for life."
"Like I was saying," Oscar came back at him, "I actually work for the town clerk. I'm a typist."
"No kidding?" Arnold said with a lack of enthusiasm. "How do you like it?"
"It's alright," Oscar shrugged. "I've been doing it for a little over a year now. I wouldn't say I'm set for life," he chuckled. "It can get pretty boring sometimes."
"Yeah, well, that's life, kid," said Arnold. "Especially when you work for the government. They don't give a shit about anyone but themselves. They're all a bunch of crooks and liars." Arnold finished his beer and signaled to the bartender. Oscar looked in his glass. It was almost empty.
The front door opened and the wind came whisking through. Oscar turned his head and was immediately fixed on the young lady standing in the doorway. She looked about his age. Oscar waited for someone to follow her in — a boyfriend perhaps. But there wasn't one. He found it odd she would be alone in a place like this. A cold breeze filled the joint until she closed the door behind her. She had sandy blonde hair and her turtleneck stuck out from her fur-trimmed coat. Oscar watched as she passed under the same wooden plaque he and countless others passed under, but his neck could only turn so far. He swung his head back around to catch her on the other side as she took a seat at the table closest to the bar. There, she removed her beret and gloves and stuffed them into her coat pockets.
Oscar looked away as the bartender brought Arnold another drink. He asked Oscar if he wanted another as well. "Please," Oscar said before finishing the last bit of his beer. "But this time I'll take a rum and Coke."
By this point, Arnold was spouting out one piece of trivial information after another. Oscar was drowning him out for the most part. But from what he gathered, this guy was pretty well traveled. Not worldly, but definitely across the United States. He seemed to have had quite a few adventures back in his day too.
"So, we get back to her place," Arnold said, "the clothes are coming off and I see that she's got a peg leg!"
Oscar almost lost a mouthful of beer. "Get the hell out of here," he laughed. "Did you ask how she lost it?"
"No, I didn't go there," said Arnold. "But she liked it rough. Maybe that's how she lost her leg." He broke out laughing.
Oscar laughed along with him. His rum and Coke was going down easy. He hadn't realized the young woman who caught his attention was standing only a few feet from him, leaning against the bar. The bartender came over to her and asked what she'd like. "I'll have a vodka and cranberry juice," she said, "please." Oscar liked that. It always bothered him when people didn't say please and thank you to their server. He felt a connection to this woman, even though he hadn't said a word to her, and she hadn't acknowledged his existence.
But then she did something that caught him off guard. As the bartender fixed her drink, she looked over at Oscar and smiled. It was the best thing he saw all day — probably all week. He smiled back with a mouthful of beer. Oscar could only imagine how awkward he looked. She thanked the bartender for her drink and returned to her table.
Arnold was off on another story. He had a strained relationship with one of his sons who lived upstate. "I divorced his mother when he was seven," Arnold said. "We have two others; an older son and a younger daughter. But he took it the hardest."
Arnold asked Oscar if his parents were still together.
"Barely," said Oscar, "but yes, they're still together."
Oscar's slight buzz made it difficult to do the math, but he managed. "They'll be together twenty-nine years in April."
Arnold said, "There must be something there if they've managed to stay together this long."
"I guess," said Oscar. He looked over at the girl behind him. She sipped her drink and made notes in a pocket-sized notebook. Oscar wondered what she was writing about. His curiosity turned to frustration. The notebook's contents were another thing he would never know about her.
Did she have a boyfriend? She probably did. They always have boyfriends, Oscar thought to himself. But then why wasn't he with her? Girls never go out by themselves. They're either with their girlfriends or boyfriend. But why can't they go out by themselves? Oscar's mind raced. Because they don't want random guys coming up to them, he told himself.
Arnold was talking about his daughter now. "She doesn't talk to me like the rest of my kids," he said, "but I'm still glad she lives close. I know I wasn't the best father, but I did the best I could."
He took her picture out of his wallet and showed Oscar. The picture was old and faded. It was obvious he hadn't gotten a new one in awhile. "She looks like a nice girl," said Oscar.
"Everyone says she looks like her mother," Arnold said.
Oscar asked, "Do you still talk to your ex-wife?"
"No," Arnold said. "Not for years. She never said our daughter looked more like her, but she believed it. She felt our daughter was more hers than mine. People tell themselves whatever they want. Whatever makes them feel better, even if they know it's not true. I don't care what she thinks. Selena, our daughter, looks more like me... and my mother."
Oscar saw the tears forming in Arnold's eyes. Arnold wiped them away and told Oscar to do a shot with him. "What do you want?"
"Tequila?" Arnold rolled his eyes. "Bourbon!" He called for the bartender. "What are we drinking to?" Arnold asked, raising his shot glass.
Oscar turned to look at the girl behind him. She put her notebook into her pocketbook and kept sipping at the last bit of her drink.
"To taking chances," said Oscar. Arnold flung his shot glass into Oscar's, causing some of the liquor to spill on both their hands. The bourbon went down smooth. Oscar asked the bartender for another rum and Coke and Arnold asked for another beer. Oscar didn't know how many his friend for the night had, but it was a lot.
"Is something bothering you, kid?" Arnold asked. "Why are you really here?"
Something was bothering Oscar. He didn't know what it was, but he said the first thing that came to mind. "I'm here because I don't want to sleep."
"Because it's another day that's over," Oscar said. "It's another day I didn't do anything."
"What do you think you could be doing?"
"I don't know," said Oscar. "But most nights I fight to stay awake. Sometimes I go out. Most of the times it's by myself. I walk the streets. Go to bars like this one. Listen to people's conversations. I make up stories about them." Oscar took a sip of his drink. "I prolong my days as long as possible. I hate the coming morning because I know I'm going to do the same thing later that night."
"Well, speaking of taking chances," Arnold said, "I've seen you checking that girl out since she walked in here. Why don't you go talk to her? The chair next to her is free."
The chair was free. It had been taunting Oscar for the past hour or so. "And what am I supposed to say?" said Oscar. "She isn't looking for someone she's never met in her life; someone whose had a few drinks, to come over to her and beg for some conversation — especially in here. It's a bar in a town full of losers."
"We're not losers," Arnold said. "We're just people trying our best." Oscar was sorry for what he said. He lived his entire life around here. His parents were less than ten minutes way.
"I think you should go talk to her," Arnold said. "Do it."
Oscar waited a moment, took a sip of his drink, and got up from the bar chair. He knew he could get her to fall for him if he could just talk to her. In a perfect world, she would be at his side right now. The girl looked up and saw him standing there with his drink I his hand. She waited. His stomach churned and his legs wobbled. The latter could've been from the alcohol or his nerves.
In the end, Oscar returned to his chair in shame. The girl finished her drink and left a tip next to the empty glass on the table. As she left, the same better fall breeze filled the bar. Even after the door closed, the chill lingered.
"You couldn't do it, could you?"
"It's not just the fact I couldn't talk to that girl," said Oscar. "I haven't been well lately. I can't remember the last time I had something going for me. Is this it? Am I going to stay in the same town I grew up in for the rest of my life? After college, which come to think of it wasn't that useful, I got a decent job. A boring job pushing papers at the hall of records all day, but still a decent job. I didn't know what to expect, but it wasn't this. As for everything else, I'm not looking for someone to settle down with. I don't know if I ever want that. I'm miserable, and the last thing I want to do is make somebody else miserable. At least that's what I tell myself. The problem is I get bored after awhile. But it would be nice to meet someone new. And see here and there. That would be nice."
Oscar took another sip of his drink. He felt better.
It was almost midnight and everyone else was gone. Oscar had some rum left in his glass. He didn't know if he could finish it, but he felt it would be a sin to not. So, even though he didn't believe in sin, he finished it. "Tomorrow," he said aloud, "I'm going to make some changes."
"Congratulations," Arnold said. It looked like he was going to fall asleep in his chair.
Oscar asked the bartender for his check. "I'll take care of it," Arnold said.
"No, I can't let you do that," said Oscar.
"It's done," Arnold said, pushing the check to the side. Oscar objected once more, but Arnold wouldn't have it. "Nobody likes drinking alone," Arnold said. "And don't worry about everything so much. There's always tomorrow." Arnold pointed to the wood plaque that hung above the entrance. It read: Tomorrows, Est. 1948.
There's always tomorrow, Oscar said to himself. For the first time in a long time, he longed for sleep, and the day that followed. There's always tomorrow. He wondered how many others told themselves the same thing when they came to this place. But that was no matter. Oscar assured himself that tomorrow things would be different. Tomorrow he would make all the changes he wanted, whatever they may be. At least that's what he told himself. He would do it all tomorrow.
But probably not.