The telephone rang mid-afternoon. Outside, strong gusts of wind blew, causing the bare limbs of a willow in the front yard to whip and sway southward. Alone in the house, I picked up before the second ring. A chill coming from the north cast shades of light and dark along the inner wall of our living room, and a cold voice on the line spoke,
“This is Billy’s Tavern. Anyone there know Otho?”
I laid my magazine among the clutter on top of the television cabinet.
“Otho is my uncle.”
Subtle shadows of winter danced about the room, marking the beat of tinny music coming from the receiver while the gruff tone of voice continued.
“Can you come down here and get him?”
Mother had gone shopping. Both girls were off somewhere, and since dad had his door shut for a nap, I took his car and drove downtown to the far end of Broadway.
Trash blew in swirls along the curbed brick street. Faded storefronts lined both sides of the north end, indifferent to the bright sun, staring blankly at one another as I cruised by. Most sat closed, emptied of trade during weekends. A small neon sign arched across a single plate glass window of the one and only lively spot.
From where I parked at the curb, I could sense the smell of apathy. The wind sang an unfeeling song as I pushed my door hard against it, and I got out as if to challenge some nameless enemy. Leaning into his assault and crossing the sidewalk, with the black stain of a doorway in sight, I could taste bitterness and the frustrations that waited inside. It rode out on the wavering strains of a jukebox to greet me as a hardhearted friend, uncaring and callous and as cold as the day.
The click of a cue ball sounded above the loud music as I stepped inside the place. In dim shadows near a back wall, shapes sat huddled at scattered tables. A glow of half-lit glasses shined above a dark wood bar to my right. Behind it, an unworried man busied himself as I approached. On the floor in front of the bar, curled around the base of a barstool, lay the lonely form of Otho, quieted and resting for a change.
No one cared as I shook him. I felt the unconcern of the whole room as I roused this broken man, while unemotional life continued to flow around the two of us. A man three stools down looked straight as he tilted back his head to take a drink.
Otho mumbled something when I shook his shoulder.
No one said hello. No one said goodbye as he and I staggered across the floor. No one offered a hand when I almost lost him, bending under his weight. The wind didn’t mind that he stumbled, nor did the brilliant sun outside. The cold red bricks of Broadway turned from us unsympathetically as I heaved him into the back seat of dad’s car, and the trash blowing down the avenue had not a care, but his own frail mother, living out her final years in the little trailer behind our house did.
I managed to take him there, somehow, but I don’t recall the last fifty feet of our journey together.