The Calling

So two guys walk into a crowded bar on a Friday night at the exact moment a couple right near the door stand and—presto—two vacant stools. They belly-up and the bartender’s there. They are regulars, a little older than the crowd that averages late-20s to mid-40s. Two beers. They quaff deeply and put their pints down at the same time, as if choreographed. Then, talk.

“You really want to give up girls?”

“Well, they’re not girls, they’re women. If it was girls, then I’d be a creeper, officially.”

“Yeah, the formula. Half your age plus seven years.”

“Before you take off your shoes and start counting on your toes the answer is 34. Thirty-four and a half, if you really want to split….”

“Gwen.”

“She was 37.”

“Damn! Almost 20 years difference!”

“That was the problem.”

“That’s a problem? You dog. Stacy?”

“I’m thinking 40. Maybe 41.”

“No shit. She looked about 30. Let’s see….”

“I wish I never told you these things.”

“You only kiss-and-tell when buzzed.”

Another quaff. 

“Jenny’s been dead….”

“Soon to be five years.”

“You started dating….”

“Soon to be two years ago. Technically.”

“Yeah, you dipped your toe in before that.”

“Should never tell you jack-shit.”

“You’re having the life every guy dreams of. You’re a playboy.”

“Do I look like a playboy? Will Hollywood call? It’s demographics. Older men have a huge dating pool.”

“More reason not to give up sex. Or drinking.”

“I can still drink, in moderation.”

“Drinking with a babe you want to lay.”

“Well, that’s out.”

“You’re beating them off with a stick and ‘that’s out’? It ain’t natural. Jenny wouldn’t want that. I remember her saying that all the priests should walk around in ashes and sackcloth.”

“She did.”

“That pedophile shit pissed her off royally.”

“Did.”

 “The last thing she’d want would be for you to be a priest.”

“Jenny would want me to be happy.”

“We agree then.”

“Priests can be happy.”

“Is this decision already made? I wish you’d talked to me first. Who the hell am I going to drink with? I loved hearing about your sex life. I live vicariously.”

“How is Clare, by the way?”

“Yeah, yeah. We get along. Been married….”

“Thirty years. Remember the party?”

“Right.”

Pause. Two more beers appear.

“But the fucking priesthood? Wait. Can I still say ‘fucking’ to you?”

“Say anything you want. For now.”

“That does it. Let’s fight.”

“You’re serious.”

“Outside.”

“Stop. I’m your beer connection.”

“You know, people will think you’re a kiddie diddler.”

“Yep.”

“Friends, even family, will stop being themselves around you. Maybe even me.”

“You? Never.”

“You’re not even religious.”

“I go to church.”

“So do I.”

“I go to confession.”

“Get out!”

“About once a month.”

“What do you have to confess? You’re a good guy. No bodies under the gazebo. Oh, right. All the fucking.”

“You know sex isn’t the only way to enjoy a beautiful woman’s company. Sex is great, but it’s only one aspect. I don’t just boff and run. Some of the women I never even….”

“One aspect of what? 

“What?”

“You just said ‘one aspect’. Of what? Love?”

“Kind of. Not like I had with Jenny. But feelings, caring.”

“Ick. Squishy.”

“Why is the idea of me joining the priesthood so tough to accept?”

“Because you usually buy.”

“Don’t worry. I found God. You’ll find another buyer.”

“Tell me! Tell me! Tell me! Something happened to you. Something had to have happened.”

“My wife died.”

“Right. And you mourned. And launched your kid. And slowly came back to life, which includes hooking up with the ladies.”

“Something like that, I guess.”

“What really happened? Was it like lightning? Was it like near-death? What happened to you that you want to do this crazy thing?”

“It was … nothing. Emptiness.”

“I don’t follow.”

“Come home one morning after spending a delightful night with a woman—Dolores before you ask.” 

“Dolores.”

“You’re drooling. I open the door of my house and I encounter this strange emptiness. Strange in many ways. It weighs a lot, for one. How can emptiness weigh anything? And I know, in that moment, that as the years go by this emptiness gets heavier and heavier until it crushes me. Sex doesn’t make it go away. Neither does beer or going to the movies or watching sports. Parties won’t lift the emptiness. And even doing good for others. Volunteer work. I tried and it helped a little. But only a little.”

“Don’t say that name.”

“What name?”

He spreads his arms, lowers his head. 

“Charades? OK. You’re crucified.”

“Don’t go flaky on me.”

“You asked what happened. There was a breeze.”

“Breeze?”

“In my living room. Lifting the hairs on my neck.”

“I don’t get it. I just don’t—excuse me, padre—fucking get it.”

“I am picking up the tab.”

“Answered prayers.”

They toast.

“Miss you already.”

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