Where Water Flows
by Andrew Reilly
She does this thing when she walks across the bar, this kind of half-strut where her hips rock quickly to the left then a little more slowly back to the right. Not too suggestive, but you know she knows we're looking. She always puts drinks on a tray to carry them out, even if there's only one and even if she's only going to the table just past the edge of the bar, and you can see the muscles in her arms and back tighten up a little when she raises the drinks up above whatever crowd has or has not gathered here.
On some afternoons I'm the only person in the place, which may or may not work in my favor where her opinion is concerned. Part of me says it makes me look like I have nothing better to do during the day than to hang out in my granddad's bar, but part of me argues that women like a man who makes time to just relax and enjoy the sunset. Besides, it gives us time to talk. On real slow days, I bring my dog with to keep everyone company. He's a bit old and not quite as sharp as he used to be, but she likes him, and I like her, and he likes getting out of the house, so I figure this way everyone wins.
She talks a lot about getting out of town. New York, she says, or maybe Los Angeles. I've been to both, can't say either was much worth the hassle of getting there, but she's young and pretty and the world probably looks a lot different to her than it does to me.
"You want the big city?" I often ask her. "You don't need the big city."
Then when I know she can't hear me, "I can be big city."
Granddad hired her maybe a year ago to help out on weekends. The paper in Springfield did a story about us, and soon it got pretty busy with the boaters stopping by on their way back from (or out to) whatever they were up to on the water, or the occasional kids from the college getting their first sip of paradise.
In slower times, I'd help him close up for a few hours in the afternoon so we could get out on the boat for a bit before dark; now during busy shifts he just laughs that he's "a few dollars closer to getting out of here." The old man was smart to hold onto a place like this. The view alone was worth more than whatever the short guy from Collins offered him every time he came in to have a sandwich and try to talk business and someday, when he finally decides to cash in his chips, my granddad is going to lead a very comfortable rest of his life.
He tries once in a while to get me to do more around the place than just take up a barstool but I tell him the world on my side is just fine, thank you very much. The bar was supposed to have been dad's by now, but after the accident granddad and I both knew dad's days of running anything were pretty much over. So instead, here's granddad waiting for the right price to call it quits and me waiting for our pretty waitress friend to bring over another Gruhlke's. I'm nothing if not a friend of local business.
She does her cute little walk in my direction and sets the lager down on the table, smiling about something.
"You look awfully happy all of a sudden."
"Didn't you hear?" she asks. "I'm leaving. Today's my last day."
"You got a new job? That's wonderful." I rub the dog behind his ears the way he always likes me to in these lazy afternoons.
"Well, not yet," she says, laughing a little. "I saved up enough and I'm moving to New York, finally. Can you believe it?"
I stammer for some cool answer, scrambling to answer smoothly but instead just getting out a slow "Wow" and a very clumsy "uhhhhhh."
"Yup, my car's all packed," she continues, "probably heading out tomorrow after saying some goodbyes. I'm gonna miss a lot of people. You should've seen my mom and dad when I told them, I thought they were just gonna lose their minds!"
I feel the dog moving around under the table. He must have sensed our impending loss. This must be his way of telling me to act now to keep this lady around.
"You know," I start, "maybe you don't have to leave just yet. I mean, maybe there's a few things here that might be worth staying for."
She's suddenly looking down at the ground, towards the dog.
"I mean, maybe there's some people that might miss you more than you think they might," I continue, "or maybe there's still some things out this way you still haven't seen. I know it's not New York but, you know, maybe it's. . . "
It's obvious her attention is elsewhere. "You alright?" I ask.
"Sorry hon, I wasn't listening" she says, pointing towards the floor under the table. "Looks like your little animal friend has something he wants to tell you."
I look down just in time to see my little animal friend let out a whimper as he relieves himself all over the floor. And my shoes. And suddenly the whole effort is useless; New York looks nice in the movies, and all I've got is beers in the afternoon and an old dog with terrible timing.
She looks back up at me: "You were saying something, hon?"
"Nothing," I say. "Send me a postcard once you get settled in, would you?"
"Sure thing, hon." She smiles and does her little strut back towards the bar. The dog grins and starts panting, and if I didn't know better I'd swear he was laughing at me.
Copyright © 2008 Andrew Reilly
Andrew Reilly lives and writes in Chicago, where his work appears sometimes in The Onion A.V. Club, No Touching, and Ghost Factory, among others. He is a member of the 2nd Story storytelling festival and managing editor of The 35th Street Review. Visit him online at andrewreilly.org.