I wasn’t so much of a barfly at that time, but Ray was. We met maybe once or twice a week over a couple of years, whenever both of us happened to feel like shooting pool and showed up at the same time. I never knew him outside the bar, but we still got to know each other a little.

Like, I knew his name was really Rainier, and that’s why he went by Ray. Because who names their kid Rainier? Except someone like my mother, I guess, who thought saddling me with the name Aldous was a good idea. She heard of Aldous Huxley one day right before I was born and I was done for. “Such a lovely name,” she told me as I was growing up. “Little sissy Aldous,” the kids at school said instead.

Nobody calls me Aldous now except my family. And Ray had almost nobody else to call him anything other than Ray. We got along.

“Al,” he said to me one night, bent over the pool table, “my kids don’t call me anymore.” He took his shot, missed, and stood up straight, huffing a little. “I don’t know what to do about that.”

See, Ray’s kids grew up with someone else for a father; he was out of the picture after his wife left him. Me, I didn’t do that. When Athena’s mother and I split up, I could have gone out to Thompson for a better job than what I had, but I didn’t. I could’ve gone to New Caledonia. But I stayed around. I paid child support. I cared for my daughter. I know a lot of guys who didn’t do that, who just took off. Athena’s one of the lucky ones.

But Ray was trying to get reconnected. He was in his sixties now. His kids were all grown, a couple of them with kids of their own. He’d never met any of his grandkids.

“They’re so sophisticated,” he said, still huffing. His face was red, and the hand that wasn’t holding the pool cue fluttered over his chest. “They don’t want a rough old miner like me.”

I worked in the mine too, for a while. It makes you hard. You work hard, you drink hard, you play hard. You bitch about your wife, if you still have one; bitch about your ex-wife if you don’t. You dream about retirement, or you don’t, depending on whether you have anything else to live for.

I knew about dreams. I knew they could cost you what you already had, if you weren’t paying attention. If you spent too long keeping your eye on the wrong prize. They could cost you your wife, your house, your kid. If those things didn’t cost you your dreams first. I never figured out which cost me which.

Ray only had one dream left and that was to be with his kids again. “So you call them,” I told him. I took my shot, made it, and set up for the next one.

“They don’t answer me, Al.” He tilted his bottle back, drank half of it in one go. “How many times should I try?”

I continued to knock balls into the pockets. Some guy came up and left six stacks of quarters on the side of the table, challenging me to the next game, and claiming the table for the five games after that. I gave him the finger, then missed my last shot. Ray took up his cue and finished me off.

“You try every time,” I told him. “You try as many times as it takes.”

Ray lost the next game in a hurry; the guy with the quarters meant business. Ray came back to the bar to sit on the stool beside me while the table thief and his partner racked up for a new game. He gulped back the rest of his beer like it was water and wiped the back of his hand against the sweat pouring down his forehead.

“Just as well those bastards took our table,” he said, out of breath and wincing. “Is it hot in here?”

“My friend,” I told him, “you shouldn’t spend so much time bent over like that. You do not have an all-position heart.” I leaned back against the bar beside him, just sipping my beer, not wanting to get too drunk that night.

The heart will take what position it will, though. It will try for connection, or not. It will fight for family, or not. I try to take a philosophical view of these things. I’m only the man I am.

One night a few weeks later, I went to the bar to shoot some pool. Ray didn’t.

I miss him.


About the Author

Linda M. Bayley is a writer and textile artist living on the Canadian Shield. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Geist, The Windsor Review, voidspace zine, the National Flash Fiction Day 2024 Anthology, and Five Minutes. You can find her on Twitter/X @lmbayley.


Photo by Artem Balashevsky on Unsplash