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There were days, usually near the end of Winter, when the old shop up the concrete hill near my little valley of trees and land would close down completely for weeks it felt, and the old flannel men who could be seen playing checkers and drinking plain sodas in the window of the place seemed to fall out of existence itself, and the sweep and the store-keep and the local drug dealers all moved elsewhere, no work to be seen. Nobody was sure how the owner even stayed alive to pay the bills, closing the store for so long so often like that, and nobody ever saw the man behind it all other than the sweep, because he was a nephew of the hidden old codger (or his deformed younger brother, depending on who you asked), but everyone knew the dusty convenience store by it’s supposed name, the words etched on the old wooden sign hanging tautly over the place: LAZY EYE
“What does it mean?” a first time customer would sometimes ask, generally.
“Nobody knows,” the old store-keep would say, “except for the owner. And maybe the sweep.”
The first-timer would turn to look out the plated-glass window of the place.
“Yeah, the sweep. He‘s the owner’s step-son, ya‘ know” would say the old store-keep.
But today, the store wasn’t open, and nobody was around, so I went to a nearby Inn to get my dry whiskey beverage. It still burnt my taste-buds quite a bit, but I didn’t pay much attention now. I used to hate that burning feeling, it was almost unbearable for me, in fact I probably would have been better off with some other sort of pleasure, but I loved to drink anyway (not just the alcohol) so I learned to deal with it like all the big town drunks and the local losers and the failed politicians, and the better I got at dealing with things the more I began to feel like those sort of people. The old inn was comfortably vacant, most of the old-timers and the professional drunks flocked down to the old tombstone lodges and bars spread out concurrently through the town. You could almost always tell a man’s age by the name of the bar he got drunk at. As for me, I liked the inn because hardly anyone ever came there, even the tired and the weak. I sat at my usual seat in the dull-lighted left-hand corner of the place with my whiskey, and downed it quite suddenly. My liver ached for more. I yelled at the bartender from across the scarcely-populated room.
“Barkeep! Another whiskey!”
“Barkeep!”, I screamed, “I’m dying over here, and drunk is my medication!”
Nobody cared to notice my dry wit. Then I noticed that there was no one to notice. The whole place was empty, dead, dried-up. I looked around. No barkeep. I walked over to the bar and looked behind the counter, nobody. Suddenly, I felt very uncomfortable and walked back, out to the Winter gathering. The snow was really coming down now, hard. It hadn’t been that bad when I’d first walked in, I thought. Where had the barkeep gone, anyway? I looked through the cheap little panel, back into the old inn, and still no barkeep. Maybe he didn’t like being called “barkeep” considering he worked at an inn, and went to the backroom to drink himself into a barkeep.
I walked along the barren sidewalk for a while, and the bitter wind began to feel a little more relaxing the further I went. I had always enjoyed the snow when it got like this, everyone seemed to hate it. The old man that owned the Lazy Eye must have hated it more, he closed the whole place down. I walked some more, until I got bored with walking, and Winter, and thought and all that. I came to an empty park and walked in through the open space in front of the place, there was no big iron gate to stop me. And to think, I thought, this is where the homeless found home, where the jobless found hope in themselves through the hopelessness of the homeless. That could be me, one day, I thought--of which of the two, I wasn’t sure, though.
I found an old black swing-set, near the mechanical zoo animals and the rusted turning contraption of which far too much vomiting had occurred in my aching childhood, and I sat on one of the old swinging contraptions and let the wind help my legs do the work for me. I had never been to this park, and still hadn’t. The park had chosen me, selected me out of all the cold sidewalk-hounds, out of all the lost drunks without barkeeps to take their bulls***. I spread out my legs, and the swing and the wind and the snow and the playground felt good to them, now. The flakes touched lightly on my unkempt hair, despite pounding so hard, and it looked like ferocious dandruff, only slightly and senselessly invading the privacy of the moment. But the more it snowed, and the more the swing swung, the more it seemed to push the moment along with me. It was magical at the time, I think. I lit a cigarette and the moment seemed perfect to me. For a while. But, as all things eventually become, the moment grew sour and tired. I was soon bored, again.
I jumped off the old thing and landed semi-perfectly on the ground, my knees buckling a bit.
I started to tell you this about the old store, but like I said, it was closed that day. Yes, I did pass it for a short while on the way home, but it was dead now and didn’t seem to want anything written about it that day. So, I stopped at an old gas station near my home instead and picked up some beers. I drank all the beers, then slept on the velvet-lined sofa across the living room for a while. When I woke up, my knees hurt and my head made my knees feel not so bad anymore. I took some aspirin and went back to sleep.
And I wake up and it looks like the Lazy Eye is stilled closed.