The Tap Room–On William

Neil always carried one of them small New Testaments in the back pocket of his work jeans and a hard pack of cigarettes in the front pocket of his shirt. He never smelled of smoke, just of wood chips and turpentine.

Neil walked through the front door every Friday at 3:00 and eased up to the bar. I always watched him whisper his usual down to Mary Carter. She didn’t never ask him anything, just smiled, poured him a pint and brought me the order.

He was a white man with a voice like Barry White. Once I told him that and he laughed. He said his voice had more gravel in it, like Tom Waits, whoever that was. Neil was a modest tipper, just a furniture maker by trade, but he was always kind to me. He was good to leave a cigarette with the extra dollar.

Last Friday I brought him his order and he noticed my forearm. He asked about my tattoo, the dark blue outline of a cross with the words “by his stripes” written underneath. I tried to tell him it was a long story. He smiled. “Can’t be that long,” he said.

“My brother Ronnie and me got them tattoos when we was sixteen,” I told him. “We used to live out on a county road in Mississippi. Me and Ronnie got into hubcap stealing, sold them to this fella out of Jackson. One day the police came to our house on a tip. Daddy knew we’d done it, but he told the police it was him. Said he was trying to make some side money. The police dragged him out the front door and beat him with an old horse whip. Cut him up real bad and dragged him off to jail. I didn’t see him after that.”

Neil listened carefully, didn’t ask me whatever happened to Ronnie. Instead, he reached for his front pocket with his left hand and his back pocket with his right. He pulled out bible and the cigarettes, stacking them up like dirty dishes. He slid them to me across the bar. “Merry Christmas, William,” he said as he reached for his pint and raised it to his lips.

“It’s July, Neil,” Mary Carter chuckled behind me.
Over the top his glass he looked down at Mary Carter, then back to my arm. “Peace on earth, and goodwill to men.”

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5 Responses to The Tap Room–On William

  1. abby says:

    i’ve read this several times since you posted it, seth, and i keep just saying. hmmm. not in a questioning way, but in the way you sit back and hmmm after some peach cobbler and a sip of coffee.

    i especially like your easy use of dialogue. reader can see you know these people, maybe they aren’t photographs of skin and bone folks, but composites of true people that ring authentic. i’ve always struggled a bit with dialogue and i tip my hat to it here – the narrator’s especially.

    • sethhaines says:

      This is actually one I questioned a lot. When I attempt to create worlds with words, I find believable dialogue difficult. I find too often that when I read fiction (whether my writing or others), I ask myself “would that character really say that?” Does that line fit within the character’s geography (whether past or present). These are issues I’m trying to wrestle with so I certainly appreciate your input here.

      I think I’d like to keep exploring the Tap Room. I have some ideas. I’ll keep going here for a bit.

  2. I just read this and thought the same thing as Abby – I struggle with dialogue too and this was effortless to read. And awesome.

    • sethhaines says:

      Gracious, really.

      Matt and I were talking last night about how the actual tap-room, the one in Hickory, NC, was a good place. He’s a close friend who I hadn’t seen in a good while. We met half way in a strange town (all the streets were numbered by drunken Frenchmen, I think) and it was like we’d both lived there all of our lives.

      My only regret was eating that extra Chip and extra Fish. Only by luck did I find Rolaids at a road side truck stop… ugg…

      I don’t know whether you’ll drive that way with SS, but if’n you do, you should make a pit stop… take a picture… or something.

    • sethhaines says:

      And yes, I think of the Carolinas as one massive place.

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