Larry leaned toward the fellow sitting on the barstool two down. “So,” he said, “how’d you lose the leg?”
The man swiveled slightly on his stool and looked at Larry, and Larry looked back. He knew he wasn’t much to look at—Cindy had told him so for years, first jokingly, then simply as a matter of thoughtless habit—but he knew that he fit in, here in The Drowned Out, with the other low-grade white collar types who were taking up space at the bar and in the booths. He belonged. This one-legged man, though, was a novelty. His hair was white with a few scattered black threads running through it where it fell into his eyes; his skin was wrinkled leather as if he had spent fifty years staring down the wind and the sun, and his chin was frosted with white stubble. He wore a pea jacket, clinching Larry’s assessment of the man as an “old salt,” though what an “old salt” was doing in Ohio he had no idea. And of course there was that missing leg, without a prosthesis or even a peg in its place; the right leg of the man’s corduroys were rolled and pinned where the thigh abruptly ended.
The man took a long pull at his beer as he looked back at Larry, then said, “You’re a friendly sort, at you?” His muttered voice was strong but quiet, with a cadence that made Larry think of rolling seas and creaking yardarms or whatever creaked on a boat. Larry had never been on the ocean. He also knew that he was moderately drunk.
“Well, you seem like a man with a story,” Larry said, waving to Chuck behind the bar for another of what he had just finished. “No point in ignoring it, right? The leg, I mean. Everyone’s always trying to pretend that nobody’s got a handicap—no offense—but hey, the leg’s not there, and it’s hard to ignore. And it’s probably a damned interesting story.”
“I’m sure everyone in here has his own story,” the man said—not brusquely, not in an effort to end the exchange, but conversational-like. Larry scooted his drink with him as he moved to the stool beside the man. Up close the old pea coat was patched but clean, and despite the stubble and shaggy hair, the man didn’t smell or anything.
“Everyone in here,” Larry said, “has the same story. Me too. Got a wife waiting at home who ain’t really waiting. No matter when I get there, she’ll be sitting up in bed with the mudpack on, watching whoever’s on late-nite now, and when I crawl into bed she’ll turn out the light and roll over and that’ll be it. As long as I’m not getting any tonight, I might as well be here at The Drowned Out, getting pleasantly plastered. And there aren’t any one-legged men at home. At least, I don’t think her tastes run that way. So? What’s your story?”