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April 22, 2024

Grey Skies

By Lydia Manx

He polished his black leather shoes carefully. It was a long forgotten skill in this new generation. Everything was expendable, it seemed to him. Hell, some days he felt more than a bit overused and abused and ready to be recycled. Taking care to set the still damp soft cloth on top of yesterday's newspaper further reminded him how disposable even the newspapers had become. Used to be a paper took near the best part of the morning to get read. Cripes, he could finish off most of the news with his first cup of coffee. He sighed and worked the bristles of the bush over the black polished surface. Leather shoes were best when polished by hand he'd always been told. Soundlessly he expelled out a breath of air.

His wife knocked on the door softly and asked, "Henry, you okay?"

"I'm fine, Maggie. I'll be out in a minute."

She sighed audibly lingering on the other side of the oak door for a few moments then he heard her slow steps away from his den. Maggie was a good woman. She knew Henry well after over fifty years together.

Too soon the shoes were finished and Henry wasn't left with any more distractions. It was nearly time. He put on his best suit and tie slowly. The twinges in his fingers while knotting his silk tie had let him know a storm was heading into town, just what he needed on top of an already brutal week.

Running a comb through his gray and slightly thinning hair he exhaled and got ready to go out to join his wife. Without question she'd been dressed for a good hour. Maggie hadn't ever been one to dawdle when something had to be done. She knew he was reluctant but that he would be ready in time.

Shaking his head sadly at his reflection, he wondered where all the years had gone. It seemed like it had just been yesterday when he'd been newly engaged and out on the town. Maggie had been over at her mother's starting all the planning that went with major events that even to this day were still a mystery to him. He remembered he'd figured he'd avoid the hassles at Maggie's folks home and made plans to meet up with his friends over at the local watering hole for a beer.

Unbidden, his mind wandered back to that night.

Henry cursed as he had walked into the poorly lit bar. Charlie's was the best in the area for grabbing an iced cold draft and unwinding with some pals. Nobody put on airs or acted the fool. All day it'd been raining and windy so the cuffs of his pant legs were soaked and his shoes were squishing with moisture. His eyes took a minute to adjust to the near black interior of the musty smoke filled room. The sound of rock and roll music assaulted his ears drowning out the rumbling voices for a minute. It was an odd feeling that flooded him. The fact he was going to get married hit him like a brick just then. He was changing his whole world.

"Henry, get your tired ass over here!" A voice cut through all the soulful singing and deep bass beat that had flooded his ears and still strummed through his body. He felt disconnected from the scene.

Roy sat in one of the dark burgundy booths set back in the corner with a pitcher of draft already half empty. He hoisted up his half empty glass toasting Henry with a loud, "The mighty have fallen! Hurrah! I never thought we'd see the day." A deep gulp drained the rest of the suds and he belched lightly.

"Trust you to be the first one here." Henry nodded to the waitress, Penny, who brought him a frosty glass already filled.

"Hon, congrats, this one's on me." She was a good girl and set down the draft leaving him to Roy's wicked grin.

"You told everyone I gather." Henry dryly commented after taking a drag off the cold beer. It was tasty and quenched something inside him. The otherly feeling he'd been having buried itself momentarily and he relaxed into the booth. The leather was soft and well worn.

"Naturally, good news has to be shared. Besides, now Penny may give me a second glance with you off the market." Roy wasn't kidding. Henry knew his friend had a soft spot for the waitress. Henry had never been interested in Penny and Roy knew it.

They both sat in a comfortable silence drinking their beers. The music went up a notch and Henry sighed.

"Yeah?" Roy asked.

"Something isn't it?" Henry was starting to feel different again. Changes were in the wind.

"Yep." Roy waved for Penny. Penny was busy with a new table and waved back she'd be right there.

"So you going to be my best man?" Henry asked quietly.

"Me in a monkey suit? Hell, yes, I'll look good!" He grinned and toasted Henry with the mouthful of beer remaining in his glass. He refilled both of their glasses, emptying the pitcher. Penny swiped the pitcher from his grasp while placing a new one on the table.

"Roy, what you grinning about?" She asked seeing his beam.

"Henry here decided I was his best man." The pride was there for all to see.

Penny rolled her eyes. "Roy, you are something. We all know you and Henry are thick as thieves. Who else would be his best man?"

Henry blushed and grinned at the shock on Roy's face. He wasn't one for over the top emotions or grand gestures but a naturally quiet man. The exuberance on Roy's face was unexpected but somehow right.

The rest of the gang strolled in over the next hour joining the growing party. The music gave way to swing and couples began dancing. Henry wondered if he could get away unnoticed when Roy said, "Why don't you call her?"

He pressed a dime into Henry's palm and nodded towards the payphone in the bar. Grinning, he got up and went to see if Maggie could get away from her folks long enough to join them. Soon the night turned into dawn and Roy, Maggie and Henry found themselves walking through the morning quietly.

"Maggie, you are the best thing that ever happened to Henry." Roy said as the birds screeched and flapped in nearby bushes and trees.

"No, Roy, you are. You're just sharing him with me." She knew the right thing to say. Companionably they walked home.

Henry came back to the present day with a dull ache. He walked into the living room saying, "Okay, Maggie my love, let's go."

Maggie came over to Henry and adjusted his tie saying, "I love you, honey."

Henry nodded. Together they went out to go bury Roy. The skies opened up on the way to the church, and Henry felt like the dreary day would never end. Burying his best friend while the skies wept seemed appropriate.

Article © Lydia Manx. All rights reserved.
Published on 2010-02-08
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