Outside was a mixture of rain and sleet. The streets and the parking lots were covered with a thin sheet of ice that made the act of going home damn near impossible. Some of us regulars gathered at the window and watched cars skidding into each other and cringed as we heard the grating sound of metal on metal. We watched as the drivers disengaged from their vehicles to inspect their respective damage and laughed as we watched them promptly fall flat on their asses and scramble to get up.
The inside of our local watering hole was warm and comfortable. The jukebox was playing softly and the televisions that dominated the back of the bar remained on mute. There were no strangers here on this day. The place was closed to the public for a private party and the only patrons that were gathered were a select few who attended the ceremonies earlier that day.
You see, earlier that day we had buried yet another comrade in arms, a fellow tippler and storyteller who had met his fate earlier in the week. We had come to pay our last respects to a fine friend, an excellent family man and true credit to the human race. Earlier in the day tears were shed freely and glasses were raised in his honor. As the night wore on, those tears were replaced by smiles and laughter as we all traded stories about our dearly departed friend.
He had come from a large Irish family, the middle child of nine. His mother and father were both long gone but not forgotten. An old faded picture of the two them encased in a glass frame was strategically placed behind the bar. It was them in their older years. All of their children were already grown and had left the comforts of home to pursue their own adventures.
The picture itself showed the two of them with their arms around each other and smiles on their faces. By looks of it, it was taken just before sunset and you could see the silhouette of their twin shadows in the back round.
As the evening progressed and festivities got a bit more rowdy glasses were raised and toasts were made in the pictures direction. Soon, a second picture was produced. This one showed the image of the recently departed and was placed alongside the one of his parents. This inspired even more drinking, toasting and storytelling.
Anybody who knows anything about drinking knows that over time, stories seem to take on a life of their own. They’re often embellished with either forgotten or made up facts to make them more interesting to the listener. This is especially true when the when the subject of the story is no longer around to claim otherwise.
As the night wore on, the pictures were forgotten. The somber music on the jukebox was replaced by more of a party atmosphere. I think it was around 2:30 in the morning and the streets had been cleared. It was now safe for the remaining fifteen or twenty of us to venture outside and make our way home. As we were gathering our coats we heard one of the departed's siblings mutter the following.
”Holy... fuckin’... shit!...”
We turned to see what was wrong and the image of him is one I won’t soon forget. His face was ashen and his trembling finger was pointing to the pictures behind the bar. He kept trying to form words but all the came out of his mouth were whimpers.
We turned to look at what he was referring to and a hush fell over the bar.
The second picture, the one that was recently placed in homage to our friend was now lacking something. That something was him. In his place there was only a ghost like image where he used to be. A faint outline of his body was all that remained.
Our eyes couldn’t help but wander over to the first picture, the one that contained the image of his parents and we all had to blink in order to believe our eyes. For there, right in between the two of them was a third image. It was the smiling face of our friend, now reunited with those who brought him into this world and nurtured him into the man he had become.
The earlier, rowdy portion of the evening was quickly forgotten. Instead, it was replaced by gaping jaws and shaking heads.
We all removed our coats, sat down on the barstools and stared blankly behind the bar.
There was a moment of drunken silence.