“I’m never doing this again.”
Paul rubbed his hands together to circulate the blood. He cursed once, twice, thrice, swearing unprintable words about the bitter Philadelphia winter.
“What’s the matter, huh? If you’re cold yur not workin’ hard enough,” Bob said, “Pick up the damn shovel and get back to it.”
A fourth, fifth, sixth curse sneaked their way out of Paul’s lips. He replied jovially, “No problem, Bob, sorry, just got lost feelings in my hands. Tough to keep a grip on a shovel when you can’t feel your hands.”
Bob’s eyes squinted, his lips sneered, “You don’t need to feel the shovel to hold onto it. Just grab it, idiot.”
Seventh curse. Paul grabbed the worn ash handle and went back to work, “Right away, boss.”
How the hell was he back into this situation? Paul wasn’t a stupid guy, he wasn’t a jerk, so how’d he keep winding up in a position where he had to start over with nothing? The truth peeked its head into his inner monologue and whispered “you’re a sucker for a sweet smile and a bad attitude, Paul,” but he shooed that bit of niggling truth away.
Besides, it didn’t matter if that predilection was a weakness. This year was going to be different. It was January 15th 2018 and Paul was two-weeks true to his resolution; “No more rough women.” No more head-over-heels fiascos, not another night of “this-is-the-one” prayers to whoever was listening.
He reminded himself verbally, “I’m never doing this again.”
“Never doin’ what again?” Bob asked.
Paul’s eyes flitted, “What?”
“You just said you’re never doin’ this again. What the hell are you talkin’ about?”
“Nothin’, don’t worry about it. I’m just cold, is all. Makes me think stupid things.”
Bob tilted his head and leaned on his shovel. He said to Paul with something shy of a fatherly tone, “You know, if you’re cold, jus’ think warm thoughts.”
Paul nodded twice and said, “Yeah? Warm thoughts, huh? Like somethin’ about Florida?”
Bob considered it and said, “Yeah, I guess. You ever been to Florida?”
Paul shook his head, “Nah.”
“Then why the hell would you think of Florida if you ain’t never been there? Idiot. Think about somethin’ you actually done that made you warm.”
“Yeah, okay, Bob,” Paul said, rubbing his hands together.
“I think about the cookie’s ma makes. They’re ‘macerdermia’ nuts, whatever the hell you call ‘em. I think about eatin’ one straight outta the oven.”
Paul almost snorted at Bob’s words, but he figured what the hell, he’d give it a shot.
Paul thought warm thoughts.
On December 23rd 2017 Paul saw a concert at Arty’s Lounge, that place in Fishtown across from the Vietnamese jeweler and the old appliance store that won’t call it quits. It was a shit bar but they served good beer and didn’t try to strike up a conversation when you ordered a drink.
Paul was four beers deep when he heard the voice.
The hairs on his neck stood at attention and he turned towards the stage, slowly lowering the foamed pint glass from his lips. It was a woman singing, a little wisp of a thing with the voice of a trucker two-days into a three-day bender. There wasn’t a drop of pomp in her voice; it was the low growl of a junkyard dog who’d seen one too many taunting kids throw sticks against the fence. She was ready to ruin somebody’s day, and Paul wanted it to be his.
The setlist played for another thirty-eight minutes. Paul bought her a drink; her name was Shelly. They exchanged bouts of silence while gulping their beers, snorted at the follow-up act in unison, and at the end of the night made out like high school kids in the throws of band camp.
Paul scribbled her phone number onto the back of his hand but it smeared off by the time he got home. Her band would be in town again January 20th 2018. He’d go back to see them.
“Yo, idiot, you alright over there? Pick up the damn shovel.”
Paul returned to the moment. His hands were warm..
“Yeah, I got it,” he said and went to work.
Five more days, he thought, until he could see Shelly. Resolutions were the kind of self-knowledge that took the wind from his sails when he tread on troubled waters.
“I’ll do it one more time,” he bartered.
What’s life without a little idiocy?