Richard looked at his half-grown mustache, and couldn’t decide whether to shave or not. He was about fifty with receding brown hair, and a John Doe face, and brown eyes. He wore khaki pants, white shirts, and canvas shoes, and lived in a small apartment over the hardware store. He was married to Martha up until about a year ago when he came across Robert and Martha, and Robert’s pants were around his ankles. Martha felt bad she hurt him, but Robert gave her pleasure the way Richard couldn’t. Richard saw how Robert had a mustache which gave him the idea. It took him almost a year to talk himself into it. He had a job at the liquor store which had been for quite awhile now. He went to work, and opened cases of vodka and gin, and put them on the shelf. Monday was his hardest day, you know, because of the weekend. After he lost his marriage, his liquor store job kept him going. There were two things he didn’t like about Robert, the first being that he had sex with his wife, and the second was he drank whisky. That meant he had to see Robert when he came in to buy his Jack Daniels. It was all right if he was behind the shelves, and could ignore Robert, but when he was on the register, they had to pretend to be friendly which drove him nuts. The last time Robert came to Richard’s register as he picked up his bag; he pointed to Richard’s mustache, and said,
“Hey, another year or so; you might have something.”
Richard gave a wicked fake laugh. He glanced out the window and saw Martha waiting in the car.
Richard didn’t drink. Often times, he sat on a bench in the common and watched pedestrians walk by. He had a cup of coffee and a glazed doughnut, and read the paper. He wanted sex, and tried hard not to think about Robert and his pants around his ankles. He thought he was a good partner, but reconsidered that wasn’t so, and thought the mustache must be the reason.
“Must be the way it tickles or something,” he thought. His problem had two parts – first grow a mustache, and second find a woman you can try it out on. He fanaticized being on the phone.
“Yeah Matilda, how about we catch some dinner and see a movie, and go back to my place, and see if it tickles?”
One of the fellows at the liquor store said he read an article how doing too much of that gives you cancer, and how they have these rubber things you’re supposed to wear over your mouth.
But it won’t tickle then,” blurted out Richard.
“Won’t taste neither,” said Roger.
So anyhow, Richard sat on the bench and watched. Every so often he’d make eye contact with a woman, and most times she’d look away, but sometimes there was a slight smile, and Richard took that to mean she enjoyed, a least a little bit, looking at him. He thought of things he could say, but could never get the nerve to follow through.
There was a woman that came into the liquor store probably four times a week, and was always weaving like a tall tree in the wind, and had a gravelly voice of a smoker, and wore tee shirts with mustard stains whose name was Sherry. Sherry worked as the bartender at the Legion Hall, and there wasn’t a man in the county could beat her at pool. Or poker for that matter. She cackled over dumb jokes and showed her yellow teeth and gums, and Richard couldn’t help but sense some kind of colossal pain. She thought of herself as being as good with comedy as she was with pool, and told jokes that Richard could guess the punch line way before she got there, and then he had to fake amusement. Richard had thought of asking her out, but could guess that she’d had plenty of men without any of them really caring about her. She flashed her bad teeth and pale gums while pointing at Richard’s mustache, and saying,
“Hey, in another year or so; you may have something.”
Sherry went behind the bar at three in the afternoon, and was replaced at six by Earl. She shot pool from six until ten without defeat, and then augmented her tips playing poker. She drank Black Velvet, and by eleven was weaving like a punch-drunk boxer; guffawing at everything whether clever or not. Eugene was her escort who took her home sincerely concerned for her well-being. The boys never let Eugene pay for his beer which he didn’t drink much of anyway. Pool hustlers showed up from other counties having heard about Sherry which pissed her off because she couldn’t start on the Black Velvet until she took care of business. Earl was a good guy about it, and kept the bar open later than he was supposed to, and Eugene too waited patiently for Sherry to get her buzz on. That is until one night some guy named Rocky from Merrimack County offered to walk her home.
When she came into work the following day, the boys watched her closely, and the only thing they could tell was she had a new tee shirt with no mustard stains on it. She was quieter than usual, and when some guy from Carroll County challenged her to a game she said,
“No thanks. Not tonight.” The men looked at each other, and she walked out without Eugene.
Eugene was in the liquor store shopping for a bottle of wine for his wedding anniversary. Eugene worked at the hardware store below Richard’s apartment so they knew each other by sight. Richard was in front of his shelves facing the bottles when he looked up and saw Eugene.
“Hey, how’s it going?” he asked.
Eugene’s face got red.
“Fine. Oh, fine. Yes, of course, fine.”
Richard was amused by Eugene.
“Yes, I was wondering, if perhaps, you could help me. They serve this white wine at the Legion Hall with a blue label and some stuff written in French…”
“Ah, yes, French wine,” said Richard.
Richard and Eugene walked over to the French wine.
“Do you see the label?”
Eugene looked at the bottles. Richard waited.
“Oh yes, this is it.”
He lifted a bottle off the shelf.
“You must know Sherry?”
Eugene studied Richard like a mutant.
“How do you know her?”
“By the gallon.”
Eugene shook his head.
“I try and help her. She has a hard life,” said Eugene.
The two men had a self-conscious moment.
“She’s a nice person.”
“Especially given the abuse she’s had.”
“I can only imagine…”
“Thank-you for your help. Maybe I can repay you if you’re ever in the hardware store. I can sell you some fertilizer to help with that mustache.”
Richard laughed and couldn’t think of a comeback.
Richard had a dilemma. On one hand, he could take Sherry out, and get the sex he wanted, but be no better than all the men or on the other, he could leave her alone, and at least, he wasn’t actively destroying her self-worth. He thought about it all afternoon, and when he got off work, he went back to his small apartment on the second floor, and shaved off his under grown mustache.
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