Randall stands in the corner behind the bar and polishes a glass. There is no use in him polishing this glass, for it was washed earlier today and remains unused. He’s just watched enough movies and TV shows to know that, if you’re tending bar and you want to give sage advice, you should probably be polishing some sort of glass. Preferably a mug, but a cup will do just fine.
He’s wearing a red flannel and has a big faux-gold belt buckle. His shirt is tucked in almost all the way around but peeks out of the back over his wallet pocket. This is calculated. He wants people to know that he cares about his appearance, but he doesn’t mind when things get a little bit out of order.
The regulars at the Spotted Dog are not eager recipients of the man-child’s rambling, but he’s pouring their drinks, so they listen — if a little indignantly. Today, there are only two men who sit on opposite ends of the bar. Ronald and Roland Riesel, twin brothers who spend the frigid winters driving identical red pickup trucks and plowing the roads for the county. They drink giant coffee Thermoses filled with Irish coffee and listen to the same classic-rock station. Everyone in the town knows that they are drunk while they plow, but there’s no one else willing to clear the roads, and barely anyone is out on them while they do. The town figures they have no one to harm but themselves, and lets it go.
Now that it’s summertime, they spend most of their days collecting unemployment and running up impossible tabs at Randall’s bar. He likes to think that they’re here because of his advice, but it is more likely that they’re here because he is their baby brother, and they can get away without paying for their drinks. The twins haven’t said a word to each other in thirteen years for reasons no one in the town can discern. They used to be inseparable, and still are in a way, but now they’re just inseparable silently. Used to be that, when they were in a room, they’d finish each other’s sentences. Now the only thing they’ll finish for each other is a drink — and that’s only if the other has passed out on the bar or slinks off to the bathroom for a piss. Their only verbal interactions are filled with petty insults and instigations. Randall is pretty sure neither one knows why they’re even arguing.
Randall, still polishing his glass, looks at the top of Roland’s slightly balding head. “Need a refill, brother?”
Roland grunts, keeping his eye on the bar, but pushes his empty mug toward Randall and burps. Ronald, polite now, even in his drunken haze, mutters, “Excuse yourself, you barbarian.” Roland chuckles and spits across the room at Ronald’s worn boots. Randall hands Roland his new beer and goes back to polishing, taking in the spectacle. Ronald pushes his chair back and stands up with fists raised. Roland grabs his new beer with both hands and stares directly into its amber depths, ignoring his brother.
Randall speaks up, “Boys…boys…if you’re going to be like this, I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”
Ronald sits back down, but not without a laugh. “Like you could make either of us do anything.” Roland raises his glass to his twin and nods without making eye contact.
Randall sets down his glass, throws the dishrag over his shoulder, and moves between them. He places his hands on the bar, feeling like he’s onto something. “When we were growing up, and you two cooperated? Of course not. But now…I’m not so sure either of you dim-witted drunks could put one past me, even if you did make up.”
This time they push their seats back and stand, fists raised in unison. They each reach out and grab a side of his collar with opposite fists and spit, “Oh yeah?” Randall’s shoulders tense; he’s aware of the fact that he wouldn’t be getting out of this without a black eye (or two). “You really think we’re not capable of kicking your ass?” Randall shrugs, and they each punch him square in opposite sides of the jaw.
He collapses to the floor and spits out a bloody tooth, but he can’t help but smile. It may not have been advice, and it may still have been full of the violence he always advocated against, but his brothers just worked together toward one goal for the first time since they were all in their twenties. And that felt good, for all of them. When Randall stands back up, the twins are sitting next to each other. They still remain silent, but it doesn’t matter. This is progress.