This was originally a character development piece, but I enjoyed writing it so much that it started me down the road to creating an Anthology based on real life Alaskans.
“Hey Sweetie,” the pleasantly full-bodied bartender smiled sweetly at the gritty barfly, who set a shabby grocery bag on the bar and asked for a Whisky and Coke. “Five dollars,” her voice was casual and polite, when she set the cocktail in front of him. He was sure she was used to his kind in this town, but appreciated her nondiscriminatory service nonetheless.
His face was sunburnt and tough from years of living on the streets, his blond beard and hair dull and dirty from the lack of running water, but his pockets were brimming with singles and a rare twenty from kind souls looking to help keep him warm in the early parts of the winter season. He pulled out a fresh container of strawberry yogurt from his bag and poured a small bag of granola into it; it might be the only meal he had today, but he might as well enjoy the simple pleasures of a cocktail and the Yankees game that was being played on the bar television. He rolled a couple of pieces of granola around in his mouth, almost catching the gaps in his bittersweet wrinkled smile and his eyes glazed over as they focused on the screen in front of him.
Sodas were on the house, so he could pour endless amounts into his cocktail and at least pretend he was able to afford multiple cocktails before he realized he wasn’t getting any buzz. He pulled the only twenty out of his pocket once he finished his last bite of yogurt, “Can I get number six from you?” his voice was gruff and cracked. The bartender just nodded and smiled, then hesitantly took his twenty, knowing the barfly would get no return from it. He watched her count out twenty pull-tabs and he licked his cracked lips in anticipation when she set the basket in front of him. He was wearing his lucky green ball cap and jacket, after all, maybe today was the day he would strike it rich.
Two boisterous older ladies popped in through the arctic entryway, their laughs broke the silence of the bar and multiple heads turned expectantly. Midway through a joke, their witch-like cackles brought them loudly to the bar and they took the two stools to the right of the barfly. “Freddy!” The unnaturally redheaded woman blurted exuberantly, then threw an arm around the barfly. He had been hoping they would show up, Carol and Tippie were the only two people he could rightly say were his friends.
His prospector slouch nearly disappeared and his smile brightened, exposing his yellowed and toothless grin. “How are you doing Tippie?” his voice didn’t lose its rough edges, but there were stories on the tip of his tongue that he’d been holding on to for just such an occasion. Tippie shrugged, threw a look to Carol and they simultaneously burst into laughter.
“Oh good, just chiding Carol for goosing the bag boy at the store,” Tippie snorted, and Carol rolled her wispy green eyes.
“Oh please Tip! Ya know I’m old enough to be his gran mama, but that don’t stop me from havin’ a bit of fun!” Carol hucked her head back and crowed with laughter once more, Freddy just let his head hang down and chuckled. These ladies were too much for him sometimes, but he still enjoyed their company. The pull-tabs were still in his hands, almost like he was warming them up for a win, but finally he drew one out and ripped open the windows. Nothing. Freddy sighed and tossed the losing ticket in the basket.
“Gambling away your money again there, Freddy?” Carol raised an eyebrow, the plantation accent was still strong and a smirk was still riding her brightly painted lips. “I think I’ll go in on a twenty as well.” The bartender proceeded to grab twenty more pull-tabs each for Carol and Tippie. All at once the three of them were consumed with ripping the windows off of their tickets, small winning tickets were found, celebrated, and then set aside until all twenty of their respective tickets had been exhausted.
The playbacks went just as fast, but this time Freddy took a few glances up at the TV, Yankees were still ahead by two, it would be a good day regardless. He missed New York, but he knew it was easier to be homeless in Alaska than it was to be homeless in New York–at least here he didn’t have to run into the people that knew him before he gambled his entire livelihood away. Childhood friends who had watched him graduate from Columbia whispered and gossiped once he had walked away. At least here, he could be content with the friends he had made while sleeping in a tent in the woods. He clutched the last ticket in his calloused hands, his eyes now locked on the Yankees game. Top of the ninth, at home, still two points ahead–one more out to go.
The pitcher threw a fastball… the batter swung… and missed. Freddy let out a delighted squawk and ripped the last pull-tab open. He stared at the numbers in disbelief, $1000.