Bill blinks in the sunlight as he steps down the steps onto the gravel outside the chapel. His knee informs him, for the umpteenth time that day, that I Do Not Like Steps. Bill takes a deep breath as the pain shoots up his leg yet again. He stops, trying to hide the pain, waiting for it to subside.
The couple behind him steps around him and walks over to a group of people standing on the right of the gravel walkway.
Bill hates funerals and remembrance services. They always seem so forced. Rows of people, some of whom look confused, and a bunch of people who cannot keep it together. All that cheesy music. Then you have to listen to all that rose-tinted BS about The Deceased. Kind to animals, helped old ladies across the road, pillar of society, yada yada.
Bill went to the funeral for the bank manager 2 years ago. It was total BS, with everybody telling everybody else what a fine person Brett was, when almost everybody Bill knew thought Brett was a chiseling sonofabitch, who would have sold his mother to the highest bidder if he thought he could turn a quick profit. Lance, the manager of the bar, would pretend-show his hand, minus two fingers, when talking about his relationship with Brett.
But, unlike all of the other services he has attended this one feels different. In the casket, with its shiny artwork and handles, is the body of Randy the barman.
Randy was Bill’s umbilical cord to the bar, a happy-go-lucky guy who seemed to be up, no matter what shit was going on. And Randy was a stand-up guy. On more than one occasion, when Bill either had forgot his wallet, or had no money to speak of, Randy would surreptitiously cover Bill’s missing money for his drinks, as long as Bill paid him under the counter next time around. People like that are good to know.
Randy, just like Bill and most of the regulars, didn’t believe this Covid shit. After all, Donald said it was the Chinese virus. Those damn Chinese, exporting everything to the USA, including their viruses. They had to have invented it to screw with us.
The bar never wanted those damn muzzles. So Lance made it clear that he wasn’t going to enforce any stupid mask mandate. Those epi-whatever guys could go whistle. Career dudes in white coats telling us what to do? Screw them and the horse they rode in on.
Of course, Bill had to listen to his son and his damn daughter-in-law every time he talked to them on the phone about the Covid epidemic in New York. As Bill’s buddies down the bar used to say, New York was full of city wimps. They had never done an honest day’s work in their lives. So yeah they were always going to get Covid. So when his son said “you need to mask up Dad”, Bill would either change the subject, or laugh and make some comment about not looking like a horse with a feed bag. And his son would sigh, in that way that reminded Bill of his ex.
Bill and his buddies laughed as the virus killed people in New York. As far as they were concerned, this was good. Who needs those fucking hedge fund managers and arbiwhatisname experts anyway? They probably caused all of the crashes anyway, with their chicanery and Jewish buddies.
Then, late in the Summer, the local bikers, including Lance’s younger brother, went to Sturgis. They texted Lance to say that they were having a great time, and no damn masks. That governor in the Dakotas seems like a sensible woman.
However, 3 weeks after coming back from Sturgis, Lance’s brother phoned him to say that his buddy Don was in the hospital with pneumonia. No, not Covid. Pneumonia. He was going to be OK they said.
10 days later they heard that Don was on a ventilator. Not Covid, said the biker guys. Bill remembered telling his son, who laughed out loud and said “If you say so Dad”.
2 weeks later, Bill limped into the bar to find Lance’s wife Trixie in charge. She told Bill that Lance was with his brother and Don’s wife. Don had passed away that afternoon. “It might be Covid” said Trixie.
Bill had heard rumors that several people were in the ICU in the next town over with Covid, but the guys at the bar still kept waving it off.
Then Lance’s brother and his wife were at home sick. Then Lance’s mother was sick. Then she was in the hospital. Then she passed, less than a week later. The bar closed, and for 4 days Bill was at home, drinking beer and watching the TV as the election season unfolded, with that idiot Biden and the black or mulatto or Indian Kamala woman being rude about Donald every damn night.
When Bill returned to the bar, Lance looked shell-shocked. He was also coughing. Bill joked with him that he had Covid.
“Not me” said Lance. “Just a cold”.
2 nights later, Bill walked into the bar. No Lance. Nor his wife. Randy whispered to him over the bar corner “they think it’s Covid”.
Bill phoned Lance the next day. Lance sounded out of breath. He said “this is no fun. Stay home for a while”.
The next night, Bill found to his dismay that Lance had closed the bar again. Damn it.
After 3 weeks, Lance opened the bar again. But now everybody had to mask up. Ferchristssakes. Bill thought Lance had more sense. A few of the diehards stopped coming in because of the “muzzle rule”. Bill thought about it, but went anyway, although he would pull his mask down from his nose at every opportunity.
Bill was puzzled by Lance. He seemed like the sort of guy who didn’t give a damn about those stupid government mandates. Bill, jokingly said to him one evening “hey, what happened Lance? I thought you were braver than that?”
Lance leaned over the bar and stared at him. Bill suddenly saw a different look in Lance’s eyes. “Bill”, Lance said softly, “I had to watch my mother stop breathing because she could no longer get enough oxygen from the tube. I hope you never have to do that.” Then he walked away down to the other end of the bar.
Randy was not much for masking. He pulled his mask down every chance that he got. Unless Lance was around. Randy would roll his eyes occasionally at Lance, with that “yeah I need to do this but the guy is being a horses ass” look in his eyes.
The idiot Biden won the election, well, he SAID he did, and the courts agreed. More BS from the swamp, said Randy. Bill’s son said “we’re in New York, Trump’s always been an asshole”. Bill shook his head. What had Donald done to piss off these people? They must be guilty of fleecing the regular folks if they were that hostile to Donald. Those guys on 6th January had a point. The place needs a proper clean-out.
Bill was still wondering whether Donald was going to be able to depose Idiot Joe and get back to the White House when he walked into the bar one Tuesday night. Lance and his wife were there. No Randy.
“Where’s Randy” asked Bill.
“Randy has Covid” said Trixie. “He’s at home”.
“Tested positive”. Bill had heard that the Covid test was not reliable. One of those NewsMax guys. Maybe Randy just has bronchitis or something.
“How is he”.
“He sounds terrible, and his sister is watching him”.
It was a quiet night. Another guy came in and began talking about his sister, who was in the hospital with Covid. He sounded worried. Bill went home wondering if he should get tested. Nah, he thought, before he fell asleep on the couch again.
Bill hurried down the bar the next night. Now Randy was in hospital. On oxygen.
The following night the news was better. Randy was on less oxygen.
Not so good on Friday. Randy was not responding to treatment. He was on more oxygen.
Saturday Bill found out that Randy was intubated.
On Monday, Lance phoned Bill to tell him that Randy was in a bad way. Apparently his lungs and his kidneys were failing.
On Tuesday evening, Bill walked up to the front door of the bar to find it locked. Uh oh. A quick phone call confirmed the worst. Randy had passed late in the afternoon, after the doctors pulled life support, with his lungs, kidneys and other organs having failed.
Bill went home, pulled out his bottle of Jack, and got slowly drunk.
The next day, Lance rang him up. “You need to get tested” was how he started the call. He suggested the local CVS. “I’ll make the appointment for you”.
So it was that Bill found himself outside the pharmacy drive-through window, with a girl handing a kit to him. Sticks up his nostrils, tickling and irritation.
Yesterday the tests came back. Negative. That was good, Bill would be able to go to the funeral. So here we are.
Bill starts walking over to where Lance and Trixie are standing with Randy’s parents and sister. He pulls his mask up over his nose again. God this feels weird. How do those doctors put up with this for hours at a time?
Bill feels that awkward feeling that he does not like. He is going to have to meet strangers, and he realizes that he has not met anybody new in…well, since this damn weird-shit virus showed up from China. Or is it India now? Every time Bill turns on the TV some dude is banging on about Covid variants or some such. Those Chinese must be very clever.
The knee twinges again, then a bigger twinge. Bill pauses for a moment. His doctor told him 2 years ago that he needs a knee replacement. That sounds serious. Bill is on Medicare now, but there is a waiting list.
Bill suddenly wants to be somewhere else. Ideally he would be down at the bar, but the bar is closed, and his buddy is being loaded into the hearse car in front of him. Bill wonders how he can get his beers when he is out of money, which seems to happen every month these days.
It feels like the end of an era. No beer on credit, Idiot Biden is in charge, and those damn judges keep throwing out the Trump lawsuits. The damned swamp is still there. His Son keeps telling him that everything will be OK, but it sure doesn’t feel like it.