Don lived upstairs from the Blue Light. His Brylcreemed grey hair was neatly trimmed, buzz-cut close to the ears, 50s-style. His wife had died recently but he was keeping it together. He worked in manufacturing. Printing plant, tool-and-dye shop, I never found out exactly. Don was a man of few words.
He came in every day after work. He’d order a $1 stein of Old Style and drink it in silence, then order another. Halfway through that one he might stammer out a word or two. Few conversations with Don lasted more than a couple moments. Still, bit by bit, I got a partial picture of his life. He had cats, he missed his wife.
Then he lost his job and everything changed.
He never said why he got laid off. He didn’t talk about it. Started showing up at the bar earlier in the afternoon. I could chart his disintegration from day to day. His hair went first. No more haircuts, scraggly, uncombed. Then his checked flannel shirts weren’t tucked in any more. He developed a limp.
Soon he was drifting off, eyelids drooping, slumped sideways on his barstool. A long skein of drool inching glacially toward the bartop. I hated to jostle him, seeing he was in such a bad way, but I couldn’t have people sleeping at the bar. He’d rouse slowly, his reactions delayed, as if I was in fast-forward and he was at half-speed. My words didn’t reach him right away. He’d slo-mo off his stool and inch toward the door.
The last time I saw Don his pants were soiled. He’d piss himself sitting catatonic over a half-finished Old Style. His speech slurred to the point of rarely completing a phrase. He’d keep trying, then he’d start over, then give up. I didn’t have the heart to kick him out. Luckily, there was rarely anyone but regulars in the place when he was in.
I didn’t see Don for a few days, then started asking around. No one had seen him. Kenny went upstairs and broke down the door. Pizza boxes, newspapers, and unwashed clothes formed hills and towers in his rooms. Don lay dead on the kitchen floor, his face eaten away in places, teeth marks still visible.
The cats hadn’t been fed in a week.