"I've got an interest, woman," he told her. Calla was bent over, stoking the fire in the woodstove at the moment, so she presented a mighty tempting target. John aimed himself in her direction, and wobbled over behind her, and slipped his arms around her middle. Calla was caught so off guard that she burned her hand on the poker. She shrugged her husband off and sucked on her hand.
"I mean, one that'll keep you out of my hair," she snapped.
"You never wanted me out of your hair before."
He was wounded. She hadn't intended to wound him, but after all, wounds heal over. Most of them.
"I never had time to notice before if you was in my hair or not. Isn't there anything you like to do anymore, besides roll around in bed?" Not that she minded rolling around in bed with her husband. She liked it now, maybe even more than she had in all the years they'd been together. But you couldn't do that all day long just because a man had nothing else to occupy his time. Not when you had customers dropping by every few minutes.
John went to the counter where he'd been drinking his coffee. He poured himself another cup, and laced it good.
"There is," he announced stiffly. "There most damn certainly is something else I like to do. And I'm about to do it."
The thing he was talking about was getting drunk. Not just ripped. Blind drunk. Beyond thinking and reasoning drunk. He took his coffee and his bottle, and a couple more bottles he had stashed behind the counter, plus a package of doughnuts and two tins of Prince Albert. Then he went out to the barn, and he stayed for three days. When he'd been drunk enough long enough, and there was no further purpose to be served by staying drunk any longer, he came back to the house and took a hot bath and had a shave. That was the day he walled in the back porch of the house and started painting another sign.
"Just what do you think you're doing?" Calla demanded, hands on hips, the way a woman stands when She Expects an Answer.
"I'm cultivating an interest," John Moses said. "From now on, you've got a business, and I've got a business, and we don't either one stick our noses in the other one's business. You open at dawn and close at dusk, I'll open at dusk and close at dawn. You won't have to roll around with me anymore, because we won't be keeping the same hours."
"I never said I didn't want to roll around with you."
"The hell you never," said John.
He took his sign, with the paint still wet, and he climbed up on his stepladder and nailed that sign above the back door. The paint was smudged, but the message was readable enough. It said, never closes.
Never Closes sold beer and wine and hard liquor seven nights a week, all night long. Since Columbia County was dry, it was illegal to sell alcohol to the public, so John didn't call it selling. He was just serving drinks to his friends, that's all. Sort of like gifts he gave them. Then, when they were ready to call it a night, his "friends" would each give John a gift of some sort. Five dollars, or ten dollars, or whatever his little ragged notebook indicated the gift should be.
The county sheriff and several deputies got into the habit of dropping by after their shifts, and John really didn't sell to them, just poured them anything they wanted, on the house. Those fellows never saw so much free liquor, so it just stood to reason that there would be a lot of other things they didn't see. But they were used to not seeing, under certain circumstances, so it all felt pretty right.
Before long, John got his own share of regulars who would drop by to play dominoes or shoot pool. They'd talk religion and politics, and tell filthy stories, and spit tobacco juice in the coffee cans John had set around, and they'd smoke until the air was thick enough to cut into cubes.
John took bitter pride in his new venture. He'd have dropped the whole thing in a heartbeat, would have torn down his walls and burned his sign and told his regulars to go to hell, if Calla would have apologized, but she had her own pride. There was a wedge between them, and she couldn't see that she'd been the one to drive it.
Excerpted from The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield. Copyright © 2011 by Jenny Wingfield. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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