Jerry Colt is a puzzle of a man. No doubt about it. Same as the day before and the day before that, he sits at the end of the bar, perched on a stool that struggles against his weight. His hand tremors ever-so-slightly as he raises the shot glass to his mouth. There he pauses. Closes his eyes as if in silent prayer. With a tilt of his head, the bourbon slides over his gums and down his throat. A momentary grimace before he returns the glass to the wood with a clink. A two-fingered tap of the rim brings the bartender back with more fuel.
He’s a puzzle of a man. He doesn’t talk much and when he does he’s hardly pleasant. Also, he doesn’t age. I probably should have led with that.
Michael says that Jerry’ll outlive us all. True, Michael’s a son o’ a bitch so I don’t place much stock in what he says most times, but I’ve been watching Jerry for close to ten years now; that ruin of a man truly doesn’t age, I tell you.
Six months ago Michael found Jerry in the alley out back. He was slumped against the brick wall, weeping. Overweight, bleeding from a cut lip and smellin’ a special kind of awful. Like I said, Michael’s a son o’ a bitch but he ain’t a monster. He pulled Jerry to his feet and took him to the diner for some pie. “It’ll be alright Jerry, it’ll be okay.”
So, they sat and they ate pie, and Jerry talked. Jerry never talks.
Michael has no tact. Imagine the scene, there is before him a clearly broken, bleeding and drunken man in need of help. In need of some comfort and a little kindness. Michael’s opening line?
“You don’t age do you Jerry? What’s the deal with that?”
So, Jerry scoops a mountain of pie into his mouth. Clumps of it tangle in his matted beard and, as he starts to talk, he spits small pieces of fruit and crumble across the table. The table’s littered with crumbs from the previous occupants and brown coffee rings decorate it heavily, so Michael pays this latest mess no mind.
Apparently, if Jerry and Michael are to be believed, Jerry has had 12 wives. Not in a mormon way, but one after another in the sequence the good Lord intended. He marries one. He loves her, presumably, and she loves him. But she gets old. And she dies. But Jerry endures.
Then he marries another, and she gets old. And she dies. And Jerry lives on.
Twelve times. Twelve. Fucking. Times.
Jerry is a broken man but he’s still standing and that, to me, is miraculous. Jerry can’t die, so he tells Michael anyways. He’s tried. He’s tried pretty much every way you can think of. He is also, so he claims, very lovable. After the fifth wife had died – she was called Rosa by the way – Jerry promised never to fall in love again. Never to meet a woman and never to be nice to one. Apparently Jerry’s really fucking loveable. And, being a human being, Jerry loves being loved and Jerry loves to love. So of course he fell in love again, as we all tend to do.
The last one was called Anna. Jerry’s eyes spark to life as he whispers her name across the table. He swallows another mouthful of pie and washes it down with cheap coffee. He tells Michael that he can’t die, but that Anna truly killed him.
He thought he had more time. He loved her, utterly and completely. And then one day she was gone. It felt so quick. They were together for eight years. Eight short years for a man who has lived for generations. He fell asleep holding her. The smell of her hair in his face. The rain tapping on the windows and the sound of traffic passing by in the night. Neighbours snoring through the thin walls of their apartment and yet he’s so at peace.
He closes his eyes and tips his head upwards at the memory of her.
Anna didn’t live to old age. When the evening came, it was illness that took her. Jerry couldn’t go with her and now, fifteen years later he sits in this bar drinking himself into a stupor. He’s repulsive by intent and alone by design. I’ve lived in this town for ten years and Jerry is here every night drinking. All being well I’ll live at least another thirty. Jerry intends to still be here. Driving the world away and his memory into a drunken haze. Sometimes the people we love leave us and there’s not a goddamn thing we can do about it. Sometimes we can move on and love again and other times we can’t. I guess we have to find ways to deal with it best we can.
Jerry’s way haunts me, ever since Michael told me his story. It keeps me up at night the thought of him alone in his small apartment, longing for a death that may never come. So often I think about going over and offering him some kindness and some human affection, but that’s precisely what he is avoiding. His existence is as pathetic as I’ll ever know, but it’s working for him. Jerry is alone, just as he intended. So I finish my drink and I leave a couple of notes for Owen and wave to him as I leave and head out into the night. Jerry’s glass comes downs and he taps the rim again. And Owen returns with the bottle.