Moose rose from his stool in Mother’s Saloon at last call and tossed four twenties on the bar, not knowing how much he owed and not caring. He strolled out the front door and onto the beach. He peeled off his t-shirt, tossed it in the sand, and lumbered toward the water in nothing but his shorts and sandals. Thirty feet from the shoreline, he lay down on his side, breathed in the salty night air, and passed out.
He awoke at 9 a.m., still lying on his side. From the corner of his eye, he caught a blurry glimpse of a little Japanese boy smiling at him. Moose croaked, “Get lost.” He closed his eyes and fell back to sleep to the sound of chirping laughter.
At two o’clock, his eyes shot open. Half his body felt hot, swollen, and tight. He staggered to his feet and grabbed his t-shirt, which was exactly where he had left it. He walked back into Mother’s, found a mirror, and examined his face. It was a perfect red and white bisection.
“Purple Rain” was playing. A drunk guy at a table behind him shouted to no one in particular, “If you don’t like Prince, then you don’t like to fuck!” Moose shook his head and signaled to the bartender. She walked up to him, gazed cautiously, and then smiled.
“Pathetic,” she said. She poured him a shot of tequila and a beer. “On me, hon.” Then she wandered down to the other end of the bar to take care of someone else.
Moose looked to his right and saw a slender young woman sitting just a few stools down. She stared straight ahead, listening to something Moose didn’t understand. Her head was covered by a tightly wrapped red and white bandanna with the knot tied at the crown of her forehead, and a yellow flower rested just above her left ear.
She turned to him and said, “What happened to you?”
Moose noticed her discolored eyes. He said, “I fell asleep on the beach.”
“Do you hurt? I have some lotion.”
“Suit yourself,” she said. “I’m Audrey.”
Moose looked down at the tattoo on his left bicep. It was a pentagram with two points of the star facing up and a goat in the middle, all of which was inscribed inside two circles. He was glad Audrey couldn’t see it. “I’m Moose,” he said.”
They talked for a while. Moose described how he’d just gotten out of the Army and was on a long road trip trying to find himself, figuring he’d wind up back home in Kansas City although this made him nervous because he didn’t want to return to some old habits that had caused him problems in the past. The girl he had almost married was still there and fighting through a nasty divorce with his former best friend. Moose didn’t know what he would do for work, either. Maybe get into law enforcement, or return to school to pursue some other career that would get him through. Audrey listened carefully and nursed her beer, seldom passing judgment or offering advice, mostly just listening.
Moose asked Audrey who took care of her. She said, “I take care of myself. I earned a degree in computer programming from SDSU a few years ago, and now I design and implement management applications for a local software company. I work out six days a week, and I take great, great pride in being mostly self-sufficient. I don’t take any government disability checks or financial aid either. I don’t even really see my disability as a disability. It’s a part of my life, like it or not. It just takes me a little longer to do certain things sometimes. Who takes care of you, Moose?”
Moose didn’t know anymore, but he said, “Audrey, would you like to take a walk with me and show me around Oceanside?”
Audrey drummed her fingers on the bar and hummed a little tune to herself, wondering if it would be worth the effort.