By Ed Staskus
Thelma met Steve, her husband-to-be, right after he got out of jail and came home for his father’s funeral. Meanwhile, she was getting thrown out of her house, again, after her dad died and she threatened to kill her sister.
They met at Mad Anthony’s, and later Steve followed her to the Tick Tock Tavern on Clifton Boulevard, on a night when she was out with my friends. The stars were bright in a clear sky.
“I needed to get loose that night. Patty and I got into a fight at mom and dad’s house and when she tried to choke me, I told her I was going to punch her in the face and kill her if she ever put her hands around my neck again.”
“What did you say?” Patty shrieked.
“I know how to break your nose and shove it up into your brain,” Telly yelled when she pushed Patty off. “I will do that if you try choking me one more time. I will lay you out flat.”
She never touched Thelma again after that, but the threat of killing her didn’t go over very well.
Steve had been a bartender at the Tick Tock Tavern, slinging shots. He worked there forever, although since it opened in 1939 maybe it hadn’t been forever, not exactly. Whenever anyone mentioned anybody’s name to Steve at the bar he always said, “Oh, I know him.”
“Food, spirits, and characters” is what they say at that place.
After the fight with Patty, Telly went to her church, Bay Presbyterian, to talk to one of the pastors. “I was born a Christian, raised a Christian, and will always be a Christian. I have always gone to Bay Presbyterian, took my family there, and I still go there.”
She had been going to counseling for years, but still not accepted the fact that they had been roughed up as kids. She was freaking out that her dad had died, and was upset, too, about her ex-boyfriend-to-be, Craig, who was the mayor of Lorain. They had been seeing each other for seventeen years.
There was no reelection on the horizon. If there had been, Telly’s chances of higher office were slim. Craig had his eye on future chances.
“What are you doing with Craig?” her minister asked.
“Why would you ask me such a thing?”
“Why do you stay with him?” he asked.
“You really want to know? I’ll let you know! I made a promise a long time ago, when I was a Young Lifer and I accepted Christ into my heart, that I would never have pre-marital sex. When I met Craig, a couple of years into our relationship, I started having sex. I said to myself, well, I’ve made my bed and I’m going to lie in it.”
“No, no, no,” he said. “That’s not the life the Lord wants for you.”
They started praying for the kind of guy she wanted to meet, from eye color to personality. What she didn’t know was Steve was praying to meet someone at the same time. He wasn’t being as specific as Thelma, though.
After Steve got out of jail for driving too fast too drunk, and shortly after his dad died, Bobby, his brother, begged him to stay with him in Little Italy, so he did. Steve was a full-blown addict by then. When she met him, he was drinking a fifth of Yukon with beer chasers and snorting coke so he could keep drinking.
He had started thinking life more-or-less of sucks. He hadn’t had a girl to talk to for more than two years, because he was an obnoxious drunk, and he was down, if not out. One day while he was walking the dogs, dogs that Bobby and he rescued, he started praying, which was something he had never truly done before.
“God, if you can, bring me a woman. Please make that happen. I’m lonely, I’m miserable, and I hate my life. Please show me someone who can show me how to love you as much as I can love her.”
Shortly after that Telly’s friends and she were out for a party at Mad Anthony’s. Steve walked in and as he went by, he locked eyes with her. After he was past, she was talking to her friends when she got that creepy feeling that someone was staring at her. After another drink she kept feeling that long steep stare. She went over to where Steve was sitting alone.
“I’m pretty sure we went to high school together,” she said.
“Yeah, Bay High,” he said.
Then he asked her out on a date and five more.
“Really, dude, six dates?”
He wanted Telly to go with him to the wedding of a sportswriter friend of his, but he thought they should go out six times first, to test the waters.
“Alright, alright,” she said, finally. “We’ll see what happens.” She gave him her phone number.
“We’re going to the next bar,” her friends said.
“It was nice meeting you,” she said to Steve. “Call me.”
He followed them out. By the time they got to the Tick Tock he was a different person than the man she had been talking to at Mad Anthony’s, getting obnoxious and loud. By then it was too much Yukon on the brain. It was all downhill.
“I’m leaving, so piss off,” she finally told him.
“Jenny, why don’t you come home with me?”
“Whoa, dude, you’re a jackass.”
“Jenny, Jenny, why are you going?”
“Because my name’s Telly and that’s why I’m not going home with you.”
As she went through the door, she shot him a look. “Great, he’s got my phone number,” she thought. But she gave him a second look. “He could be really handsome if we got rid of that huge monobrow.”
The next morning, he called her.
“What do you want?” she asked, ready willing able to hang up.
“Don’t hang up, don’t hang up,” he said.
“I can’t do it,” she said. “I have drugs and alcohol in my family. The last thing I’m going to do is put up with it in a boyfriend. It’s not going to happen.”
“No, no, no, I’m good,” he said.
They talked some more. When Steve wasn’t drinking like a drunkard, he was charming. He charmed her into a date and then another one, and another one. They always went out with a group because she wouldn’t go out with him by herself. She was leery skittish. Every time she went out with him, she left him at a bar at the end of the night.
“You’re an idiot,” and she would leave, stamping her feet. He usually walked the east west railroad tracks home.
But he started to get better, slowly, and as he did, they got better together, two hands tick-tocking the same clock.
Excerpted from “Dogs Never Bite Me” at http://www.dogsneverbiteme.com.
Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”