This is an older story, written back in 2008.
Henry didn’t know what drew him to that particular stool. It was the same place he sat every night, but something was different. As he sat, the stranger next to his seat looked at him.
“You look like hell,” quipped the stranger. “So what sorrow are you drowning this evening?”
The bartender filled a mug, and slid it down to Henry, who drank it down quickly.
After the beer had time to work its way to his brain, he felt like he could answer. “My wife might be leaving me, my son might not be mine, and I may need a few more of these tomorrow night depending on how the day goes.”
“All that on one pint?”
“No use for discretion now.”
“Oh, you’ll get through it. I pulled myself out of a similar situation years ago, and you remind me of myself at your age.”
“You think you know what I’m going through?”
“Let me tell you a little story. While I was off fighting the British, my business failed, my wife remarried, had children, and died with her newborn son when an English soldier thought it might be a good idea to set some uppity civilians ablaze.”
“Oh that makes me feel much better. You have my gratitude, good sir.” He raised his mug and gave a mock toast.
The man grumbled, then regained his composure. “I took it in stride. I rebuilt my business, remarried, and had a son.”
“Yet here you are in this pub. What sorrow are you drowning?”
The stranger sighed and looked out into space. “I was broken from years of war. I couldn’t handle having a family, so I left like a coward. My son grew up into a successful businessman and has a lovely wife. I’ve been watching from a distance, but never could get up the courage to talk to him.”
“The night’s still young. A few more beers could give you courage.”
“Oh no, I have to work tomorrow. I think I’ll take my leave.”
“Before you go, I didn’t catch your name,” said Henry.
The stranger paused for a moment. “The same as yours.”
Henry gave the man a befuddled look.
The stranger set a dollar on the counter and hurried to the door. In his half-drunken state it took Henry a few minutes to realize who he had spoken to, and what he meant.
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