By Adam Shaw
My dad, my brother, and I watched TV for five days after Mom’s funeral before Dad finally snapped. He turned off the semifinal of an axe-throwing tournament mid-throw, set the remote next to the half-empty Chardonnay Mom had been drinking before she died, and told us we were going to the Cozy for a beer. My brother had never heard of the place, asked if it was new. I dismissed it as a relic, something up there with the house on 27th Street that he stripped to the studs, rebuilt, still drove by thirty years after moving. The Corvette he sold when he found out Mom was pregnant. My half-brother Mike.
We agreed, though, and Dad drove us. Said he’d do it if one of us promised to drive home.
The Cozy had no indication of open or closed, hours or dress code, just a front door decal stating It’s cozy time! in yellow swooping script, something you’d expect out of a family-owned diner, an antique store. Places your grandparents take you on a Sunday afternoon out.
Isaac asked Dad if he used to drink there, and he laughed, grabbed the doorknob and pulled it open. A hanger jingled from the other side, green suede, bells and tinsel, dead lights. The inside of the building was red leather booths and mirrored walls, a pool table in back with a cigarette machine I didn’t think was legal but probably didn’t matter. Dad shuffled up to the bar, sunk into a stool and sighed like he sighed into his recliner at home. A rip in the side pulled open under his weight, the stuffing white like bared teeth. I snarled at it. My brother hit me on the arm, asked what was wrong with me.
Dad ordered a Budweiser. Stopped the waitress before she could open it, asked for a Bud Light. “Because of my blood sugar,” he added. Isaac and I ordered the same.
Above the bar, a TV showed baseball highlights. I pointed out the Cubs, my granddaddy’s team. Mom’s dad. Dad raised a hand to catch the waitress’s attention, asked if she could turn on axe throwing instead. “To see how it ends,” he told us.
Dad asked us back to the Cozy a few weeks later to celebrate my birthday, that fall to watch Indiana Pacers basketball, that winter to eat holiday dinners. We told him one day that we wanted to meet up with our friend Brad, grab a bite to eat, and he invited himself along, told us to change our plans and send Brad to the Cozy. We agreed every time, ordered Bud Lights, nursed them and watched TV.
The Cozy offered a breakfast special for a while, maybe just a week or two. I didn’t come around enough to know for sure, but Dad invited Isaac and me a year or so after Mom’s funeral. He announced it the way one might announce a relative getting married, eyes wide with such excitement that it stood him up taller, loosened a couple strands of his combover.
The door creaked when we entered, its bells and garland in a heap on a nearby table. The tinted windows let in more light than I thought they would, highlighted creased menus, names carved into walls, booths that sunk in the middle from drunks falling into them, sucking down beers, sucking face. Dad hustled to the bathroom for a piss and a guy stumbled up to my brother and me, shook our hands and told us what a good guy our dad was, thanked us for his service in Vietnam as if we had anything to do with it. As if we didn’t show up two wives, two divorces, two dead children later. He apologized for the loss of our mom, said Dad spoke little but highly of her. Asked us what happened. I opened my mouth to rattle off a summary of the autopsy, but Isaac cut me off. Put an arm across my chest and everything.
“She was sick,” he said.
Dad came back and we settled in at the bar, ordered a round of Bud Lights. He introduced us to Davey, who told him we’d just met. “My boy’s a doctor,” Dad said. Grabbed my brother by the shoulder and shook him the way one might a kid after his first home run. “You believe that?”
“God damn,” Davey said. “And the other one?”
Dad opened his mouth, stopped. He thought about it, ran his tongue in and out of holes where teeth used to be. You can both want someone to know something about you and soak in their discomfort when they don’t, slide into it and let it soothe you, quiet the noise between your ears. Mom had died not knowing my job; I wondered if Dad would do the same.
I told Davey, my dad, and my brother what I did. The bartender asked for our order, saved them from having to respond, saved me from having to explain it to them. Dad asked for biscuits and gravy, Isaac the same. I went with eggs and toast. We sipped our beers while we waited for the food, and Dad told us about a woman who’d reached out to him on Facebook, young with a name he couldn’t pronounce. Said she’d seen that he’d lost his wife. The bartender offered us shots, something with orange juice, and told my dad that any woman would be lucky to have him. I wondered if the Facebook friend was a catfish, whether it mattered if it made him feel good.
Dad declined the shot. “Because of my blood sugar,” he told her.
Our food came not long after. I took two bites of eggs, ate half a piece of toast. My dad cleaned his plate, the rest of Isaac’s too.
‘“That was terrible,” he said as Isaac drove us home. “It’s good to see ‘em try, though.”
At some point the bartenders started calling me “Richard’s boy.” They cracked Bud Lights for me without asking, slid them across the bar and asked if I wanted fried pickles, anything on the TV. Dad and I talked the Corvette, red, 1972. The time off he took from the factory before Mike died of leukemia. The house on 27th, how he tried to finish it before I was born but couldn’t, gated off rooms to keep me safe until he could.
Dad died a couple years later. The night after the funeral, I told my brother that we needed to go to the Cozy. For him, I said. We’d spent the last week getting drunk for ourselves. Visiting old college bars. The brewery down the road from the city jail, the Wrigley-themed sports bar with three buck mugs of Old Style. The piano bar with two-dollar wells. Nothing but Keystone Light on draft.
Isaac told me the Cozy had closed, and I told him to fuck off. He thumbed around on his phone, held it front of my face to prove it. I dialed the number, listened to three chimes that preceded a message that it had been disconnected. Isaac tracked down the website, something like cozytime.biz, but the domain was for sale with an ad that you could buy it for twelve bucks. We searched on Facebook, tried to find a girl we used to work with who’d posted that she’d dated the owner, but they were gone. Isaac talked me into DT Kirby’s instead, then the Knickerbocker, then the place that used to be Hunter’s Down Under but had become something else even though everyone still called it Hunter’s Down Under. We ordered Bud Lights at every stop, toasted to Dad, perused the food menu for something new, maybe a breakfast schedule, but nothing stuck out. The settings became a blur of creaking bar stools, flickering neons, whiffs of cigarette smoke or fried food. We talked about the time I drove through the garage door, the time my brother kicked in the front door, the way we both came out of our doorway transgressions with nothing more than a “damnit boys.” We ordered another round because we could have been better, should have been better, would have been worse if our kids did the same.
I was on my way out of town a couple days later when I made a last-minute turn across two lanes of traffic to take the long way up South Street to US-52. It earned me the blare of a horn, a middle finger out the window. I drove a few miles up the road to the Cozy, lot empty save for burger wrappers, empty forties. Through a window I spotted a glimpse of movement, the craning of a neck as someone took a swig. I parked across two spots by the door, turned off my car and tossed my keys into a box of photos we’d displayed at the funeral.
A closed sign hung on the door, the word “permanently” scratched across its top in black ink. I went to the window, pressed my forehead against the glass. Inside, a pair of shoulders hunkered over the bar. Atop them, a sliver of light shone from a patch of skin a combover couldn’t reach. I went back to the door, grabbed the handle, pulled. A deadbolt rattled in the frame. I tried again, punched it when nothing happened. Shook the door and screamed until I couldn’t, put my head against the cold wood and sobbed out what I had in me. Fog formed on the door in a shape that reminded me of a dragon breathing fire, and I wondered what it would mean to be a dragon breathing fire, to incinerate the door, tuck my wings, walk inside. I stepped back, wiped the fog with the soft edge of a fist and spotted the edges of a decal in its wake. It’s cozy time!
I went back to the car, flipped through some photos while the heat of my tears melted from my cheeks. Found one of Dad on the couch spooning my brother and me when we were little, maybe five years old or so. Our eyes wide, focused forward. In his glasses, I caught the reflection of the TV, a speck of light I couldn’t decipher. I ran my thumb over it, imagined Dad’s arm around my body, the warmth of it, the smell of his factory, of aluminum, sweat. The firmness of his bicep under my head, the tickle of his beard on the back on my neck. Pulling my brother into me and me into him.
Adam Shaw lives with his wife and daughter in Louisville, Kentucky. His work has previously appeared in Pithead Chapel, HAD, Rejection Letters, and elsewhere. He can be found on Twitter and Instagram @adamshaw502.