The tired young man, with drink in hand, (influenced by its bite)
Relived his painful story with the barkeep late that night.
He told how circumstance had brought him to an early fall;
And why he drank alone tonight, at the Tavern in the Mall.
He'd wandered in from off the street as dusk began to fall;
Despite his stooped and weary look, seemed muscular and tall.
He glanced about with interest; was familiar yet unknown;
Then ordered up a double drink, and settled down alone.
No spoken word, no nod of head to any in the place,
Resigned, content to be alone, no malice on his face.
But as the crowd began to thin, he glanced toward the bar,
Then seeing stools were empty there, he 'rose and stepped that far.
The stool he chose was nearest to the busy cashier stand;
The barman caught this subtle move...a tremor gripped his hand;
And though the stranger showed no threat, no "Danger" signs appeared;
The old bartender felt a twinge of long past ghosts he feared.
Then soon, the tavern emptied out, except for just the two;
And ill-at-ease, the older man kept younger man in view.
The young man toyed with his drink then turned, as if to speak;
The old bartender paused and smiled...(he'd heard a lot this week)!
He dried a glass, then wiped his hands, and ambled to the door;
He pulled the shade, turned off the sign, returning to his chore;
He stacked the glasses, wiped the bar and straightened up a rack;
And felt the stare the other man was aiming at his back.
He turned and gazed into those eyes, reflective and intense;
As one who needs to purge his soul, yet not create offense.
Revealing haunting memories, and pain that he had known,
As if they lingered with him 'til, a part of him they'd grown.
The barman yanked an apron string...the garment fell away;
Abruptly leaned across the bar, his message to convey.
He said. "My boy, you want to talk? I've got some time to spare;
My name's O'Shaughnessy, I'm not...expected anywhere."
The other man, with lowered eyes, thought how he'd lost his way;
Yet...how the Tavern in the Mall had beckoned him today.
His life, beyond description, was a sorry, sordid mess;
He felt the need to cleanse himself of his own putridness.
With falt'ring words and tortured eyes, his body sagged and worn;
He trembled when he tried to speak...emotion raw and torn;
But when composure settled in, he knew he'd made his choce;
He'd tell his story, here and now, so in a pleasant voice:
"We had a loving family, my Mom, and Dad, and Sis,
And I'm the only one who's lived to see me come to this.
First, Mom grew faint and ill one day...we sensed her chilling fear;
But then, the cruelest of events, she died within a year.
A lad of ten, was I back then, my Sister, just thirteen;
Our Dad was crushed beyond repair, Mom was his life, his queen!
Then driving home from work one day, he stopped to have a drink
To ease the pain and dull the grief; it was his first, I think.
He'd cried and said it was his last, he felt alone and small,
And tried to drown his sorrow at the Tavern in the Mall.
For just a while, it seemed he'd whipped the demons in his life;
A young man with two kids to raise without his loving wife.
But then, the torment struck again, a devastating blow;
He lost his job, the house, his car...we had no place to go.
We stayed with relatives a while, but soon they kicked him out;
Then growing tired of Sis and me...we shuffled all about.
"From time to time, we'd see our Dad...his thoughts confused and dim;
He seemed to blame US for his plight...said WE'D abandoned HIM.
When Sis was almost twenty, and I was seventeen;
We found a nice place near our jobs, worked schooling in between.
"Returning home from work one night, I saw our battered door...
The body of my Sister lay bloodied on the floor.
In horrid shock, I glanced about to see our ransacked place,
Then Dad appeared, that's when he shoved the pistol in my face!
He said, 'You see what I have done 'cause she refused me cash!'
The truth, I knew, was she HAD none...my mind began to flash.
I knew he'd torn the house apart, to see what he could find.
The pistol near my temple, told me what he had in mind.
He'd kill me, too, then sober up to see what he had done;
Then turn the gun upon himself, or else, he'd simply run.
"With all the strength that I could find, I wrenched the gun away
And in the struggle, he was shot, still...on the floor, he lay.
I gazed upon the carnage until I could look no more.
But very soon some people entered, through our broken door.
They locked me up, and no one came to lend a helping hand.
Awaiting trial, that fact was almost, more than I could stand.
"My court-appointed lawyer had, perhaps, done all he could;
With little in my favor, though, his efforts did no good.
The jury felt I'd killed them both...had murdered in a rage.
The evidence, they said, was clear, but then,there WAS my age.
They recommended mercy, got my sentence set at ten;
I served nine years, then yesterday, they let me leave the pen. So, Mister, you have heard my tale,I've filled you in on all;
And that is why I drink alone at the Tavern in the Mall.
"I made a plan...I HAD the time to work it out and think.
For years, I swore I'd kill the man who sold Dad that first drink.
But ime has changed me, and I KNOW I'll cause no harm again;
See? Nine long years is time enough to be where I have been."
The older man was shaken, and a tear rolled down his cheek;
He said, "My boy, just hear ME out, some hard words I must speak.
My Dad had owned this bar for years, a friendly place to chat;
He knew the names of all who came, discussing this and that.
(AUTHOR'S NOTE: PLEASE continue on and read "Tavern in the Mall, Part II", for the surprising, and uplifting conclusion to this story! Thank you, HLP)
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