by Beth Vigoren

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Nesser drinks Budweiser from the bottle unless there is a chilled mug nearby. He is a professional at tilting his mug and filling it up in one pour. He often finishes two to three beers before the mug loses its chill.

I work Tuesday and Saturday nights.

I see Nesser Tuesday and Saturday nights.

Tuesdays:

Nesser walks in on steady feet.

“Hey, Nesser.”

His hair lifts off at the speed with which he enters. It is cut in a fashion of the 1950s; I bet he had this same haircut when he started school that decade. I should ask him. His hair, a dark brown, lightens up to chocolate in the summer—possibly from the sun, probably from the layer of dust that has settled there. His eyes, partially protected by his bifocals, are muddy-water-brown. Nesser finds a barstool. Any one will do.

“How’s it going?” I grab him his Bud and frosty mug. He has trained me.  No need to see what I can do him for.

“It’s going.”

Nesser drinks his dinners.  Around the seventh or eighth beer, he starts telling me, “It’ll be alright.”

“You want a burger, Nesser?” He should eat something, anything, to absorb the alcohol.

“It’ll be alright.”

“We still have tacos.”

“No,” he usually utters around his unbending tongue. His body goes stiff at the effort to get his thought out. “It’s a school night. Time to get home.” This line becomes his vernacular until he teeter-totters out the front door. Nesser is drunk, and his stay away is only temporary.

Nesser drives eight miles north to his home that I have never seen, to a house rarely visited by anyone. Maybe he sleeps on the couch. Maybe he showers, maybe he eats, maybe he cries. Definitely he smokes Marlboro Menthol Lights, his thick top lip attached to the butt.

Nesser is maybe 5 feet 7 inches, without an ounce of fat. His round head is dark from the sun and dirt of his job. His hair and skin give a hint of his heritage. Native, maybe. French, could be. Rarely does his mouth open up wide enough for one to see his teeth. Some of them are missing. I’ve tried to ascertain which ones and how many. He must be able to feel my gaze because his mouth snaps shut before I can tell.

Nesser works for Reds; they employ much of the drinking population in the area. Much of the talk with Nesser is what he is putting into or taking out of the ground.

It’s easier to deny someone when you don’t know what causes his pain.

It’s Potato Season! Do you know those delicious red potatoes that you should eat with the skin on because they are healthier that way? He will spend weeks digging millions of potatoes out of the soil, and I will spend weeks hearing of his progress and of the idiots he is put in charge of to get it done. All of this knowledge gained over the bottles of beer he has bought with his announcement about writing yet another bad check.

There is often a layer of grime on his neck proving his hard labors for the day. His build is strong, his arms defined but hidden beneath the loose arms of his t-shirt. His boots are thick and dust coated, the thickness of the steel toe reminding me of a man who wore shoes thick enough to stave pressure off his diabetic toes. Maybe Nesser is a diabetic? I don’t know, but he can start to shake when he has had too many brews.

His hands look like they belong to a much larger man. Thick fingers end in short, flat nails, accompanied by grit that has burrowed a haven between the nail and skin.

Saturdays:

Nesser comes in on steady feet. His hair is combed down; work boots are traded for cowboy boots.

“Hey, Nesser.”

One of my first Saturdays in the winter was spent with him, yakking and yakking. Nesser loves to talk while he still has willpower over his tongue. I had heard all about his sons a dozen times, his mentally unstable ex-wife hardly less. We were discussing all of the other employees at the bar, namely the owner and her drunk children.

A couple came in for a couple beers and a pizza. For hours, Nesser and I had been the only ones there. The couple cranked the jukebox and started to dance. They were in love, soon to be married in Hawaii, infatuated and comfortable with each other. A country song came on.

“Let’s dance,” Nesser forced out through his thick tongue, heavy with his beer-laced saliva.

“No, no,” I admonished. “I am a horrible dancer.”

“Aw, come on.” He extended his hand out to me.

I shook my head back and forth. His face was blank, refusing to comprehend. Those damn eyes stared at me; it’s easier to deny someone when you don’t know what causes his pain. Shit, I thought, it’s just Nesser. Am I really any better to deny him this? It’s just a dance. I took his hand and he led me to the dance floor.

We moved in jerky steps, never finding a rhythm. He tried to lead, one step forward, one step back. He swirled me out. When he pulled me toward him, I crashed into his stiff, bowed legs. Our bodies became much too enveloped for my comfort.

The innocence of the dance shifted. Harmless, I still told myself as I stomped on his toes and he on mine. One step forward and one step back.

Then the music stopped. Before I could feel relief that the experience was over, Nesser’s body stiffened in my hands. Fuck. I watched his face draw near to mine. Shit. I froze. Think, I told myself. Move.

The Budweiser and aftershave consumed my space, filling my mouth. I turned my head. His beer-soaked, cigarette-stained lips planted on my cheek. I heard the smack of his lips more than I felt it.

“When can I see you again?” he whispered into my dimple.

A shiver ran through me. “What?” I exclaimed.

“Oh. Sorry,” he said, diverting his face to his boots. “I just really like your company.”

What he wanted I couldn’t give him. I wasn’t the one who would save him.

I left him on the dance floor.

I work Tuesday and Saturday night and I see Nesser, Tuesday and Saturday nights. I have a rule with him: No Dancing.

tshirtsm Beth Vigoren is a young gal learning about life in northern Minnesota.