The two men sat at the bar toasting to a new year. Shot for shot they’d match each other. Whiskey was their chosen salvation.
Wives were at home. It was late in the afternoon. Festivities began around 2:00. Day drinking. Just like in the old days. Just like in retirement. Nothing had changed.
Television on. Judge Judy holding court. Video poker games paying off. Pool cues clashing on balls. And on the juke box Hank Williams sang to their souls.
Here’s to those who served, the old man said. May we never see another one, he wrapped two fingers round a shot glass; ordered a short beer.
Here’s to surviving the jungle, the other old soldier said. We did it. We did it. And here’s to those that didn’t, they clanked mugs. To those who didn’t.
And these days they call it a Cold War. Another cold war, he shook his bald head. Fuck the Chinese, the old man mumbled. Ordered another shot.
What’d you say? a youngster asked.
I said fuck the Chinese.
The young man laughed. Turned his back to the two vets. Ordered a craft beer.
And fuck you buddy, the old man said. Fuck you too, they began to laugh. Soon the whole bar was laughing. They toasted one last time.
The two made it home that night. Crawled into bed while their wives watched the ball drop in Times Square. Snoring was heard down the hall. So was mumbling. Both whispering, you too buddy. You too.