Non-Essential

Darbie Fowler felt like she was in a science fiction movie as she drove along the empty Main Street of Greenville on a Wednesday afternoon. There was little traffic and few cars parked in the spots in front of the mostly closed businesses. It was a surreal feeling to see such an image brought on by the Governor's Shelter in Place/Social Distancing order that shut down a host of 'non-essential' businesses, including Fowler's Barbershop and Next Door Pub.

Darbie pulled her car into the spot in front of the barbershop and she let out a sigh at the sight of the shuttered shop.

She got out of her car and walked to the front door of the barbershop, using her key to unlock the front door. She picked up the accumulating mail on the floor that had been dropped through the slot and she separated out the bills and other important envelopes from the junk mail and magazine subscriptions that she wondered if she should cancel, unsure of how long she wouldn't have customers to read them.

The shop felt unusually still and quiet which depressed her as she could almost hear the echoes of her father's laugh and voice, the buzz of the clippers, and the banter of the waiting customers. The two barber chairs looked sadly abandoned and Darbie stepped close to the large wall mirrors and looked at herself with defeat and despair.

Her hair could use a wash and a cut. Her eyes had dark circles underneath them and her face was blotched since she hadn't bothered to put any make-up on. She tossed the junk mail in the wastebasket, slid the magazines into the rack, and slipped the bills into her satchel that was hung over her shou

had brought the business ledger and checkbook home weeks ago and she did most of the paperwork there these days. She considered giving the shop a dusting and floor mop but there was no point wasting her time with that until she had an idea as to when she would be allowed to reopen again.

Darbie was about to head for the front door when she heard the sound of running water from the Next Door Pub. The connecting door between the businesses was ajar which wasn't unusual but the pub, like the barbershop, was deemed non-essential and was closed to the public so she didn't understand why there was noise coming from within.

Darbie's father and her Uncle Lew opened the dual businesses forty-five years ago, thinking a cut followed by a brew (or vice versa) wasn't such a bad idea. And it wasn't – both businesses thrived over the years but when Uncle Lew passed away five years earlier, Darbie's Dad didn't want the responsibility of running the Next Door Pub so he turned the business over to Weston Hanley while maintaining ownership of the building which Darbie recently inherited when her Dad died in the middle of the pandemic, felled by COVID-19 while a resident of the Soldier's Home.

Darbie frowned as she walked through the short passageway to the pub, hoping a pipe hadn't burst. She stepped into the pub which was dim because the shades to the storefront windows were drawn and she saw a light coming from the public bathroom near the back of the long room. She noticed a cot set up against the back wall which was definitely out of place and unexpected.

"Hello?" she called out.

Wes Hanley stepped out of the opened door of the bathroom with a toothbrush in his mouth. He was wearing jeans and a tee shirt, but he was barefoot. He hadn't shaved in a while and his black hair was a mess.

"What the hell?" Darbie wanted to know.

Wes held up his hand in a 'wait a minute' gesture as he disappeared into the bathroom.

Darbie impatiently waited by the bar for Wes to reemerge. She noticed a half empty bottle of whiskey sitting on the bar next to a glass with a few drops of the booze still left in it.

She saw her reflection in the mirror over the bar and she realized how hideous looked, wearing a sagging pair of gray sweats along with her messy hair and no-make up. She hadn't expected to interact with anybody.

Wes worked for Uncle Lew for years starting off in the kitchen preparing the limited pub menu items (hamburgers, fries, chicken wings, pizza slices, nachos) and working his way up to bartender and Lew's right hand man.

Darbie's Dad gave Wes the opportunity to take over the bar when Lew dropped dead at home one night. Darbie considered Wes a nice guy and they got along well, especially when Darbie began assuming more of the day to day business of the barbershop as her aging Dad began to cut back his hours at the first chair.

Wes sheepishly emerged from the bathroom without the toothbrush but with a surprised look still on his face.

"What are you doing here?" Darbie asked

"Step back," Wes advised. "We're not wearing masks."

Darbie rolled her eyes and went to the far end of the bar, taking a seat on the last stool. "What's with the cot?" She wanted to know.

"I'm letting health care workers who don't want to take a chance going home to their families use my apartment," Wes explained. "It's right across the street from the hospital."

"Wow," an impressed Darbie replied. "That's considerate of you."

"I was so sorry to hear about your Dad," Wes said with sincere sorrow. "He was a great guy."

"Thanks for the card and flowers," Darbie said with appreciation. "That was thoughtful of you."

"I didn't know what else to do with all this COVID-19 stuff going on," Wes said

"It's terrible what happened at the Soldier's Home," Darbie complained. "The virus went through that place like a cyclone."

"How are you doing?" Wes asked with concern as he stepped to the opposite end of the bar.

"Not so good," Darbie admitted with a sigh.

"How 'bout a drink?" Wes suggested.

"It's kind of early," she said.

"It's five o'clock somewhere," Wes replied.

"Okay," she agreed. "Something sweet."

Weston took a few moments to make her a drink which he slid down the bar like a bartender in an old western movie.

"What's this?" Darbie asked.

"American Iced Tea," Weston answered. "Vanilla Vodka, Rum, gin, Tequila, Cherry Vodka, Grenadine, Ginger Ale, Lime Juice, and Cherry Juice, with a lemon slice." He looked proud of himself.

"Jesus, you trying to put me in a coma?" Darbie worried.

"We're in the middle of a pandemic," Wes said. "What do you have to lose?"

He poured himself a shot of whiskey from the bottle that was left on the bar, using the same glass that was there previously.

"Have you been drinking a lot?" Darbie asked from her seat at the end of the bar.

"Why not?" Wes asked from where he sat on the other end. "I'm living in a bar!"

"Our lives have gone to shit, haven't they?" Darbie asked.

"We're non-essential," Wes told her. "We're sitting here wondering if we're going to be responsible for ending your father and uncle's businesses."

"I've never wanted to be non-essential," Darbie sighed sadly. "But I'll be damn if I lose the barbershop."

"I've got maybe a month left with the cash flow," Wes revealed.

"We sold my father's house," Darbie informed him. "I have resources to keep us afloat."

"Your father's legacy," Wes realized.

"The pandemic made me an orphan," Darbie pouted.

"I'll always remember his thick mustache and sly grin," We said. "That wry sense of humor of his."

"I'll miss our chess games."

"He really was a good guy," Wes said. "Compassionate, friendly, concerned, involved."

"He was a better Dad," Darbie said with affection.

Wes raised his glass. "To your Dad."

"With a smile and a tear," Darbie replied, lifting her glass to acknowledge the toast.