Cold outside, ain’t it? Nothing but ice and mud and desolation ‘round here, and that’s the good part of town. Last time I saw good green growing things was – well, I don’t remember how long it’s been. Good green growing things don’t last long in these parts.
You’re lucky you found this place, really. Well, maybe you’re lucky; can’t rightly tell, yet. But this here’s the only place for miles around where a man can find a warm spot to sit out of the cold wind, and leave his troubles outside for a time. You’ve got your fire in the hearth, and your whiskey in the glass, and a warm place to sleep after the whiskey and the fire work their way into your bones. Might as well stay, ‘least for the night. Ain’t nothing much outside but wind and cold.
Well, yeah, of course there’s a price. There’s always a price. Don’t nothing come for free. I mean, you can run a tab for a while. But sooner or later, you’ve got to settle up.
Cold outside, ain’t it? You can sit your bones here, this table’s big enough for the both of us. I ain’t buying your whiskey, though, that’s on your dime. You’ve been here before, you know the drill. No pretty girls in short dresses to take your order here; go on up to the bar and get it yourself. It’s okay, I’ll wait. Though if you don’t feel like getting up again, I bet you could wave to the bartender, and he’d bring you your poison. By now he knows what you drink.
Don’t the wind howling sound just like a wolf? That ah-ooo, ah-ooo, rattling the trees, shaking the windowpanes. Like to bust them, I reckon, if it keeps up like this. Cracks in the shutters, and rot around the frames. This bar has been here a long time, and I don’t think the fellow what owns the place has done much work on the building. Saving his money for a new neon sign and one of those poker machines, he told me.
Speaking of poker machines…
...you happen to be, by any chance, a gambling man?
Cold outside, ain’t it? Cold enough to turn a man into an ice statue, like what happened to that poor fellow last week. You heard about him? Aimed to walk home, but never got there; must have drunk too much whiskey, they said. Don’t know why he went out in it, instead of staying here for the night, but that’s what he did. Stopped to rest himself on the bench at the corner, the one where the bus used to stop. Though the bus don’t come no more, hasn’t in years.
Maybe he was going to smoke a cigarette. Maybe he was just going to close his eyes for a moment.
He would have been better off if he’d just stayed here, where it’s warm. ‘Course, it’s easier to stay when you’ve got friends to drink with, people who try to cheer you up when you lose your job or your home or your wife. It’s easier to keep from falling when you’ve got friends to prop you up.
But some folks are always drinking alone, even in company. They’re the ones who keep playing after they should have folded. They’re the ones who head out into the storm when they should be staying by the fire. They’re the ones who fall into the river, or don’t notice the oncoming car, or turn into ice statues.
Cold outside, ain’t it? You can come in, that’s fine. Might as well, it’s your own damn place.
I expect you’re wondering what I’m doing here, being as how this is your house. Well, you call it a house, so I suppose I will too, seeing as how I’m charitable like that. Somebody not so charitable would probably call it a hut. Maybe even a shack. Four walls and a roof on top. A place to huddle next to the fire. A place to hide from the darkness, the wind, the cold that’s as sharp as a knife. The better to cut you with, my dear.
I know you ain’t proud of it, but you shouldn’t be ashamed of it, either. It’s served you well for years, hasn’t it? Even though you ain’t been keeping up the maintenance, it hasn’t fallen down. Not yet, anyway. And all this time, all these years, you’ve been thinking, at least I’m holding body and soul together. At least I’m keeping the wolf from the door.
Well, it worked for a while. But you can’t keep the wolf away forever.
Might as well invite him in.
Nah, I ain’t hungry. Leastwise I ain’t hungry enough to eat those stale pretzels and cheese crackers you call food. I’ve eaten enough of those to last me a lifetime. But I’ll take some of that whiskey, if you got a clean glass.
Now that is some fine whiskey you have there. Look at how it gleams red-gold in the firelight. You can tell it sat in a charred oak barrel for years before it was bottled; that’s how it gets that rich shade of amber, and that sweet smoky taste. Warms you right up, don’t it? I reckon if I were that whiskey I’d just want to sit in that barrel forever, letting the color and flavor sink in. But the whiskey don’t get a choice. The barrel’s gonna be tapped, and yeah, that’s a metaphor, I guess. You know what I mean. You’re an educated man.
What I mean to say is that it wasn’t something you did, and it wasn’t something you didn’t do. The Dire Wolf collects his dues eventually, and like I said, sooner or later you got to settle up.
Whoa, there, friend. I don’t mean right this second. We got time to make a dent in that bottle of yours. After all, it’d be a shame to let that good red whiskey go to waste. Got time to play a round of cards, too, if you want. Rummy, gin, five-card draw, seven-card stud – whatever you like. We could play Faro, like those characters in that Pushkin story.
Speaking of cards…
...you happen to be, by any chance, a gambling man?
Go ahead and cut the deck. Let’s see what you get.
Queen of Spades, huh. That’s some rotten luck, ain’t it. Why don’t you stick it back in, give it another go?
Well, I’ll be damned, it’s that black bitch again. Give me those cards, let me shuffle once. Been some time since I’ve had cards in my hands. Been some time –
Oops. I guess they’re all the Queen of Spades, ain’t they.
You didn’t actually think you were going to win, did you?
Cold outside, ain’t it? Nothing but ice and mud and desolation, but don’t worry, you won’t be out here too long. Plenty warm where you’re going. No whiskey, sorry. But there’s a fire.