Saturday night, 7:00 PM, three nights before Christmas. It’s cold out, but not as it should be. What snow remains is mostly melted, turned to ice now more than two hours after sunset. Walking north on Higgins, shoes crunching on the sidewalk, just before the bridge. Downtown is lit in red, orange, and gold, glittering against the north hills silhouetted on a clear night. Between passing cars I can hear the rush of the Clark Fork River. I’m about to turn left into the deeper shadows of 3rd Avenue. A man stands just outside the awning of the bead store that occupies the corner, a bulky shape under the streetlight.
“Hey maaaan,” he says as I approach. Shorter than me, he wears a battered, bulky parka, hood up, fake fur a crooked halo around his head. He squints through the lines of his face, what I can see of it anyway, above a full, scruffy beard. His breath is a bit labored, misting the air between us. “You know if there are any hard liquor stores around here?”
I stop, think a moment. “I don’t think so, man,” I say.
“I tried over at fuckin’,” he jabs a thumb over his shoulder, “fuckin’ Flipper’s. Ain’t been there in a long time. But they don’t hardly sell nothin’ but fuckin’ beer and shit.”
Though I often park right outside Flipper’s, I’ve never actually been inside. “Closest places I know of,” I say, “are all on the other side of the bridge.”
He shuffles half a turn to his left, then back again and another half turn to his right. “Maaaan. I think you’re right.”
He nods, turns toward the bridge. I make my left, toward my truck, toward Flipper’s.
“Fuckin’ downtown,” he says.