Tom Hollander

One night in the backwoods

The man I met in the moose-hunters’ bar, and what happened between us

When I was 38, I let a drunk pick me up in a bar. You know, just to see if I still had it. It was raining. It was a November evening, and I was somewhere in the backwoods of the Adirondacks. I was driving from Rhode Island to Toronto, staying in motels. Taking my time. Getting lost.

His name was Billy Ray and he was from the south. The land of Spanish moss and blurred boundaries and antique sentences delivered in a languid drawl. Beautifully dressed, an elegantly ruined bachelor of 48, he looked 65. He said he was related to the man who had invented Coca-Cola and had never had to work. ‘I really have had the most wonderful life, you know.’ I had started talking to him because he looked more interesting than the book I was reading. And a lot more interesting than the wisecracking moose-hunters at the other end of the bar.

He was gay in an understated sort of way: his formerly beautiful face was thin and red, he smoked Winston full-strength cigarettes and drank bourbon and Coke. ‘I’m afraid I’m a little drunk,’ he said. Don’t worry, I said, so am I. He talked exclusively about himself in the way that drunks tend to. But he was charming. He told me he divided his time between the family compound in Atlanta, Georgia and a house down the road from where we were, on Lake George. Summers here, winters there.

‘You know, I am so lucky — I’ve always known how lucky I am… I’ve had such a time of it.’ He was exhausted because ‘Mother’ had just taken a tumble and broken her humerus and torn her shoulder and he was having to drive her to and from the hospital 60 miles away. In the next day or two he would have her flown in a Medjet back to Georgia to her expensive doctors.

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