Friday, July 17, 2009
Craig was on his own in the flat, the TV was on in the background playing a documentary about the Beverley Sisters, Jimmy Tarbuck was talking about the London Palladium. Craig was in the kitchen stirring milk and sugar into a white cup of coffee whilst looking into the distance. His mind wasn’t on the TV or the coffee or the annoying fungal infection glowing red and white beneath his foreskin. Neither was he thinking about smoking a cigarette, though that seemed like a good idea, no it was Carol. Carol at the counter of the bar, Carol with the cleavage and the beer and the smile and quick line in cheek and wit, available to all the customers. A golden haze surrounded her in his head in his self indulgent daydream, she wasn’t prefect but she was close to prefect. He stopped stirring coffee into submission, sipped a little and nipped his lip. Then it was back to the couch and some mindless channel hoping to fill the gap until pub time came around.
8.45 was pub time, a clean shirt, a little gel and out down the stairs, through the dim to bright light effect of the lower and corridor and out onto the street. Twenty five steps down the grey stained pavement, a left turn past the laundry, the Chinese and the vacant double glazing shop and then the Saracen’s Head, Carol’s pub, the pub. The spring on the door always needed a tug to overcome, sharp and defiant, holding back entry to the bar but a brisk practiced pull led into the dark brown interior. Craig quickly made a mental note that none of the regulars were in, a suit in the corner reading a paper and nursing a pint, two students fiddling with phones and crisps and an older gent munching on a sausage roll. By now he was leaning on the bar looking up, down and across optics, racks and glasses for Carol.
Up from under the bar a dark head popped and a gruff voice announced “Aye, what’s yours!” Craig was momentarily stunned, no Carol just this white shirt, steely blue eyed interloper. “Emm..IPA please, a pint!” The new barman looked away and poured the beer slowly, carefully, he knew what he was doing. “So’s Carol not in tonight?” Craig gulped at the end of the short sentence. “Carol?” the barman said casually, “aye she’s gone, am just fillin’ in.” “Ah right, Carol’s in tomorrow then?” “Naw, she’ll no’ be back.” Craig gulped again. “Got another job then, another pub?” “Naw, getting’ married, this weekend, keeping it quite, her lad's a biker, £2.70 that’ll be.” Craig handed over three pound coins, scooped up the pint and wobbled towards one of the round tables. He was controlling himself well, nobody could know, nobody could see the huge slow tremble that was grinding up and down his spine like a lazy snake, feel the sweat and heat, the embarrassing heat, the warm backward glow of his failure.
Suddenly aware of his surroundings Craig saw he was facing the bar, seeing the space where Carol should be, the new barman now dotting back and forwards, serving a customer, handing over change, making the idle chat, switching the TV channels. Carol was gone and was marrying somebody, how could his goddess marry a mortal man, an ordinary man, a man not him, a biker. Craig finished the beer and without looking back left the pub, through the stubborn door and onto the street and the suddenly spongy pavement, no Carol, no future. He was looking at his shoes, the street lamps fished fat and distorted shadows from the paving stones, his shadow was staggering but was still walking, walking past his flat entrance and on down the road, walking in a panic, burning up and showering in a wicked adrenalin. A bright pub door was opening before him, not the Saracens’, this would do.
Craig woke up. He was squashed onto a wooden bench, a church pew. Looking around there was brass, stained glass, Jesus and Mary and assorted saints, assorted plaques dedicated to the heroic and rich local families, dignitaries and Victorians. He was at the back by the door with no memory of how he’d got there but today had become tomorrow, he could sense that much through an aching head. Looking over the carved edge of the seat he could see a lone figure down by the alter, some candles flickered in front of it, now recognisable as a woman. Slowly Craig rose to his feet and moved silently towards the alter and bank of candles. The woman was sobbing into her hands, quietly, purposefully, unloading. Craig looked at her, her head was covered, her age and look indistinct in the shards of stony church light. Craig sat beside her an touched her shoulder, he was feeling something but it was something beyond himself, a not knowing. The woman responded to his touch and fell silent, “Carol?” he said as if it was the only word he could find. The woman turned and with a crumbling and cracking voice said, “y..you knew her?”