Insides


Christmas present.


I pat her sparse, white fur. My old, white kitty.

Last week I took her to the vet. Her hair is falling out. My old, white kitty.

It’s because of the heating in the house, they told me. Her sweet face turns towards me. Her yellow eyes are watching me.

I have a shower. She waits, impatient, outside the bathroom door. As I walk to my bedroom she dances between my feet, and when I throw the used, wet towel on the bed she attacks it, as if making love to it, making love to my smell.

I let her play for a bit. I grab the towel and hang it to dry.

I put on my jacket and I walk to the pub.

23rd of December, and the streets are lit up with Christmas lights. Even the pub is covered in these gaudy baubles. Ridiculous.

Inside the pub, as always, is my own personal Mona Lisa. She is serving, behind the bar. She knows she looks like the painting, with her round face and thin lips, her eyes, though immobile, are always watching you.

Mark, my pint-mate, isn’t here yet. I always get here at least 15 minutes before him. Before I have even hung my jacket on the hook my Foster’s is sitting on the bar waiting for me, smooth and fresh.

“How are you, Pat?” The words pour from her mouth like thick, sweet molasses. Her rounded, Italian vowels flow like waves into my ears.

“I’m all right.” I answer. The pub is almost empty, so she will stay and talk to me for a bit.

“What are you up to do for Christmas?”

She has booked a flight to Italy. She wants to spend the holidays with her family. She says that Christmas is important for them.

“We celebrate for three whole days,” she explained to me. “We just eat a lot and drink good wine and spend a lot of time together. The 24th in the night we eat a lot of delicious fish, with white wine and champagne. It’s fantastic. We seat in the table at night and we don’t stand up til midnight, when we open the present. Then the day after we seat on the table at 12 and we stay there all day long.”

“Don’t you have breakfast?” I ask, a smile playing on my lips.

“We don’t need breakfast! We have eat too much the day before and we are gonna eat too much for all the day long!” She replies with a grin.

Now I understand where her deep curves come from.

She goes on. “And then we play card games and we have some traditions with grapes and lentils and stuff like this… Just to keep staying all together. I can’t wait!” Her eyes are shining, but far away. In her mind, she is already home.

Mark comes in, and I ask for 2 more pints. Later, he will order two pints. Then, again, I’ll order 2 more. This will go on until one of us has to leave.

Omar, the manager, now arrives to start his shift behind the bar. An instant later, as usual, Anna disappears through the service door, as usual she runs away as soon as the clock declare the end of her shift.

And then I see her, perched on a stool on the other side of the bar, my side of the bar! She has decided to have a drink with us… or maybe she is waiting for someone.

The pub is busier now. Tony approaches Anna and in a whisper asks if she wants a drink. I am surprised to see her accept. The baby is celebrating today!

My stomach is getting fuller and fuller, filled with 5 or 6 pints… I’ve lost count already and my mind is starting to be nebulous and after the effect of the alcohol my feeling are pushing my tongue to run. With unsure steps I traipse to the toilet. I stop at the Italian, half way to the bathroom.

“I am so jealous you’re going to Italy!” I confess to her, looking into her bright hazel eyes. “And now you’ve told me about all the wonderful things you’re going to do!” I look away, and then back to her gaze. “I am so jealous.”

She smiles. “So? Come with me!”

I can’t believe what she is saying. “It’s not that expensive and we have a room where we can host people over there... my parents are gonna be happy to host you!”

I am trapped in her eyes. I can see myself walking the cobblestone streets in her city, a chalice of red velvet wine. My face is bathed in the golden sunlight. My arm around a beautiful Italian waist.


Alcohol has never made me hallucinate before, but this cannot really be happening. I have got a cat.

Nobody Left behind.

 

It’s 12:30, and no one has yet come into the pub. Through the window in the door, Shorty’s head slowly appears. Usually, this 1.30 meter tall, 78 year old Jamaican man is the first to arrive, but he refuses to come in unless there are other customers in the pub. This time was different. Maybe he thinks the bartender looks lonely or needs someone to talk to. He boldly walks into the empty pub.

“Half a Foster’s?” Asks Anna. Of course he wants half a Foster’s. He only ever drinks half a Foster’s. Every day he sits in the same spot. Every day he beams a big smile at the Italian girl behind the bar. Every day they exchange few words. Shorty’s English comes out mumbled, with a thick Jamaican accent, which is hard for Anna to understand, but for both of them is more important to exchange sounds, smiles and laugh then the real meaning of the conversation.

He asks her if the Pinot Grigio Woman has come in yet. He saw her in the street a few minutes ago. No, she hasn’t come in yet.

“Remember, no free drinks.” Shorty laughs.

The Pinot Grigio Woman is thin, with a softly swinging walk, a confused smile and feathery hair. Every sentence she speaks is a wisp, quickly being lifted and taken away by the wind. When she finishes speaking, she tilts her head and smiles vacantly. She never has any money with her. Hearsay tell us that she has a memory problem; she has just a very busy nephew who takes care of her. She comes from a rich family... but she never has enough money to pay for a glass of white wine.

As Shorty predicted, she soon enters the pub. When she sees Anna behind the bar an expression of disappointment blows across her face. The girl is always kind to her but never gives her the drink for free. She was hoping to see Omar, the manager, who will sometimes slide the full glass across the table, not waiting for payment. Now, she doesn’t stop at the bar. The deal with Anna is different. Even if she doesn’t buy anything, she can sit down at a table and stay as long as she likes. She and Anna exchange a smile, and the Pinot Grigio Woman takes a seat at her usual table.

 

A beat.

Shorty gestures to the Italian. He need not speak, as Anna is already pouring the wine into a small glass.

The three of them stay in their respective places, without speaking. Shorty watches at Anna cleaning the shelf. Anna watches, completely absorbed, the glasses she cleans. The Pinot Grigio Woman watches the big screen in front of her.

Shorty drinks another half of Foster’s, then another. The Pinot Grigio Woman slowly, slowly, drinks her wine. When the glass is empty, she stands up. Bag in hand, she walks to the door. As she exits, her path crosses with that of Helen the Duchess, who enters the pub.

The two women. “Hello, darling.” “Hello, darling.” Exit the Pinot Grigio Woman.

Helen the Duchess, helped by her walking stick , walks to her table.

“Hello Anna, darling!” She exclaims, as usual. “Hello Madame!” Anna answers. As usual, “Call me Helen!”. Anna will never stop calling Helen ‘Madame’. Anyone who signs their name ‘Helen the Duchess’ definitely appreciates being addressed as Madame.

Helen the Duchess takes a seat, with her Foster’s, and begins to talk about the Pinot Grigio Woman.

“She never has money, eh! The other day we was talking and she told me she was coming back from her weekly shopping at TKMax! I do mine at Tesco! And even I can pay my drinks! Hahaha!” Her words sound rude. Shorty smiles. Adolf walks in, takes the seat next to Helen and orders a Guinness.

“The other day she came in and she was begging Anna for a drink.” Anna is listening from her seat on top of the dishwasher. “She was saying that she never has to pay for her drinks. But Anna told her…” She raises her voice. “’There are no free drinks here!’” She leans back in her chair and guffaws loudly.

Anna sits in silence. She doesn’t like Helen’s tone of voice at all. The story she just told never really happened. It is known that Helen likes to embellish, but sometimes it can be too much.

As for the Pinot Grigio Woman, Anna doesn’t believe she is really short of memory. Anna had the chance to chat to her and she realized that the Pinot Grigio Woman is playing a game whenever she asks for a drink. The girl can see that she is smart, and respects her intelligence and her everlasting hunt for a free drink.

Helen the Duchess continues to drink, faster than usual. Today she wants to get drunk. She sits with her feet hanged to the chair in front of her, her back pressed right up against the seat, her Foster’s in its tall glass cradled in her hand.

After her fifth beer she stands up. “I am going to Tesco my darling! I’ll be back in a few minutes!” She declares to Anna, and walks out the door.

The bar is close to empty today. Shorty is still there, Mike with his huge belly sits alone with a pint at the other side of the bar.

The door creaks open and again walks in the Pinot Grigio Woman. She looks at Anna, then at Mike. She greets Mike sweetly, hoping he will be the next to offer her a drink. But Mike is not as generous as Shorty is, so this time she'll have to wait for longer.

The door opens again and in stumbles Helen the Duchess. She orders another drink and sits back down at her table. The Pinot Grigio Woman is sitting at the next table. The two women begin to speak.

After a short time Helen the Duchess comes up to Anna: “A glass of Pinot Grigio, please darling.” She winks.

Chalices

My eyes open, but my body doesn’t move. I lie still, staring at the cream coloured ceiling for a few minutes before getting out of the double bed; the double bed only half used.

I look at my watch. 9 o’clock. My body can’t stand any more than 4 hours of sleep. My knees creak. I stand up to walk to the bathroom.

In the mirror’s reflection I see two blue-sky eyes gazing at me. I shift my gaze away from the deep, endless wrinkles that cross my face and I take a piss.

I warm up some milk on the stove. I am in a very bad mood today. I am already looking forward to my first pint. Yesterday, the doctor told me that I “must eat breakfast every day”. I couldn’t care less about the breakfast, but I'll listen to the doctor because in some how I still want to be strong. In the mirror I comb my hair to one side, over the ever-growing spot at the crown of my head.

I wait for the clock to strike 12 before I step out of the door, climb down the stairs, to street and across the road, all the while staring at the horrible pink colour of the creaking door of the Grove.

“Hello, Tony.” Anna’s sweet face, is, as usual, smiling up at me.

I approach the bar. She has already started pouring my Stella into a Beck’s glass. I hate the Stella glasses.

Those chalices are for women.

 


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