Living the Dream
by W. T. Tharpe
Another night that made a precise scalpel incision and slipped out my time to loop it in sync with the sports news. It was sort of summer. The half open door sucked in a few strays, odd tourists and bottom of the barrel regulars. There wasn’t any football on. Our peak was ten customers at once. The moon does not shine through our windows and the dusty lamps have no control over the sea. If the tide’s out, it tends to stay there. During the week at least. By the time the weekend arrives people have become so bored of stasis they attempt motion all on their own. If you ask me, that’s dangerous behaviour. I spent the first hour adjusting my eyes to the wrinkled gloom and listening to a few of George’s stories. The time he went to see the first Bond film. The girl he met in Dubai forty years ago. A party where he met some footballer. I tried to count how many times I had heard each one. I also tried to remember what happened next or which story came next, but I realised that I’d never really listened.
I watched the ceiling fan wobble and shake. It moved in such a way that I thought I could hear it. It reminded me of fat Mike swaying down the stairs. I pictured one of the wooden blades coming loose and flying across the pub. It would splinter through one of their uncorked skulls before they even had a chance to complain. Maybe it would tear down a whole shelf of bottles. Hundreds of pounds worth of booze would lie in helpless lakes on the linoleum floor. Who would drop to their knees and mourn for it? Probably all of us. It could even knock me down. It could cartwheel towards me and jam its brass tip between my ribs. I doubt very much would flow out. A few dribbles of bile and rum, if I was lucky. Whatever happened, it would be a health and safety nightmare. We could all go home early to tend to our wounds. When I turned around to see if it really was screaming, my potential saviour was silent.
The baked bean, anchovy and crumbled cream cracker bisque I’d somehow eaten for lunch reinstated itself as a reality at about half past eight. As I ambled towards the toilet I thought I could smell the future. When I went in I realised it was just the hidden past. Someone had managed to orchestrate an entire bowel movement on the floor of the cubicle. I couldn’t remember seeing anyone dash down there, but I hadn’t really been paying attention. Jack had spent a while away from his pint. He’d probably just gone to the shop. Someone finds an innovative way to expel excrement from themselves approximately every two weeks in our toilet. I do my best to understand, but I’ve always been a traditionalist in that department. My nose’s ability to be almost permanently blocked prevented the clean-up from being too sickening. But the colours and shapes and textures, what had this broken creature been ingesting? It was like a maroon amoeba. I wiped at one chunk of it, the rest followed. A fascinating, mucus like membrane united the whole lot. The Famous Grouse must have flapped its clipped wings down here to lay a diseased egg. Too binge tired to squat, its incubated child was met by hard, muddy tiles and it became nothing as quickly as it had become something. But there wasn’t any shell. Only a small worm. A small black worm uncoiling at one of its edges. Once everything was more or less invisible I didn’t feel too much like seeing what coiled inside of me.
There was an empty hour. Nobody came through the doors. I discovered then that most conversation involves absolutely no conscience thought. Our ears swallow words before we have had the slightest taste of them. They dissolve into our brains in nanoseconds and the waste reply splatters out of our lips to be wiped up by whomever it is we are in deep discussion with. I could enjoy a chocolate and ice cream smeared waffle with you for two hours and at no point would I engage conscious thought. I would just involuntarily puke out sugary lumps when you prodded me in the right places. I wouldn’t care, but my facial muscles would make it seem like I did. We habituate everything. No wonder we’re all too bored to do anything but go along with it. These awkward hours of repeatedly wiping the same patch of clean bar are strange. At the time they have the superficial appearance of a badly tied noose. But really they contain the spaces where I am most at peace, truly and purely. I am a void then. Unfeeling, unthinking, transcendent. Outwith the world and formal existence.
I picked up a deceased spider from the dry sink. I saw it gurgled up from its subterranean grave. Its micrometre legs were brutally flung about its fat abdomen as it knocked into dissipating crisps and globs of god knows what. The octopus that evolved to walk and drown. I tossed it into the sticky bin. Or perhaps it had crept through our peeling and mottled dwelling as it stalked one of the two flies that can survive the atmosphere. Having its webs dusted away, the spider turns wolf. I could hear its howl above the whinnying waves of lager crashing into drooped stomachs. All it took was a wayward splash of vodka to cripple it. It gave up with one last gasp on the stained steel floor of the sink. Either way, it was buried in a black sack in a back alley bin.
A couple hobbled through the then closed doors. Their eyes dashed about the room, looking at anything but me. Knowing. Trying to be calm. Once they’d completed their exhausting preamble to the bar he leant heavily against it as she scaled a stool with difficulty. He heaved air into his lungs and mopped a damp brow. Atop the stool she planted a bulging leather flag in front of the taps and let her eyes sag into a relaxed stupor. We’d been smiling the whole time. We were done with Patience, Kindness and Lenience by this point. We took it in turns to smash Patience’s head against the ten beer taps. Then we trapped it inside the bottle fridge until it stopped bleeding. Kindness had the fairly light charity jar slowly shoved down its throat as I held its nose shut. The jar has a wide base. Its jaw came loose just as suffocation settled in. I fetched Lenience a brimming ash tray from outside. We made it lick it clean until it vomited itself into expiration. Our backs were crooked from the effort. Just as they opened their fishy mouths to make an order I informed them that service was not an option. They asked why. I told them that they’d had too much, for the public domain at least. But it’s only eleven o’clock. It doesn’t matter what time it is. You seem to have a fundamental misconception of the human species’ place within time. I’ll grant you for a moment that time is linear, although I feel this place is good evidence to the possible contrary. If time is progressing from one past point, through a present point and towards a future point it doesn’t mean that you are doing anything even remotely similar. An eternity could end and you could’ve spent the whole of it paddling in the bottom of a pint glass trying to sing your own name to some imagined stars. I assume that you subscribe to the ‘no drink until lunch or maybe after’ doctrine. I understand that in your ideal world you shouldn’t be successfully inebriated by eleven o’clock. However, you are. So please remove yourself from my visual field. I don’t recall when they left.
It appeared that the cleaning hour was upon us. We set about it like rogue fire ants. Cynical, hateful, but unable to detach ourselves from nature. We soaped and scrubbed and wiped and dried and mopped and sighed until the not-so-merry-go-round was ready for the next day’s infantile pensioners. They stop sucking on their cigarettes and let go of their mobility aids’ cold hands to hop on until they’re dizzy. And I fall about in the stillness of it all. I watch lives that must be full of something reduced to silence, sports and grey complaints. They think my smile looks like a grimace. We got everything done by quarter to. I’m paid until half past every night. There was no one left. Quarter to is last orders. Uneasy freedom had arrived.
I have walked that path so many times that I can remember when it was covered with grass and gorse. I remember the gradient of the hills before the bridges and steps. Sometimes I can still hear the birdsong. Below the thick night sky our streets are empty. What will reclaim this land? And when? I suspect it will be a taxi shivering its way to the train station. I suppose an ambulance is just as likely. A gull may try, drawn to the polystyrene corpses spilling out their guts in small hollows, but its reign will never last. The rust was spreading around my knees at a staggering rate.
The flickering stairwell light started to blink another lost day out. Soon my eyes were clean and everything was separated again. In the yellow humming bathroom I scrubbed at the crust covering my face. It wouldn’t come off until I discovered it was on the mirror. After removing all the desperate residue of that waffle from my mouth I carried out the usual checks. Plugs off. Lights off. Oven and hobs, off, oven and hobs, off, oven and hobs, off. Plugs off. Door locked. Lights off. Door locked. Lights off. Then I fell onto the broken back of the mattress. I checked my alarm clock. It was twenty eight minutes past the hour. For two honeyed minutes I was living the dream. I was being paid to lie in my bed and attempt to fall asleep. Paid only twenty pence, but paid nonetheless.
© The Treacle Well 2013