Fiction, Vol. 3.1, March 2009
He shambled in an hour before last orders—tatty brown wool suit, patched at the elbows, old style John Lennon glasses that made his eyes look like dark pennies—settled himself in the corner between the dartboard and the cigarette machine and sat there like a bloody waxworks most nights through that long wet summer.
I tried talking to him once but he had what you’d call a Slav accent. He mumbled something about the city…its strange music, then a cough got his throat and I left him to his whiskey. After that he kept his thoughts to himself. Sometimes he’d glance out the window at the kids swigging vodka by the war memorial, the cab drivers hustling fares in the rain, and this funny sad look would slip across his face as if he’d seen it all before. But mostly he’d just sit there, cradling his drop of scotch like it was holy water and listening to every cry, laugh, shout the bar threw up. Every last word.
October came. It seemed he’d disappeared off the face of the earth. We thought he’d dragged himself back home, wherever that was. Then Doug read in The Gazette that he’d fallen in the canal out by the dye works and died of pneumonia three days later at The General. The paper said his name was Anton. He’d been a doctor once.
The pub went quiet. Doug called for a drink in his honour but I couldn’t face everyone gabbing about how Anton was one of us at heart—liked his scotch, kept himself to himself. So I just kept staring at that empty space under the Guinness mirror until I found myself in Anton’s chair, laid my hands on the same the beer-stained, broke-legged table and listened to the women shuffling home from the day shift at the hospital kitchens, the market lads stacking fruit crates, pigeons scrambling for bits of skin and peel. As if I could feel the city breathing in my ear. As if all that talk, all that noise, meant something.