The prompt at today’s Irish Writers Centre workshop was to imagine it’s your first night in your local pub without drinking. Though I have myself been to my local after giving up drinking I would like to point out to those of you from said local who read this blog that this is fiction …
The front door has stained-glass in it, like a church window. I suppose it’s because this is, after all, where people come to find comfort and solace. I looked at it for a moment, took a deep breath, then pushed the door open and walked in.
Before I could speak The Owner picked up a pint glass and placed it under the Guinness tap. Just as the first flow of brown ooze began to trickle down the side of the glass I said “Hang on, I’ll have a Coke.”
Silence descended, the type of bar-room silence normally associated with Clint Eastwood pushing open the saloon double-doors.
“Coke?” said The Owner, in the same tone that he’d have used if I’d ordered ostrich piss.
“Coke,” I said, with a firm resolve that I didn’t really feel inside.
The Owner shrugged, popped the cap off a Coke and poured it into a glass. “Ice?”
“As long as it’s fresh,” I said. “I don’t want any of that frozen shit.”
This attempt at humour did not go down well. To be honest, neither did the first sip of Coke, but I stuck manfully at it.
Eventually The Old Man At The Counter, who has been sitting on the same stool since the bar opened in 1842, spoke.
“Are you driving?” he asked.
“No,” I said. “Well actually yes, but because I’m drinking Coke, not the other way round.”
While he was trying to figure this out The Guy Who Always Drinks Standing Up said “but it’s just for today, right?”
“No,” I said. “I’ve given up drinking.”
The deep silence returned, though within it you could hear shock and, I think from The Guy Who Thinks The World Is Against Him, a tiny fart.
One Of The Domino Players had a guess.
“Are you sick?” he asked.
“Er, no,” I said. “Coke-drinking is not a recognised illness.”
“Well, it should be,” said The Man Just Coming Out Of The Toilet. They all laughed. I didn’t.
“Are you trying to lose weight?” asked The Guy Throwing Darts On His Own.
The Man Who Knows Everything snorted. “Of course he’s not trying to lose weight, look at the size of him. He’s only six stone -”
“Nine stone,” I said.
“- and because he’s six stone,” went on The Man Who Knows Everything, “if he lost any more weight he’d blow away on a windy day.”
“You’re not becoming a Muslim, are you?” asked The Other Domino Player.
“What?” I said.
“Well, they don’t drink,” he said.
“Neither do babies,” I pointed out, “and I’m not becoming one of those either.”
“Actually you are,” said The Big Guy With “Mary” Tattooed On His Arm (she’s his wife and he’s terrified of her, so from here on he will be referred to as The Boy With The Naggin’ Tattoo), “because a man would drink real drink like the rest of us.”
“I knew a man who gave up drink and was dead within six months,” said The Bloke Who Just Reads His Paper In The Corner. We were all astonished, he had never joined in a discussion before.
“What did he die of?” I asked suspiciously.
“He was run over by a bus,” said The Bloke Who Just Reads His Paper In The Corner. He nodded to himself, as if to say “so there”, and went back to reading his paper. In the corner.
“Are you seriously off it?” asked The Guy Who Laughs At His Own Jokes, “because if you are then I’m going to sell my Guinness shares, they’ll be out of business by Christmas.” He laughed loudly at this. “Out of business by Christmas,” he repeated, because he doubled as The Man Who Always Says The Punchline Twice.
“Exactly. You’re destroying the economy and forcing people out of jobs,” said The Man Who Came Out Of The Toilet A Couple Of Paragraphs Back, who has no other distinguishing character traits.
“Like the bankers,” said The Man Who Knows Everything.
“And the developers,” said The Guy Throwing Darts On His Own.
“And the politicians,” said One Of The Domino Players.
“Should be hung, the lot of them,” said The Other Domino Player.
I was enjoying this brief interlude where contempt was being focussed elsewhere. It didn’t last.
“Are you out of work and trying to save money?” said The Guy Who Thinks The World Is Against Him.
“How could I save money drinking this?” I said. “It costs more per litre than petrol.” I took another sip. “And tastes worse than it.”
“That’s because it has so many chemicals in it,” said The Man Who Knows Everything. “You can clean toilets with it.”
“Maybe you should do that, and drink Toilet Duck instead,” said The Man Who Laughs At His Own Jokes, laughing uproariously.
The Man Who Knows Everything waited patiently for The Man Who Always Says The Punchline Twice to repeat “drink Toilet Duck instead”, then went on. “They also use Coke to wash out oil-tankers, un-stick barnacles from ships’ bottoms, and in the jet that comes out of bidets in France.”
I should have mentioned earlier that The Man Who Knows Everything is in fact The Man Who Gets Most Things Wrong, and that none of us have ever had the heart to tell him that.
I finished my drink and stood up to leave.
“You’re really not drinking?” said The Owner.
“No,” I said. “I told you all.”
“Yes, but we didn’t believe you,” said The Boy With The Naggin’ Tattoo.
“So we’ll never see you again?” said The Old Man At The Counter, almost plaintively, as if one of the Dwarves had just told his brothers that he was emigrating to Pluto.
“No, I’ll still be coming here,” I said.
“But if you’re not drinking why would you want to be here?” said The Owner, before he could stop himself. The phrase “with these gobshites”, though never spoken, sounded inside my head and, judging by the glares that he got, in everyone else’s as well.
I smiled sweetly back at him.
“For the conversation, of course,” I said.