Terry started hard at the uneaten meal, his fork poised millimetres above the surface of the cottage pie waiting to break the surface but truth be told, Terry really wasn’t feeling the desire to eat. He’d lost his appetite completely now but after a day of having the shakes and feeling faint Terry was trying to force himself to eat, but it just wasn’t happening. He carelessly place the fork on the table and looked up at the empty space at the dinner table were Ruth should be sat. Ruth had been gone for nearly eight weeks now, they’d been together just over a year and had been sort of dating on and off for six months prior to that. This break up was slightly different to previous ones as this was one he’d instigated himself; never go to a party with the girl you have feelings, things will just go wrong. Terry picked up the uneaten meal, walked through to the kitchen, cover the plate in cling film and put the dish in the fridge, trying to ignore the rapidly atrophying produce all ready present. Eight weeks he told himself, they’ve been hard and there wasn’t any sign of things improving. Go for a walk, he told himself. Go for a walk and clear your head.
It was a stinker of a night, the rain was falling hard and the wind has picked up considerably. The puddles on the footpath stared up at him like black soulless empty eyes, beckoning the lost and the dispossessed to a downward spiral into the darkness and shadows. Cars sped through the heavy rains, their orange head lights distorting the puddles making them look like the glowing eyes of a heard of hellhounds on a stampede. Terry walked along the street desperately trying to cocoon himself in his long jack and hat from the hostile elements, glancing every now and again at the houses, people in little boxes trying to keep the dark and the cold out. Terry sighed audibly as if he had an audience to address instead of a cascade of rain drops, wrap yourself up and hide away as best you can but you can’t keep the darkness out forever. All these people in their houses and not a single person left for him, he struggled to recall the last time someone had called around or invited him out for a drink. Not even a single word of sympathy from colleagues regarding his plight, just back stabbing and…
His train of thought was rapidly interrupted by the scream of a car horn as it swerved to avoid him, instinctively Terry leapt to the side and landed awkward in a large puddle. As he picked himself up he looked at the car disappearing into the distance and a small Chinese figure stuck its head out the window and yelled something in one of the oriental dialects, Terry was certainly no linguistic specialist but he was fairly certain what had been yelled was one of the ruder thoughts of Chairman Mao. He picked his drenched body and sighed, that could of killed him and no one would even care. Would even notice?. Ruth certainly wouldn’t and neither would anyone at work. Terry looked at the old bridge over the river and decided his time had come. The silver ripples dancing on the dark water beckoned him towards it, just one jump and he’d be at one with the darkness, free of the memories, the hurt and no longer having to endure the constant barrage of insults and humiliation which was being hurled at him. Solemnly, Terry started walking down Bridge Street.
Terry was about half way down the street, when a warm welcoming light descended upon him. He turned his head to see it origin and was greeted by a pub door swinging in the wind hinting a cosy interior and the promise of well kept ale. The pub looked more like a converted house than a pub , small and lacking the usual front bay window associated with the public house. Above the door hung a weathered but enticing looking sign depicting a painting of a young man holding a Trumpet in his hand, Terry vaguely recognised the illustration from an old black and white photo he’d seen somewhere. Above the painting, the sign bore the legend “The Man with the Horn”, a rather unusual name for a pub. Terry nervously approached the door, at least if he had a few drinks he’d suffer less at the final moment. The door creaked open and he was immediately greeted by the rewarding smell of logs burning on an open fire. The pub, as it’s exterior suggested , was a very small and cosy affair with perhaps a dozen at most tables arranged around the place. A Cuckoo Clock dominated the wall opposite the fire and the bulk of the opposing wall was dominated by the bar itself. The bar was quite Olde Worlde with a number of defunct old fashioned beer fonts dotted about the place next to a few hand pulls. Stood behind the bar stood a middle aged man with greying dark hair, dressed in a white shirted and brown waist coat and a loosely tied cravat.
“Ah good evening sir,” chirped the landlord, well Terry assumed he was the landlord.
“Evening,” Terry mumbled in reply.
“Good lord man, you’re soaking wet,” exclaimed the landlord as he registered the condition of Terry’s clothes. He emerged from behind the bar and rushed over to Terry and began removing his jacket, “let’s get that dried out by the fire shall we?” he added.
“Er okay,” answered Terry a little overwhelmed at the unusual level of hospitality on show.
“Now take a seat by the fire and I’ll get a towel and some hot soup for you.” Said the Landlord and he disappeared round the corner of the bar.
Terry outstretched his hands to the fire and rubbed them together and mused to himself as to why he’d never been to this pub before. The obvious answer being because he was a driver he never used the pedestrianised part of Bridge Street. A moment later the Landlord reappeared with a thick white towel slung over his shoulder and a large wooden bowl in his hand . He placed the bowl on the table in front of Terry handed him the towel and toddled off to the bar. Terry muttered thanks as he began to dry himself off with the towel, leaving the bowl of piping hot soup to cool for the moment. The towel reminded him of the type his maternal Grandmother used to dry him off with when he was a child, a little rough and abrasive in comparison to the modern day towels.
“There you go, brown and mild.” Said the Landlord putting a handled pint glass in front of him.
“Thank you,” replied Terry. Hang on a minute he hadn’t ordered a beer yet, let alone told him what his preference was. How did the landlord know what drink he wanted? Shrugging it off as a lucky guess Terry put the towel to one side and began to consume the soup. The soup was very much a root vegetable broth cut with some minced meat to bulk it out very much a product of days gone by. Terry was beginning to warm to this place.
“Have you had a busy night?” Terry asked the landlord.
“Oh you are the first person I’ve served for quite a while now,” replied the landlord.
“The weather putting people off I guess,” Terry countered. The landlord didn’t reply but instead changed the subject.
“So, what brings you out on such a miserable night?” Inquired the landlord as he set about polishing up the horse brass hanging off one of the pillars.
Ok, this was an awkward question to answer. How exactly do you tell someone you’ve come out to jump off a bridge? Terry was suddenly aware that the landlord was studying him with a quizzical expression before lightening up.
“Decided to have a walk amongst the shadows did you?” The landlord asked after what seemed like an eternity of silence but in reality was probably only a few seconds.
“Something like that,” replied Terry as he sheepishly turned away.
“There evidently is something on your mind young man,” began the landlord, “it doesn’t bode well to keep quiet about it Terry.”
“It’s complicated,” sighed Terry pushing away the empty soup bowl and started staring at the flames as they danced around the fireplace. “First of all there was this party Ruth asked me to host with her and spent the entire night blanking me and then decided to disappear off on holiday.”
“Ah yes, I do believe Magaluf has a rather inelegant nickname,” the Landlord mused.
“Well deserved,” muttered Terry under his breath. Hang on, a moment how on earth did the landlord know she had been to Magaluf? Come to that how did-
“I got your name off the back of that Magaluf chain you are wearing,” answered the landlord as if he had just read Terry’s mind.
“…and it is very shiny, so it was easy to put two and two together,” concluded Terry. “You have good observational skills.”
“I have to in my profession,” smiled the landlord pouring a large brandy. “It’s very basic brandy I’m afraid I’m out of Napoleon.”
“That’s ok I hate brandy,” answered Terry.
“So what else is there? Obviously , Ruth, meant a lot to you.”
“Yeah well then she started hanging about my work friends and lying about things,” began Terry. “Especially to the new management, they believed her and relegated me down to dogsbody. So now it is getting harder to go to work.”
The landlord deposited another Pint on the table and smiled, “well if I were you I’d be nice to them. Ridiculously, over the top nice. Drives people scatty, especially to the one who started it all.”
“I guess it’d prove that I’m stronger than that,” answered Terry.
“Quite right,” agreed the landlord, “interestingly enough I heard that a position is coming up in the University library and they want someone around your age. Go for it.”
Terry smiled, perhaps it was the drink or maybe the soup was spiked with something, but he was beginning to feel better.
“We all fall a little low Terry, sometimes all which is needed is a bit of a friendly push to solve it,” said the landlord, “So be on your way now.”
“Yes,” beamed Terry, “I think you are right.”
“I try my best,” replied the landlord walking Terry to the door.
“Thanks and good night,” said Terry as he disappeared through the door. He turned back, a thought occurring to him. “I’m sorry but I never caught your name.”
“It’s Gabriel or Gab to friends, now take care,” he answered slowly closing the door behind Terry.
Terry walked down to the street and glanced briefly at the bridge and thought back to his early plan, what a silly thing to do. The landlord, Gabriel, was right. Raise above them and aim for something better. Terry raised his head walked confidently back towards home. The streets looked much less cold and dark then they did before and the houses now looked warm and inviting. Tomorrow I’ll call in on Wilson and see how he is, he told himself.
“Your enjoying yourself,” laughed a warm sounding female voice.
“Sorry?” asked Terry whirling round a little startled.
“Sorry, didn’t mean to make you jump.” Said the woman. The woman was about five foot six and a little on the tubby side, with long curling black hair and big brown eyes. “You were whistling and had an actual spring in your step,” she laughed, not maliciously.
“Oh put it down to a night in the pub,” answered Terry. “Landlord was quite fun chap called Gabriel.”
“Oh? Not sure I know him,” replied the woman. “Which pub?”
“Er The Man with the Horn I think it was called,” answered Terry.
“Man with the Horn?” asked the woman puzzled. “You must be mistaken. The Man with the Horn closed down fifteen years ago.”
“Don’t think so,” answered Terry, “look it is just over…” He stopped mid-sentence as pointed toward the pub. Where the pub had been was a derelict building hidden in the shadows. “But…” Terry walked back a little to get a better view the woman not far behind him. She was right, the building had been unused for many years. The old pub sign was now heavily weathered and cracked, the paint smudged, only the pub name and the eyes of the trumpet player were clear.
“Excuse sir, but did something happen tonight?” asked the woman.
“No, it was stopped,” smiled Terry and he turned to face the woman and outstretched. “My name is Terry, how do you do?”
The woman shook his hand, “Andrea. Pleased to meet you, fancy a quick drink down the road?”
This post copyright of Nick Griffiths 2015.