This is a short tale, that's been kicking about on my hard drive for some months now.
I thank my LadyCibelle and Techsan for their patience, proof reading, editing skills and of course encouragement that they always give me. I also thank all of my friends, who write to encourage me to continue writing and posting these demented ravings of mine. Your emails are always greatly appreciated. And I must thank those of you who get a sneak preview nowadays, in helping me track down any booboos that we've missed. I never can figure out how, after having gone through a tale so many times, something always jumps out to bight me when I post the damned tales. Ah well, often it's the result of some tweaking that I've done anyway.
He was in the bar when I walked in that evening, standing at the bar chatting to Phil, one of the other regulars.
"Evening, Ron," Phil called out when he saw me enter.
As usual I nodded back to him and a couple of the other regulars who acknowledged my arrival. The new guy talking to Phil also nodded in my direction as well and being polite I nodded back to him, but I didn't speak.
I picked myself a seat on a stool at the other end of the bar, not really wanting to get into conversation with anyone. Except for George, the barman, who placed my usual pint of draft in front of me without waiting for me to order it. But there were conventions to follow, so.
"Phil?" I asked, just his name being enough for him to know I was offering to refill his glass.
"Thanks, Ron," was all that was needed in reply.
"And you, mate?" I said looking at the new guy.
"Why, thank you, I'll have a still orange if I may?" he replied in what I thought was an unnecessarily loud voice.
"Hey, look, grab a pint quick, whilst Ronny's buying," Phil chimed in. "It's happy hour and it ain't that often the miserable old bugger offers to buy a round."
Phil was right. Most likely I'd buy that first round and then sit at my corner of the bar and sulk for the rest of the evening. Of course I'd be drinking anything that was steered my way.
"No, thank you very much, I don't touch alcohol. I'm an alcoholic!" The new guy announced. I do believe taking everybody in the bar except George by surprise.
"Ex-alcoholic you mean. You look sober enough to me," Phil commented.
"No," the guy said, "there is no such animal, I'm afraid. You're either a drunk alcoholic trying to kill yourself, or you're on the wagon. I'm on the wagon and have been for some years now, but I'm still an alcoholic. One drop of that stuff and I'm on the road to shit street again!"
"Hey, you haven't come to try and get us to sign the pledge, have you? I don't think any of us are that bad yet!" Phil asked.
That question had caught George's attention and he looked in the new guy's direction.
"My god, no, I wouldn't even think of telling anyone how to live their life. Look, you must understand when you've gone past the point of no return; you have to decide yourself when it's time to quit. When an alcoholic gets down low enough, it's him, or her, who has to decide for themselves to climb back up. It took me fifteen years and a buggered liver before I wised up."
George went back to washing glasses.
"So if you're an alcoholic, what are you doing in a place like this? This is a drinking man's pub; most of us come in here to drown our sorrows in the devil's brew," Phil asked.
"Don't I know it; I spent too many years propping up bars like this one. But sometimes I find it necessary to visit places like this. Nowadays I spend most of my spare time doing support work for other sufferers who are trying to straighten their lives out."
Phil looked around the bar. Could be he was looking for any of the regulars who looked like they were getting ready to take the pledge. But I doubted he'd find any in there.
"No," the guy continued, "The person I'm working with at the moment has never been a patron here. Well I don't think she has. Look, do you mind if I tell you a story?"
"Sure, why not," Phil replied. "Anything's better than that bleeding musac, George keeps playing and no one else is ever very talkative in here."
I sensed the guy looking in my direction, probably for my permission to continue as well, but I remained stoically staring into my beer. Whatever my opinion, he continued with his monologue.
"Well, as I was saying I got myself sorted out a couple of years ago now. Much to my surprise my old employer took me back on. I'd been good at my job before the drink got the better of me. It could be I'd been too good or too keen to prove how good I was and I'd taken on more than I could handle. I started to drink far more than I should, I'm sure you all know the scenario.
"Six years later I was living on the streets with no other interest than where the next drink was coming from. That is until one cold night I spent the night in a Sally-Ann hostel. That night the guy in the bed next to me died in his sleep, or should I say his drunken stupor. You know it was while I was stealing his half-empty bottle that it struck me just how low I'd sunk. Christ, I was steeling booze from a dead man!
"This bottle of booze!" The guy pulled an almost empty half bottle of whiskey from his pocket. "I carry it with me all the time to remind how low I'd sunk. I've never touched another drop of alcohol from that day to this!"
The guy looked around the bar again, probably to see how many of us were listening to him. I don't think he saw me watching him in the mirror.
"But that's not why I'm here tonight. It took me some time to put my life back together and there the Sally-Ann came up trumps and helped me a lot. Those people showed me the way back, but it wasn't easy for them or on me. But once I'd achieved my goal, I thought I needed to keep myself busy and try to help other folks in the same position that I had been in.
"Like most alcoholics I'm a member of AA, I attend regular meetings and I'm still very much in touch with the people at the Sally-Ann. Some weeks back they asked me to go to an AA meeting with a woman who they thought might be getting ready to take the pledge. Look, some folks take a little longer than others, they know what they should do, but they need the prop in life that the booze gives you.
"This woman was showing all the right signs, but she needed support; a little extra help to take that final very big step. She is surprisingly young and - if she had looked after herself - would be considered quite beautiful. I didn't know why she'd taken to drink at the beginning and I didn't care. I thought my job was to help her stop drinking.
"We went to the AA meeting, but she had obviously had a few drinks that day. Probably she thought that one drink would help her summon the strength to attend. But for alcoholics one is never enough. She'd obviously had quite a few before I collected her that evening and I could see that she wanted some more before we left. She didn't get any booze from me.
"The next day, I went to the hostel early in the morning and found her eating or rather picking over her breakfast. I had the idea of trying to stay close to her. The evening before, I'd known she was drinking but she'd tried to hide it from me by slipping in the ladies to take her poison. I thought if she still had the pride to try and hide her drinking from me, she might really want to stop drinking.
"I suggested that we go for a walk after she had eaten. I'll tell you now she gave me a real funny look."
"Why would a handsome man like you ask a drunk like me to go for a walk?" she asked. "Look, mister, you'd better understand, I might be a drunk, but I'm not easy. It was some smart mouthed man who put me in the position I'm in today. He plied me with drink until I didn't know any better and then had his way with me. The man I loved heard about it and threw me over. I couldn't live without him, so I took to this stuff to forget him."
She opened her bag and showed me the cheap bottle inside.