Sample Stories

Temperance Tune

Won 1st prize in Sentinel Literary (Nov quarterly comp 2014).

I wonder what I look like through regular eyes. Pitiable? Maybe even pathetic? Does the mouth under those regular eyes say, “Hey, Bob, there seems to be things missing from your life. Did you forget to collect a job, wife, couple of kids and a mortgage on your journey?” To which I would reply, “Those life lapses mean there’s something else missing: worry. I’m a worry-free wart. I own a contentment that borders on the annoying. Each rain cloud is silver through and through.”

Let’s forget the doc thinks I’m next year’s worm food if there are any worms out there with a liking for the hard stuff. Let’s just think of me dying happy, dying oblivious and swaying on my feet with slabber down my cheek. My drinking hobby means that walking in a straight line is beyond me. But hell, straight’s overrated – just ask any gay. Everyone should sway to their own beat. I happen to have an eternally rat-arsed drummer with a shot-to-bits rhythm and have energetically jigged to his rickety tune with great happiness – until last night, when something terrible happened.

After promising myself to stick to whisky and nothing but whisky because that is the true drink, so help me God, what happens but I met Wee Sandy who coaxed me onto the wine. That’s not the terrible part. Nine glasses later and I’m stupefied. I staggered across the line from blissful drunk to catatonic drunk. That’s still not the terrible part. I must have left Sandy in the bar, I don’t remember the actual event, but no doubt we slavered our goodbyes and then I found myself in an alleyway. A deep, dark alleyway straight out of an urban fairy story – I was expecting to see the switch of a wolfie tail from behind the large wheelie bins. I sensed it was a dead-end but carried on, because the law of the drunk states the irrational must be undertaken. Mooching sideways, I reached the solid surety of a brick wall. Now what?

The terrible part happened, that’s what. There was a rustling behind me. A robber? A murderer? Worse. I swung round to see a spirit, and not the drinking kind. This was a being of the celestial variety, shimmering out a hell of a wattage. My old mates Jimmy Bean and Johnny Black have shown me many weird things, but this was something not even they could ignite.

It spoke.

“Robert, you must stop your swilling and your slabbering and your staggering. Your drummer must relearn his rhythm. Sobriety or death, Robert.”

The spirit ebbed and glowed. It would’ve been rude to break its stare or silence but I was freaking out and sobering up fast.

“Excuse me, Mr Spectre but I am doing just dandy, thank you. I do not wish for the stress of everyday life. I am no rat who wishes to join the race.”

“Robert – “

“Call me Bob.”

“Robert. Don’t talk cack. I shall not indulge in an asinine Ebenezer Scrooge masquerade whereby I show you what you have lost and what might have been. It’s very simple, one more drink and I come.” He faded like spent fag ash into a wispy nothing.

To be or not to be? My mind chased this puzzler round my brain cells, dousing them with cold water and letting some packaged up memories unravel and float to the surface under the banner of What Bob has lost. A wife, a child, a job and a mortgage; but when one toppled and shattered the others were quick to follow. My hobby, which had saved me from an aftermath of self-disgust, was now was threatening to undo me.

Hell, toss a coin. I tossed. I looked. I sighed. I mooched back to the bar to see if Wee Sandy was still there. I had to inform him that never again would we wine-dine together.

Breenging through the doors, I beheld and adored my alma mater – the glorious horseshoe bar behind which posed its glassy jewels of indulgence. Savouring the heady public house bouquet (top note: sweat and grime), I found Sandy and placed a hand over where my liver was still distilling its earlier banquet.

“Be still, my beating liver,” I crooned. “We shall not be crushed. We shall let not let some spineless ghostie bully us into parting with the bottle. And we shall ignore the coin which advised abstinence.”

Sandy brayed at my declaration. A drunk can laugh at anything, while a Soberer gives a crooked smile before wondering if they should use their last pennies for a drink or a taxi home. For a drunk, there is no taxi home.

“Get it down you, Bob.” Sandy slid over a glass saloon-bar style and raised his own.

I spied with my little eye the pub door floodlighting and creaking open. Ignore it. Mr Temperance cannot claim me yet. Not even He will take a man when there’s only a gulpful left at the bottom of the bottle.

But the spirit came our way, mindless of manners, and I had no option but to be sociable.

“Hey, Mr Spectre, sit yourself down and imbibe in the water of life,” and then I heehawed at my own joke. I’m allowed – I’m a dypso dolly.

But it was only me laughing. The spirit smouldered and shook his head, as if I’d failed him. Like I actually had any responsibility toward his demand. And Sandy. Dear pish-head Sandy, the appreciator of all my jokes, was not laughing either. He was giving the glass eye/death drool combo.

“He was another who wouldn’t listen,” sighed the spirit as he rummaged deep down Sandy’s gullet.

A vapour hissed up like train steam from Sandy’s throat and was buffeted and shooed out the door by the spirit. My hand stilled on my glass as I watched the double doors swing after them, their eventual closing like the final curtain to Sandy’s tanked up life.

Despite the airless calm and my thin breathing, it took a while to notice my fingers had started tapping out a steady beat on the rim of the glass.