“Two Cans of Lager and a Packet of Crisps.”
A voice piped over the bar but the cocktail-juggling barman couldn’t see anyone.
“Two cans of lager and a packet of PLAIN crisps”, came the slightly variant order. A squeaky child’s voice – or a circus dwarf?
This was – self-evidently – not the type of bar where such things would be asked for let alone provided. Gerry and Ann were sitting on barstools with long cigaretteless cigarette-holders being twirled between their fingers. Multi-coloured, umbrella-spiked, fruit-rind garlanded drinks sat before them like exhibits in an Art Deco museum. They had just been involved in small talk with the barman, and small talk here was a million miles from pub talk, the latter being more outlandish and laced with curses. But the weather was never mentioned. Strange to report, neither was gossip or rumour. The talk was literally ‘small’, if with loud guffaws and hoity-toity vowels. The words were so small, they hardly existed at all. Just the guffaws and hoity-toity vowels remained alone and separate in some posh, if meaningless, mating-dance of social encounter – amid the clinking of glasses, the smothered mini-bar gulps of even smaller slurps, with the click of inserted credit cards rather than the rattle of loose change.
The words were so small, they hardly existed at all.
The parties shrugged, as if, tacitly, they believed they had been visited by a ghost from when this establishment was an old-fashioned pub and this particular room a public bar with tantamount to sawdust carpeting the floor and Courage pumps striating the counter like armless policemen.
Gerry pulled out his wallet to examine a small photo that he kept within one of the inner button-down flaps inside it. Ann started powdering her nose, peering poke-faced into a small compact mirror.
Inside Gerry’s wallet, however, was no sign of the keepsake photo. A photo he kept of his children from a former marriage. It had been a tiny marriage and the children even tinier, but the snapshot was almost like a good luck charm for Gerry. Now needing to find it as if in some form of unconscious exorcism, perhaps. To rid himself of both regrets and ghosts, paradoxically by facing himself with them. Ann was never understanding of Gerry’s past; she merely endured it as a necessity of time: something done that couldn’t be undone but should be forgotten.
Turning from the compact mirror, she asked: “Ah aw?”
The barman was leaning over the bar to catch an unstudied, unnoticed glimpse of what Ann was asking about.
Gerry, it seemed, had prised from the insides of his wallet what looked like an old-fashioned, blue, greasepaper-twirled tourniquet of salt that used to be abandoned in otherwise plain packets of Smiths crisps. He stared at it inquisitively as it sat in the palm of his hand like a wrinkled shiny slug.
Gerry, almost in slow motion, replied: “Eh er.” The unused crackly consonants fell to the floor where they vanished into thin air or a small ghost.
The barman shrugged. The credit crunch, he reckoned. Affected even posh people. And he reached under the counter – then tutted inaudibly when he couldn’t find what he was looking for – but eventually, after juggling with them for half-a-minute, placed two brown bottles of Mackeson Stout before Gerry and Ann, then unseated the metal crimped-tops with a device pulled out from his boyhood penknife: sizz … sizz.
He dreamed of crushing lager cans with one hand. In the really old days, cans were as hard as nails, he remembered his granddad telling him when he was small. Meanwhile, the heavy rain on the window drowned out any more small talk.
Ann returned to looking into her compact.