I passed the man behind the counter two twenty pound notes and told him to keep the change. I wasn’t in the mood for any prolonged conversations, not today. He passed me the bottle of whiskey and the plastic glasses.
He gave me a pitying look. As if I needed his pity. Arsehole.
I slid the bottle into my satchel, along with two of the plastic cups. The rest, I abandoned in the nearest blue litter bin. The rain was starting, that fine drizzle where it didn’t matter if you were holding an umbrella, this rain was going to get you soaked. It didn’t matter to me anyway, I’d given up on umbrellas years ago. Far easier to just get wet.
The bus stop was waiting for me, sadly lacking a bus. I just wanted to get this over with, but the world seemed to be conspiring against me. This whole damn day was just… Ergh.
Oh no. It’s a charity gal. You know the ones, they’re in some kind of branded jacket holding out a clipboard. ‘Excuse me Sir, do you have a minute?’
What am I supposed to say, no? I’m clearly waiting for a bus with nothing better to do. My phone had stopped being able to play Candy Crush too, so I couldn’t even blatantly ignore her. ‘What?’ I asked gruffly. Hoping she’d get the hint.
She didn’t. ‘I’m from the local dogs home, I was just hoping that I could take a moment of your time?’
‘Well, you’ve got until my bus comes.’ Still not getting the hint. Come on girly, go badger somebody else.
‘So, sir, there are over 16000 dogs without homes in the UK. We’ve got at our centre more than 100 dogs that need a loving home. As you can imagine, this takes a lot of time, energy and food for the poor dogs. If you could give just £5 a month…’
The bus arrived, surreptitiously announcing its presence with a whoosh. I looked at the poor charity girl, shrugged my shoulders beneath my heavy coat, then wandered onto the bus. ‘Ticket for Abbey Street, please mate?’
The driver grunted, took my money and passed me my change. I’d always liked this kind of us driver, not one for chatting. I’d never liked conversation. My feelings are mine and nobody else needs to hear them.
I took my seat, just past the weirdo and the old biddy on her way to the shops. Watched the grey city go by under the grey sky. Boring, dull and grey. I hated this place. Especially when the weirdos come out. Like this guy on the bus, singing his head off, drunk at three in the afternoon. My stop couldn’t come fast enough.
I got steadily to my feet as the bus pulled up. The driver looked at me, threatening me with pain if I dared step across the line before the bus had stopped moving. Soundless, but very expressive. I just glared back at him. Sod him.
The sun was considering breaking through the grey sky as I wandered through the wrought iron gates. I knew exactly where I was going, even though I hadn’t been here for 363 days. First the fork to the right, then take the right at the crossroads. Grey marble waiting for me below the 12 foot skeleton of the tulip poplar.
‘Hello Sarah.’ I said, feeling my eyes moisten. I should have come here sooner. I knew it and so did she. Wherever she was.
I took a seat on the patch of green beneath the naked boughs, drawing the bottle from my satchel. I poured two glasses, sizeable ones. She’d never forgive me for ‘any of those sissy measures.’ I poured one on the ground, just in front of her headstone.
TAKEN FROM THIS WORLD TOO YOUNG BY FAR
“HAVE A DRINK ON ME”
12.08.1987 – 16.01.2015
I took it seriously. ‘There’s your drink, Sarah. Proper scotch, none of that cheap shit.’ I took a sip of my own, feeling the burn pass down my throat to my gullet.
‘I miss you Sarah. It’s only been a year and it’s just so grey. Everywhere. Even now, the only patch of colour is right here, next to your.. Next to you.’ Another sip, another burn. I’d always hated this stuff, but it was Sarah’s favourite. I pushed my hair out of my eyes as the sun finally broke through the heavy clouds. It was cold, winter sun, but sun nonetheless.
‘Sarah. I… I wanted to come before. I wanted to come to you before you died on that bloody road. I always wanted to tell you what you meant. About how sorry I was for that stupid fight.’ I took another thing out of the satchel. A small, velvet covered box.
‘Sarah, I was walking to your flat when your mum phoned. I had this bloody thing in my hand and had been rehearsing what I was going to say for hours. I know, I know. Just after a fight, best time to propose, right? But the fact that we fought told me what I needed to know.’ I sniffed. I’d been rehearsing this speech for months too, but nothing had ever worked. I knew that in the end I’d just have to do it off the cuff. My fingers brushed against my beard as I wiped away the tears. I’d always been clean-shaven before.
I poured us both another glass. ‘I was going to walk right in, tell you to stop being so bloody stupid and then ask you to marry me.’ I could feel the whisky around the edges of my mind now, definitely there but not causing any trouble yet. ‘I know, that would have been bloody stupid too, but at least then we’d be stupid together. That’s what I wanted.’ I sighed, popping the box open so that I could look at the band of white gold inside. A single diamond peeked back at me, staring into me like Neitzsche’s abyss.
‘Your mum was in bits. It took me ten minutes just to understand what she was saying.’ The tears were flowing freely now, I’d lost all motivation to stop them. The words were also coming easy. I didn’t need to rehearse this. This was raw. These words hurt.
‘I could tell. Your mum’s bloody unflappable, yet here she was. Calling me, for starters. She hated me. Yeah, I could tell.’ I sniffed at the thought of the burnt roast potatoes that always got ladled onto my plate. Little things, but proof enough for me. ‘Good thing I didn’t want to marry her. I wanted you.’
‘Sarah, I wanted you to make me the happiest man alive.’ I knocked the bottle over as a sob burst from my chest, heaving its way from my stomach. ‘I wanted you to stay with me.’ I collapsed against the headstone and let my tears hit the marble.
There would be no stopping them now.
I’d waited there for a while, scaring away the mourners who came to ask if I was alright. I quite clearly wasn’t alright, but there was nothing they could do about it. Not unless they were the Second Coming of Christ. The evening started coming in, reds and golds edging across the horizon. ‘You always loved winter. I remember the zombie snowmen. You said you’d seen it in a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon and you just had to do it yourself.’ I smiled at the memory. Even now, Sarah could make me feel better.
Eventually, I had to leave. The caretakers had come round making sure that everyone was out of the cemetery and had, politely, shooed me away. I gathered up the bits and got unsteadily to my feet. I should have come here months ago. But I actually felt lighter. Some of the weight had gone from my shoulders and it felt like spring was coming. For the first time in a year, I was seeing colour in the world.
Three Days Later
‘Hello Sir, welcome to the Dog’s Trust. I understand you’re here to see Max?’
I nodded and Charity Girl brought out a bundle of golden fluff. She set him on the floor and he raced towards me, sniffing and snorting as his head bounded from side to side. His deep brown eye stared into mine and I knew it right then.
I wasn’t leaving here empty handed. It was time to try and live again.
So, that’s today’s episode. Another longer one, but I hope you all enjoy it. Personally, I see this as either an opening, some backstory, or possibly a flashback. Either way, I feel like there’s more to this story.
Besides, who doesn’t want to write about an adorable bundle of fluff with one eye called Max?
The Idiot in Tin Foil