Wednesday, 31 March 2021

Pub Fiction: Plink ...




The drops fell rhythmically into the basin of water below.

‘Edward, put your hand to that tap will you please?’

‘Sorry, yeah. Now. There.’

Jacob sat on his bar stool, one foot resting on the brass rail that ran along the length of the counter. His elbow and forearm leaned on the sticky, cold dark marble and the back of his index finger dragged the condensation from his too-cold pint down into the soaked beermat. His other hand was gripping the armrest as he edged forward to get into as comfortable a position as he could. His mind got lost among the bubbles breaking in succession on the top of his pint, the long fringe of his dark hair hanging forward almost touching the rim of the glass. The scream of the coffee machine springing into action broke through his thoughts and he scrunched his eyes so tightly closed that when he opened them he saw dark stars falling onto the bar before vanishing into the black marble surface.

At the other end of the counter the barman, Edward, was creating some over-complicated boozy coffees for a too-loud man and woman who lounged drunkenly against the counter. They touched each other lightly when they spoke, the way new couples do, as if afraid that without these tactile, reassuring probes the other would seem less real or perhaps fade away, just becoming a pale shadow, and they would be left alone and incomplete. Edward placed the coffees on the bar in front of them, turned and wiped the top of the coffee machine from habit, before flicking his tea towel and shoving it into its usual resting place in the belt loop of his trousers. Some small motes of dust were caught in the low sunlight which angled through the huge windows that looked out on to the busy city street from two sides. The specks wandered lazily in the air towards Jacob before getting lost in the relative darkness that existed at his end of the bar.

Jacob returned to looking at the pint glass on the countertop, his finger had stopped halfway down the glass and tears of condensation had appeared either side of it running downward. He pulled his hand away and wiped them on his jeans, then shook his head and tried to focus on his book. He liked coming to this bar at this time of the day as it was quiet and very few people wandered in from the street, and certainly none that he knew. So apart from the interactions with the barman he could sit alone and think, or like today just try to read one of the more harmless volumes in his collection of science fiction books. Lately he had begun to reread some of those he was most familiar with, as there was a safety in the half-remembered plot that meant he did not have to focus too much on the actual words and could just let his eyes scan the storyline, filling in any small gaps in the plot that his brain had forgotten.

He glanced up from my book and Edward was looking at him with a sheepish grin, his broad flat face framed by a mass of fuzzy dark hair that appeared to have a life of its own, as it seemed to move independently at times, usually out of sync and slightly behind the rest of his body.

‘How’s that beer?’

‘I haven’t tasted it yet Edward.’

‘Oh right, yeah. Okay …’

It was clear that Edward was not going to move until he got an answer, so Jacob took a fair sip and carefully placed his pint back exactly in the centre of the coaster, twisting the glass so that the logo faced towards him.


‘It’s grand Edward, nice.’

‘Ah good, it just went on there this morning, yeah.’

‘Mmm, hmm…’

Jacob focussed intently on the book and hoped that Edward would get the hint and leave him in peace. Edward was okay really. He worked in the bar every Saturday afternoon, so he was regular company for Jacob, but he did not seem to understand the concept of someone wanting to sit alone and just read in a pub, enjoying the solitude and peace. This was Jacob’s chance to recharge, unwind and get into the right frame of mind for another week of work that would quickly come back around on Monday. But Edward seemed to think it was his singular task to engage him in conversation on any subject he could think of to ‘cheer him up’ as he had said on his second week working here. Jacob had gone to pains to repeatedly explain to him that he did not need - or want - any cheering up and that he just wanted to drink his pint in solitude, apart from the company of the familiar characters in his book. Edward took this as a challenge and every week since, for the last four months, he would try to get him involved in a talk, and every week Jacob got slightly ruder and ruder in his responses, in his own mind at least.

One of the couple down the bar let out a shrill laugh that drowned out the jazz music playing in the background. Edward had managed to squeeze out of Jacob a few weeks ago that he liked this genre of music and now every Saturday afternoon he was greeted by Mingus, Monk or Davis, or another of his jazz heroes when he walked through the door. The drunken woman of the pair looked down the bar at Jacob and whispered something to her partner, causing him to look at Jacob and blurt out a laugh that he half-heartedly attempted to cover with his hand, before turning away with his shoulders shaking. Jacob shifted uncomfortably on his stool and felt his face go bright red, because he knew why they were laughing.

Jacob was fat. I was odd that he used to be quite comfortable with that word, and it was how he had always been described, or at least for as long as he could remember, and there were far worse words. As a child he had been christened ‘sausage’ by the other children in his class at school, based on a rotund character in a book they were reading on a wet miserable day that Jacob had never forgotten. One of the other children had shouted out that Jacob resembled the unlikely hero in the book size-wise, and everyone had laughed, including the teacher. Jacob had laughed too even when they all chanted his new name and pounded their tables until they teacher finally made them quieten down, as it seemed the best thing for him to do. He had laughed off all these types of names and comments ever since but lately he found himself getting embarrassed or angry if he heard or even perceived a comment about his weight. A lack of confidence had crept into his world and he seemed to always think the worst of people, as paranoia - often misplaced - seemed to be taking a bigger grip on his life than ever before. His age was not helping either, as now that he was in his forties his joints ached more than ever, and his back was almost constantly in pain. Jammed into a barstool and leaning on the bar at an odd angle, even if he looked wedged and stuck there, helped his physical discomfort – and this was the appearance that was causing amusement to the couple at the other end of the bar.

Edward glanced at Jacob and then looked down at the couple and stuck his jaw out. In his own way he was quite protective of his customers, so he strode down to the other end of bar and started to clear the not quite empty glass mugs away from the couple, much to their bemusement.

‘Now. There you go. Okay?’ He stood with his arms folded staring at them.

They looked at Edward and back down at Jacob, who pretended to read his book. Then without a word they got up and left, the man laughing again at some whispered comment just as they pushed through the door and staggered out onto the busy street. Edward washed the mugs at the basin in the sink, dried them and placed them back on the rack over the coffee machine. He dried his hands in the towel in the belt loop of his trousers and leaned on the bar staring out the long side window at the people doing some last-minute shopping prior to heading home for a night in front of the television, or before getting ready for a night back in the town.




Jacob winced.

‘Edward, the tap …’

Edward turned back around and tightened the tap again until the drip stopped.

‘Ah, sorry now. We must get someone to fix that.’

There was a rap at the window behind Jacob and he turned around to see the coffee drinking drunken woman wobble slightly before puffing out her cheeks and raising her arms by her sides, causing her coat to swell out. Jacob turned back to his pint and picked it up, taking a huge gulp, but he could still see her smirking at him in the old whiskey mirror that sat behind the bar, just before her partner pulled her away from the window. She batted him with the back of her hand and they staggered down the street, hailing a taxi as they went.

‘She was some piece of work Jacob, don’t mind her. Sure, isn’t it better to say there you are than where are you? Eh? Anyway, she’s no oil painting herself, is she now?’

Jacob did not look up. He stared at his pint, wishing he could get lost inside the glass again. To dive in like a cartoon character he half remembered from a television show from his childhood, but to never resurface, or if he did then to return as a skinnier version of his current self, or perhaps just one that was at least comfortable once more in their own appearance. He did not like feeling this way, it seemed alien to him, he was no longer the bullet-proof person he had been for many years since his childhood.

‘She’s a bitter feckin’ shrew is what she is!’

A woman’s voice had come from the top corner of the bar, out of sight of Jacob although she surely must have been there when he entered. She stood up, drained the last of her pint and banged it on the counter, clearly annoyed.

‘I know her, I used to go to school with her years back. She’s always been a bit of a stuck-up ignoramus. Her name is Catherine – she calls herself Cathy now – and that’s her new partner she’s trying to impress. She changes them quite often, always seeking perfection, not realising that she’s the feckin’ issue. She likes to make fun of others to make herself feel better about her own fractured, unhappy life.’

‘Another please Edward,’ she said, picking up the pint glass and jiggling it at him.

‘Sure Annie, what will it be this time? That’s Jacob there by the way …’

‘And what is Jacob drinking might I ask?’

‘That’s the new pale ale from the lads out by the bridge - he said it was grand or nice or something like that,’ replied Edward with a grin.

‘Wow, with a stunning review like that I’ll have to try one, thanks Edward’.

Jacob smiled at the comment and looked away.

She came around the bar and leaned against the corner as she waited for her drink. She was tall like Jacob but not quite so large, her long dark hair falling over the right side of her face like a now forgotten film star from the forties, causing her to grip it with her left hand and drag it back over her shoulder each time she raised her head, which she did now. He recalled seeing her here before, studying her phone intently as she sat in one of the front windows.

‘Ah, so you’re the Jacob who’s responsible for the decent music?’

Jacob glanced at Edward who did not look up from pulling the pint but just shrugged. ‘She asked me why I’d changed the music and I told her.’

‘Well thanks, it’s a big improvement on that hip-hop rubbish that Edward used to play.’


She laughed and looked at Jacob again as Edward placed the pint in front of her. She came closer and raised it to Jacob.

’Well, here’s to grand and nice beer.’

‘Cheers,’ said Jacob, raising his glass.

Just then the song changed, and a few unmistakeable opening notes drifted from the speakers.

‘Gotta love a little Brubeck,’ Annie and Jacob said absentmindedly and in unison.

They stared at each other.

Edward smiled and turned to the sink, pretending to wash up more glasses and cups.

‘Can I join you Jacob? I don’t want to impose if you’d rather be alone – I know what that’s like.’

‘No, that’s fine. In fact it would be great.’

Jacob closed his book and swivelled on his stool to face Annie, feeling more comfortable and at ease than he had in a long time.




‘Edward …’

‘Christ, okay. I know. The feckin’ tap...’


‘What then?’

‘Just … thanks.’


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