NIGHT OOT (AN EVENING TO REMEMBER) – A SHORT STORY BY ALASDAIR MACQUARRIE
The crisp night air was a reviving tonic as he stumbled a few more steps out the street away from the woozy warm fug of the bar. Autumn leaves swirled around his feet. Cunts didn’t deserve his business anyway. Who were they to question him? To presume to KNOW.
Where was he now? He had unfortunately lost track of the evening somewhere. No mind. Onwards and upwards. He fished a cigarette out of the pocket of his old tweed jacket that he had managed to half pull on as he had left the premises. Rummaging around for a lighter he heard a rip in the lining of his coat and resolved to stop and fix the situation before any more damage was done. He contorted himself and yanked his left sleeve with his right arm, which pulled his thumb back painfully.
“YA! FACKING! FUCKSAKE!”
Willy slid the jacket off and held it in front of himself with an accusatory glare. The sleeves were twisted and the lapel was half up. He gave it a violent shake and called it a cunt.
Roger and Janice were heading back from their daughter’s new flat in Gorgie. She had made them an early supper and Roger had brought his tool kit and hung some pictures. Modest accommodation, but she was finally on the property ladder and Gorgie was not the slum that it had been when he and Janice had been Claire’s age. If anything it could be said to be “up and coming”. I mean, they had still warned Claire not to go out on match days or get taxis after dark, but even some of the pubs were starting to clean up their acts now. Roger had even begun to include a few of them on his and Janice’s little tours.
“ROGER, LOOK OUT!”
Roger slammed on the brakes and screeched to a halt outside of the Tynecastle Arms. A wild-eyed man stood in the middle of the road glaring at a battered tweed jacket. An unlit cigarette protruded from his lips, sharp cheekbones jutting from a gaunt unshaven face.
Roger honked the horn in irritation. Where was the police presence here on a Friday evening? They should all be put in the bloody zoo where they belonged.
Willy was startled by the honk of a car horn. He concluded the disagreement he was having with his jacket and lowered it, only to be dazzled by headlights.
“TURN YER FUCKIN LIGHTS DOON, YA BASTAR!”
Another honk from the Rover with the two coffin dodgers. Looking around him, it did seem they had a point. He did appear to be stood in the road. But his jacket was fucked and it was cold!
Could they not have had a little patience?
He took one last look at the old cunts, stepped back towards the pavement and waved them past. He slid his jacket on, this time with ease. He found the lighter and lit his cigarette. As he exhaled the smoke he felt like a dragon sending plumes of it into the night air. What was he doing now?
Time to walk. He best leave this place. They were all after him now. Even the cars were out to get him. He got a little further along the road and saw the foreboding spectres of the old commonwealth war graves across the street. No. Not there. Not that place. The darkness between those trees seemed to breath. Whatever was in there would pull him down beneath the earth. An eternal slumber in the soil with the worms was not how he wanted to end the night. The voices were whispering to him. Faint at first. They were over the wall. Over the road. Faint, but getting louder. Calling out to him.
NO. FUCK YOU, CUNTS.
He cut down an alley past an old tenement square with a park. The kiddies played in the park. Didn’t want to be accused of that. No, not the yellow jumpers. Don’t want to go in there with those ones. Bad men, them. He carried on under the rail arches. Down dark streets. The voices were following him, still whispering in the shadows.
Fuck! Another drink would be good right now.
A little lighter now. He could see flats and the drip drip under the railway arches was fading with the whispers. But his chest. His chest still pounded. He was breathing rapidly. Fuck! I need a drink! He walked a little further. There must be some sign of life up here? There was a post depot.
He needed a drink, though!
Ask and ye shall receive.
As he turned the corner, Willy’s eyes lit up. At the very end of the street, facing him like a mirage in a cold urban desert, was the warm glow of a pub that he could not recall being barred from. He took the length of the street to practise. Walk straight. He knew that he shouldn’t shuffle but he didn’t want to be over-confident in his stride and then end up staggering. Ignore the voices, that was very important. Concentrate on where you are, Willy. This is a street, there is a bar at the end of it. You want a drink from that bar and the people working in that bar want to know that you are the kind of person that deserves to be given that drink without any difficult questions. You will behave like any other reasonable person and drink your drink whilst enjoying the company of other reasonable people.
Willy walked past the smokers and politely nodded. He avoided eye contact, he didn’t want to know anyone quite yet. He pushed open the old wooden doors and made a beeline for the bar. Perfect. Not heaving, but busy enough that he could blend in and not draw attention to himself. He walked to where the bartender was stood and tentatively held on to the bar whilst trying to give his sanest look.
“You alright, pal?”
“Aye. What do you want?”
Sean looked at his latest customer. Scraggy blonde hair in a “just out of bed” style that looked like the bed may have been a park bench. Scruffy, but not unusually so. The guy’s eyes bothered him, though.
Was he pissed?
Fuck it. The guy could walk and looked wound up tight. One whisky wouldn’t hurt, worst comes to worst he could give him his marching orders after this one.
Willy tried to act casually.
“Nae bother, pal.”
Yes! Service with a scowl!
He was in. A nice wee dram to warm his bones and forget all the unpleasantness that had just unfolded. He took a sip and licked his lips. Raising an arm in to the air in victory, he looked out at the audience in front of him. The crowd were hanging on his every move. They needed another song. Let’s do this, Willy. The piano glistened expectantly. He flexed his fingers and launched into “Great Balls of Fire”, an all-time classic.
“Hey, who’s yer pal on the piano? Looks like he’s having the night of his life.
Fat Dave’s face was dripping with schadenfreude as his ruddy jowls grinned at Sean. He turned down the bar to where moments ago he had served the wild-eyed stranger, only to witness him playing the bar like a piano to an imaginary audience with violent enthusiasm. His heart sank at the prospect of the imminent confrontation.
Willy opened his eyes to look at his adoring fans and wish them a heartfelt tha… ahh fuck he had done it again.
“You’re going to need to leave, pal.”
The bartender looked nervous. There was a slight tremor in his voice and he was accentuating the Scottishness in his previously anglicised accent. Willy eyed him silently, weighing up the situation. Give him his due, the scruffy wee drop-out was managing to hold his gaze.
Sean looked into sharp, swirling blue eyes. The mentally ill were always stronger than the sane ones. They weren’t exactly prone to thinking clearly about cause and effect. Consequences and all that other made up societal bullshit that kept the apes in their invisible cages were not heeded by the likes of this man. Who was really mad here, anyway? The ape who shuffled around being subservient to other apes, feeding them poison and enforcing the rules for a few worthless credits, or the monkey man who smashed the place up if he didn’t get what he wanted?
Then again, this free-spirited gentleman had chosen to play the bar like a piano for an invisible audience of adoring fans. It was fair to say that both of them had searching questions to ask themselves.
Willy broke his gaze away from the bartender and went back to his whisky glass.
It was yet to be snatched away.
Fuck you, Mr Bartender!
Willy grabbed for the glass and sunk the whisky in one. The gulp burnt the back of his throat like molten hot pizza. It sat uneasily in his stomach. He suppressed a gag but his shoulders visibly hunched with the shock of all that spirit. This battle was not going to be won if he fought on. He would capitulate and fight another day.
To the corner shop for rum, fags and snacks!
“Right then. Sorry, pal.”
Willy turned on his heel and unsteadily sashayed out of the double doors. Sean watched as his new friend took a head-first stagger across the road to Tesco Metro. He smiled to himself. Their problem now.
Pissed, crazy or both? He wondered about the lunar cycle. It was not long past nine o’clock and the atmosphere had been odd since the start of his shift.
Willy slid the bottle of OVD into his jacket pocket and picked up his bag of messages. He walked out of the shop and inhaled the fresh autumnal air. Looking ahead of him, he saw it in glorious Technicolor, rising from the mists like Brigadoon. He took a moment to bask in the beckoning glow of a good old Edinburgh boozer. He was on his way home after collecting his messages, but why the hell not? A pint and a wee nip was just what the doctor ordered. The pub almost sang to him through the cool Autumnal air. He walked through the mouth-watering smell of fresh tobacco smoke, smiling at the bemused-looking smokers he pushed open the doors to the warm embrace of the…
“NO! I have literally just asked you to leave five minutes ago! GET OUT.”
Willy looked perplexed.
“What you talking about, pal?”
The bartender was pointing at the door, his finger shaking as he glared at Willy.
Ahh fuck. Sean knew that the first time had been too easy.
“I just told you to leave.”
“Dunno what you’re talking about, pal? I’ve just fuckin well walked in!”
“You were JUST in here trying to play the bar like a piano, scaring fuck out of people. You need to go home, mate.”
How dare this jumped-up prick make such wild accusations? He just wanted a peaceful drink in his home town. In his HOME. By rights this was HIS HOME and these cunts with the money were telling HIM he had to get out? He PAID to be here. He was born HERE. The city was his! Not they pricks with all their money living off of hard-working people like his fucking father worked in that fucking brewery hoofing barrels every day of his fucking…
“YOU CUNTS ARE JUST LIKE A BANK, YOU TAKE AND YOU TAKE AND YOU GIVE NOTHING….”
The swirling blue eyes bulged and foam flecked the sides of the man’s mouth. He had pulled himself up on to the foot rail and was leaning over the bar glaring into Sean’s face.
Sean relaxed. When he was wondering what was about to happen he found the tension unbearable. Once it happened though. Once they blew up, swung a punch, started smashing things. Then it was just a case of dealing with it. No time for the what ifs and the anxiety.
No way he was tackling this one, though! Might bite his ear off. Tetanus and disfigurement were not worth seven pound whatever it was an hour. He reached into his pocket, took out his phone and started pretending to dial.
“Right, if you’re no leaving I’ll give the police a call and you can have a sleep over with them.”
Willy’s red mist suddenly lifted into sharp focus. The bartender had walked away and was ignoring him. Talking to the police on the phone.
OH FUCK. He had done it again. He would be back in the Royal Ed and probably wouldn’t be out for months.
He grabbed for his shopping and walked briskly to the door. Taxi? No. No, that’s where they want you. Locked in a black metal box with an overweight fascist. He continued to walk at a pace and crossed the street. He knew there was a path up behind the bus stop down towards the river. Yes. He could hear the wind gently blowing the leaves from the trees, the river bubbling its way towards Leith as the light of a full moon lit his way down the path and the voices whispered him towards safety.