Economy On Turn, Says Osborne
Short short story (931 words)
UNTIL NINE the pub had been empty. Friday night! Maisie had busied herself rearranging the glasses, straightening the bottles in the chill cabinet. His pint was long gone but he hadn't dared talk. There'd have been only one topic - the pub's emptiness.
Just after nine the battered fifty-year-old came in and ordered her light ale. An old-fashioned drink for someone who wasn't of this era. Perhaps a prostitute at the very end of her career. Taking a break, resting her feet. The black dress stretched tightly over her buttocks and the garish lipstick both pointed that way.
She never stayed more than ten minutes. After her the old man shuffled through the door in carpet slippers and a baseball cap splashed with paint. As always he carried his half of mild to the bar's most distant corner. Took out a copy of the Sun, furry with folding and re-folding, and started on the sports pages, his lips moving as he did so.
When the old man had gone Maisie said, in a neutral voice, "I'm closing now." Half an hour early! On Friday night! He opened the door marked Private behind the bar and went up the bare wooden stairs to his room.
THE COMPUTER was seven years old. Booting up lasted an age but he'd learned patience over the years, was childishly pleased by the rotating symbol. Thought it represented activity, evidence of life. Down below a door banged as Maisie closed up. The email inbox flickered with new entries, none of them spam: six genuine replies, not bad. But he wouldn’t read them from the inbox; he’d switch to blog comments. More logical that way, more intimate.
Most were brief, casually complimentary and from foreign parts. They thanked him for his persuasive portraits of Britain in 2013. Only the woman in Frantschoeck provided more. Born in England, she’d married a South African with one of those blunt Boer names – Voortrekker or some such. Had two children. Reading between the lines he sensed she was unhappy. His posts made her homesick, she said. But in a nice kind of way.
He decided to postpone his responses until tomorrow before he left for work. The local newspaper lay untouched on his tiny table and he flicked through the classifieds without hope. Nothing under Professional except for conveyancing solicitors. Oh, and an intern for the human resources department of the local authority. What sort of qualifications, he wondered? Good at photocopying?
HE WAS UP early. Since moving into this room he’d never been tempted to lie in. The bed was fashioned from angle-iron, typical of jails and the armed services fifty years ago. In any case it was too short. He shaved and drank orange juice as the computer ambled into action. A couple more comments in the inbox but last night’s keenness had ebbed away. His answers were perfunctory, lacked imagination and left him mildly ashamed.
At the department store the number of customers had increased but only marginally. Yet it was Saturday, the first day of an “Up to 50% off” sale. Times were hard which could mean more work for him. Temporary work, ignominious work, work he was lucky to have. In Women’s Clothing he watched a teenage girl wander backwards and forwards for a couple of minutes holding a loose-knitted scarf she’d picked off the rack. He moved closer only to see her hand it to an older woman who walked straight to the pay desk. Half an hour later another customer in a cashmere coat, surely Country Casuals and therefore bought elsewhere, dropped a similar scarf into her shoulder bag and began edging towards the escalator. But he felt no sense of triumph when he confronted her outside on the pavement, passing on the bad news in a quiet voice. Seeing the tracery of lines round her eyes contract into a look of horror. Too many of his arrests had involved women of her age.
THE STORE manager came by in the afternoon, passed on a civil compliment. Shrugging nevertheless. “I wish I could say equally nice things about your prospects here. Or mine, for that matter. If this is what a sale looks like… “
Back at the pub his room could only be approached through the bar. It was seven in the evening and a handful of teenagers were drinking cider. They wore beanies and occasionally pushed each other. But without energy.
Far too early for him. Upstairs he switched on the computer and opened a new file in Notebook – better for drafting than Blogger. His fingers moved quickly
Fridays are big at the Marquess of Granby. The draw stood at three-hundred pounds and Maisie got a novice girl pop-star to pick the ticket. Called Dagbert and into garage-rock, I was told. Amazing how people are happy to see others win prizes. Clapping, whistling, makes you proud to be human. And a pint of Young’s helps.
But that wasn’t the high spot. Kevin the Second (the sales rep I’ve posted about) arrived at nine and it was drinks on the house. Cost him sixty quid I believe. He’d totalled a car he hated. Will now get something sportier – ‘more of a tart trap’. Look, these aren’t my words, I’m just your humble recorder.
Do I make it sound as if it’s all youth? It isn’t, it’s a strong mix. Oldsters join in too.
The words had spilled out in a rush. He stopped to read them through. Made a correction:
Lots of oldsters join in too.