Derek came in sad-faced because Alastair’d died, said, Alastair’s dead, but I’ve not worked in seven months because the pub’s been closed, so I said, Who’s Alastair? Derek’s face got sadder, said Big Alastair, with the jewelry and I remembered him. He was a dickhead. I said, Oh yeah, and got Shelly over to talk to Derek, but Shelly wouldn’t care either. Alastair was a dickhead who always wore two watches and two thick gold chains and a ring on each finger and whistled when he wanted a pint and one time slapped a girl’s arse as she walked past. The girl was young. First-job-out-of-school young and she was shaking after he did it. Only a joke, hen, he’d said, a wee skelp. Alastair was the colour of kidney failure. He went from yellow to green to purple to a reddish-brown in the space of one face. I used to think he looked like a bloated corpse from the Battle of the Somme. I used to picture him, urea-pigmented, bulging out of the mud and sludge and shell craters. I’d close my eyes and see him leering at me from the middle panel of an Otto Dix triptych. But Derek was sad and because we couldn’t serve beer indoors he went out into the beer garden and because it was May and snowing he was one of only three people out there and he drank and shivered and mourned. Derek was working hard on the pints, going two at a time, and I brought him two out and said, Some fucking day, ay? and Derek said I ken he was a dickhead but I’ve kenned him since school. I said, He wasn’t that bad, and Derek said, Nah, he was, and I could see in the way he wrinkled his brow, he was wondering where the sadness was coming from. I thought I could see him trying not to recognise the answer. How desperately he didn’t want to know that death is everywhere and that it’s always chomping its way towards us. It was like he didn’t want to know that even if death worked fairly, even if it moved sequentially, working through linear generations, he’d be getting right towards the top of its list and because he’s poor and because of where he was born and who he’s worked for there’s no way to postpone it. So Derek stayed confused and he drank his pints two at a time and then added a whiskey to each order. He shivered and watched his breath dissipate and pulled his sleeves up over his hands so that only enough finger was showing to bet on the horses on his phone and he probably remembered what Alastair was like in school and how different the uniforms were then and how different the area was and he probably remembered them being teenagers and fucking lasses and fighting lads and when they worked on the trains and when the trains got privatised and then he probably remembered retirement and all of the time they’d spent in this pub and all of its landlords and all the hundreds of people who’d had my job and the pints and pints and pints and he watched the snow falling and instantly melting while he mourned a dickhead.
Dan Melling is a poet and writer of non-fiction who believes The Rich have already proven themselves unable to live harmoniously with the planet, nature or the rest of us. He tweeted once at @melling_dan and might do again.
Art by Bob Schofield @anothertower