Selling Illusion

Saturday, May 07, 2005

[Epilogue, First Act]

It was the last time he would find himself there.

He sat, as he had found himself doing from time to time, staring at the two crystal clean tumblers side by side, one full, the other empty, both resting in front of his eyes, resting on that solid oaken stretch of bar. A residue of whisky hugging the base of one, the remnant of a pourer’s shaken hand, idle whimsy making it’s clinging touch the only reason for the glass’s secure foundation upon the bar. Drinking in the pure amber that shone out, the ambient light above somehow piercing through the constant mists of smoke that hung softly over this quiet place, as it was often known to do come the close of night, this that it was, this time. As it was, every time. His right hand reached out to the tumbler, index finger tracing a slow downward line along the chilled surface. His left arm forming a bridge, the hand supporting the bowed head. The eyes remained focused on the activities of the right. The embers that glowed behind them spoke of a mind elsewhere.

The surrounding area was silent, as it always was, as it always stayed, whenever he found himself here. He never acknowledged the other occupants of the room. They never acknowledged him. The occasional crack whipped out across the room from the corner television, casing shifting and contracting in balance with the changing temperatures. He never paid heed to what was on. His gaze never lifted. His finger skirted up the glass, encircling the top, softly stroking the rim, and then gently entering what lay within, slowly twirling the two melting ice cubes this way and that, no order or routine in his touch. Occasionally his hand would cusp the glass in its entirety, spin the contents within in time-consuming fashion, around and around, and then reattach it with the residue. Every so often the ball of the right foot would give a quick two-tap onto the base of a small bag looped round the stool he sat on. Every time the small thuds, the feeling of pressure, reassured some part of his mind that everything was were it should be.

The sound of his next check was echoed at the entrance to the bar. Two quiet footfalls were followed by seven more, as a figure descended into the bowels of the basement.

Silence.

The ragged sounds of a battered door being abused into swinging on archaic hinges, and then back again.

More footfalls, padding, hushed, coming closer. Arrowing in to the direction of the bar.

A shift in the air beside him, the vague billows of smoke shifting, exiting a newly occupied space.

The faint scraping of re-arranged seating, a slight groan of wood as an elbow comes into view, placing firmly onto this stretch of the bar.

His eyes never unfocused from that far distance, mind never leaving the far plains of deep thought. His right hand slips from its protective shielding of the sweet amber. Reaches over and behind the bar, muscles tense along the arm as the hand grasps something. The arm retracts, a half empty whiskey bottle is extracted, hand firm on the neck. Hovers for a second, before shifting across the second glass, arm twisting, bottle opening descending above the top, ready to empty out its heart onto another lover.

Elbow evolves into arm, evolves into hand, which slides between bottle and glass, covering the entrance.

The pourer halts his advance, retreating back, returning the bottle to an upright position once more and pairing it with the first glass. Hand slips off one and resumes its idle stroking of the other. The eyes never look up, never look right. Looking right would mean excepting what was to happen. Looking up would mean matching gazes with the mirror sitting astride the bar, and that wasn’t an option. Never an option. The grip on the glass becomes tight, the skin round the eyes hardens, and the dying embers briefly flare. All for a second, and then are brought under control. A small sigh escapes the mouth. The breath in becomes stronger, lungs inflate. The mouth opens to speak, hangs open for a second, waiting for the spark behind the eyes. He senses the shift next to him, the repositioning of body to consider him more clearly. It unnerves him, the breath mutating into another sigh, a struggle to contain what was breaking free within.

A break, another try, then;

“I used to run.”

“I used to run, didn’t do it for competition, nor for sport. This is years ago, back when I was a kid. I didn’t do it to run from nobody, though there were the odd time when it was the order of the day to avoid getting an ass-whuppin’ from the local bullies,” a snort, coupled with a small smile. “But that’s a different story.”

“I used to run, just for the hell of it, feeling the wind on my face, seeing the scenery rush by me in blur of motion. I had no goal, I just kept running, until the breath was taken from my body, the adrenaline purged out of my system. Too much energy as a kid, you know? Used to think it was from all the damn protein the folks kept pumping into me on the long summer days. But the more I did it, the more I felt…” the hand wandered from the glass, lightly fingering the air, pulling something intangible into focus. “Free, I guess. It was like suddenly being aware of this great weight, inside,” he touched his chest, tapping over his heart. “The only reason I’d feel it was because I felt like I was escaping it, whatever ‘that’ was. The more I ran, the faster I went; it was like, hell, like I was nearly flying. That if I just went that bit faster, just went that bit further, I’d break free. I’d be soaring over the clouds. And just beyond that…” The hand fell to the table, fingers tapped out quick rhythm.

“Well, I didn’t know what was beyond that. Just like I didn’t know what the weight was. But I knew there was something there. But when you’re a kid, how do you describe these things? You haven’t the words, haven’t the knowledge. You can’t distil that feeling into an acceptable word in the English language. Sadly, sooner, rather than later, did that feeling disappear from my mind completely. All children grow, and put aside childish whimsy. It’s a god awful process, looking back at it. You think, ‘hey, this is the direction I should be going in. This is the world that my peers live in, and so should I’. Becoming a teenager, trying to become an adult? Christ. Looking back, you think ‘fuck it! I was facing the wrong direction all along’. Child’s naivety is a great thing, a great thing. I came into the ‘real’ world, and what I would have wished for would have been a few more years with the blinkers on. Nice, secluded, safe world to live in, just for one or two more years.”

“Anyway, I’m getting off the point. So, I stop running. There’s a slight difference between a kid running all over the place and a teenager. Kid, you think; ‘aww, must be playing’. With a teenager, the assumption with folks is; ‘hey, he must be running from someone. Think he stole something?’ Or maybe I wasn’t getting enough protein those days. Either way, I stopped running. And soon after, I forgot all about that feeling. Until three years later.”

The arm in his field of vision shifted slightly, the wrist swivelling round, and he pictured, rather than saw, eyes glance down at the silver lining of a watch. His fingers reached over to cover the face, resting only a brief few moments to make the message clear, before sliding back down onto his glass, raising it upwards so the light would catch the last glimmer of frozen ice disperse into the golden liquid.

“There’s no need to go yet. We have time.” His other hand disengaged from supporting his head to wave around, indicating the room and its inhabitants. “In this place, time bends to my clock. So you have all the time you need to hear my story out. So, three years later…”

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