Extract: On The House

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We held freezing cold pints between our bitter fingers to keep ourselves warm.

The winter was harsh. Not so much in terms of weather. Weather-wise, those dark months had been as mild as any I can remember. It was the type of winter that was difficult to dress for. Too many layers, or not enough of them. It was difficult to call, the same way close boxing matches are. The harshness of those days came from the long nights spent alone, cooped up in fear of illness. The modern plague had ravaged the world, and our little seaside haven was no exception.

We lingered on the river’s edge, as it poured itself into the ocean, the cold fringes of it nipping at our red noses, and we drank. Mostly stout which tasted strange and sour in plastic glasses. The head on them was shite. But we were glad of it all the same. How long had it been, four, five months, maybe? How long would it last? This escape? We had no hope for it to be any longer than the few pints of cold beer we could manage to endure.

The streetlights that lined our runway from the water’s edge to the pub were too weak to hold the focus of the pavement. Feeble, elderly streetlights they were. A gentle fog had rolled in off the river, casting everything in a shade of spooky nostalgia. Our breath to the poor vision, emerging from nostrils in thick plumes of consideration. 

Across the river, the new hotel near the train station twinkled like a giant shard of glass. This part of the city was changed entirely now. Lockdown had been kind to her, transforming the landscape of its face with delicate plastic surgery. The river ran low, leaving a 25 foot silence between us and its deathly surface. It forked in front of us, splitting our small piece of the world into three – our bank was the southside, the island was the city centre, and the far bank where the hotel stood bordered the northside of the city.

Another round was called and shuttled over from the pub’s hatch window. Four pints carried by one pair of hands is impressive at the best of times, let alone in the cold that found us that evening. The familiar melancholy of life’s uncertainty became fainter as the glasses emptied themselves into our reaching mouths. Thick gulps drowned out the pinching anxiety, and my mind floated into the fog kissing the water below us.

A lone gull squawked as it flitted aimlessly in generous arcs at eye level. Dusk had come and gone, making the singular bird a strange sight in the purple brushstrokes of falling night. I wondered if it was starving as I was, not for food, but forsomething else. The stout was affording me a philosophical touch which would have sounded pretentious out loud if I’d chosen to say it, but I didn’t. Soon after the gull disappeared, although the squawks were faintly heard across the water.

We became braver men after the feed of drink, shuffling closer to the edge of the river to sit and hang our legs out over the drop-off like real men did when building New York skyscrapers in pictures. I double checked the security of my belongings, as well as the knots in my laces before taking a careful seat.

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