A Flicker In The Night
Just a story that hit me so hard that I felt a need to write it down. Critique and comments are more than welcome. This can also be found my blog and deviantArt account.
My coat felt heavy on my shoulders as I walked down the street in the rain. The water it had absorbed on my walk was starting to weigh it down, even though it had only been a drizzle. As I looked up and saw the clouds darkening the already black night sky, I realized that it would soon be replaced by a roaring cloudburst and turned my head to spot a sanctuary from the rain. I felt how it became even more insisting as it fell harder in my hair.
I caught a glimpse of a worn-out door on the corner of an alley. I imagined that its original color had been a bright emerald green, though it was hard to imagine any bright color having ever been on that door. I walked closer and saw the sign above it, saying “Belly of the Kraken”, which to me seemed as a somewhat peculiar name for a… anything really. The shutters of the windows were closed and seemed like they had not been opened for decades. I figured that it was some sort of bar, most likely a pub.
I stood outside the door hesitant for quite a while, a pale street light flickering lazily above me. There was some strange feeling growing my stomach: I had a great desire to seek shelter from the rain, but I also felt an eerie vibe from this place. The shutters squeaked in the wind and the rain on the sign sounded like a symphony of fingers drumming. The wind seemed to roar at me to either go inside or move along. I took a glance down the street. Nothing else seemed to be open at this hour so I only had three options. I could walk on to other streets and see if anything less spooky was open, which wasn’t that likely. I could go back, but in my opinion that was not an option at all, that would be the weakest thing in the world. Or I could bite my lip and take a step inside this dark cave of the unknown. The wind roared again and I decided to go inside.
As soon as I entered I felt their eyes. Piercing and investigating the person that had walked into their realm. Whatever buzzing, chatting or ranting had been going on before I had put my foot on the old wooden floor it was dead silent now. I tried not to get eye contact with anyone as I feared my guts would be torn out of my stomach by one of the dwellers in the darkness. However, it was hard not to as they were all looking directly at me with no sign of turning their eyes even though I looked back at them. I did get some feeling of what kind of people was scattered all over the bar, as they seemed like the typical people that would be in a place like this: Unkempt, filthy, drunken sloths, leaning over the tables and hanging on to their bottles while breathing in the sharp smell of old tobacco. Some of them even seemed brute and prehistoric in their appearance. But the most characteristic part about was the confused hostility they all seemed to radiate. They were not used to newcomers like me. They were used to the same people coming in every day, and if newcomers did enter, they were usually accompanied by one of the locals to put in a good word for them. I was a loner who had dared to enter their lands with no protection. And after what I could conclude when I looked at the people and what demography was the most normal in here, they had NEVER expected it to be a woman.
The only one with the smallest hint of anything intelligent was the bartender behind the counter, looking at me with curiosity rather than despise.
I still hadn’t moved from the spot I had been in since I entered. I was somehow petrified by the entire atmosphere and was a bit afraid that any unexpected move would start the other people and make them attack me. They certainly looked like they wanted to.
Slowly I lifted my foot from the floor and dared to take the first step. No movements seemed to occur among the other customers. I then started to walk with steady steps towards the bar. My boots clicked against the floor that already squeaked from the pressure of my bodyweight and I saw how some of them grabbed their bottles and glasses even tighter as if the sound annoyed them tremendously. Of course, if they were only used to the sound of others’ faint anonymous chatting and maybe the scratchy music from the phonograph in the corner, my noisy boots would be of great annoyance.
As I reached the bar, I grabbed the nearest stool and sat down putting my elbows on the edge of the counter. I had strategically placed myself equally far from the two persons sitting three or four seats away on each side of me. Paranoia made me do so; I didn’t trust these guys at all.
I still hadn’t removed my coat as I knew that as soon as I removed it the stench of the cigarette smoke would settle in my clothes and make it reek for days. I would rather have my coat smell of that than the rest of my clothes.
The bartender approached me with slow steps. “What can I get ye, love?” he uttered in a thick Irish accent. I could hear from the tone of his voice that he wasn’t too fond of asking me, but needed to as I was, no matter how he put it, his customer. But no matter how curious he was, I could see the wheels turning in his head on high speed while every prejudice he had had previously about women was now pointed at me.
“What do you have?” I replied in an indifferent voice while turning my eyes to the peanut bowl on the counter.
“Well, I ‘ave beer, stouts, scotch, brandy, whisky and bourbon. No colourful drinks, just plain sp’rits”, he said while he let his hand guide my eyes to wall behind him which consisted of only bottles of alcohol.
“Don’t worry, I don’t need the colorful drinks, unless you consider mahogany or honey colorful. Hand me a brandy, please, the strongest you have”, I said and started to drum my fingers against the table.
He didn’t move an inch at my words, but in his eyes I saw that he was a bit surprised. Then he turned around and got me a glass, before he picked up a bottle with a dark beverage inside. He poured it and immediately the air started to linger of walnuts and seasoned honey. Just the scent of it intoxicated me and made forget the rest of the world and let out a sigh of relief for a single moment. I lifted the glass and took a light sip. The burning sensation down my pharynx was seducing and a smile started to spread across my face for the first time in hours.
“Looks like that was satisfying, eh, love?” the bartender said.
“Oh, you have no idea”, I said and took another sip to warm my entire body from the inside.
“Rough nigh’?” he said putting down a glass.
“One could say that”, I coughed and put the glass down. “But don’t expect me to tell you anything, cause this is just a short visit. I get that I’m not welcome in here”.
“Don’t mind the others. They’re just old men o’ habit, they ne’er like new stuff. Especially no’ one as out o’ place as you”, he said in a low voice so he wouldn’t insult the other customers even though both he and I knew that would be back, had he even insulted their mother. “Stay as long as you wan’, love. Sometimes ‘tis needed”.
I smiled a bit wider and drank a little more of the brandy.
“And don’t worry, nobody is forcing ye to tell it if ye don’t wanna. But I refuse to let such a pretty new face like yours shut its yap for the entire nigh’”. He said and leaned against the bar.
I put down the glass and said: “I warn you, I can talk… a lot”.
He smiled and replied: “Well, then it’s a good thing that I can listen… a lot”.
At some point during the night my eyes caught the watch in our conversation and I saw how hours had passed without me noticing, but I had not cared about the time. My eyes were blurred and my hands didn’t quite respond to what my brain told it to do anymore. The coat was feeling hot and uncomfortable on me, like a heavy wet towel used on me as a straitjacket.
However that was not enough to bring me down. I had had a great conversation with the bartender the entire night. The locals had given up on supervising me hours ago and went back to their buzzing, when they had realized that I was “accepted” by their chief and was not going anywhere. Most of them I guess were old enough to know when to choose their battles. In this case, the battle seemingly had not been worth fighting.
I had had 5 glasses so far, going on with the sixth, and my mouth was going on constantly, maybe a bit louder than earlier. He stood there listening; once in a while he would comment my endless stream of talking, but most of the time he just listened. I guess he knew that I had a lot to get off my chest and just let me get air.
After talking about everyday things, things that made me wonder and anything in general, I found myself asking the question: “Hey, can you give me an answer on why men are such pigs?”
He shrugged and said: “No’ really, I guess most of us just are. But what, may I ask, led ye to that conclusion?”
“What do you think?”
“I’m guessing that it was the reason for you wandering about in the rain outside. No one goes outside in this kind of weather unless indoors is not good a’ all”, he concluded.
“You’re absotulely right”. My tongue was slipping due to the all the brandy, but I did not care at all. “Of course you’re right”.
“Ye don’t need to tell if ye don’t wanna. However, ye ‘ave now triggered me curiosity”, he said with a big smirk.
“You might as well hear it now”, I said before emptying my glass and continuing my story. “You know that kind of relationships where you try to convince yourself that nothing’s wrong even though you know that it’s so dysfunctional? If you haven’t been in one, you know someone who has or maybe still is. You use so much time being happy in a deranged way, even though you are just trying to hide the pain from yourself. Feeling like God will strike you down the moment you admit that something is wrong”.
He did not say anything, but gave me another glass of brandy together with a glass of water.
“And the reason you do that is that it all started out so well. You fall madly in love with each other and move together so fast, and you swear that this is it. No one has ever been like this person nor will ever be. And it starts to crumble.
You fight for it to stay that way and act like nothing has changed, maybe to convince to the other one that nothing is wrong. You try to stay exciting and thrilling to the other so the person won’t get tired of you. And you keep fighting when you should have realized that the other one was not interested in mending anything. But all you do when you see and feel this lack of interest is blaming yourself for it all”.
I broke my stream of words as I felt the pain returning and coiling up inside my chest. It felt like my heart was stabbed all over again and the knife was now twisted tormentingly slow.
I took a deep breath and proceeded: “All because you believe that you love him, which you probably do, but only because you know how he was to begin with and tell yourself that it is just a phase, that he will be the same again.
And when you finally see improvement, you become so happy that you forget all previous pain. You want to celebrate that you overcame this obstacle. And so did I. I went home early from work to surprise him with his favorite meal, so I went out to buy everything to be able to do that. I even knew what to wear that night, my favorite dress. I brought it with me so I could change at work and my makeup too. When I came home I discovered that he was already home. That should have made me wonder, but I just felt joy. I figured he would be napping in the living room so I took of my shoes to walk in and surprise him”.
I needed to breathe once again for the next part because I knew the words would be terrible to utter. As if I feared they became real as soon as they had left my lips.
“And suddenly I feel like I’m in some bad melodramatic movie, when I walk in to find the guy I love with all my heart, being ridden by some skinny girl who looks like she’s barely eighteen on the couch. I don’t even hear her scream when I drop the groceries and she sees me, because all I feel is my heart shattering and the shards tearing up my insides. It hurts so much that I can’t even cry”.
I felt my eyes get blurry, now from my tears of anguish and anger, and took a sip of my brandy to suppress them. The bartender looked at me and saw a bit of pity in his eyes. I did not blame him, as I did feel pretty pathetic at the moment.
“And of course he tries to convince me that she’s nobody. That he loves me and no one else. That it’s not what it looks like. He tries to hug me to save his own ass, but I don’t want him anywhere near me, because all I see when I look at him is filth and taint. I finally realize that he was the problem in this relationship. I just run out to the door, put on my shoes, grab my purse and coat and walk outside with no destination. It’s while I walk down the alleys in the rain that the entire situation reaches my mind and the tears come. But I know I have to walk on, because as soon as I stop I will turn around, go back and forgive him despite him having no interest in improving. So I just walk and walk and walk ’till I reach this place as shelter from the rain”.
I stopped my talking to keep myself from crying. I was also waiting for the bartender to comment, to give me life wisdom, to fulfill the entire atmosphere of a melodramatic movie. And I did not have to wait for long.
“Ye will get up again, love. At least you realized it and didn’t believe his words this time. That’s the first step to get on. From what you tell me, he doesn’t deserve ye, so get yer stuff and get out of there. And you were not stupid for believing that the things would turn good again, you were in love and that sometimes makes one do crazy things. God knows yer not the first to get yer heart broken”. I smiled a bit and let him continue. “It hurts for now, but soon you will realize that you are better off without him and you will walk out of it stronger than before and with the knowledge to never do it again”.
I nodded, because I knew that he was right. I drank a bit more of my brandy and said: “But it still feels scary to walk alone into the big wide world”.
“It always is, love, but sometimes you just have to bite down and do it. The first step is the hardest, after that you just keep walking”, he said and patted my shoulder in a friendly manner.
“You’re right”, I mumbled and bowed my head.
“And the world is exciting too” he ensured me. “But you won’t find out if you sit in here”. I looked into his eyes again and he winked at me.
“Right!” I said and finished my brandy before I got up from the chair. I still felt a little tipsy, but still stood tall. “Thanks, I really needed that”.
“That’s what we’re here for, love”, he smiled. “Sometimes you need to, and then you need a place to go”.
“Still, thanks a lot”, I said and found my wallet to pay. I took a step towards the door, then hesitated and turned around. I leaned over the bar and kissed the bartender briefly, before sliding back onto my feet and walking confidently towards the door.
Outside the night sky had cleared up, stars were slightly visible and the air smelled of wet asphalt and the soapy steam from the vents of the laundry store across the street. I adjusted my coat and started to walk down the pavement and across the road. Just walked and walked.
After a while I found myself turning around to look back one more time at that little place on the corner in the beam of the flickering street light. That little sanctuary of mine.