“Hey Miss! Hey, excuse me. Young Lady!” Jerry’s gruff, whiskey soaked voice echoed through the empty room.
The bartender, who was holding her phone out in front of her like it was going to melt her ear off if she used it properly, turned the other way and carried on her conversation. Jerry cleared his throat dramatically.
“Excuse me! What do you have to do to get a drink round here?” The bartender stopped talking, and shot Jerry a look that probably could have melted his ears off.
Jerry waved a note in the air at her. She slid from her stool and sauntered along the bar, dragging a dirty damp cloth along it as she went, leaving a trail like a slug. Jerry pointed to the pumps.
“Say, can you serve me up a warm beer please . . . Oh, and I’ll have a packet of out of date crisps as well. You know the really soft ones that have lost all their crunch.”
The bartenders face, along with her razor sharp, slightly wonky fringe, remained motionless. She stared at Jerry, chewing her gum with her mouth open, so Jerry could see it rolling over and over. Her heavy eye makeup obscuring her features. Jerry was struggling to read her.
“I said, could you serve my up a warm—”
“I heard what you said old man, we don’t sell warm beer . . . you appear to have come to the wrong place.”
“Huh!” A smile crept onto Jerry’s face as she took the bait. Jerry slammed the note down on the bar. “Young lady, I’ve been coming to this bar since before you were born, it’s what you served me last time I came into this dump, it’s what I’ve been served every time I’ve come into this dump!”
The bartender chewed her gum some more, before blowing a small bubble, then popping it aggressively.
Not taking her eyes from Jerry, she grabbed a glass and began to pour. Jerry could feel himself getting annoyed. He studied the girls inked arms and piercings.
“So, what is it that makes a pretty young lady like you want to go and do that to her body? What’s it you young folk call it these days . . . Self harming?”
The bar tender slammed a glass half full of beer half full of froth down onto the bar.
“Fizzy enough for ya?” Jerry clenched his jaw.
“It’s original artwork if you must know. And I love it, but you are far too old to understand.”
“It’s original as long as you want to look like every other screwed up twenty something . . . It would be original if you weren’t covered in tattoos!”
Said Jerry, his voice trailing off, subconsciously pulling at his sleeve as he shuffled on his stool. The bartender spotted he was uncomfortable so she seized her moment.
“I bet the swallow and the anchor you have on your forearms are so faded they’re hardly recognisable.” The bar tender said leaning in, knowing she had Jerry on the ropes. “Why do you old boys always have the same tattoos? Was there only one tattoo artist back in the day and he was just shit!”
Jerry felt a bead of sweat bubble up on his forehead and trickle down his temple. He took a long swig of his beer and stared at the bartender. Before Jerry could reply she struck again.
“If the beer in this place is so bad, why have you come back?” Jerry took another long swig. The bartender continued.
“It’s ok, I’ve seen a hundred old boys like you propped up against this bar. Been stuck in the same rotten marriage for forty years. Worked the same job-that they hate-just to exist. Eaten the same Sunday roast every week, with overcooked beef and the rock hard carrots. Forcing a smile at the wife as you wear your dentures out trying to make it swallowable.” The bar tender grabbed a glass and pushed a double whiskey into it before taking a huge swig.
“You’ve probably got one ungrateful kid, who takes everything, but gives nothing? Sleeps all day and spends all her money on tattoos! So you come in here to hide from it all . . . Wait a minute.” The bartenders face lit up. “You can’t go home can you? You can’t go home to your wife, whose very existence these days makes you want to creep into her room at night and smother her with with her old persons dressing gown.”
Jerry slammed his empty glass down on the bar.
“Now you wait a minute young lady, I won’t have you talk about—”
“I’m right though aren’t I? You can’t go home? Hang on, have you had a row . . . Oh this just gets better and better. You’ve had a row.” Jerry slid his glass across the bar. The bartender grabbed it and poured another glass full, shaking her head and tutting.
“What’s it about this time? No wait, don’t spoil it, let me guess.” Jerry took a long sip of beer and glanced at the clock.
“You discovered she’s been cheating on you with the guy next door?” Grinned the bartender. “You caught them in your greenhouse rolling around in amongst the cucumber plants? No, wait, she’s not that type, too prudish. You’ve been hoping for a roll in the cucumber plants for the last thirty five years, but she closed the bow doors after your child was born. Am I right?” Under the bar, Jerry dug his fingernails into his thigh.
“Now just hang on a minute young lady, you shouldn’t speak about—”
“Wait! I know.” The bartender was really grinning now. “Your daughter's asked for yet another loan, and even though the ungrateful, money sucking, life draining, selfish, son of a bitch still owes you from the last time you lent her money. Your prudish, frigid wife thinks it’s a good idea to lend her some more! Fantastic! I love it! That’s why you can’t go home!” The bartender threw the filthy wet rag into the sink with a thud. “Boom! And there you have it ladies and gentlemen, that’s why he can’t go home.”
Jerry stood up and downed the last of his beer before putting the empty glass gently on the bar.
“The beer was warm.” He said calmly. He glanced at the clock again. “ I can’t go home young lady, because your mother and I don’t like you walking home alone at this time of night. Now what time does your shift finish? Have I got time for one more?