It was so full. Every table, with a long queue too, of all sorts of people in grey and chalk blue and black.
It must have been the wet day. We were all chasing our heavy spirits inside, somewhere warm, with warm drinks. If we huddle close, our stranger bodies will still make enough fire to keep each other warm.
So I passed on that. Instead I went around the corner. I left a note for the woman I miss, the woman I’ve been wanting to talk to, now for weeks. She won’t get it until next Wednesday, and by then I will have forgotten. By then, probably, the sun will be shining again. But I’ve left it anyway, and it helped to write it.
I stopped outside the Elgin Bar, looking at all its empty tables and stupid footstools. I opened the door to go in. Empty, all except the wall of grey smoke that hit me. I fell back and ran away quickly.
Crossed the zebra crossing and stopped the other side for the wild-eyed girl and her slumpy boyfriend. “Boosz? Boosz to Weemblee Centraal?” I didn’t understand her, two times. She stirred her finger around. I had to look at their map.
They wanted a bus to Wembley Central and I just wanted to give them 10 pounds to take the Tube six stops instead, but they wanted a bus and I wanted to shake her and shout: “It’s all too hard to explain, in the three or so words we mutually understand! Take my money!”
“Number 16,” I said, and pointed toward Maida Vale Road, because I knew they wouldn’t take the money and they wouldn’t let me walk them there, no matter how much I wanted to.
I walked on, hiding myself under the tiny umbrella. When I don’t have anywhere else to go, I go to the Warrington.
“I’m sorry. I don’t mean to interrupt.” And then he went on, for an hour, while I listened, twisted in my seat, my back aching. The sailboat to Antigua. The NHS doctor who didn’t care. The years of undiagnosed chronic fatigue syndrome and the 150 aspirins he swallowed and vomited again. The black blood and the rotting longboat and solicitor who charged £88.13.
The hard breaths between the sentences and his refusal to hope. The 13 courier jobs at 5 p.m. that made him so angry. I listened, and so did the others, eavesdropping nearby, those other singular men drinking alone, the ones who knew me from the pub, who were near enough to hear. To keep watch and take care.
He left because I made him. He would have talked until he was empty. And he was packed full, stuffed with sadness and despair. I looked outside and couldn’t hold anymore of that. Not today. Not this week. Not this year.
It’s the hard season. You wake up and look out into sameness, so same it blurs. After days of that, years of that… it becomes simple, unkind water torture. No one is immune to it.
It’s harder to see. You can look, but the reflection erodes.
If it is cloudy and raining, there are clouds and rain in my soul.
— Jerzy Kosinski