He Was a Man Once


Ten in the morning I find Patsy sitting at the end of the bar. His missus left last week, gone in the night without a word. Patsy said there was a note, something about visiting her sister. She had no sister I ever heard of.

Patsy was Dad’s friend. When I see him now it is difficult to believe it’s the same man. His hands shake as he raises the pint to his lips, the greed in his face mixing with dread as he hoists the glass. When he was Harbor Master he never touched a drop, but I suppose men like Patsy were never meant to be pensioners. The Dover pilots used to joke that it was the strength of Patsy’s personality pulled the freighters into dock, not the tugs.

He notices me, raises a hand. As I take the stool next to him, an acrid sting of urine clenches my nostrils and almost makes me sneeze.

“Drinking alone, Patsy?” I ask.

“Never alone, son,” he says. He drains his pint, taps it on the bar. The barman, busy with a crossword, ignores him. “My mate over there sees to that. And now you.”

It’s like a prophecy.


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