by James Bone, with commentary from Teodora Nikolova
It was not without trepidation of the forlorn, knowing looks his arrival would almost certainly produce in his friend’s and acquaintance’s faces, that Sonny Jim ducked into The Alehouse. All throughout the anxiety-ridden walk there he had run through his mind the possible reactions his entrance would incite: a glass erupting against his cheek, a hearty drinking song replete with big-bosomed dancers from the Gentleman’s Club on Berry Street (all on the house, of course, they owe him at least that after the last few weeks), a hushed, horrified silence, with even mothballs stunned into a standstill. Deep down, the rational part of his soul was aware of what the likely reception would entail. Sure enough, he had barely passed over the threshold when he was accosted by a strong gale of pity omitted not through physical contact, but through gloomy glances and not-so-subtle stares from all manner of barstools, tables, couches, slouched sippers and nuanced vantage points. His purported breaking of his lengthy absence from the place that had become, in recent months, something of a spiritual refuge for him and his friends had been the hot topic of the evening, pervading the whispers and wails of the crammed patrons, with the sound of his name followed by half-truths, taking the form of often embellished tales explaining his exile in a variety of exotic ways. Some claimed he ran into legal trouble after details about his chequered past as a petty thief were brought to the attention of his superiors. Others preferred to spin wild yarns, talking of daring expeditions around the world, conserving wildlife in sub-Saharan Africa, or training intelligence officers in the Swiss Alps. Most, if not all, knew the sad, simple reality; it was heartbreak that kept him from his sanctuary. Whether it was acceptance or denial that influenced his decision to return was the question on his closest friends’ lips. Whether he would get pissed and throw a punch at some cheeky chap who dared ask was on most others’. Sonny approached the situation as gracefully as one can with every eyeball in the vicinity hurling itself towards oneself; he got himself a pint.
– What’s good, Tommy?
Tommy the bartender was the only face unmoved by Sonny’s arrival, and for once his trademark stoic, abrupt style of service provided a customer with some comfort.
-You after light or dark?
-Dark, considering the rain
-Right you are
-Sonny where’ve ya been lad? Missed ye we ‘ave ‘ere boy
It was Lonny Gill, a short, portly alcoholic Irishman who sank more pints nightly than he had jaundiced gnashers in his gob. Interesting fact: hates Guinness. He threw his right arm around Sonny’s slender frame, which cut an odd picture; a lanky, slender twenty something beansprout with an old, loud, dribbling fellow three times his age draping himself across him from down below. Still, he was grateful that he hadn’t brought up the Inevitable. Stuck to pleasantries. Liked his style.
-I’m alright Lonny my man, can’t complain. Aye it’s been a while jus’ been busy with all kinds that’s all, I’ll sink a few tonight to make up for lost time and all you know me
The two jostled and joked and verbally jousted like this for a while, with Sonny noticing a sort of posse beginning to envelope them halfway through the jovialities. He turned to face his exiled comrades, and felt a twinge of remorse when he saw his brother, Junior, standing with his mouth creased into a forced grin, the hurt managing to linger ever so slightly behind his eyes, although the tears were there in spirit. Junior Jim was somebody whom he knew he had betrayed; he should have confided in him, leaned on him, relied on him for support and comfort and not cast him aside, treated him with indifference, rendered his attempts at providing him with solace futile by waxing poetic falsehoods through gritted teeth over booze-soaked phone calls, causing him to eventually give up and simply hope the sabbatical would come to an end sooner or later… Now the two faced each other for the first time in over four months, and the wound was gaping, their souls in agony. Sonny stepped forward and opened his arms, relying on the familial instinct to embrace one’s blood to overcome any conscious prejudices his sibling may be harbouring behind his crushed smile. Junior now genie-like, granted him his wish and squeezed his brother tightly, partly out of love, partly out of a secret desire to cause him physical pain. There was a hushed murmur of approval at this moment; the Alehouse patrons had a lot invested in the Jim Brothers and their goings-on. It was almost spiritual; the bonding of their souls bound their friends and drinking companions together in a quasi-mythical way, affording their regular bouts of intoxicated debauchery a dreamlike status, a phrase many of them were prone to using as a justification for the regularity of their drinking sessions, whether that be to a dissatisfied spouse or sceptical medical professional.
The uncertainty that had hung in the air now evaporated, replaced by a gleeful hum, a marvellous murmur of chiming glasses and sloshes of ale that resonated throughout the pub, spilling out into the smoking area out front. It reminded him of his first sojourns into the world of the public house, crunching sea-salt crisps between his teeth, marvelling at having ice in his drink, eyeballing the never-ending stream of dark, inviting liquids his Father and friends seemed to put away (they were Guinness or Mild men). Slapping the neon pineapple, hoping for a lucky break. Pissing next to sweaty post-office bears, their once perfect ties now hanging down their back, like a gunslinger without his load. To Sonny then, as it did upon this fair night the city seemed electric; after so much time spent hibernating, trapped inside a cocoon of self-pity, misery and doubt, this nostos, this sprouting of liquor-tinged wings, granted him what felt like a new lease of life. The hands that had torn at his once dashing, now somewhat haggard auburn locks in the previous weeks seemed again to be the pale, miniature hands that flung beermats mischievously, that pawed at Daddy for another glass of coke so he could sip it like he was the old man in the cardigan with half a bitter, peering intently as his crossword. He knew what was left to be done, what would grant this night the redemptive stamp of approval he, now several pints and countless whiskeys deep, so desperately sought; he would apologise for his retreat from The Alehouse. Nothing major, no tears, no grandiose speech would travel through the liberty-tinged air and burst everyone’s bubble; no, a few words and they would understand.