Joe took a long gulp of his ice-cold beer. Placing the bottle in front of him, he watched as the bubbles made their way to the top with ease.
“It’s a sign of sexual frustration you know” said the man. Joe had not realised that he had been tearing off the label and rolling the damp paper between his finger tips. How dare the man interrupt my thoughts. Joe smiled faintly at the man, in a way that he hoped exuded an air of solitude without coming across as abruptly rude.
“Times ticking eh?” said the man, taking a swig of his whisky. Joe felt a wash of repulsion as he looked back at the man. How can he let himself rot like that. Must be an alcoholic. “What?” Joe asked, losing patience with the man already.
“Time is always running ahead off us, it never waits for us to catch up” The man smiled at Joe, revealing his toothless gums but a smile that reached his eyes. Joe ignored his comment. How could he possibly know what I’m going through. Drunkard. But this was Joes problem. He wasn’t going through anything. Life, he felt, was constantly batting him down. He could not for the life of him get anywhere. He tried. Oh my did he try. Constantly grabbing those opportunities in a desperate attempt for some small slither of success. It happens to everyone but me, God I’m trying and you’re not helping me. I can’t continually fight when I see you just offer everything on a platter to people who don’t deserve it. Why aren’t you listening when I try so hard.
“But then we don’t make the most of what we have so I guess time just gets a bit fed up” The man laughed heartily into his drink, obviously pleased with his ‘pearl of wisdom’ Joe thought. Joe let out a sigh in defeat. I could move to a table…No why the hell should I move because some drunk asshole decides to piss me off. Everyone is pissing me off.
“Do you play games?” The man asks, turning his bar stool to face Joe.
“Ah, yeah sometimes….When I’m in the mood” Joe quickly added, which he hoped was a hint that he was definitely not in the mood.
“Me too!!” The man slapped his thigh with enthusiasm. “Who doesn’t like to play games. Or observations games. Well that’s what I prefer. Brain teasers and what not. Have you ever played ‘count the number of ‘F’s’ in a sentence?”
“What?” Joe could feel his impatience scratching at he back of his throat.
“Number of ‘F’s’. Well it’s not a game but more of a brain teaser”. The man grabbed a napkin and wrote:
FINISHED FILES ARE THE RESULT OF YEARS OF SCIENTIFIC STUDY COMBINED WITH THE EXPERIENCE OF YEARS
“How many ‘F’s?” The man asked. His toothless grin stretching with sheer excitement. Poor guy, must be lonely. Joe looked at the man and thought it was best to humour him. He thought for a moment about going home but there was nothing to go home to. Just a movie, or maybe more emails from employers that were not interested in hiring him. An empty fridge.
“There’s three.” Joe answered, fully confident in his answer and more than a little irritated at the fact that this man could insult his intelligence in such a way. Doesn’t he know how bloody smart I am?!!
The man laughed hysterically, much to Joes embarrassment. Loon.
“Your wrong there are more! He exclaimed with such overwhelming delight that for a split second Joe has visions of smacking him hard. Across his smug face ‘There are 6!!! Can you believe it!!! 6. Apparently the brain cannot process ‘of’. That’s why I love these games…….Because if you can’t count the ‘f’s’ how the hell are you supposed to notice the other things in your life. The big and the small, all because your brain can’t or just doesn’t want too’. The mans laugher had disappeared to reveal a face that seemed older than the world itself. Joe was thrown off guard with the sudden change in the air. He didn’t want to look at the man at that moment. The gummy smile had been replaced by something harder and softer at the same time.
“So, answer me?” The mans eyes widened and seemed to inhale Joes very soul. ‘Why should you get what you want if you never notice what is already here’.
Joe felt that a layer of himself had been exposed. He felt naked, raw and strangely threatened. Of what he did not know but he felt the need to defend himself.
“You don’t get anything in this world. Only the people full of hatred and deception get anywhere. And I do notice everything!! I noticed when I lost my job! I notice the bills coming through my letterbox, I notice that every job I apply for rejects me. I NOTICE EVERYTHING”. Joe, slammed the bottle on the side of the bar, the noise echoing through the near empty bar. He inhaled a sharp breath and calmed himself, feeling embarrassed at such a show of emotion. Never show emotion.
The man watched Joe, fascinated and somewhat unsurprised by the sudden display of anger. Although he didn’t expect that. Not that quickly anyway. It usually takes time for the fury to make its appearance. A silence fell between them.
“I wasn’t saying you in particular. It’s just an observation that I think about from time to time. The observation that things may slip. Opportunities, great moments, love….They slip as we are not looking because we are not really here.” Joe looked at the man who was now staring straight ahead towards the bottles of whisky and gin lined up against the wall.
“I’ve had a bad day” Joe mumbled. It came out to sound like an apology which wasn’t what he wanted. Apologise for nothing!!
The man laughed, the same lines gathering by the side of his eyes “No shit”. They both laughed and took hearty gulps of their drinks. “Where have you been today?”
Joe sighed and decided to answer the man’s question, more out of pity and amusement than anything else. “I woke up at 6.15am, hung-over after drinking three bottles of cheap wine. I then didn’t know what to do with myself as I was fired 3 months ago and have nothing to do…’Joe looked at the man to check for that familiar expression of judgement. He found none so continued. ‘I ate stale bread for breakfast as I can be bothered to go shopping. I went on the internet and then slept from 10am until 1pm as I had nothing to do with my time. I watched six feet under and some movies that were disappointing. I thought about my ex and how much a hate her and hoped for her future to be a shit as mine. I forced myself to nap until I had sleep paralysis and felt imaginary people grabbing at my limbs…….I then popped open a bottle of wine and danced around my room in a drunken haze. I ate a microwave burger before proceeding to drink more…..I passed out somewhere along the way”. Joe looked at the man, a sudden sense of entitlement came over him. The entitlement to be a miserable shit.
‘Yes but where were you?’ The man asked. Seriously???
‘I was in my house’ Joe replied through gritted teeth.
‘Yes but you’re not answering my question really. I asked where were you? Reason being is from what you just told me you were anywhere but there.‘
Joes eyes widened in anger. He was angry that he had sat at the bar for this long. He felt angry that he had stayed to listen to some loon who was deliberately out to shit all over his already shitty day. The man continued. ‘Yes, you mentioned eating the bread, but you didn’t mention the taste. You mentioned the wine, but not how it tasted or felt to be drunk. You mentioned sleeping, which is an escape so you’re not ‘anywhere’ when you sleep. You mentioned your girlfriend which is in the past so doesn’t actually exist….You mentioned the burger but failed to mention the taste and texture. You see, from what you just said, I have no idea where you were because lets face it you weren’t anywhere. For example where are you now?’
Joe looked incredulously at the man. “I’m here”. He spluttered sounding unsure of his answer. Crazy bastards making me go nuts.
“Are you?’ The man looked seriously at Joe ‘I don’t think so. You see, from the moment you came in here and started tearing and rolling pieces of the damp label from your beer bottle, I knew you were not here. You were arguing with some co-worker, shouting at your ex, wondering what the hell you were doing here and wondering more about what a loon like me is doing here. You thought about money, the lack of it and where to get more. You thought about the army of people who have wronged you. You thought about your future and thought it looked bleak. You wondered what you would eat for dinner and thought that the last remaining change in your pocket should be spent on something that makes you feel good, such as more alcohol. You pretty much went to your past and tortured yourself before going into the future to torture yourself. You batted between these two time zones, never once just stopping to fall into the present. Have you watched two people playing ping-pong?” Joe nodded “Well that’s you! Sometimes when people play the game the noise of the ball hitting the bat and the table echoes through my brain and gives me a headache. When the ball stops, there is peace. Maybe you should just let the ball roll to a stop and hear the ‘peace”.
Joe didn’t know what to say. He looked away from the man who continued to look straight ahead. I’m here aren’t I? He asked himself, suddenly feeling strangely embarrassed. As if the whole world had passed and he had noticed nothing. He looked at his bottle in front of him, suddenly seeing the tears in the label, the print that has faded from his finger tips. The slight glow of green that reflected the dim lights above his head. The reflection of the bottles that lined the bar. The emptiness of that bottle. Joe felt quietly strange at that moment. It was a feeling that was so unfamiliar that his body jerked in protest.
“I have to go” Joe mumbled, no longer able to meet the mans eyes. With that he jumped as if scolded by a hot flame from his chair. Like a gust of wind he made for the door, unable to take a backward glance.
“He wasn’t ready”
The man looked up and half smiled at the bar man who was familiar with this scene, having listened to the mans conversations with strangers for years.
“Nonsense! We are all ready. It’s just sometimes the present is so brilliantly simple it can be hard to accept”. He drained the last drops of whisky from his glass. “He’ll come round. They always do, eventually”.