Closing Time



How he dreaded 'closing time'; how his heart sank with a sick feeling of physical despair as the landlord called out across the bar. The last few drinkers were finishing off their pints, pulling on their coats, and amidst general laughter and leg-pulling about the pub quiz, were saying their farewells to one another before heading home. Home to warm fires, warm wives and warm beds. Wrapped in the bosom of their family lives, they were all content, as far as he could tell, and for them this was just another evening down the pub.



He stared down into the dregs of his beer, not wanting to hurry the moment, although he knew it was time, and the landlord stared at him kindly but patiently, waiting for his glass. The clatter of glassware, the sound of laughter outside, fading as the regulars went their various ways, the cold draught from the door as it opened and closed behind each of the departing customers, the silence deepening as all but he was left; him and Jim the landlord.




“Good night then” said Jim, as he reached for the empty glass, “see you again?” The dread now a physical, choking, gut-knotting sensation stilled all attempts at conversation, and giving Jim a wan smile, he nodded and turned to go.




As he stepped outside, the chill damp wind added to his cold apprehension at what lay before him, and he huddled deeper into his overcoat, hunching his shoulders against the world. He felt no effects from the four pints he had drunk, apart from a slight weakness in the knees, which equally could have been due to his acute anxiety. Certainly, there had been no warmth for him at the pub that night; no rosy glow of friendship and camaraderie, no easy banter with the other drinkers.




He was alone, and felt it very keenly, like the sharp slice of a razor across his heart. Alone, at his time of life; rejected by family, let down three months ago by his wife, who had departed without explanation after 25years of marriage, ignored by their so-called friends, who never bothered to call to see how he was. He realised that it was always he who had done the chasing; sent the letters, cards, emails, dinner invitations, and made the phone calls. Always keeping the spinning plates aloft, running around like a mouse in a wheel, and the moment he stopped, his life stopped too.




“I'll stop running around after people for a month” he'd once said to himself, “ and we'll see if anyone calls ME for a change!” No-one had, and it was then that he realised he was alone, in a world that didn't give a damn whether he lived or died. He choked back a groan, a whimper of self-pity, and strode on along the empty dark road towards his house, seething with impotent fury and near to tears, solitary footsteps echoing.




Try as he might, however sad he felt, the tears which might bring some small release of his leaden pain just would not come. His heart felt like a stone; beyond any emotion other than depression, just empty and without hope.




The house, a nice comfortable semi, lay dark and silent; no welcome there. He unlocked the front door and went into the hall, switching on the light, and felt the emptiness all around him. When he'd had a dog, some time before, at least he could expect a lick and a wagging tail, anything for the 'bringer of biscuits', as he sourly referred to himself.




When a house is empty it feels different, and you sense it at once. Even had the dog been there, but fast asleep, the atmosphere would have felt different; you can always tell. But the dog was no more; just another memory of what had seemed at the time like an ordinary life.




He smiled ruefully to himself as the phrase “They'll be sorry now” crossed his mind; they would be indifferent, and he himself was past caring now.




He was numb, utterly drained of emotion; completely spent. Everything he had ever been, or done, or tried to do was turned to ashes; the loneliness gripped him like a twisted vine, gnarled and knotted about his heart, and he resolved at once to finish it, for once and for all.




Sitting down in his favourite chair, shoes kicked off, he opened the first bottle of wine-a very expensive French red; Chateauneuf Du Pape, over £50 a bottle. He would go out in style, and to hell with this rotten world, and the rotten people in it. Gulping down one glass after another in the silent room, he was oblivious to the taste of the wine, and simply drank steadily, spilling it here and there, just willing the darkness to take him.




After the fourth bottle he slumped in the chair, motionless, limp, his breath coming now in soft whispers, brain shutting down, blood pressure dropping, vital signs fading fast, dark dreams chasing around his failing mind...all over now, all over...even the dreams of his wife's face, smiling, so long ago, faded away.




He awoke next morning with a blinding headache; empty bottles lying around him on the carpet. The pounding pulse in his temples was like a bass drum. A feeling of deep nausea and dizziness suffused him, and he rose and tottered unsteadily to the bathroom, where he was violently sick. The room whirled around as he tried to remember where he was and what was happening. Barging against the doorframe, he tottered into the hall, his mind awhirl with images and confusion. Stumbling back into the lounge, he tripped over the half-empty case of wine, now missing several bottles, and caught sight of the invoice stapled to the box. It read £352.67p. He realised that he had maxed out his credit card at Threshers Wines, and that the bill would surely catch up with him soon. Head in hands, he sat down heavily, his misery deeper than ever. Still here, then. No release.




Just as the awful realisation dawned, the phone rang, the sound almost splitting his throbbing head.




It rang and rang, until at last he wearily picked up the handset, and waited in silence. It was Felicity, his wife. “Are you all right?” she said, “only I've been so worried about you, and I've been thinking, and I realise I was too hasty. I want to come home. I'm so very sorry, please forgive me.”




He wept.


By Mike Biggs