15th September

A Hard Man

He sits at the end of the bar drinking, but you never see him take a drink. You never see him lift the glass. There are only so many times you can look at him, and never for very long. His hand does not touch or play with the glass: the small plain tumbler that you know contains whisky because every so often the barman puts another, identical tumbler to the optic under the two-litre bottle of Bell’s, sets it down in front of him and removes the now empty glass. But when did he empty it? You never see him take a drink.

Whisky. No water. This is not for show. This is how he drinks and what he drinks. He does not drink to get drunk. He does not drink for pleasure. He drinks because he is in the bar and the bar exists for him to drink in. He does not move. He does not go to the toilet. He does not hand any cash over to the barman.

He observes. He has clocked, assessed, filed every other person in the bar. There are not many on this dull, quiet afternoon. You. Him. Two women talking in a corner. Two men playing pool. All quiet and careful. Nobody wishing to disturb him.

The left hand hangs limp from the wrist. You watch it to avoid being caught watching his face. The hand, its limpness, fascinate you. A wrong signal. Someone who misread that signal could end up very badly hurt. It is a trap, a lure.

This is a very hard man. You and everybody else in the bar understand this. The women speak so quietly they could be mumbling prayers. The pool players click the balls home apologetically, without triumph, without raised voices. As for you, you sit with your paper, not reading a word of it. You must not meet his eye. The barman replaces his drink. You still have not seen him touch the glass. You look away. You want to drink up and leave but you can’t. He has not, with a nod or a glance or a movement of that limp hand, given you permission to go.

Reader: Matthew Zajac
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
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