Saturday, October 3, 2020

Last Orders

The four friends sat round the table, stealing glances at the bar area. It was a gloomy February morning, frost lingered on the ground outside. Inside, there was a bitter chill, even with the heating on full blast.

“Right then, a few words from us all, I think. I will start” announced Douglas.

Frank rolled his eyes as Kat shook her head. He has to make it about him, she thought, pretending to entertain “Demanding Douglas”.

“Go on then Dougie” said Maggie, pulling her chair in closer and lifting her vodka, soda and lime up in the air.

“Ivor and I go way back, when we both started in the business in the 1980’s. It was a happening time as the young one’s would say”. Douglas looked up to witness Frank rolling his eyes again. He shot him a look, indicating they were all feeling the pain and knowing Frank still felt a little inferior to him, even after all these years.

He continued. “Granted, we were a bit competitive at first, you know, both of us being in the business. But the need to compete actually brought us together and we became the perfect business marriage. I was the husband of course, and we weren’t without our tiffs, but we had a good 15 years of partnership. I think the punters saw us as the Del Boy and Rodney of the pub trade, cheeky chaps who people wanted to be around. No dodgy dealings of course”, he sniggered, “but many an adventure did Ivor and I have. I will miss you son, the world is a darker place without you. To Ivor”.

Douglas raised his pint of Blue Moon and looked over at the bar.

The others raised their glasses. Kat saw a tear in Douglas’s eye and automatically felt guilty for her earlier thoughts. “Erm, I will say a few words if you all don’t mind?” she enquired.

Kat looked and saw Frank nodding.

“You go on pet, please do” said Maggie, giving Kat a comforting arm rub as she spoke.

“Well, I hadn’t known Ivor for very long, as you all know. But the little time he was in my life, he made more of an impact than most. Truth is, I would have been homeless without him. Probably even dead myself”.

Douglas gave a look of bad taste. Really, he thought, how crass.

“It’s true, Ivor kinda saved me. That day I came in, asking directions to the accommodation the council were sending me too. He made sure I had a lemonade only and a packet of cheese n onion before embarking on what felt like a bloody counselling session. But it worked and I must have looked like I needed it”.

Maggie gave a warm, maternal smile.

“And that afternoon, well he took a chance on me. He believed in me, like no one had before, not even me Ma. He gave me a job and a room in the pub. But he gave me more than that, he gave me hope and that’s the best gift I’ve ever had. I will miss you Ivor, I hope I will continue to make you proud”.

Kat lifted up her white wine, to the chorus of the others

“To Ivor”.

“Bloody hell Pet, not sure I can follow that” chuckled Maggie wiping her eyes.

“Ivor was a legend in the West End, everyone knew him for good or bad reasons. He was harmless, we know that but I think back in the day he wasn’t afraid to stand up for himself, shall we say! I remember the day I first met him, my interview day. A mate tipped me off that there was work going and since our Sonny had went to college, I needed a bit more income. I hadn’t been in the business for almost a decade, but you know what they say, it is like riding a bike. So, I got my best pencil skirt and blouse on and shoes that made my heels raw, and I walked into the pub like I was top dog on the prison wing”.

The other three laughed, nodding, imagining Maggie doing just that.

“It was all very pleasant and professional at first, then he asked me to pull a pint. I was nervous as anything so really concentrated. He gave nothing away until the very end when he turned to me, gave out a laugh more seedy than Sid James in the Carry On films. You’re too young love” she said looking at a confused Kat before continuing.

“And said ‘With tits like those I knew the job would be yours. Your pint pulling just makes you even better doll’. That was it, I was in, albeit possibly sexually harassed by today’s standards”

Frank put his hand to his mouth, stifling a laugh.

“To Ivor, the man would could get away with saying anything. Rest well my love” Maggie held up her wine spritzer and the rest joined in.

They all looked at Frank, knowing it was the hardest for him and hoping their stories brought comfort.

“You don’t have to say anything Frank” soothed Kat.

“No, no, it’s important and it’s nothing that hasn’t played on repeat in my head for the last ten days”.

The group looked at him, Maggie grabbed his hand and Frank felt the warmth that his body so desperately craved.

Don’t cry, he thought to himself. Ivor would want him to stay strong, to celebrate and not commiserate.

He could feel his voice cracking as the words started,

“My Ivor, my favourite person, my lobster, my soul mate. The future without you feels like watching static on the TV. It feels like music playing that I can never hear, eating a meal that I can’t taste. The future without you feels like waking up will always be painful as the realisation our mornings together have ended sinks in. The never agains feel crippling my beloved, and the emptiness feels so vast that I could drown with heartbreak. The future without you feels like a future I don’t want.”

Frank looked up from his seat at the table and saw his friend’s silent tears, cascading down their cheeks.

“You were my everything Ivor, my better half, my inspiration. You were the jam to my toast, my slippers on a cold night. You were the smile on my face. And I am scared Ivor, scared that I will never get over this and equally as scared to stop feeling like this, as I never want to forget how much you mean to me. Life seems impossible and only in my dreams do I feel relief. It is better to have loved and lost than never to love at all, they say. I remain uncertain. Some days I wish we had never met as the pain I hold every minute of the day feels like a weight around my neck, strangling me, pressing down on my windpipe. Then I have a fleeting memory of the most beautiful and simple act. Of true love. Of us walking in the park and seeing a squirrel, of sharing a piece of cake, of you reading me your favourite poem. A memory of the look that made my heart whole. And I wonder if it is in fact better to have loved and lost than never loved at all. I will keep wondering my love, as I go through this and I hope you will always be by my side, in some way. My wound will never heal and you will be etched in the scar in my broken heart. But I will remember what you said to me, that it isn’t hard dying when you know you have lived. I will carry your heart in mine and love you with all my being until we meet again.”.

There was silence for ten seconds as the group felt the weight of grief around them, pressing on their shoulders with great sadness. Eventually, after what felt an eternity in a vacuum of silent mourning, Frank spoke,

“To Ivor, my Ivor” Frank said, raising his gin and tonic into the air.

“To Ivor” said the others in unison, raising their glasses.

They all reached for the extra glass by their side, containing a measure of Ivor’s favourite whiskey. All four downed the shot, placing the glasses back down with a mixture of contorted faces and a little smile and chuckle.

It was time. There was a knock on the door. The calm funeral directors from Burrell and Sons came into The Yellow Rose Pub and took the coffin containing Ivor from the bar and out to his final journey and resting place.

Helen Aitchison is an Area Manager for a National Charity. Based in North-East England, she has two decades experience of working in health and social care. This inspired her to begin her writing journey in 2019.

Her writing is based on personal experience, voices of the unheard, simple human connections and circumstances we all face.

To date, she has had poems published in an anthology by Slice Of The Moon books and a short story published in Story Tyne 2019 anthology.

She writes in any spare time she can capture, alongside a healthy obsession with reading, travel and exercise.