Rock music blared from suspended speakers in the gloomy, smoke filled
bar. Sandra sighed with boredom; her eyes roamed the crowd of drinkers,
each face as familiar as her own care worn countenance. Who were
these people? What the hell was she doing here? As if in reply,
a tall glass materialised on the counter in front of her, provided by Jim, the big, Irish barman,
grinning his barman’s grin, as sincere as the cloud of smoke drifting over
“Here y’are Sandy, Terry’s just having a chat further up the bar, he says you’re to wait.”
She nodded her acceptance, and looked toward the other end of the long bar counter, where her current boyfriend stood, swaying slightly, gesturing with his hands, in deep conversation with Dave, another drunk. Sandra sighed again, sinking ever lower on the barstool. Her elbows, propped on the counter, were all that prevented her from falling to the sticky, beer stained carpet.
To her right, a swaying man stumbled backwards, his arm gripping the bar for support as he fell against her. His mumbled apology went unheard amongst the bar's busy volume; he quickly turned back to the business of chasing inebriation, ignoring her. Sandra felt grateful his drink hadn’t landed in her lap, as had often happened when she was out with Terry.
She sipped at the glass of vodka and orange, staring at a spreading pool of beer, moving slowly but determinedly in her direction over the bar’s polished surface. Idly, she slid a dry beer mat into its path, a futile gesture, as the counter was rarely free from beer spillage in this raucous pub.
Sandra watched Terry order two more beers for himself and Dave. She knew right then that she would be sitting on that stool until the bar closed, his promise of dinner at her comfortable home evaporating with the passing hours. That was what it was always like, being with Terry; everything was fine as long as he could feel a bar next to him and a glass in his hand.
Terry was a professional drinker, a lifetime alcoholic. Fortunately, his old-fashioned principles meant he wasn’t violent, Sandra knew he would never raise his hand to her, unlike some of the men she had known. He was a social drinker, a party animal, making any excuse he could to stay on, and have one more “for the road” with whom ever he could find to keep him company.
That was how he’d always been, a friendly drunk. Drink had taken away his livelihood when he’d owned his own pub, The White Horse, in Cardiff. Terry liked to relate the story of how his wife had cheated on him with every customer in the place, so he left with his pride and principles intact, selling the pub to prevent his wife from profiting. Sandra knew the real story, that he drank the cash profits himself, or gave away too many drinks to the bar flies who flocked to The White Horse for a free round. Of course, she could never voice these thoughts; Terry worked hard at believing his own version of events, untrue as they may have been, while Sandra had a talent for recognizing the truth. She knew him well enough now, after living together for months in her neat little flat. Blinded by love at the start, Sandra was flattered to be treated as a lady, and Terry knew how to treat a woman. He was nothing if not chivalrous, opening doors for her, lighting her cigarette with a flourish, and holding open her coat when she made to leave. Sandra wallowed in this treatment, she’d never before been pampered by a man, and it wasn’t until now that she had begun to question their relationship.
They seemed to spend all of their social life in one public house or another. Terry’s sole purpose every morning was to get to the first pint of beer as fast as he could, rarely eating the breakfast Sandra prepared, and many of her carefully planned dinners went untouched (or burned). No, she realised he wanted to spend as much time as possible in a public bar. Terry’s life revolved around alcohol.
As the evening wore on, Sandra sipped from her glass slowly, keeping an eye on her partner, who was quaffing numerous drinks as he held sway in the centre of a small company of red nosed listeners, eager for entertainment. Never having been a heavy drinker, Sandra shook her head when Jim offered yet another generous shot of vodka.
She was the product of alcoholic licensee parents, and had witnessed first hand the damage caused by too much liquor. Dad’s memory was the first to go, gradually fading out in a fog of whiskey, he’d forget things, and often told lies. As a child, Sandra had seen him filling his beer glass with Johnnie Walker whilst working behind the bar, and it was common knowledge that he gave the wrong change. That was, if he remembered to take money from the customer at all. At the age of twelve, Sandra knew that most of the pub’s clients were there to drink for free and enjoy the sight of her father urinating into the sink, or holding on to the beer pumps to keep from collapsing.
Now, twenty years later, she was feeling the same loss of respect for
her lover that she had felt for her father. She knew that life with
Terry would always be like this, one long round of boozing at every spare
moment. It was time to make a decision. She caught Terry’s
eye across the smoky room, he grinned at her drunkenly, mouth full of yellowing,
uneven teeth. Sandra saw the bulbous, purple-veined nose; he flushed
cheeks and watery, bloodshot eyes, and wondered how she could have missed
all of his faults for so long. He weaved toward her, smiling at each
person as he pushed his way through the length of the bar’s regulars.
“What’s up, love?” his beer laden breath was not against her ear.
“Isn’t it time we were going? I’ve had nothing to eat since breakfast and it’s almost eight o’clock now.” Sandra entreated.
“Oh, God, Woman! Must you always nag me so? I was just having a few beers with the lads, you can’t begrudge me that, can you?” he asked, wearing a scowl.
She knew it was hopeless, knew she had lost the battle. He would
stay until the last drop was drained, then go on to another place and begin
again. As he tottered back to his cronies, Sandra felt deflated;
she sagged on the seat, eyes in her lap. The music sounded hollow,
loud and rowdy; the customers carried on their revelry, oblivious of her
distress. Sandra drained her drink, breathed a sigh of resignation
and stood, ready to leave the bar. Nobody noticed her, she felt utterly
rejected as she walked into the cool evening. She strode along purposefully,
staring straight ahead all the way to her flat.
Opening the door, she surveyed the scene; in the kitchen, the table was still laid for dinner, well dinner wouldn’t be eaten now. Gathering the utensils, she stowed them in the cupboards and drawers, then, still wearing her coat, she sat at the kitchen table and burst into tears. Sandra felt an overwhelming despair, knowing she had lost the war against her sworn enemy. For what seemed like an hour, she sobbed uncontrollably, but eventually the sobs abated, and she regained her composure.
She stared out of the window, unsure of her next move, until her mind was made up. Moving to the sink, she tore two large, black plastic garbage bags from the roll in the drawer and marched with them into the bedroom. It took a little over fifteen minutes to collect all of Terry’s clothes and possessions, although it seemed longer to Sandra. She struggled down three flights of stairs, balancing two overstuffed bags of his life, and walked the short distance back to the noisy bar.
She slipped quietly through the door, and carried her load to the corner by the window, unnoticed. Terry stood where she had left him, oblivious to all but his audience. He didn’t notice when she asked for pen and paper, scribbled words and handed the note to Jim. Nor did he witness her equally quiet departure. Sandra simply could not spend any more time with a man who preferred the company of a bottle to her; another woman she could have resisted, but not a bottle. She wanted no more of a life tied to a continual drinking session through the years to come. Her head felt light as she left behind the life she knew, and a phrase heard long ago kept repeating, like a mantra: ‘when you go to the zoo, all you are going to find are animals’.