The Sound of Bells
I shouldn’t have come here. It was a bad plan, and I knew it, but the weather was the kind that drives you to seek shelter anywhere you can justify it- the combination of cold, rain, and a strong breeze contriving to turn the edges of my soul frosty blue.
The pub was the first place I came to that was open, and at first I was going to walk past, but something stopped me. No, I thought, I’ll just have a cup of something warm and have done. I ignored the mood I was in – the mindset which, I knew from experience, would lead to me getting spectacularly drunk, stumbling out into the pine-scented darkness and wandering home, somehow, passing out thankfully before the stark fact of the empty house could register.
Understandably, given the roaring open fire and warm wood panelling, the place was full of refugees like myself, and the tables taken up by people who had somebody. Feeling somehow like the dregs, I pulled up a stool at the bar, with a sense I couldn’t place that something was odd.
I ordered a mulled wine, which at any other pub would have earned me an odd look from the barman, but here – well, I’ve been here before. They serve a whole lot of monastic beers, and mead- decent mead, too, but I wasn’t in the mood for a pleasure-drink, I needed heat. Their mulled wine is the best in town, and as I sipped it, I felt the red and orange chase out the ice creeping into me.
As the warmth returned, I registered what had been bothering me. The man sitting next to me wasn’t, as everyone else at the bar was, focused only on the alcohol in front of him, but was looking around, staring, investigating without ever leaving his seat. He seemed to want to take in everything in the room, especially the people. When he finally got to me, and saw me looking back at him, puzzled, he smiled as if greeting an old friend.
“My boss used to own this place,” he said.
“Really? What happened?”
“Well, they sold it. I guess they figured he was so busy he wouldn’t really notice.”
“And did he?”
“Oh, of course he noticed, but there wasn’t a lot he could do by that point. Still, nice to see it hasn’t changed much.”
Ah, I thought, he must have worked for the Arts Centre. That’s what this place used to be, before it got turned into a pub.
“So did you see any of the shows they put on here?”
“Shows?” he seemed genuinely confused.
“Yeah, you know, like the plays they used to put on.”
“Oh. Um…well, I saw the Mystery Plays once.”
I was about to tell him that they didn’t put the Mystery Plays on at the Arts Centre, but stopped myself. Once I start talking about theatre, it’s hard to stop, and puts people off.
He finished his drink, and stood up.
“Nice talking to you,” he said, and I could tell he meant it. That caught my attention. Very few people say that and sound like it’s the truth.
“See you around, I hope” I said.
“Oh, I shouldn’t think so,” he said, with no hint of sarcasm. I found myself suddenly saddened that he was going.
As he put on his coat he looked up over the bar, to where a set of ropes hung through holes in the ceiling, and were neatly tied up out of the way of the hard liquor.
“Shame about the bells,” he said, “the boss loved listening to them.”
Light burst through the roiling grey clouds outside, just for a moment, and flooded the bar.
And he was gone.