WORN OUT

His face glowed orange, yellow, red. Or one side of it did. He’d squeezed himself into a corner by the fruit machine and he gazed at the glasses ranged on top of the bar. Percy. He had a beard, or at least a couple of days’ growth, but he didn’t have long hair any more. Grey stubble. He still did that chewing thing though. There was a pint on the table in front of him with about two fingers off the top. He clutched his hands together between his knees and wobbled in time to some music only he could hear. The fruit machine blipped and beeped though. Glassy eyes. He’d drifted off, dreaming about something it seemed. Or maybe just bored.

“Percy,” I said.

He looked at me, put his hands on the table top and stood. I’d forgotten just how tall he was. We stood like that for a moment then I moved towards him and threw my arms round his shoulders. He didn’t reciprocate.

When I released him and stood back I got to look at him properly. He was thin. There didn’t seem to be much muscle and he was pale. His jacket, one of those pale green ex-army things, hung on him. It looked like someone else’s coat. There was a bulge on the bridge of his nose that I couldn’t remember and his right eye was bloodshot. He said something that I couldn’t hear.

He spoke louder. “Let me get you one,” he said.

He stood at the bar with his back to me. I thought he couldn’t face me. Or didn’t want to. I imagined myself telling him it was good of him to contact me then looking at my watch and leaving. I didn’t, of course.

He placed a pint on the table and I lifted it. Took a mouthful. Then I asked where he’d been.

“How d’you mean?”

The last time I’d seen him he was in his second year at Uni. That was almost fifteen years ago. No. More.

“Yeah,” he muttered. “It’s been a long time.”

“So?”

“I’ve been around.”

He looked worn out and I told him so.

“Thing is,” he said. And he paused to take a swig of his beer. “You see, I’ve been thinking. I’ve been a twat. I wanted to see you and tell you.”

“Tell me what?”

He picked up a beer mat and tapped its edge against the table. I saw that crappy tattoo on his hand then. It looked as though he’d done it himself. Perhaps it was supposed to be a sun symbol but it was egg shaped rather than circular. He took a deep breath then licked his lips and looked straight at me.

“I’ve made some mistakes in my life,” he said, “and one big one was losing touch with you.”

How do you respond to that? I must have sat with my mouth open for I don’t know how long. Eventually I said something like “I don’t know what to say. Thanks.”

“You see,” he paused again. “I’ve been inside.”

He wiped his hand across his lips and his Adam’s apple wobbled a couple of times. He started to cry.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

One thought on “WORN OUT

  1. Another simple story – apparently. This one, unlike the Thrushes one, sets the scene with more detail and deliberation. There are clues in the description of Percy, his thinness, his previously short hair short now. And the description of him generally makes him seem lost. He’s a loner, it would also appear. He sits at the bar alone, he seems deep in thought, he seems remote even from the narrator. I think this is brilliantly done, because it turns out that’s exactly what he has been from the storyteller. What makes this stsory intriguing is the lack of detail in some ways. I want to ask what their relationship was like at uni, and why, then the narrator throws his arms round his old friend, Percy doesn’t respond. I want to know what happens next. I want to know why the storyteller thought about leaving. What happened back then? But what the reader has is only the now in this story, and that has to give us all the clues. There’s reservation in the narrator, a wariness, but in addition, he’s an emotionally generous person – he throws his arms around Percy. The latter is the mystery. It isn’t, it seems to me, only that he’s been in prison that makes him who he is, a loner, someone sitting apart, that was probably always who he was. By that I mean prison isn’t necessarily the deciding factor in his makeup. Something was ‘lost’ before he went inside. Perhaps something is always lost before someone goes inside. Percy deserted the narrator for some reason. Like with Thrushes there is no definitive ending to this story, but what you set out to do wasn’t that either, I suspect. There are moments in a life that matter, but we’re not always aware of them at all when they’re happening. Somethng happened to Percy a long time ago that is affecting him now, and so much so that he has to make a ritual of confronting the issue. He deserts his friend before he goes to prison. That we don’t find out why Percy did this, isn’t the point. It’s that people behave like this, and it is probably unfathomable. Each one of us has a different story to tell. As with Thrushes, though, it’s being in the moment that matters. The storyteller can hug Percy. He can’t respond, and that is his tragedy. At least, that’s the way I see it anyway. He is lost to the moment and lives, essentially, nowhere, not even in himself. It’s a melancholy tale but for me a significant piece of literature because it describes so much of the human condition in our current times: loneliness, fragmentation, loss, aimlessness. Percy and the character of Richard in my story have something in common: they are separated from the pack and probably always will be. They communicate probably only with themselves. There’s a lot of pain in that choice.

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