Swylce

Musings and Writing of GG Alexander

The Confession Bar

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It was after closing and all the staff had gone home for the night. I was putting the last glasses away when he came in. Early forties, half-bald, and drenched; water poured off of his nose and chin and shoulders as if a cloud was above his head, raining only on him. He left a trail of water behind him as he walked to the bar and sat down on a stool.

‘You must be the Drowned Man,’ I said.

He nodded. I looked closely, but he had no briefcase or hat and was wearing a generic grey suit, so he could have been from any recent decade.

‘Fifties?’ I suggested.

‘Sixties,’ he said. ‘Nineteen Sixty-Two. Has it been long?’

‘Not too long,’ I said. This is what I always say to them. To let them know that they’ve been dead for decades or more usually upsets them, considering how hard they’ve struggled to get out the ether and come to me.

‘So what happened?’ I asked, as always, watching as his droplets ran down the metal of his stool. Having a man soaking all my furniture was still much preferable to the night before, when the Burned Man had visited me, a scorched black husk that I could barely keep my eyes on.

‘Got stuck in the car,’ he said. ‘It was raining , and I swerved to avoid a bicyclist, and ended up in the ditch. I couldn’t open the doors and the place flooded with me inside.’

I nodded. He coughed a fluid-filled cough.

‘So why are you here?’

They come to me when they want to get something off their chest. That’s what a barman’s always been for, right? From the looks of him, I guessed adultery – the least awful of the crimes that they confess to me.

‘That night, I was on my way to meet my wife’s sister.’

‘“Meet”?’ I raised an eyebrow.

He nodded, looking across to the fridge full of cider opposite.

‘Louisa knew I was having an affair. I drove straight from work so I wouldn’t have to hear her accusations before I left. But she thought it was some floozy from the company; she had no idea that Janey and me had been seeing each other for years. I was planning to lie to her and tell her it was a girl from work, just to spare her the truth.’

He stared down at his hands as if there was an invisible pint between them. I reached down to my folder, hidden amongst the other managerial folders, and flipped through the pages, until I found the last typed page before fifty blank ones.

‘So your actual question is about them?’

He shuddered, shaking water everywhere. I made sure to keep the folder away from him.

‘I hate to think what happened afterward,’ he said. ‘That Louisa would have realised that I was on my way to her sister, that Janey would have told her, that I would’ve made them hate each other when they were already grieving…I need to know what I did. What my mistakes caused.’

He was an executive of a company that sold cigarettes and targeted young people, but obviously he wouldn’t think there was any problem with that. I can’t let my modern sensibilities get in the way, obviously. I’ve had men who have murdered children confess about betraying their brother, because they didn’t see anything wrong with killing slave children or their enemy’s family, but betraying kin was the biggest disgrace.

I watched as the ink, dot by dot, appeared in the empty box underneath the Drowned Man’s profile. He watched my face as I read; I imagined that his brow would have been sweating had it not already been covered. Finally, I snapped the binder shut.

‘The truth is, Janey did confess,’ I told him. He sagged visibly. ‘In fact, when you didn’t show, she called your wife, worried about you, and told her the truth. Louisa hated you with a passion then, and said she would never speak to her sister again. And when she found out you were dead, and she could never confront you, she hated you with a bitterness that can only be imagined.’

He put his head in his hands. Drips fell from his bald pate onto the bar.

‘She tried to keep Janey from the funeral, but your children cried – they loved your sister – so she let her in, and they supported each other through it, hating you and loving you the whole time.’

He raised his eyes to me. ‘What else?’

I put the binder back in its place.

‘Louisa remarried a few years later. She died of heart troubles in nineteen eighty-eight. Janey is still alive today. Do you want to hear how your children are doing?’

He shook his head. ‘No. It was Louisa I was worried about. Did she have a happy life without me? Were her and Janey happy?’

“Happy life” is a meaningless term to me, so I answered as I always do:

‘Yes.’

He sighed, closed his eyes, and nodded.

‘Thank you,’ he said. With those words, the water ceased falling from his body, and dried before my eyes, until he was a smart-looking businessman again, with the soft glow of the peaceful on his outline. He wiped a tear away from one eye, sniffed and opened his eyes again.

‘I’m glad. That’s all I wanted to know – that I hadn’t ruined them.’

Most of the people who come to me are self-centred that way. Everyone’s hardier than they think they are. He stood off the stool, and turned to leave.

‘Who’s tomorrow?’ I called after him.

‘Tomorrow’s the Hanged Man,’ he said. ‘Goodnight, barman.’

‘Goodnight.’

He left the way he came in – phasing through the locked doors – and I put away the last glass and finished up for the night.

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Written by G.J.

18/07/2012 at 11:54 pm

Posted in Short Stories

Tagged with ,

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