Andrew McCallum Crawford: Moment of Inertia

Moment Of Inertia

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Haven’t been in this place for years. I remember when it opened. It was just the one room back then. We were here every Friday night, the lot of us. Brendan got paid weekly. We loved it when he stroked his chin with his wad. Characters, young men and their foibles. I’ve forgotten most of their names, but I remember Brendan. He had a Masters in Physics – he could recite Newton’s Laws of Motion by heart and reckoned Einstein was a charlatan. Good times. They didn’t last long, though, everyone left when their contracts finished. Fair enough, I can’t blame them, they couldn’t stand any more of it, they were getting shafted and they knew it. Things were never the same after ’96. Fewer teachers came over the following year, then numbers really started to dwindle – I think word got out that this wasn’t a plum destination. And South Korea was getting a lot of press at the time. Who knows?

The bartop’s still the same. I’ll tell you what, whoever put it together was a craftsman, the marquetry, like a chessboard. And it’s solid wood underneath, none of your chipboard rubbish. I know it’s solid because Brendan stuck a knife in it one night. Splinters. It was me, of course, that had to pacify the owner. Brendan didn’t last long, he had problems that beer wasn’t solving. A Christmas leaver, he did a runner. Maybe that’s why I remember him. And the knife, of course. Come to think of it, Flea must have been working behind the bar – he looked like the singer out of Red Hot Chili Peppers, but nobody knew what the singer was called. He had a thing about 1970s British pop music, it was always playing. And every fourth beer was on the house, along with free plates of cocktail sausages. We were enjoying ourselves. Everyone apart from Brendan, right enough, but some people aren’t cut out for life in a foreign country, even if mugs like me try to help them.

I stopped coming in after I got married. You know how it goes, obligations, then the kids and more obligations. It wasn’t long before I was back. I began to drink more, but this was a young person’s gaff, students. The truth glared at me late one night when I saw my reflection in the gantry, twisting and jerking to Tiger Feet like the main contender in an Oldest Swinger In Town contest. Yes, looks are one thing, but there has to be substance. Let’s just say that I did my fair share of puttering about when I was a single man, and it didn’t stop when I was no longer single, it was so easy to forget those obligations. It was pathetic when I think about it, the Friday and Saturday nights sitting here with my wedding ring in the ticket pocket of my jeans. Talk about shiting on your own doorstep, they all knew me in here, especially the women – Christ, this is where I met my wife – but by that stage I had a reputation to keep up. And keep it up I did. It didn’t take long for her to find out. Maybe I wanted her to, I don’t know. It’s a small town, but not so small you can’t hide if hiding is your thing. To be honest, I didn’t care. The marriage was a mistake. Come on, though, who was I to refuse a brand new house and a BMW, even though I didn’t have a licence to drive it? She kept the lot when we split up. Her father made sure of that. I see the kids now and again in the street, they’re growing up really fast. Both of them cross over to the other side when they see me. That hurts. Probably not as much as it should.

It was after the divorce that I found another shop. Apart from anything else, this place was too expensive; my wife had a bastard for a lawyer. I believe the expression is ‘she took me to the cleaners’. Did I deserve it? No, I didn’t. Her poisoning the kids’ minds was punishment enough, the financial part was just vindictiveness. She didn’t need the money, her old man was loaded. Still is, so I’ve heard. I could have left town, I could even have gone to another country, but it had taken me years to learn the language, and there was the bureaucracy as well, you have to remember that time was rolling on. It wasn’t a coward’s choice, far from it. Quite simply, I couldn’t have faced going back to zero. The cafeneio suits me now, old men sipping lemonade through straws, playing cards and shouting. Old men, that’s a laugh. I know I’m trying to stave it off, but I can smell it lurking round the next corner, and it’s a corner that’s getting closer.

That’s the problem coming back in here, you start thinking about the past. It isn’t long before the nostalgia turns into its opposite, it brings you down. So much is going on just now, I’ve been making myself ill thinking about it. Politics. The way everything is collapsing and no one seems to care, apart from the old men in the caff, but who listens to them? I needed a change of scenery. I knew I would start reminiscing, the hope was that it would put a smile on my face. Apart from that I heard a rumour they’ve got Murphy’s in bottles. The rumour was spot on. Big thick glass bottles of black beer, they’ll do for me. And they still look after you, even though Flea is long gone, this is my third, and a plate of cold meat and salad has just been laid in front of me, so I’ll be staying for a fourth, of that there is no doubt. I pour out the last of the beer. The bottle is heavy, maybe they make them like this for a reason, wary of breakages during transport. I try to read the label but I’ve forgotten my specs. I can’t make out the letters close up, and when I hold the bottle at arm’s length they’re too small. There’s no problem seeing things at a distance, though, and on the other side of the horseshoe bar someone wants to start something. He’s got his eyes fixed on me. He turns to his mate then they’re both having a look. They’re not shy. I haven’t got a clue who they are, but I know where this is going, it isn’t the first time. I am a single man, getting on, but I’ve got my own place, you know? And a car, not a BMW, admittedly, but it goes.

He’s up and coming. He’s doing it on his own, which makes it fair. And now he’s hoisting a chair out of the way to get to me but I’m schooled and he tries to throw the punch but I’m well into the swing and the arc is wide and high my hand getting heavier the weight pulling away from me solid and good the physics of it his eyes staring as the bottle crashes down on his cheekbone.

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