The evening of the event in question, though mild by comparison in its waning hours, began in tones of frigidity – so much so, that one could smell one’s own snot gathering inside one’s nostrils. Harry had just shaved his beard off after thirty years of the same. It was the kind of new cold only men and bearded women can experience. One might compare it to the feeling, sans excruciating agony, of being flayed and thrown into cold, dirty water. Harry did not know that feeling, and so, the cold only felt fresh.
If you would have known Harry in the same manner of the low men and women who shared his company in the darkened corners of the five pub square, you would know that a clever pea coat and scarf were not his usual attire. Missing were the piss-streaked trousers that had not seen soapy water since Churchill, and the boisterously inappropriate tartan vest, three times too snug. Harry penetrated the threshold of the Dawn Beggar in his usual manner, while, echoing in the upper levels, Bowie juggled mouth marbles in a poorly equalized song about tin cans and herons – blue ones, in case you were curious.
The Dawn Beggar, a poor example of the heights a beer-centric public house can ascend to, was filled to the two-stool table by the front window. The long copper-top bar bent around the back wall and disappeared into a dark corner typically reserved for the regulars. One would know this by the stale atmosphere of Turkish tobacco and tweed, the thunk-thunk of dart into board, and the occasional raucous admonishments against naysayers of folk music coming from that vicinity.
Trudging through the crowd of lesser men, Harry made his way toward the curve of the bar where, at his appearance, the regular zone erupted into cheers. A seat had been reserved for him next to the column that held up the bar. One of the less-than-attractive semi-women groped his shoulders, her voice hot with bourbon and horseradish. Harry deftly maneuvered from her grasp and slid sideways onto the stool left vacant for his arrival.
“Harry, Harry, Harry. How are you, Harry?” bellowed Titus Fink, the least regular of the regulars. The beast clapped Harry hard on the shoulder as he accosted him verbally. The vise-like grip of his labor-worn hand clamped Harry’s bicep. Titus, unfamiliar with the texture of the pea coat, and expecting the feel of a different material, let his grip slacken only slightly. His eyes softened from their scrutiny of the man before him as quickly as they had hardened, and, seeing Harry’s eyes, Titus’s confusion was dissipated and curled upwards into the smoky haze of the pub along with the persistent film of bad habits.
“I’ve been better,” was Harry’s simple response. He offered a cordial smile that indicated the politeness of the reception was only vaguely honest. “I’ve had a rather uneventful morning.”
The admission of his wakefulness at hours prior to afternoon appeared off-putting to Titus, who returned the fallacy of a smile, and quickly backed into the dart match he had abruptly departed.
Harry’s first drink requested brought the pub to a frozen silence as the utterance of the request departed his lips: “Red wine, please.”
Had Bowie been live, he would have emitted the screeching sound of needle across vinyl from his mouth directly, as the master likely would be able. Around the corner, unseen by the regulars who occupied the short end of the “L”, newbies and gimps also found their voices quieted, their mundane conversation abated, and their empty vacuous lives suddenly filled with a questioning purpose of mind.
The dart thrower paused in mid-aim and the collective group of regulars turned slowly to look at the man they no longer knew. Even Higgs, the bartender, forgot himself in mid-pour of the pub’s finest stout.
“Red wine, please,” Harry repeated.
If the first declaration of his desire had stopped time, the repetition rewound the flow of such and devolved those present into a state of neanderthal rage. Titus, in particular, exploded red across his shocked and livid visage. The brute of a man grabbed Harry roughly by the shoulders, and in doing so noticed for the first time that the structure of Harry’s body was not as it should be.
The scent of trash tickled Titus’s nose through the amalgam of snot and cocaine.
Ripping the pea coat away, Titus exposed the anthropomorphic badgers hiding beneath, the largest of which immediately bared its teeth in a barking snarl and flung the animatronic Harry head into the human’s face. The second badger, formerly operating the torso, leaped from his place and rolled onto the bar. Four more badgers untangled themselves from the unwieldy coat and arranged themselves for battle as Plastic Bertrand screamed “That works for me” from the upstairs jukebox.
Had the musical atmosphere been heavier with persistent bass beats, and had the Dawn Beggar‘s lighting scheme been less mellow and more red, blue, and green, it may have been appropriate to describe at this point that which could adequately be called panic at the disco. Pub confusion erupted and the press of frightened spectators, newbie and regular alike, suddenly filled the long end of the “L”.
Had the red wine been poured, the evening in question, the event I detail to you, would have ended happily.
The badgers had their way with the drunks and the low men of the day.