‘The Duke and the Devil’
‘twas midsummer’s afternoon.
A dark, and I hesitate to guess, ‘lady’ perhaps, waddled into the front bar of the Duke of York Hotel.
Flies, whilst already in abundance, seemed to fill the void between her and smoke glassed door. The light cast from behind her through the closing front bar door created a short, lumpy, outline. An outline, that by all appearances at least, of a sack, short bowed legs and bare feet.
A gentle yet revolting sucking noise assailed the ears with every step she took. Each foot sticking to the faded brown and orange coloured carpet of the barroom floor; only to be lifted ever so slightly, sucked up from the floor, swinging forward from the knee.
Once inside this gloom filled room of sorrow, misfortune and despair; the very same said gloom, in all of its velveteen splendour removed every foul feature she bore, leaving nought bar her grotesque gelatinous outline.
With unexpected abandon, her teeth seized all control of the scene. Brilliant and white; yet all with a mind and life of their own. Like a brothel front mounted broken neon light, her teeth flashed on and off, never halfway between. Moving down, up, down; mouth open then closed, open then closed. Cheshire Cat like floating down the bar. Haunted, hunting with such requests, in the hope of a cigarette, or possibly coin. Even to talk, the hope of conversation enough to lighten the load of misfortune, borrowing from a realm of imagined self, revelling in darkness; offering the light of escape from self.
In the space of a minute, the space of a lifetime perhaps? She, the vile neon toothed beast, landed beside me. In a single fluid, and entirely obvious way, I hurriedly pulled my drink and change closer toward myself, whilst turning myself, body and soul, deliberately away from her. Assuming disassociation from her; doing my utmost to create an unspannable chasm between the horror of her, and the wickedness of me.
At a glance, I saw that the beer impregnated varnish of the bar top curling slightly. Smouldering perhaps? Graffitied varnish, sodden and abused, turned silently back upon itself. With tidal slowness it dawned upon me the cause of this veneer changing anomaly. A horrid, sulphurous, stench; exuding from her every pore, was the unexpected cause. Not some sickly trick of the eye, as I had secretly hoped.
Alone in that black and soulless bar, I caught myself cursing any passing deity as she leant toward me. Bending myself away from her, swishing and swatting the shiny tailed flies she cast around herself, the clichéd bad penny dropped.
“I’m terribly sorry for intruding into the comfortable peace cloaked about you Nathaniel. Spare me a coin for a drink? There are so few of us left now.”
Her tone and depth of her speech so similar in consistency to treacle. Smooth and dark and sweet. A sound so absolute, nothing like the rough, nasal, guttural, speech of those locals of a similar hue to her in this travesty of a town. A voice so unexpected, completely unaccented, that the gasp I caught between my teeth, all but making good its flight to the ears of those around us.
My left hand broke free of my will, producing, then proffering, a $10 note from locations unknown about my body. A pocket now shorter on notes; those item’s required for on-going beer. Yet, I digress.
She bought herself a small beer, half an hour later another, coaxing each drink into remaining as full as possible, whilst relishing each draught as though it were her last.
Among her halitosis we spoke initially of nothing. This pit of a town. Those faceless people. This pub of black and midnight despair.
She then, ever so gently, turned the conversation, for that is what it had become, down a path less trodden, one unexpected. She regaled me with the works of Joyce, quoted Keats and Shelley and Kipling. Klimt was loved, relished, dismissed. Horrible and fascinating Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand was spoken of in the first; of his pain and despair for his wife, then the burning out of his mortal coil. Done with a depth of retelling leaving me still of breathe.
We conversed in the languages of the Breton and the Gaul. Tales were told in the tongue of the Pict and the Canaanite, adding wonder to this setting, yet not slowing the ascent of piled winged things, dead before me. The curling and smouldering of the varnished bar before her, unceasing and relentless.
With a sudden abruptness she thanked me for my money and my ear. Both she and I now being free of funds.
She stood, as did I in a rare following of suit and manner.
With a silence beyond the absence of sound, she was gone.
Her sulphurous stench abated, and those winged beasts of the foulest persuasion evaporated before my eyes. Both, dead and alive.
The Devil had sat beside me, and now the devil was gone.
Gazing into the mirror beyond the bar of the Duke of York Hotel, there was no reflection. Well, no reflection of me at least. Just the reflection of curled varnish on a bar top.
Darkness then filled the remainder of the scene.
Click the Stone’s quote. The man comes around.