♠ ………and Death quoted 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, by all appearances at least, of a sack and bare feet. Gently a revolting sucking noise assailed the ears with every step she took. Each foot sticking to the faded brown and orange coloured carpet of the bar room floor; only to be lifted ever so slightly, swinging forward from the knee.
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 half way between. Moving down, up, down; mouth open then closed, open then closed. Cheshire Cat like floating down the bar. Haunted, hunting, casting before her, such small hopeful requests from every patron. Albeit to obtain a cigarette, or possibly coin; even to talk, the hope of conversation enough to lighten the load of misfortune. She stole from realm of imagined self, and revelling in darkness; offering the light of escape from the here and the now.
It may have occurred in the space of a minute; the space of a lifetime perhaps? She, the vile neon toothed beast, landed beside me.
In an entirely obvious single fluid movement, I hurriedly pulled my drink and change closer toward myself, turning body and soul away from her as I did so. Assuming obvious 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 curl slightly. Smoulder perhaps? Graffitied varnish, sodden and abused, to turn 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 desolate 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 insinuating myself into the comfortable peace cloaked about you Nathaniel. Spare a coin for a drink? There are so few of us left now.”
Her tone and depth of her speech reminded me of treacle; its timbre smooth and dark and sweet. A sound so absolute; not a thing compared to the guttural speech of those locals of a similar hue to her. Scum, for it is what they were, of vast abundance in this fresh hell of a town; this fresh hell of a place.
This thing seated beside me, regaling me in a voice so unexpected, completely unaccented, that the gasp I snared between my teeth, had all but made good its flight to the ears of those around us.
My left hand broke free of my will, producing, then proffering, a $10 note, or maybe Drachma? A pocket now shorter on money, the currency of such little consequence; yet it is the payment that is of such importance when demanded for on-going consumption of alcohol by lazy and disinterested staff.
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. Of this time we found each other equally trapped within. So few of us now.
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. Her speech baring a depth of retelling leaving me still of breathe. Not just in tale alone, but that of personal recollection.
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. Well, funds enough worth trading.
Rallying herself, in a single deft move 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, 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 as I freed the souls within; as is my duty.
My white horse, as ever, at hand.
Click Deaths quote as pictured. Have a little Sympathy for……….