When Flit Heardol saw brown paper parcels in various shapes and sizes being smuggled every night into the pub by the customers who then shared them out between them, he wondered if this could be anything to do with the Government’s recent measures against the buying and selling of human organs for transplant operations. He surmised that there would now be a black market in them and he expected at any moment to see blood dripping from the ill-fastened wrappings. There’s no smoke without fire. No image without object.
But he had unaccountable thoughts all the time, so he shrugged it off and continued sipping at his beer - until a parcel was dropped in his lap by a large figure of a man who just passed in the crowd without a word.
He merely sat and stared at it, not even daring to feel it. He left it on the seat where no doubt a bomb warning would result.
Back in the flat, he stewed over the incident. It may have been valuable, something that could have gainsaid the erstwhile meaning of his life. The crazy idea about human organs did not hold water. It had been the drink thinking.
The next evening, he returned to the pub, heart in his mouth (as they say), wondering whether there would be any repercussions.
“Oi! Oi! You with the tall hat! You left your specimen ‘ere last night.” It was the short-arse landlord shouting, handing over the package from under the bar, miming its stench. However, Flit was not the sort of regular whom anybody recognised or welcomed with a friendly “Hiya, Arsehole, how yer jiggerin’?” He was a non-entity. A solitary drinker. One who could never summon the wherewithal to strike up an exchange of sayings with complete strangers.
When was a stranger not a stranger? He’d seen many of the faces in that pub for years now. He’d overheard the tribulations of their life histories, the ins and outs of their business or marriage, the vicarious football expertise, the ludicrous sayings that emanate from typical pub-talk, even the political and religious debates, foundered on shifting sands of misaligned prejudices, which often ensued in public bars. He felt he knew them better than himself. But none of them knew him at all. He expected they wondered what such a lacklustre individual did with his life when beyond their limelight. None of them broke the dry ice. He may as well have been dead (or never born) as far as they were concerned.
Except there was sometimes a lady who also seemed to be a solitary drinker. There were not many of her breed. A matinée idol's wench from a wet afternoon's cinema-going. She would quite often look up from the surface of her drink and, Flit suspected, half-smile at him. But he never smiled back, in case it was not intended for him. He couldn’t smile, in fact. His mouth was set in a thin line which he could not bring himself to change. It would have been tantamount to admitting that he was kith and kin to the smuggling customers and wanted their company. Strange, he never questioned why he went to the Rocking Horse pub in the first place.
On the evening after the parcel incident, he returned.
She was in the corner. This time she was exchanging sayings with a gentleman. They both seemed deep in set routines of talk that excluded all else. Suddenly, she seemed to point at Flit, and the gentleman looked up to follow the direction of her viewfinder.
Flit supposed he must have been seen blushing. He got up to leave, his beer only half-finished. But there was an ugly incident at the door.
He must have looked silly, bobbing up and down in his seat, as if he were a lout on a Works outing.
The parcels were still being passed around - more than he could ever recall on previous occasions. Even the titchy landlord was a recipient of one.
When people look back on life’s matters, they usually have a good grasp of their own personalities and motives. But, here Flit was quite mysterious even to his own thoughts. He knew more about the pub regulars than he did about himself (he may even have known more about those others than they did about themselves, which is another mystery altogether, quite irrelevant to current concerns). So, yes, he could describe every one in detail, down to their last dream. He was the inscrutable one, the intangible element in an otherwise quite understandable scene. If he could just get to the bottom of himself or, at least, round to the back...
He shook himself vigorously and, braving the off-stage fracas at the door, he left for the loneliness of his flat. Not that he was less lonely in the pub.
One evening, months later, he stirred and decided gratuitously to go to a pub other than the Rocking Horse. He wrapped up the animal part he was planning to have grilled rare for supper and took it with him. He hoped, for the first time in his life, that an action he was about to take would break the ice and create sayings of his own which others could share. But he kept the parcel in his carrier bag, never daring to take it out for, of all the evenings he could have chosen at random, he recognised several of the Rocking Horse regulars who were here in the Garden Swing Inn, apparently, to witness a needle match between the two pubs in a quiz league competition. Each had brought a parcel which they proceeded to pass round.
Flit left, of course, toting his own parcel with him, desperately glad that it had not got mixed up with the others. He was unaccountably sad that the lady had not been there. But she may have been. He supposed she could have been in the parcels.
(Published ‘Auguries’ 1993)