Brad sat at the bar. To the right of him was a large picture window. Through the window he could see people walking by on the city street; it was the end of the day, and the people were mostly office workers, going to their evening commute home.
Brad had been to the bar a couple of times now. It was owned by an old guy named Beeche, giving the bar the name Beeche’s, and he worked there with his two sons. Beeche Senior stood behind the bar with the younger of his sons; his older son worked in the kitchen. The kitchen served simple food—hamburgers, toasted sandwiches, baskets of French fries—but it always tasted good. As far as bars in the city went it was one of the last remaining old-style bars catering to a cliental of working men; the layout, and decor, were not modern. From the front doors on street level, the bar ran parallel to the barroom to a couple of steps leading up to another room which held a couple of pool tables. There were a couple of dartboards. A TV. The lighting flattered no one and the toilets had that peculiar sweet smell of urinal cakes soaked in urine. You would hardly ever find a woman in the place.
Brad got up from his seat. There was a jukebox on the wall by the picture window. He went to the jukebox, flipped through the selection of songs, saw some he liked and put a two dollar coin into the machine. He selected his three songs and as he sat back down at the bar the first one began to play:
So swiftly the sun sets in the sky,
You rise up and say goodbye to no one…
“Did you see that budget announcement last night?” a man sitting down the end of the bar said to no one in particular. Brad looked down the end of the bar to the man. To Brad, the man looked to be in his late forties; possibly fifty. His hair was grey in places, and thinning, the thin strains combed over his forehead, his face covered with black and grey stubble, his clothes old and appearing unwashed for some time. “That Ruth Richardson,” the man said, “they’re calling it ‘The Mother of All Budgets’. A lot of people are going to be hurting now with the cuts she’s made.”
Brad didn’t say anything to this. He was too young still to pay attention to anything like the budget and he hadn’t yet begun to understand the significance of the cuts that had been made and what this would come to mean for him. His face, reflected in the mirror behind the bar, was not yet marked by time as the face of the man who had spoken was. Nor was his face aged, as was the face of Beeche Senior.
Brad finished the beer in his glass. Through the picture window the light was changing. It was twilight now and everything had that soft, dreamlike glow. Soon, though, the dreamlike glow would fade and a darkness would come to claim everything:
False-hearted judges dying in the webs that they spin,
Only a matter of time ‘til night comes steppin’ in…
“Would you like another?” Beeche Senior asked Brad.
“Thanks,” Brad said. He watched Beeche Senior stand behind the beer taps, pull the lever, the beer fill the glass. He had his wallet open.
“Are you working?” Beeche Senior asked Brad.
“No,” Brad said. “Not at the moment.”
Beeche Senior placed the beer on the bar before Brad. “Don’t worry about it,” he said.
“Are you sure?” Brad asked, surprised.
“Thanks,” Brad said. “Can I buy you one?”
“I’m working,” Beeche Senior said. “Maybe if you come in one day when I’m not working. You can buy me one then.”
Two construction workers came through the front door. Their clothes, work boots, faces, arms and legs were caked a soft grey from the powder of broken concrete and they smiled as they entered the bar. Up the road from Beeche’s a new casino was being built; Brad had passed there earlier in the day, seen the men working, after having come from his appointment at Social Welfare. The construction workers ordered a jug of beer at the bar and took it with them down to the pool tables. Brad heard the coin being pushed into the table, the balls drop to the side of the table, and the balls being racked. Then he heard the loud crack as the balls were broken. One of the men said something and the other laughed, picking a pack of cigarettes up from an old upright wooden barrel used as a table. The man lit the cigarette, exhaled, and the grey smoke moved over the green baize with a slow assurance:
Shedding off one more layer of skin,
Keeping one step ahead of the persecutor within…
Beeche’s older son came out from the kitchen. He was carrying a toasted sandwich and on the plate next to the sandwich was a large amount of French fries. He was also carrying a red plastic container of tomato sauce shaped like a tomato; the top of the container was green like a tomato’s leaf. He placed the sandwich on the bar before the man who had spoken earlier.
“I didn’t order this,” the man said.
“Come on Frank,” Beeche’s older son said, “you know it’s on the house.”
Frank picked up the sandwich and took a bite. “That Ruth Richardson,” he said, “a lot of people are going to be hurting now.”
Through the window, on the other side, dusk had arrived. No one dared mention it.