The panes blaze yellowblack. Orange rinds the frames. And beyond the flames faces and throats determine to drain the bar. We go in.
The Fox & Hound on Pound Street is a moody boozer. Any fool can see that. It bristles. A worn welcome of cheap perfume and tobacco and beer. The smell of damp wood burning in the fireplace. Whippet faces and doughy faces wear mercurial, broken, black, crooked, braced, filled, missing, bleached and plastic teeth. Heads crowned with home haircuts.
Yolky eyes, squeezed into and behind glass, swallow as we pass further down the line. The length of the bar is mirrored. Round shoulders straighten. Straight shoulders slacken. Dirty denim, soiled cotton, leisure wear, flesh: beerbelly, sixpack, chickenfillet, cellulite, bingo wing, orange, blue, waxy, fake. There are scribbles and doodles decorating arms and wrists and necks; old-school blue knuckles, ringed fingers of crap gold and tarnished silver. A shoe hangs from a crusty foot by a could-be dainty strap. Fat. Elvis Presley, with speed jitters and knitting needles, details death-love lament from the jukebox– ‘…train, train…’. There is little in the way of illumination beyond the come hither of the one-arm bandit, the dim bulbs and the fluorescents striping in repeat in the mirror behind the teak. John-Paul throws hello, hello, hello around. He nudges up against the jump, slacks off his tie, unbuttons his top button. I cringe and it looks like a sneer in the brass, the glass. No one answers him with words. Only jaundiced eyes.
“See if you can’t find a seat,” he says over his shoulder.
The carpet, it was threadbare last century, wonders what these strange new feet want.
I see that I can’t find a seat. So we stand at the end of a crowded table, me behind he, and he, putting his pint down on the abraded varnish, leans into the strange faces gathered there, interrupting something. He throws out more greetings and is answered this time with mumbles and some mutters, but mostly with sweet nothings. I’m collecting eyeballs, too; eyeballs and eyebrows and pinched lips. My grin will shatter, I’m certain, my face. I hold the pint glass to my mouth and try to hide within it. Old Man Grinner. Gizza grin! No joy. John-Paul appears to be asking something of the ear of a bearded man hunched at the corner of the table. He appears to hear not. The man wears a black leather cowboy hat and ancient biker jacket. There is a small, gunmetal death’s head pinned, longtime, to a lapel. John-Paul asks something again. The man peers over the top of a pair of rose-tinted spectacles at John-Paul and then glances, death camp killer, tripping over his face, in my direction. He has the pink eyes of a poorly rabbit. I turn away and stand at a small empty table. I’m a little close to the toilets, the doors of which creak and crash, wafting, with every soul that is issued forth from therein, with a yellow sigh of relief, a renal perfume. There is, oddly, a tin ashtray nailed to the table and I try to concentrate on this and look comfortable with such a thing. John-Paul is working another table now. I don’t really know what it is he’s doing. Thin Lizzy come on. I try to find the logic in the ashtray. For some reason I pass my palm beneath the table and sure enough the nail protrudes beneath there. I think about Easter. Some girls, by the door, start singing all the wrong words and I decide that I will put my pint down next to the nailed ashtray and leave by that door before they murder me, or the second verse.