Skirt gathered at her knees, chin on a table, she’s asking now something of the ear of a wild-bearded man. She sweeps her hair from her cheek. He appears not to listen. His black leather cowboy hat and bike jacket speak sinister wisdoms. There is a tiny gunmetal death’s head pinned, longtime, to the lapel. It glistens. She asks the something again.
The man peers over the top of wire framed spectacles down at her and then glances immediately across the crowded pub, as if it were empty, but for the two of them, Sam and he. He has the eyes of a sick rabbit. The death pin grins. Sam withers and smiles, but fears this smile will shatter his face, so he turns away, uncomfortable, and shouldering this way and that, dances a slow shuffle through the crowded room, trying not to touch anyone. He stands alone at a small round table discovered at the far edges of The Rotten Fox.
He introduces his glass to its dark varnish. Places it next to a tin ashtray that contains many kissed and crushed cigarette knuckles. It is a good table. It stands, its lip at his hip, on three bowed and shapely feet, each clasping, with carefully detailed talons (and hewn from the same once naked block, he assumes); approximate globes, or representations of mahogany field prey – stunned and fetal mice – rising to gather, elegantly, above curving knees, stockinged in carved etching, clutched, at a slim leg.
It is a good table, but it is stood too close to the toilets, the doors of which crash and creak, wafting, with every soul that issues forth from within, a yellow sigh of relief, a renal perfume. Sam concentrates instead on the table, avoiding all eyes and, only vaguely hidden in the gloom, cringes at every brush and nudge and palm at his back, his hollowed shape, from the seemingly endless parade of pissers.
He fingers the dead cigarettes, deliberates one and, uncrumpling it gently, as if it were a tiny injured paper sparrow, places it to his lips and breathes brief life back into it. He returns the bird to the tin ashtray and notices now that there is a nail head in its grey bowl. He pokes at this with the dead bird and discovers that the ashtray is nailed to the table. Sam tries to look comfortable with such a thing.
Another song comes on.
He searches for the logic in nailing a tin ashtray to a perfectly good table. He passes a palm beneath the table, the nail protrudes there.
An unpracticed choir by the door start singing all the wrong words and he decides that he will finish his glass, place it next to the crucified ashtray and leave by that door before the second verse. But, just then, she is at his side. She ruffles his hair and as she ruffles she places a tiny envelope in his hand. Then they leave.