Like this desultory daytime bit of dark humour: it’s making the minutes pass in the pub, whatever private reasons have brought people in there.

Publicans and Sinners

The pub is an institution. You can exchange
cash for a pint and join in the banter
or work behind the bar for cash in hand like Lynne
who is missing a lovely bright spring day by working. Blossom
blows by the open door, a bumblebee stumbles through the sunlit air.

The carpet, so red and opulent under electric light
is bleached and frayed with cigarette burns by daylight.
Three men are drinking, leaning one hand on the bar,
the fourth, Bruce, sits apart on a barstool.
Brown-eyed Paul assays: “It’s a lovely day.”

Bruce fixes him with flint-brilliant eyes, grins evilly:
“Then why are you stood in here?” John, tall,
with a mop of springing curls, grins and drinks his Stella Artois.
Lynne wipes the bar and listens, acne-scarred Steve
starts a discussion with brown-eyed Paul:

“Look, you get on the tube at Blackhorse Road
and it’s ten stops to Victoria. Kings Cross is the fifth
there’s five more stops, right? Half way must be half
way in between the two halves of five stops,
between Kings Cross and Euston.” “That can’t be right because

the next stop, Euston, is the sixth.” Paul is puzzled.
“Steve, you’re a cunt” says Bruce, his eyes flint-brilliant, stony.
Lynne doesn’t turn a hair and John butts in:
“You haven’t allowed for the intervals Steve.”
“You - eh?” Steve looks at John with belligerent respect:

“You travel an interval, then there’s a stop. After five intervals,
and five stops, you’re at Kings Cross, halfway exactly.”
Bruce can’t resist it: “Which, if you think, is nonsense, John,
because there’s a different distance between each fucking station!”
Steve protests: “It’s halfway on the map!” and John: “The map’s an idealisation.”

Sarcastically: “Thanks John!” Paul’s brown eyes are puzzled still,
he turns to Lynne and Lynne pre-empts him: “Another Castlemaine?”
“Cheers Lynne. I’m lost with all this talking!” Lynne is slab-faced,
curt with strangers, she never meets their eyes, but because Paul
is a regular, she gives him her sweet and unexpected smile:

“It’s only talk. That’s two pound fifty please.”
Steve plays the exclamatory, flashing fruit machine,
he has backed off but Bruce won’t let it drop:
“As John says. It’s only a map with no real meaning
except for cunts like Steve who get things hopelessly wrong!”

Lynne glances at her watch then stares
through black-fringed eyes into unfathomable distances,
this is her job. The men are here through choice.
John drains his Stella, nods to Lynne and leaves
a ladybird alights on the pump for London Pride.

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