by: CJ Fogarty
The flight from New York to England was remarkably short. I mean, sure, I ought to have expected flight technology would have advanced from 2012, but good God! Just four hours across the whole Atlantic Ocean, in a chrome jet! Makes me glad that we’re going to London to find Rich based on a 34% probability and a hunch. It was funny, first getting on the plane though. You had businessmen in their suits, old couples in their youthful-looking thin sweaters, or tourist families with their bright-colored shirts. And then, there’s Miri in her rebellious leather, studs, and dyed hair, and me with my menacing trench coat and the wide hat. It’s good to see some people are still caught up in the latest fashions. I never was, and clothing is one area in which I don’t mind looking old.
Getting off, we hail a cabby and I tell him to proceed to the 39 Whitmore Abbey. The Brown Bess Tavern had this sort of odd attraction to Rich, as it had for a couple hundred years. I don’t ever remember the pub itself being anything special, but I think Rich told me this was the place where he and his army buddies would meet all the time in order to unwind. Now, given our lifespans, when he says, “army buddies”, he could mean 18th century redcoats or WWII special forces operatives, and I’d never get a definite answer. Either way, this was his regular place as London was his favorite city, ever since he’d started identifying being a tried-and-true Englishman. I must admit myself, even identifying as an American from the year 1790 onward, that London always had an attraction for me as well. London is truly one of those cities I’ll never grow tired of, at least I don’t think I ever will. It’s not a flashy, sunny, pretty tourist town, nor does it usually tend to cater to the artsy photographers or painters or, dare I say, gourmet chefs. But, this city was the center of the world, still is in its own way as I knew it, and it was the power that fueled the lights of Earth from from Ontario to Shanghai.
I always marveled at the sheer history of Britain and the homely pride with which its people embraced it. Make no mistake, though, I’ve had my long share of grief with the British Empire (if one can still call it that anymore), and identifying as both Irish in the past and American presently means there’s plenty of rivalry and pride I’ve had to contend with on my end. Still, it’s good to see that the place hasn’t changed too much, even though I look out my window and see people having holographic video conversations on their phones and I look to the front and remember that our cabby is an android. So much for the memorable dialogue once shared with cabbies as part of the human experience.
The cab pulls up an antiquated pub at the ground level of a building which, itself, was at the ground level of London’s first story. Do excuse my mood earlier, but I really only get excited like this when I’m in London, hmph, and seeing the bored patrons inside the Brown Bess right now, I’d say my excitement would seem to be a little out of place. I was happy to see that the place had been kept up and largely unchanged, with its carved but not overly-ornate outer walls unaltered and, “Brown Bess”, reading across the top in gold.
I check my pocket watch and, finding its 5:30, reassure myself that the chances are high that Rich will be drunk. Anytime after five’o’clock is fair game. Then again, if there was ever an American saying Rich ever took to, it would be, “it’s always five o’clock somewhere.”
Whilst walking in, Miri asks, “So, what’s so special about this place? This doesn’t seem to have as much bravado or elements of risqué.”
Then she looks at me and, with a shrug and some sarcasm.
”I mean, given I found you in a seedy jazz club.”
‘Well”, I reply, truthfully, “I guess he likes this place because he can get drunk, as he likes to, but, normally he gets, uh, a little unpleasant. But here-”
“More than you do?”, Miri interrupts, in a tone half-joking, half-remembering.
“Yes, more than I do”, I reply firmly, “Look, Miri I’m not going to lie, when Rich gets too drunk, he gets a little funny, but sometimes real violent. I told you drinking’s his vice, and I’ve known him to do some pretty regrettable things during those moments. But, for some reason, when he comes here to the Brown Bess, he’s calm, complacent, and largely in control, even when dead drunk. I could never understand it, but regardless, whenever he feels like he needs to drink and not go crazy, he comes here.”
“Hm”, Miri replies, “Well, it’s a good thing the place is still in business.”
“But, what if he isn’t here?”
“I think he will be, but I’ve got others on my list. Like I said, this was a first hunch.”
We pass by a pair of smoking gentlemen in heavy coats and flat caps. Their dress makes me realize that I’d forgotten how cold England gets near the beginning of September and the stifling cigar smoke makes me realize I’d been unaccustomed to London air for a while.
The pub itself still has that mellow lighting and atmosphere I’d remembered. It’s not the Alley Cat to be sure, but a calmer place to sit down and have a drink is fine too Looking around I find mainly old people populating the bar and booths. There’s one man with long, grey hair in the corner booth, drolling away at his three friends, two men and a woman. They could be listening, but it’s unlikely. Another older couple are sitting across from each other a few booths over, their hands held visibly on the table. Another group of three, two women and one, heavier man, all middle-aged, are sitting at the bar watching the soccer game on a flat TV, the bartender doing the same as he cleans out the pint glasses.
As I stare into their faces, I wonder how they would have looked in their younger years. Maybe I’d have recognized them if fifty years of life hadn’t written its mark on every face there. These were youths who, maybe only a short time ago, they’d be walking the streets with their friends and young lovers, never knowing a day when they’d be content just sitting down, because that’s all they’d feel like doing. Normally, I’m able to view this transition of generations slowly and, in some cases, along with them. But now……
Still, the subtle things about them remind me that I once knew these people, in a way. The old man in the corner is talking to three friends who each pull out smart phones at regular intervals, the woman using her’s as a mirror to fix her curly, white hair. The people at the bar ask the bartender to rewind and freeze the television screen, which he quickly does with precision. Additionally, the old couple holding hands and looking fondly at each other are both men.
“Do you feel a certain connection with them?”, Miri inquires, somehow knowing what I’m thinking as she gestures to the crowd gathered in the pub.
“That sounds like a legitimate scientific inquiry. I thought you didn’t believe my story”, I reply, with a strange drawl on my words that came out of nowhere.
“Well”, she replies matter-of-factly,”this is true. But, you might as well continue to humor me. What is aging like for you? Do you physically or even mentally change at all?”
“Huh, ain’t that a question I wish I knew the answer to”, I reply, ”But, it goes something like this: see, Rich and I actually do age physically, but it’s a a much slower rate. We can’t predict this rate except that it is far longer than another human and it been increasing as the centuries go on. Thus, our bodies, uh, and to a certain degree our manner of thinking, do reflect the passage of time, but, well, say that every two years a normal human ages, we age only one year, or less.”
I look into her eyes to see any proof of disbelief or confusion. I find nothing but a steady look of inquiry.
Yeah, I’ll humor you alright.
I continue with an example, “So, for instance, we went from the rise and fall of Rome, and to look at us, we’d be aged at about sixty-six when, actually, it was closer to 950. So, we figured that every year was like two weeks of aging for us. Meanwhile, the last time we woke up, in 2000, we, outwardly, aged twelve years to be in our late thirties. Believe me Miri if it sounds crazy or hard to understand, I assure you, it is.”
It’s why Rich turns to alcohol, I state silently to myself, and I, well, I’ll tell you later. Maybe Miri actually ponders these results and I return to scanning the room for Rich.
Looking back at the bar to the right of the group watching the game, I find that Rich isn’t hard to pick out. Not just because he’s the youngest person in the Brown Bess or because he’s the only one dressed in a big trench coat and hat, like I am. He’s also passed out, not for too long I hope, with his head right on the bar and a shot in his right hand, clutching it as though he’ll come back to it after a little nap. Such was his habit on many occasions, actually. I look toward Miri and find her standing in hesitation. I hadn’t realize until now that the elderly patrons are giving us, mainly her, glancing looks, some less than friendly, but most of them, I think, find us funny-looking, given their faces. Those that look up from their smart phones that is. Still, these folks definitely aren’t the generation of the elderly I remember, even if they still kinda dress like them.
I decide to hold up my hand to Miri, telling her that I’ll take care of this. I approach the bar and sit on the stool on Rich’s left.
The bartender, a grey-haired gentleman who would look like he’s past retirement, if not for his smile and lively English voice saying, “You two blokes part of the same social club?”
I laugh back because, in a way, we are.
“No, just have similar taste in fashion”, I reply, my American accent sounding a little strange in the air, “and I’m just here to pick this fella up, I don’t need anything. Thanks for tolerating him, though.”
When you spend enough centuries with a man, he becomes a little brother to you. And, yes, that means sibling rivalry between grown men who are over thousands of years old. It keeps us occupied at times. I mean, we actually met trying to kill each other. But, that’s a different story.
“Actually, he was jabbing up a storm a while ago.”, the bartender replies.
“Yeah”, replies the heavyset patron down from me, “For a lad for sure.I can’t remember the last time someone interestin’ popped in here.”
I smile. When Rich isn’t a violent drunk, he is funny. I look back at Miri, who is leaning against the wall with her arms folded, which I think I’ll call her pose from now on. Those stormy grey eyes are fixed on the two of us, and I’m not reckoning to keep her waiting.
I put my arm around Rich’s shoulder, in a comforting familiarity, for both of us I figure, and that causes the wasted figure to stir and raise his head. Rich’s head was always a little smaller than mine, along with his entire body really. But, what I had in size, he had in speed, remarkable speed and agility. It made us complementary really. Looking at his face, it’s paler than I remember but the brown goatee and short, brown hair are all still there. His blue eyes blink a few times to get used to the light. I guess I shouldn’t have harbored the faint notion that he’d be surprised to see me, because his first reaction upon making me out is a solemn grunt as his eyes move back down to the table in resignation.
At this, he notices his still-full shot, drinks it down, and then, setting it on the table, he lowly says, “So what the fuck are you doing here. Come to join me in drowning you’re sorrows.
“Nice to see you’re keeping a cheery complexion, old boy.”, I reply with a friendly, yet cautious smile.
I dunno what sets Rich off sometimes, but some word or sight can be familiar. When that happens, well it’s a pretty bad night.
A slap on the shoulder from Rich brings me back to the bar.
“Walter, get this guy a fucking pint”, Rich says to the old bartender who looks up inquisitively from cleaning out his glass, “don’t worry, he can handle it. It’ll be a better start from the brewed piss you Yankees call beer.”
This last comments garners a round of laughter from the old-folks around us as Walter places an overflowing glass pint in from of me. I figure it’s about time for a drink but as I go to sip, Miri apparently figures is about time for an intervention.
“No way, man, I had to deal with you drunk already”, I hear Miri say after I find her on my left side with a gloved hand on my wrist. She gestures to Rich then and, sternly, “as for him, we’ve found him and now he’s gotta sleep it off just like you. So, let’s be off with our friend before he causes any trouble or I lose patience. Got it?”
I go to respond but the patron heavyset patron to my left does so for me.Leaning back in his chair, after a flirtatious whistle and drunken drawl, he states, “Americans got piss beer, but golden lassies, that’s what. Especially with them tight knickers these cyberpunks are wearin’ ”
After fatally ogling Miri’s backside, he offers, playfully, ”Say, lassie, you looking for bit o’ fun tonight? I’m really into the whole rebellious image. It’s quite a turn-on”.
No sooner do those stormy eyes move from me to him that, like lightning bolt, her hand snatches up my beer which ends up covering the older man. The beer appears to seep right through his thin sweater, revealing the chubby interior the sweater was meant to hide. Aside from his face being contorted in shock and embrassment, the faces around us are contorted into snickers and smiles, from the droning man taking a pause to laugh loudly and the bartender smirking under his grey mustache, shaking his head as he cleans another glass.
Miri meanwhile, hands on her hips and a big smile, faces the drenched man with, “Gee, that was pretty fun. Thank you I needed that.”
This induces a new round of laughter.
Miri turns to Rich, “I’ll keep this short, you either leave with us freely or forcibly, dry or wet. Your choice R.S.”
Rich looks through his drunken eyes at her and then at me, saying, “Where’d ya pick up this gentlelady?”
“It’s kinda the other way around”, I reply earnestly. Then, gesturing to the door, “come on, I’ll fill you in later.”
Rich holds up a finger and, removing a little gold chip, from his pocket, crowns I believe they’re called in the UK whereas credits are in America, and drops them on the bar.
Oh shit, for whatever reason, I don’t know why, him laying money on the table just reminds me of something. The Alley Cat Club. I suddenly remember the last night I was there when Miri picked me up and got me back into this crazy show, I don’t remember paying for anything. I had run out of the credits I had managed to find probably hours beforehand, and usually I see guys who don’t pay get thrown out by some pretty huge bouncers, even for me. Was-was Iris letting me drink for free? Why am I suddenly thinking of her all of the sudden? Once again, though, Rich brings me back to the bar.
“Walter”, Rich inquires loudly, “I do hope this covers everything! Keep the bloody change!”
Coming forward and gathering the crowns, Walter replies, “This just about covers it with enough for the tip jar”. Then, his lips and brown eyes turned to a smile, pats Rich on the shoulder and, “thanks for making this place interesting for once. Best of British to you.”
As we all turn to leave, I find the faces of the people, even the heavyset man covered in beer, turned back to their business, focusing immediately back to their own concerns in their own worlds as if nothing abnormal had happened.
But, as we reach the door, Rich suddenly turns around, pleading and pointing, “Wait, wait just a spell! Duke, look at the T.V., can you guess who they are?”
The soccer, or football game rather, has reached halftime and the camera is zoomed in on a well-dressed old couple is a loge above the stadium. The man wears a three-piece black suit with a silken vest and a pleasant smile, his strong-jawed face turning left and right with his small brown eyes underneath a head of short, white hair. His wife is dressed all in gold with her long, white hair dressed in a bun and set under a wide, floral hat, underneath which her dark brown eyes smile along with her lips as she moves her hand with that famous turn of the wrist. To answer Rich’s question, I have to stare at them for a moment to figure it out. But, with their celebrity smiles, high fashion, and their joyful, yet cultured expressions on camera, I am stunned by a revelation.
My reaction must have been noticeable, because Rich starts chuckling and then, “remember when I called you on the night of that wedding and all you could talk about was how ridiculous, how pompous, those two were? That was nearly fifty years ago. Well, you’d be surprised what those “celebrity royals”, ended up leading this kingdom through, mate.”
I look into the pub and see all the eyes suddenly taken away from what they were doing and all looking in the same place, at the regal couple waving back to them. This, I think to myself, after so many years, this tradition, this royal office, for no other purpose than said tradition, is held dear in the hearts of even these people who, fifty years younger, I knew to scoff at the appearance of old Elizabeth II on T.V. Maybe, just maybe, William and Kate, for all their pomp and flash, were people whom this generation could grow up to truly respect, because they were new and young, no matter their temperament or….fashion sense.
“God save William V and God bless Queen Catherine”, someone shouts.
“God save the King and Queen”, everyone relies firmly, Rich being the loudest voice.
We come out the door and find that Miri has already hailed a cab. We all sit in back, Rich on the left, Miri on the right and I in the middle.
As the cab gets moving, Rich leans his head back on the leather seat and closes his eyes at intervals. I look back at Miri, her short, white hair luminescent in the dark of the cab with the lights outside. Her head is down, but I perceive a smile cross her lips, almost to say in relief, I think, “Now I’ve found both of them.” She then opens the window, and not bothering to ask the driver, lights a cigarette. But, as I look closer at the apparently mechanical driver, I guess he won’t mind.
I turn back to Rich and find him staring out the window. I lean my head back, place my hands behind my head and reply, “Here we go again.”