The text message hits after ten PM, but I answer it ’cause I’m still awake and ’cause that’s what I do. It says, pub?, and I’m all, hell yes, but instead I text back about putting on clothes, ’cause I’m in bed, in my pajamas, just futzing around on the internet, and the possibility of hitting the pub at this hour seems more attractive than continuing to write emails I don’t feel like writing anymore.
The pub isn’t really a pub at this hour of the evening. They’ve shut down the public bar, the outside areas. Reduced the venue down to the gambling lounge full of pokies, open ’til late for the folks who can’t stay away, but we ignore the rows of brightly coloured machines and make our beeline for the bar, ordering pints and taking them outside so you can smoke and I can sit there, watching the empty car-park that’s only really empty when we show up at this time of night.
It’s been, god, how long since the last time we hung out? I’ve been buried under an avalanche of work grief, my stress levels rising day by day, hour by fucking hour. I’ve hit the point where I get cranky when people ask for simple things. I’ve hit the point where I have a temper tantrum at work, and my boss takes me aside to have a chat about the way I’m choosing to cope.
We drink a pint of beer. We start to catch up.
And I think about the way I stopped drinking a few years back. Not really by intent, just by circumstance and poverty. I stopped hanging out with people for whom the pub felt like a good time, and I ceased to have the income to afford a night on the town. It occurs to me how much I missed, sitting at home like a hermit. How much I enjoy the rituals: Pints. Conversation. Cigarettes on the balcony. Going for another round, ’cause the alternatives going home and that’s really not that fun.
In a week…a month…where other people shit me, where I think I’m going to scream if one more person wants something from me, it feels good to hang out and bitch about the world. To drink beer and catch up on things and remember, shit, I still have friends. There are still people out there where I can be something close to myself.
There’s a woman working the graveyard shift who looks like she’d rather be anywhere else. When I go in to order a second pint, she asks me how my day has been.
“Yeah,” I tell her, “alright, I guess.”
For once, this isnt a complete goddamn lie. This realisation catches me a little unawares.
She pours me a beer. A pint of Carlton Draught. It’s coming up on midnight and I’ll pay for this tomorrow, trudging into work with far to little sleep under my belt, but right now I just don’t care because tonight is mine. It’s the one night, in a very long time, when I’ve shrugged off my work and claimed space for myself.
The gambling lounge is dim, except for the gold-coloured light from the machines. When we leave, the sound of bells and chimes follows us into the night.