The Substitute Prisoner

The beginning of another novel, which may or may not happen...


1. The encounter


I could tell he was drunk as soon as I saw him, his unfocussed eyes, the drawl as he spoke, and his singular inability to keep his elbow on the counter of the bar. I tried to ignore him, but he wasn't going to let me. Several attempts to start a conversation were false starts, mainly because he was convinced, as soon as he found out I was Irish, that I must be a member of the IRA, or at least on good terms with them. Being compared to murderous terrorists did nothing for my mood, so I was brushing him off with a little more coolness than I usually used when evading unwanted one-way English lessons. This obviously did not please him, so he soon started grumbling into his drink. The younger threesome in his company, who I would later determine were his daughter, her fiance and a friend, tried to recover the mood of the evening by engaging him in other conversation topics, but he was steadfast in his grumpiness.


Assuming he would leave it at that, I did my best to ignore him and watch the music performance playing on the television above the bar. When his party moved to leave, I maintained my gaze on the TV screen, not wanting to make eye contact with him in case it might trigger a restart of his previous belligerence, but could not help noticing that as the group stood up to go, there was some sort of a commotion starting. Looking to my right, I noticed he was trying to approach me, but was being held back by the future son in law. Pushing past this resistance, he managed to dump a plate of pickles he had been eating on top of the gratin that was my dinner. I figured that any reaction I could make would only exacerbate the situation, and since his two male companions were now holding him back and trying to calm him down, I maintained my disinterested visage, waiting for the problem to resolve itself.


However the next thing I know is that he has his hand on my shoulder and is now shouting in my face, so I turn towards him and try to push him back. In an instant, I am on the floor with him leaning over me, holding both my arms down. My threshold of self restraint having been exceeded substantially, I scream at the room in general to get him off me. The owner of the bar is by now behind him, helping the other two to pull him off me. This is quickly achieved, and the fiance remains to calm me down while the bar owner, daughter and friend man handle my attacker outside.  The fiance is enthusiastic in his apologies, and the bar staff help restore order, replacing those items that had been disturbed on the counter and refilling my beer, while promising to replace my dinner.


After a few minutes the owner returns and the apologies are profuse again. He tells me that the offender is the owner of another local bar, known to have problems with his temper when drunk. He retires to the kitchen to prepare my replacement dinner which I am no longer in the mood to eat, while I sit at the counter, seething into my beer which I am no longer in the mood to drink.


Knowing it would be pointless, and wrong, to blame the owner or take it out on him, I sit 

and listen as he resumes his apologies, peppered with anecdotes about the offender, and make a half-hearted effort to eat the gratain he has prepared. Once finished, I call for the check, and tell him I am too tired to enjoy his company this evening. He nods, and rushes to get my coat.


Once outside, having checked the road is clear of any potential ambush, I start walking home, and a mix of fear, anger and outrage boils over. I simultaneously start to cry, and scream at the sky. Not a bit sleepy, and still yearning alcohol to calm me down, I get a six pack at the convenience store and head home, to try and forget the evening entirely.


I woke around six, when the morning news show started. I had fallen asleep in front of the television, and I gazed hazily at the screen for a few seconds through the empty beer cans on the table in front of me, their outline blocking my view of the characters on the screen, so it was only when the announcer repeated the location that I realised the footage they were showing was of my home town, Kawagoe, shot from a helicopter. I sat upright, and gathered that there had been a fire at someone's house, and two people were apparently dead.



To be continued, once written...




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