Red Heart Inn.
'What will you have ?'
She asks catching sight of me in the mirrored gantry.
'A half pint of the local brew please ' nodding to the selection of Red Heart real ales.
'The Heart Burn, sounds good, I'll give that a try?'
Her hands shake as she places the glass on to the drip tray.
For a moment or two she stands hesitant, as if unable to work out what to do next.
A concentrated pull on the pump handle draws the amber liquid up from the depths of the cellar .
A slow trickle creeps up and over the measure spilling ale over the chromed mahogany bar.
'This will do for the moment thanks' I reply.
She wipes down the counter without another word as if the spillage was a regular occurrence and returns to gantry, adjusting shot glasses that clatter and skid through her slack fingers.
I watch her trembling profile in the mirror, still elegant, proud.
The passing years have been kind, her beauty slipping away with a slow graceful dignity.
Greying hair trained to fall over a faded scar that ran from ear to jowl.
I often thought why she never left the place...and him before it all happened.
All the signs were there, but they went unheeded.
The sarcasm, the put downs in public, useless bitch, all the verbal emotional barbs that pierced deep into her psyche.
'He's all right, it was all my fault' she would say, concealing a bruise or a cut lip with thick makeup.
' ...Caught my head on the cellar door changing barrels over...!'
' ...I cut my hand on a glass...!'
'...Fell down the steps...!'
Advice, warnings dismissed, stand by your man and all that she would say.
She had plenty of offers to take her away, I was just one of the many who loved her.
Maybe I should have been for more upfront, no more of the secret silent thoughts, just tell her... shout it out.
' Hey, leave him...leave this place and come away with me...?
'When...where to ? I imagined her reply.
' Let's run a cafe bar in Argentina, late night Tango... strong coffee, rich wine , steaks, medium rare ?
Or Zanzibar, on the beach...sharp gin, grilled fish,
I would have said had she asked me.
The night it happened was a step too far,a slap,then another hard, brutal slap across her face
I challenged him but was unprepared for the bottle that crashed over my head and the beating that followed.
They told me I had been unconscious for six days.
' How is she ?' I asked.
' She is OK...you saved her ...!'
Two weeks later I was discharged to drift for ten lost years.
She moved towards me as I approached the bar.
'Same again...?' she said this time with a knowing smile.
'I'll try the Broken Heart this time !'
'A nice choice, it's on the house...' she replied, looking me straight in the eyes.
Her slender hands never trembled once when drawing the amber liquid up from the depths of the cellar .
I wanted to say to her.
'Come with me to the Caribbean, we'll open a bar...black rum...calypso...jerk chicken...and...'
But I don't.