The story begins . . .
No that's already a lie. Stories never begin. They start when the reader is given the privilege of joining the narrator's perspective. Okay, okay I'll stop philosophising. So where was I? Oh yes, the story begins . . .
. . . so where does it really begin? And why am I telling you this story? I have so many more exciting and interesting tales up my sleeve.
Like the one where I . . .
Or, the time I . . .
No. No. This is the episode I must tell you about. Why I don't know. Perhaps at its conclusion (is there one?) you and most importantly I will know the nature of my compulsion.
Okay. Here goes. Deep breath . . .
I'll cast my mind back to a cloudy day late in June. The weather reflected my mood. There was no rain yet but the suffocating clouds indicated that a storm was brewing. I trudged across the muddy oval, sodden earth squelching beneath my work boots. They offered little resistance to the elements and it wasn't long before my toes were involved in the sensation.
I glanced up and saw the team training by the goal posts. Brightly coloured jerseys, already displaying evidence of their enthusiasm. Heavily muscled biceps, triceps, quadriceps and hamstrings, labouriously lengthening and contracting in pursuit of a piece of pigskin. Sport. I snorted in disgust.
As I approached the clubhouse, my idle mind took me back to my heyday. The glory of my youth. Cliches aside, those were the days when real athletes were heroes. My own physique had not diminished, yet the strength that fuelled my boxing triumphs had long seeped from my flesh. Like a drain left unplugged, it has washed away. Desperately I searched, yet I couldn't find the plug.
I went round the back of the clubhouse to the storeroom. Discarding my filthy boots, and replacing them with tattered sandshoes, I collected my dustpan and broom. Tools of the trade. I added the Windex and a cloth that had seen better days to the collection before switching the light off. I was ready for work.
I unlocked the backdoor of the clubhouse, carefully pocketing the key and closed it behind me. I paused a moment, allowing the faint warmth of the establishment to wash over me. Scorning my indulgences, I set to work, scrubbing deeply ingrained dirt from surfaces that refused to yield them. I reflected momentarily on the heavy silence that enveloped me. Then again, it was early. After training the boys would file in, sprawl over the bar and call to me,
"Geoff, mate! Hey you missed a spot!" and "Where's your apron, old boy? Ha ha ha . . ."
They'd sink a few as they mulled over tactics for the impending encounter withe the fearsome rivals from the neighbouring suburb. And they called themselves sportsmen. I spit on a particularly resilient strain, rubbing it more in than out of the wood with gnarled fingers. I glanced at my reflection in the polished wood of the bar. I saw the same fingers curled into a fist, slamming heavily into an opponent. Knockout. The roar of the crowd.
"McIntyre! Daydreaming again, I see." I spun around, firmly back in the present.
"Mr Withers. I . . . I didn't hear you come in. I . . ."
"Obviously not." The bespectacled, owl like man shook his head in exasperation I gathered up my equipment and started polishing furiously.
"I'm . . . I'm sorry, Mr Withers . . . It won't happen again."
"No. No, it won't. It's happened one time too often already. We can't afford lazy employees. Finish up tonight."
"But . . . but . . ."
"Just get on with it!"
"All right you weedy twit of a man. If that's the way you want to play it . . ." I raged silently. I reflected on his slight build, contrasting almost comically with my own and reflected my rage at myself. Allowing that twit to intimidate me! Pah! I could never fathom his power over me; the way he humiliated me, publicly as well as privately, with the ease of one accustomed to authority.
"Right away, Mr Withers," I conceded aloud. In my haste to regain his favour, I tripped over a bar stool. I swore loudly.
"Mr McIntyre." Withers reprimanded me sharply, with the utmost politeness.
"We'll have none of that sort of language in a fine establishment such as this. It's just as well you've decided to leave us." This from a man not unaccustomed to a loose mouth or two, well before closing time.
"Very sorry, Mr Withers," I replied humbly, ignoring the pain that glowed in my stubbed toe. As I picked up my duster, the throng from the field burst in on the stifling tension that had collected in the room.
"Ya' gotta get those tackles right, Johno."
"Boy, what I'd give for a lager."
"Rob, you reek!" I shrank into a corner, dissolving into the woodwork, fearful of the stampede. My attempts at inconspicuously were quashed when an avalanche of sweat soaked jerseys were thrown my way.
"'ere Geoff, ang these up, would ya', there's a good lad." I was more than twice their age. Matches were struck bear was ordered; smoke and laughter rose like a cloud above the occupants of the room.
"C'mon Rogers, you've ad enough, closing time." Steve, the barman, warned good naturedly some time later.
"Out you go. Home to your missus." He sighed heavily as the last few punters were ushered outside and the door bolted behind them.
"Oi! Geoffie boy!" Steve summoned me from the niche were I had settled with a copy of last week's paper. I raised my head wearily. "Be a sport and finish up here. Gotta get back to the old lady. She'll have me guts if I don't get a move on. You know how it is . . ." Dejectedly, I surveyed the stack of dirty glasses and ashtrays overflowing with buds.
"Thanks mate," his retreating figure called over his shoulder as he scurried out the door. I didn't stir. I closed my eyes and sank into the ripped vinyl of the couch. Some time later, that hazy disconnected feeling that lingers after an unplanned nap clouded my thoughts. Clouded images from my nocturnal journeys remained, mingling with reality. The events of the evening evolving into a grotesque caricature of actuality. He's excusing himself before he drops his bombshell. That's what you must be thinking. Okay, okay, no more explanations, just the facts. I stretched lazily and roused myself from the vinyl seat with which I had become one. My bare legs stuck to it in that annoying way, imitation surfaces do after you have enjoyed their softness too long. I started to inhale deeply, remembered the stale atmosphere and thought better of it. Resignedly, I made my way towards the bar. I took a wet cloth and started to wipe it down. I winced as my hip collided with an object whose presence my memory rejected. The cash register. Open. Takings. Overflowing.Unemployment. The images numbed my brain. Steve had obviously neglected his duties in his haste for a night of passion. Suddenly rage ascended from the pit of my stomach where I had regularly deposited it for so many years. Steve wouldn't be chastised for his negligence. He was one of the boys. If I had been at fault . . . A wasted life of an old man . . . Once I had commanded respect, reverence and even a bit of admiration from the lassies. Now, I was the brunt of the jokes of the youth of today. Oh no. Just reading that fills me with disgust. Not only at what I have become, but the way I'm seeking your sympathy, pity. Don't indulge me. As the rage of the scorned elevated up my digestive tract, nausea swam inside my head. I retched, the contents of my stomach spilling onto the bar, I had so labouriously polished just hours before. I straightened up, wiped my dripping chin with my sleeve and in an unexplainable frenzy, grabbed fistful of the takings and jammed them into every available crevice of my clothing. When the tray was empty, I hesitated only momentarily before slamming the till shut, jumping as its ring resonated too long for my liking. I glanced about nervously, fearful of Steve's unexpected return or a situation too terrible to contemplate . . .
"Aha!" triumphant glee. Mr Withers' slight frame emerged from the shadows. His bird-like face covered in a thin film of oil. Gloating.
"I was right about you all along, Geoffrey. Tsk. Tsk . . ." A clap of thunder brought me back to reality. The entire establishment was momentarily illuminated. I unbolted the door and without a backward glance, scurried into the night. I stumbled over the threshold of my lodgings sometime later. I can't even recall how much time passed while I lumbered through the sheets of rain, beating down upon me, chastising me for my deceit. The camp bed creaked protestingly as I collapsed upon it in a crumpled heap. I awoke much later, the light of the crisp day flooding through the murky, uncurtained window, rousing me from my fitful slumber. I stacked one vertebra upon another and rose from the position I had slumped into. My back ached. The night's escapades suddenly flooded back to me. I couldn't contain my laughter. Not an amused contented chuckle, but a heartfelt stomach stirring chortle; the cackle of someone who is not playing with a full deck. I stopped myself mid guffaw, disgusted with myself. I extracted the entire collection of crumpled notes from my person and discarded them in an unruly pile on the grey blanket. I didn't bother tallying my loot. Instead, I hauled an ancient army bag from under a chest of draws and slung my belongings inside. When I was done, I surveyed the contents.
"You don't amount to much, do you old boy?" my voice quavered and finally broke on the last word. My cheeks felt wet.
"Pathetic old fool." I spat the words. You probably expect me to tell you that I left the money there, left the town and started a new life filled with warmhearted, good Samaritan spirit. Well, you're partly right. I did leave the town. I crammed the pile of notes on top of my belongings and struggled to close the zipper. I opened the front door and slung the bag over a disused but sturdy shoulder. I regarded my stripped one room abode for the last time and slammed the door behind me. No. It didn't work, I'm afraid. I'm none the wiser. Did I really think that my guilt and shame would be absolved just by telling you about it? Then I'd better add 'naive' to the list when describing myself next time. Hang on, perhaps I have learnt something. Hey, I think I was just privileged to a glimpse of enlightenment. You see, it was the power! No. Wait. Don't go back through my story searching for a clue. You won't find power there, not from my perspective, anyway. You see, years ago, I was the master, I had the power. It oozed from my pores wherever I went, whoever I was with. I miss it. Just then, in the bar, when everyone had left, I felt it again. Just briefly mind you, but I felt it all the same. It was delicious. At the time I didn't recognise it. I couldn't identify its warmth, its comfort. The sensation was so alien in my existence. Now I see it for what it was. What I was: its servant and we all know that power corrupts.
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