WINNER of the prize for NEW WRITER (THE WELKIN WRITING PRIZE 2023)
Chasing the Dark
by Glyn Matthews
The bolt draws back and I’m at the bar before Pat’s behind the pumps. He slides a Guinness in front of me and I’m sitting in my usual corner before the bubbles kiss the head.
“Thanks Pat. Slàinte.”
“You were not around yesterday,” he offers.
“No. I stopped off at Pretty Mary’s after visiting me mammy’s grave.”
“No, I thought I didn’t see you.”
The corner settle offers comfort and it’s Friday so it’s safer there. Above me in a faded picture on the wall a smiling farmer chews an ear of corn. God knows why the eejit’s smiling.
“Pat, what’s he smilin’ at?”
“Dat eejit in the mirror behind the bar.”
“Dat eejit. Him.” I indicate the kern with the cornstalk-smile.
“How d’hell should I know?”
“He’s gettin’ on me nerves, so he is.”
“Well, don’t look at him.”
“I will if I want to.”
“It’s up to you. You don’t have to drink in here at all.”
“I wouldn’t mind if I knew what he was smilin’ at.”
“Why not ask him?”
“You takin’ the piss?”
“Me? No, I’m far too polite to paying customers.”
“That’ll be the day.”
The ticking of the tap-room clock fills the space between our words and Pat finger-taps the bar.
On the hour a piercing whistle from the yards is followed by rolling waves of thunder striking hobnail sparks, despite the whetstone damp that licks the air. The door swings wide for heaving men whose gutter voices fill the bar.
Laughter soars in coughing clouds. Pat rolls his sleeve and pulls the pump. Creamy heads slop on the bar and Friday doubles chase the dark to the tune of anthems sung by angry men. I never sing these days. I’ve sung enough with unshaven ghosts, aged before their time, and I wonder why I’ve been spared so long.
Another Guinness fails to lift my mood.
Though no one wants to be the first to leave, Time won’t still its shifting feet and calls its name out loud, quells the banter, shifts the crowd. The tide retreats. Silence settles in the empty bar.
“Goodnight, Michael. See you tomorrow?”
Pat shoots the bolt behind me and the chime of empties follows me home like childhood memories of the Vesper bell.
Glyn Matthews is an ex-teacher of Expressive Arts, for many years a professional artist and more recently a writer with a passion for shorter written forms including poetry, flash fiction and short story.
There is a wonderfully authentic atmosphere to this piece and I love the tone of voice that comes through from that opening, staccato sentence. I often find there is a dearth of dialogue in flash fiction, so the spine of dialogue we have here stood out as something slighlty different, the sense of character and backstory in the silences. As with all good stories, I was left wanting to know more about the life of our narrator, but in a way that, rather than frustrating me, invited me to fill in those gaps.