Winning story 2015

Ruby’s Pub

By Sean Heasman, Riverdale Collegiate Institute, Toronto

The atmosphere was sombre inside Ruby’s Pub that night. People in black shuffled quietly from table to table, whispering conversation. Only gloomy artificial light illuminated the establishment as thick green curtains had been drawn over the windows, locking out the sun. A large white banner reading “Rest In Peace, Marty,” was hanging over the bar. No one knew whose idea it was to put that up, but most agreed it was tacky.

A large bar ran the length of the wall. All the stools were taken except for one at the far end. A jacket draped over the stool was clearly saving the spot. Immediately left of the jacket sat a blond man who rapidly tapped his fingers on the side of his stool. His face was worn and tired, and his suit dirty and cheap. It seemed he could use a shower.

“What’ll it be, Alex?”

The drumming immediately ceased when Alex looked up, slightly startled to see the bartender cleaning a dirty glass with an equally dirty rag. She was a large woman with small grey whiskers sprouting from her upper lip. Tonight she had traded her normal grimace for a crooked-toothed yet well-meaning grin.

Alex paused to organize his thoughts.

“Guinness,” he said. Then: “No… two. I’ll have two.”

“I thought your friend quit,” the bartender said, gesturing over to the jacket-covered stool.

“Shit—right,” said Alex, glancing to the seat next to him, “two Guinness and a cranberry juice, then.”

With an eye-roll, the bartender went off to fetch the drinks.

Shortly afterward, a man with dark red hair and a scruffy beard emerged from the bar’s despairing crowd. He picked up the worn jacket, swung it around his shoulders and sat down in one fluid motion.

“Hey,” he said with a nod towards Alex.

“Hey, Patrick,” Alex replied.

“Did you get drinks yet?” Patrick asked, hoping he wouldn’t have to wait long.

“Just did,” the blond man said.

“Thanks, Alex.”

After that they returned to silence. They stared at the wood bar while listening to the idle conversations and a large ticking clock on the back wall. The bartender returned with three large glasses, setting them down with a small splash. She quickly hurried off to take more orders.

Cradling the drinks for a moment, the pair lifted their glasses to the air. “To Marty!” they cheered before letting the liquid touch their lips, draining the glasses in one breath.

With a satisfied sigh the glasses clattered down to the bar. Suddenly Patrick began giggling to himself.

“What’s so funny?” Alex asked.

“It’s just,” Patrick paused a moment to wipe his eyes, and laughed even harder, “I fucking hated him so much.”

A blond head tilted and displayed an expression of shock to the giggling man. Without warning Alex then joined in and the two bereaved men rocked dangerously on their bar stools together, attracting many inquiring glances from those around them.

“I’m so glad someone finally said it,” Alex said when he finally calmed down, “I’ve been feeling guilty all day.”

“Guy was a total scumbag,” Patrick said with large grin.

“Thief.”

“Crook.”

“Asshole.”

“Three months—three damn months he lived me with me,” said Patrick, holding up a finger for each month, “and not once did he pay rent.”

“You think you have it bad,” Alex scoffed, “he was my brother. Where do you think he stayed when not with you? I couldn’t even say a thing about it or else our mother would kick my ass.” He cleared his throat, then began talking in a slow, high-pitched voice, “He is family. As his brother it’s your responsibility to look out for him when he needs it.”

Shaking his head, Alex chuckled, “But don’t ever say it should be her responsibility, too.” He put the voice on again: “I brought you boys into this world, looked after you till your adulthood. Least you could do is let me relax and help out a bit as I go on in years.”

“I remember one time,” Patrick began, “he stumbled into my apartment at three in the morning, drunk as a mall-Santa. Mumbling something about a great art project like an idiot. I ignored him and failed to notice the two large paint cans he was carrying. Where the hell do you even get paint cans that late? Anyway, I went to sleep, and when I woke up he had drenched my couch in paint. That dickhead looked so pleased with himself, right up until the moment I dumped the remaining paint on his head and kicked him out.”

“He borrowed my car to go shopping once,” Alex fired back excitedly. “When he got back with it, he tossed me the keys and thanked me. I asked if he remembered to put it in park. He assured me he did. Then I asked what I could see rolling down the street from my balcony. I had no idea he could move so fast.”

“One time I was making breakfast,“ Patrick said, his hands flying around dramatically as he spoke, “and he ran into the room looked me directly in the eyes and asked, ‘Do you know what happens when you put a beer bottle in the microwave?’ I told him I had no idea. He then said he was going to find out. Next thing I knew glass shrapnel was embedded in my arm, and half my kitchen was on fire.”

They continued exchanging stories, while Alex motioned for more drinks. A stillness settled over the pair, neither speaking. Cautiously Alex broke the silence, the humor lost from his voice.

“Uh, Patrick… did you know he had just sold his first painting?”

Patrick looked shocked, and quickly asked, “For how much?”

“About eight grand.”

“I’m not surprised—not in the slightest,” said Patrick. “Everyone knew he was talented. Only a matter of time till he became a success.”

Silence hung over the two, then Alex suddenly shouted, “Twenty-seven—too young.” He slammed his glass onto the bar, beer spilling—though neither noticed nor cared.

“Marty is the reason I’m dating Jessica,” Patrick admitted with a doleful grin. “I was always too chicken-shit to talk to her. So the ass tricked me. We went to a party together and Jessica was there. He kept trying to get me to talk to her. When that failed he asked if I wanted to smoke. I said yes, and when I stepped out the front door Jessica was there already smoking. Before I could react Marty slammed the door shut and locked it. When I was forced to talk with her, it went surprisingly well, and for some reason she agreed to do it again.”

“When the plant had all those layoffs I was one of the unlucky ones,” said Alex, wiping his eyes as he remembered the story, “I told Marty, and he just got this look in his eye, this self-assured determined look. He had just decided to do something, and not a damn thing would stop him. Marty spent the next two days on the phone, and before the week was out I had three job offers.”

“After I got in that wreck, Marty poured all my alcohol down the sink,” said Patrick, stirring his juice guiltily. “I smashed a bottle and held it at him—I was so mad I wanted to kill him. He didn’t even blink. What he did do—the bastard—was kick me right in the nuts. Took those big black boots he always wore and planted them right between my legs. Then he fetched me a glass of water, gave it to me right after I stopped rolling on the floor. For the next month I couldn’t get out of his sight. But it worked, I haven’t touched a drop of booze since.”

“I was bullied a lot in high school, and it made me hate myself for the longest time,” Alex admitted with a sniff. “Marty didn’t like that, so whenever he heard me say something mean about myself, he would draw a picture to prove me wrong. Say I’m weak—well Marty draws me as Superman, an ugly, highly detailed portrait. It helped a lot. I still have them, every last one.”

The bartender returned and placed fresh glasses in front of them. The glasses were quickly held high into the air.

“To Marty!” the two men shouted with proud smiles. The crowd cheered back, raising their own glasses.

“Kind.”

“Selfess.”

“Brilliant.”

“No matter how angry we’d get with him, he would never leave our side. And for that, we can’t be more grateful,” Alex shouted to the celebrating bar.

With a roar of Marty’s name the entire bar drained their glasses with watery eyes.