That flight of steps down to the bar is a cruel trick to play on an old man who’s had a few drinks.
One… two… three… he swings his leg for a moment before concluding that there is no fourth step, and then falls forward, planting himself at a steep angle against the counter.
He gurns at the woman behind the bar and lifts a finger.
“Are you sure, Patrick? Shall I call you a taxi instead?”
He blinks asymmetrically. “W… What time is it?”
“One more… usual.”
“I’ll call you a cab for nine, then, and you can have one more pint.”
He contorts to dip his hand into the pocket of his sagging jacket, and brings it up like a fairground claw crane, scattering coins across the varnished wood. “Zat enough?”
She scoots five pound coins towards him one after the other. “That’s for your taxi,” she says, “and this will pay for the pint.”
Time passes. He drinks some of his beer, and spills the rest. Every now and then, he jerks upright as if startled by something no-one else can see.
As 9pm approaches, he begins to calculate his chances of another drink. “I wouldn’t mind… How much is a bottle of wine to take home?”
Laughing, but firm: “You don’t need a bottle of wine. You need a good strong cup of tea.”
He gurns again. “What I need… is a good woman.”
Side-stepping, she replies: “Well, you won’t find one of those in this pub!”
“Whisky?” he says, with a hopeful lilt. He pushes some of the coins across the bar.
“That’s your taxi money, Pat.”
“Na na na na na na na,” he says, shaking his head, “Just take it.”
Somehow, he gets his whisky, and downs it as the door opens to let in a cold, watery wind. “Taxi for Pat?”
The barmaid comes out from behind the bar, puts an arm round Patrick’s waist and guides him across the floor, until a smile breaks across his face, and, before she knows it, they are dancing. He is leading, and his feet are as nimble as those of a 20-year-old.
Then the taxi driver cuts in and waltzes Patrick out into the night.
Even with several people still drinking, the pub suddenly feels quite empty.