‘Miss Otis Regrets’
A Tale of Worton
Even from across the street I could see that the lone figure with his back to the window was Dan. Something about the way he was hunched double over the counter, his back to the glass and with no other customer in the bar somehow told me that it was him. Not only that but I didn’t know too many guys in our town who had long, untidy hair like that nor any who would gladly walk around in the dead of a February night in nothing but a t-shirt and skinny jeans. That hunched, miserable and lonely looking person had to be Dan for there was nobody else in all of the town it could be.
I pulled Doug’s sleeve, he hadn’t noticed or if he had he hadn’t seen that it was Dan, and pointed across the street. It took him a while of absently staring, watching the figure at the end of the counter as he shuffled in his seat and the creases of his t-shirt rumpled around the curve of his back, before he recognized the figure.
‘Shall we go see what’s up?’ I asked. I needn‘t have bothered asking because I knew what the answer would be. He was keen to get to the club but Dan was his friend and he couldn’t exactly let him sit all alone in some dive of a modernist bar. He would always want to go see what was wrong. With little reluctance and no words, nothing but a nod, Doug therefore agreed and he was ahead of me crossing the street. He didn’t even look, he never looked, but at that time of night there wouldn’t be any traffic so it didn’t matter.
I didn’t much like the place from the minute Doug held the door open for me. It was too modern, not cosy or comfortable enough. It was a place for drinking, a place for getting as much alcohol into people as possible before they hit the clubs further down the street. If I want a drink I want somewhere that hasn’t been decorated in two hundred years and not somewhere like this that was half glass and half undecorated walls of a pale yellow. I don’t like loud music being piped over me either and this music was enough to drive anyone to drink- Miss Otis Regrets, an old favourite of my Grampy that I had never cared for and a song so slow and melancholy it is as if it was written specifically for drowning your sorrows.
Seating ourselves just around the corner of the counter he didn’t even look up to see who we were. He continued in his hunched double position and now that I was on the other side of him I could see that between his hands he clutched a tumbler of some kind of clear alcohol. Mother’s ruin? Aye… Judging by the uneaten lime that lay on the bar beside his left hand I would have said that it was. The barman, who wore all white, was packing glasses under the bar from a crate and he gave us a nod. He didn’t care that Doug had taken a cigarette from his pocket and was busy lighting it.
‘I’ll have a slapper,’ I said to the barman, at the same time giving Doug the side eye for lighting up. He wasn’t a smoker but he kept a packet of cigarettes in the pocket of his jacket and every so often, when he thought he could get away with it, he would take one out for a reason I never fully got to the bottom of. I hated that he did it and wished that he wouldn’t.
‘Do you have to?’ Dan hadn’t even looked up but the tone of his voice told us that he knew who we were.
‘Have to what?’ Doug protested. The barman was looking at him to see what he wanted. ‘I’ll have a slapper she’s hysterical,’ he ordered before Dan answered.
‘Do you have to come in here and order two slappers? It reminds me too much of you know who…’
‘Ah. So this is about your ex-girlfriend,’ Doug intoned. I was thinking the same thing. I offered some words of comfort.
‘Dan… Give it time. You’ll find someone else…’ Dan finally looked up from his ruin.
‘I know that… And I wasn’t thinking about that anyway. At least I wasn’t until you two came along.’ He went back down.
‘So why are you drowning your sorrows?’
Our cocktails arrived, two of the local Bloody Maria variations commonly referred to as slappers, one made with strawberry and the other with raspberry and an extra shot of vodka and Worcester sauce. It seemed a bit weird to me, drinking extravagant cocktails like this when we had only come in to find out what was up with Dan, but they were the cheapest thing on the menu.
‘If you aren’t drowning your sorrows what are you doing?’ I asked Dan as I held a note out to the barman. Dan shrugged.
‘Sitting here… Drinking…’
‘In other words drowning your sorrows,’ Doug pointed out.
‘Alright if you insist,’ Dan snatched.
‘So why are you drowning your sorrows then?’ I pushed. He sighed and stared into his glass before taking a big swig. I watched with worry and stirred the little stick that came with it around the inside of my slapper.
‘I saw a man get killed tonight,’ he admitted. ‘I saw him literally get ripped to pieces right in front of me…’ That seemed like a good enough reason to drown your sorrows.
‘No wonder you’re on Mother’s ruin,’ Doug said quietly.
‘Only because I drank the last of the whiskey.’
‘Was there not anything you could do to stop it?’ The look on his face told me there wasn’t. I wanted to reach over and give his arm a comforting squeeze but I was too far away and on the wrong side of Doug to do such a thing.
‘Who was it?’ Doug asked out of curiosity.
‘Doctor Stephen Seville!’ I pulled a funny face.
‘Wasn’t he the guy you were going to see at the plaza?’
‘He wasn’t ripped apart on stage was he?’ I worried, thinking the image a particularly horrible one.
‘Nah. This was in the car park afterwards. A certain person wanted to speak to him about something in the lecture and chased him out there… Then they came out of nowhere and got him. I didn’t count them but there were a fair few.’
‘Are the others ok?’ I felt the need to ask.
‘They’re ok. I think. Joe went home and Will… Well I’ve no idea where Will went. Off somewhere to think probably.’ Doug and I stole a glance, both suspecting that there was more to this story than Dan was telling us but we didn’t pry for the moment. We just both looked down into our cocktails in the same way as Dan was doing into his Mother’s ruin.
‘How did we let the world get into such a state?’ Dan mourned. ‘How did we let it get to a point where an innocent man can be torn apart by… by things in the middle of a theatre car park?’
‘It’s not like we haven’t been trying to stop it going downhill mate,’ Doug pointed out.
‘It just goes to show then doesn’t it… We aren’t doing any good!’ That was the drink talking. Dan was never usually that pessimistic.
‘Don’t say that,’ I said. ‘We’ll make it through alright in the end. I don’t know how… But we will.’ Dan snorted with derision.
‘Try telling that to Doctor Seville… Or what’s left of him.’ He downed his ruin and declared to the barman that he wanted another.
‘I’ll pay,’ I sighed, reaching into my pocket and pulling out another note. Seeing now the state that Dan was in I knew this was going to be a long night and there wasn’t a great deal of chance that Doug and I would get to the club before they stopped letting people in. Our friend needed us.
And there we sat, we three, with the barman packing his glasses under the counter and the penultimate bars of Miss Otis Regrets fading away into the ether. The cigarette smouldered in between Doug’s fingers and Dan remained hunched double over his Mother’s ruin. There for the next few hours, we remained, being to someone looking in through the glass exactly as we were; three people brooding on the state of the world.
If you liked this story then there’s plenty more to sink your teeth into- All three characters (Doug, Dan & Amanda) feature heavily in my ‘Dark Legend’ series which you can download now from Amazon.
If you wouldn’t mind sharing this around as well I’d be really grateful, eternally grateful. Thank you.