Always Wet

by Daniel Gabriel

After the thirty-third week in a row, Margo, the part-time girl, told Gerry that she wouldn't work Tuesdays any more on account of the boredom.

-- Boredom, is it? said Gerry. --And with the darts matches on and all. I should have thought it'd be anything but. He drained off his whiskey with a smack of the lips and leaned up close to Margo's sweater. --You can tell old Gerry, girl. Lads a bit too free, is it? Visiting teams taking the piss?

Margo blushed in spite of herself and tucked her arms firmly across her chest.

-- Can't say as I blame them none. Hard to ignore the ...

-- Never you mind about that. ----It's not the lads at all. It's Morris.

-- Morris? Our Morris what comes in of a Tuesday?

-- Haven't I just said so? said Margo with a bit of heat. --I can handle any fifty gaping lads. And you too for that matter, Mr. Gerry Culhane. She shook his hand off her shoulder.

-- But whatever can old Morris be about? He has his pints all quiet and tidy, over on the lounge side. Don't mix with the darts folk at all.

-- I know, said Margo. --That's just it. He don't mix. He's too bloody boring.

-- But many's the time I've come in and seen him chatting away to you, free as you please.

-- Have you never listened in?

-- Well, I ... It don't do, now do it?

-- Don't it then? Margo put one hand on her hip and the other in the air, pointing a painted nail at a certain well-used stool. --You seem to have no trouble lurking about when it's my Derek on the other side of the bar.

-- Lurking? Who you calling lurking? I bloody well owns this place, I do and----

And on it went. Gerry, for all that he was the owner of The Tinker's Dam, liked a spirited wench, particularly behind his bar. Perhaps it went with being an Irishman in Wales. Margo, for her part, respected having a boss she could tell to go shag himself without losing her job. There were other pubs in the Vale, of course, and other wenches as well. But neither side of the argument fancied looking them over. After a bit of stuff and nonsense, Gerry's residual charm had its way and Margo agreed to work another Tuesday provided Gerry considered her plea.

Tuesday came, and with it a fine drizzle. The darts team stamped in shouting at seven and for half an hour both Gerry and Margo pulled pints as fast as the beer would flow. No sooner were the lads tucked in to their game than the front door opened and around to the side of the lounge came a thin, dour figure smoothing at his moustache. It was Morris, wearing his grey pullover vest and an old school tie knotted just so on his chicken skin neck. He walked to the far end of the bar, took up his spot next the passageway and ordered a pint of Welsh Bitter.

Margo pulled it.

-- Whoo, said Morris, affecting a shudder. --Spot of weather out, isn't it?

Margo said it was. She served up his pint.

-- Still, he said, --Always wet this time of year. He handed over the coins and his moustache twitched. --Better bite `em to see they're real. Margo rang up the sale but before she could turn away, Morris said, --Been up to much lately?

-- No. Margo maintained a fixed smile. --Just watching telly.

There was a brief flurry of buying on the bar side and Margo joined Gerry in serving. --That didn't sound so bad, said Gerry out of the side of his mouth.

-- He's not half-started yet, hissed Margo.

-- You're altogether too high strung, lass. Gerry eased his belly appreciatively past Margo's hips and stood watching the play of the darts. Margo clung to the lager spigot like it was the last pair of shoes on bargain offer, but out of the corner of her eye she saw Morris finish his drink, smooth again at his moustache and wait for service. Stalling, she delivered out nuts and cigars to an old gent on the visiting team. Then Evan Evans threw two treble twenties and a double ten to win and Gerry sent Margo over to the lounge to fetch the Jameson's.

There was a young couple back in the corner doing things with their hands and two commercial travellers huddled near the fire, but otherwise the lounge held only Morris. He brightened when he saw Margo. --Spot of weather out, isn't it?

-- Welsh again? said Margo, stretching high to reach the Jameson's.

-- Please, said Morris, with a downward glance at her thigh. --Still. Always wet this time of year.

Margo bent down and rearranged her dress. She began to pull the beer.

Morris ran a finger along the underside of his moustache. --Been watching a lot of telly then, have you?

Margo nodded, willing the beer to pour faster.

-- Still, with this weather, it's not so bad, telly.

Margo made an involuntary noise in her throat and hoped it sounded agreeable. She handed across the beer and waited for the coins.

-- Better bite `em to see they're real, said Morris.

Margo fled, running the length of the connected bars to wait on Fat Howell, who was shouting and pounding the bar over his singles victory. Gerry served the losers and then Margo took the next in line, who ordered two bottles of Forest Brown ale, which sent her back across to the lounge side.

-- Over and back, over and back, said Morris. --Like a bloody tennis ball.

Margo bent for the bottles.

-- If this weather keeps up, you'll be wishing you was a tennis ball, eh? Ha-ha-ha.

-- Got a customer, said Margo, backing away.

-- Still. Always wet this time of year.

After that, Margo fought to serve the darts players: waiting at their elbows, cheering on the play, bustling about straightening chairs and ash trays until Fat Howell complained of fussiness. Morris had a third pint--Gerry serving this time--and then tottered off satisfied, with a final comment to Margo not to watch too much telly. Better try tennis, he said.

Wednesday was Margo's night off and young Tony had a long-standing date for the Vicious Piddlers concert, so Gerry was alone when the Penhryn crowd came in and didn't immediately notice the stocky, elephant-eared chap who trailed into the pub in their wake. When all the Penhryn lot had at last quit scuffling over who was to buy for the evening (Gerry understood that the result had something to do with performances of certain key stocks) and settled into their favourite chairs, there he was, waggling his great elephant ears; standing alone and beaming at the end of the bar, just next the passageway.

-- Good evening, sir, said Gerry, who could tell a man of substance. --May I proffer you beverage?

The man gave a rising hum from the back of his throat and nodded his head at the pump handle of the traditional ale.

-- Pull handle job, is it? said Gerry. --A man who knows his beer.

The man made a low sound through his nose and said quickly, --Will you be having one then?

Gerry allowed as he would and thanks very much. When he'd poured out two pints they raised and toasted, Gerry saying Cheers and the stocky gent clearing his throat. Gerry had been in the midst of a stock-up, but he knew the form. When the customer bought for the publican, the publican chatted up the customer.

-- Live round here, do you? he said.

-- Hmph, said the gent, wiggling his head. His ears flapped forward and back.

-- Nice place, the Vale. Gerry was fishing for topics.

The stranger hummed. Gerry swigged deeply at his beer--and then, suddenly, he knew the man. It was Clive Beaumaris. He was a legend in the Vale, at least among the publicans. Gerry'd heard of him at the annual do, on the bus back home from the races. --Been through every pub `twixt Cowbridge and Llantwit, said a man from St. Donats. --Him and his diabolical humming.

-- Most boring man in the world, said another.

It was said that disaster followed any pub adopted by Clive Beaumaris. Regulars dropped off. Barmen quit. --Like a great bloody scourge, he is, said the older ones. --Drove poor Hiscock over the bridge. To Somerset, if you can imagine. What brought him, none could say, but once he set foot in your door he was there for a year and a day. Wednesdays, always.

All this came back to Gerry in the length of a swig and the bitter turned sour in his throat. Clive Beaumaris hummed some more, intermittently and arhythmically, as if he were just on the verge of beginning a sentence. Twice Gerry half-turned to check the customers in the public bar and both times the stocky gent's hums altered pitch, calling him back to attention.

Gerry swigged and smiled. Clive Beaumaris stood at an angle, hands in pockets, humming and rocking on his feet. Gerry smiled again. A moment later he caught himself humming. With a quick, nervous laugh he downed the last of his beer, said thanks again and bounced off to refill the glasses of two labourers extinguishing their cigarettes on the wooden surface of the bar.

When he came back across to the lounge, one of the Penhryn chaps was waiting on a second round with Clive Beaumaris humming and nodding fiercely into his face.

This was repeated two weeks running and by the third Wednesday of the Beaumaris visitation the Penhryn crowd had taken to downing one quick round and departing. The take that night was abysmal.

The following night Margo cornered Gerry just before opening. --I must get off the Tuesdays, she said. --I'm going mad with that Morris.

-- Whatever do you want from me? said Gerry. --Am I to throw the man out?

-- Get somebody else to work it. Young Tony or ... or Gwyneth even.

-- Gwyneth Thomas, running a bar? You must be mad.

-- I must be, to carry on with that lump of lead. I can't bear the sight of him. He must be the most boring man in the world. Margo ripped open a new box of peanut packets and jammed the bags onto the holder.

Gerry's mouth was already open, shaping a retort, when Margo's last sentence replayed itself in his mind. Most boring, indeed. Could there be a pretender to the crown? He thought of Clive Beaumaris and the Wednesday pall. Here, he thought to himself, was a chance to teach Margo a lesson.

-- Right then, he said. --I'll get young Tony on the Tuesdays. You do Wednesday.

Margo had started off to stock up, but now she stopped, turned in her tracks and gaped. --You mean that, Gerry? No more Morris and his blather? I can have the Wednesdays?

-- Well, said Gerry, looking as modest as he dared. --You are a fine bit of a barmaid, you are. And after all----

Whatever came after all was never said. Margo's lips engulfed Gerry's, leaving him with the faint taste of cherries in his mouth and a brief stirring in his pants.

The following Tuesday at half past seven the door opened, splattering drops of rain as it shut, and around to the side of the lounge came Morris, wearing his grey pullover vest and a necktie knotted with care. Gerry shoved young Tony his way.

-- Whoo, said Morris. --Spot of weather we're having, isn't it?

Young Tony agreed.

-- Pint of Welsh, said Morris and then, --Where's our young lady at?

-- On Wednesdays, she is, mumbled Tony. He blew his nose into a paper towel and bent to pull the beer.

-- Oh. A frown line appeared on Morris' brow. --Been watching a lot of telly, she had. Told me so. Tony offered up the beer and Morris slid across the coins.

-- Better bite `em to see they're real. He smoothed jauntily at his moustache.

Gerry snuck over to the lounge to build up the fire but Morris caught him on the way back. --What's this about our Margo? said Morris. --On Wednesdays now?

-- That's right. Don't worry. Young Tony'll see you right.

-- Hmph, yes. I suppose so. Still ... he said to Gerry's retreating back, --it's always wet this time of year, Tuesdays or no.

On Wednesday Margo bounced in with a new hairdo and a sleeveless leather jerkin. Gerry kept her bending over stocking shelves for the first half hour hoping the leather would stretch, but when he heard a low harrumph from the lounge bar he offered to finish up himself.

Margo straightened up, blowing stray bits of hair off her face, and took the two steps down to the other bar with a happy flourish. --Good evening, sir. ----Can I help you?

A quick treble of throat noises escaped at the moment of Margo's appearance and then Gerry heard the sounds of the pump handle working.

-- Lovely night, what? said Margo.

-- Will you be having one? The voice was quick and guttural, as if the vocal cords were unused to shaping words.

-- Don't mind if I do. ----Cheers. Fat Howell came in on the bar side with two of his mates and Gerry turned to, supplying beer and peanuts, two pasties each, then more beer; and it was twenty minutes before he had time to think about Margo and the stocky gent with the elephant ears. He peeked around the corner of the bar where it met the lounge and there was Margo, white-faced and nodding. Clive Beaumaris stood rocking back and forth in counter-time to his hum, with his hand on a full pint glass and his eyes reflectively on Margo's bosom.

The next week was even more tedious. Morris seemed still upset about Margo's absence and made up for it by corralling young Tony for half an hour at a time to chat over the likelihood of rain on the morrow and Margo's professed viewing habits. Young Tony sniffled into his sleeve and grumped about, but that didn't stop Morris.

On the Wednesday, the humming man bought both Gerry and Margo a drink and contrived to hold their attention so long that customers on the bar side began to bang their glasses and complain. Even Gerry found himself falling into a pattern of response humming while standing fixated across the bar from the vast wiggling ears of Clive Beaumaris.

Margo, of course, didn't dare to complain. Getting off Tuesdays had been hard enough. As for Gerry, he couldn't afford to turn business away. Even young Tony felt the mood by the following Tuesday. The darts team came in in a bunch, all red-faced and eager for the game. Gerry joked along with one ear cocked for the sound of the front door opening and Morris' --whoo as he came in.

It never came.

All through the evening they waited, Gerry and Tony, wondering at his absence. He hadn't missed a Tuesday in months. But there was no Morris.

On the Wednesday following, the Penhryn crowd left early and it was Margo alone on the lounge side when Clive Beaumaris hummed into the pub. He took up his position on the far end of the lounge bar, emitting brief, unintelligible snatches of song.

Margo took a deep breath. --Draft ale, is it sir? She'd considered wearing ear plugs and merely nodding from time to time, but Derek had said it wouldn't look well and besides, how would she hear the other customers?

-- Ummm, hmm, said the stocky gent.

Margo pulled hard at the ale pump twice and was rewarded with a full pint. Without pausing to think, she shoved the glass across the bar to Beaumaris and said quickly, --Seventy-six, please.

His humming broke off in a choked chortle and his rocking stopped. He bent his head sideways (left ear flopping down in the process) and said quite slowly, --Will you not be having one?

Margo bit her tongue down on her lower lip. Refusing a drink was definitely not the form. But the thought of a pint's worth of gratuitous hums and ear wiggling just then was enough to make her spit pins. --Ah, well you see ... she started. --It's just that ... there's the cellar work, you see ... and, and ...

A mournful, descending note could be heard in the back of Beaumaris' throat.

-- Ah ... ah ... that is to say, yes. I shall have one, said Margo. --Just a half. I'm pouring it now, see?

-- Ummm ... hm, hm.

Margo raised her glass and managed a quavering --Cheers.

The front door opened, shut, and around at the side of the lounge appeared a scrawny chicken neck under a dapper, smoothed-out moustache.

Margo bit down hard and cracked the glass.

-- Whoo, said Morris. --Spot of weather we're having, isn't it? He broke off his shudder abruptly when he saw the stranger standing in his place at the bar. He edged down towards his favourite position, frowning slightly at the intruder. --So then, Margo. ----What you been up to lately?

-- Nothing, whispered Margo. --Nothing.

-- Working the Wednesdays, is it? Margo? I say. The girl's gone off.

Gerry found her later in the cellar, shivering like the Furies behind the unsold cases of red wine and snuffling into an invoice sheet.

-- Say there, lass, he said. --No need to cry, is it? and tried to put his arm around her shoulder.

-- Keep your bloody hands to yourself. She shook him off and stood up. Ink from the invoice had run along her cheek. --Go ahead, Mr. Gerry bloody Culhane. Give me the sack. See if I care. Those ... those two ...

Her rage rendered her speechless.

Gerry passed a hand across his mouth. --It's all right, luv. No need to cry.

-- A lot you bloody know! I'm not crying, I'm half mad with exasperation. The second-most boring man in the world and his bleeding double and I've got them both standing there gaping at me like I'm a prize heifer just prancing for their entertainment.

Gerry gave a sympathetic croon.

-- And don't you go starting too, said Margo. --Like to drive me mad, that humming.

Gerry wanted to tell her she was beautiful when she was angry, but he thought better of it. He ran his hand across his mouth again. --Look here, luv, he said. --I can hear Fat Howell calling for a beer. I must be getting back. Whyn't you come along now? You've got a drink waiting----

-- I'll not be having any more drinks with that nasal natterer.

-- There's something I think you should see, said Gerry. --You don't even have to go in the lounge.

-- Promise?

-- Promise.

Margo wiped her face clean and followed Gerry back out of the cellar.

-- Just peek round the corner, said Gerry. --You'll see what I mean.

Still sniffling, Margo edged up to the corner of the lounge and peeked around. The Hobsons sat doddering over whiskey-and-pep in front of the fire. One of the Penhryn crowd was scribbling figures on a bit of paper in the upper lounge. And there at the bar, down at the far end, stood Morris and Clive Beaumaris, beaming like schoolboys at the seaside with a double portion of chips between them.

-- Always wet this time of year, Morris was saying.

-- Hmmm? Umm, umm, said Beaumaris.

-- Still, better than watching telly all night, eh? Morris tweaked his moustache.

The stocky gent gave a loud, nodding harrumph and rocked forcefully back and forth on his feet.

-- Cracking pint, that, said Morris, draining his glass. --Can I get you one this time?

The elephant ears dipped as their owner contemplated his pint. He made a rising noise through his nose that Morris took for assent.

-- Well, cheers then, said Morris. --I'll just ring for Margo. Funny, it not raining tonight. It's always wet this time of year ...

2006 by Daniel Gabriel. All rights reserved.
Daniel Gabriel's stories and articles have appeared in over 150 publications in 8 countries. This story is part of a collection based on his experiences as a publican at The Cross Inn, South Wales.