If you’ve ever sauntered up Charles Street, you’ll know what I mean. Some days you see everything, the people, the windows, the traffic and on other days – like when it rains, or there’s fog, or you’re simply in a hurry - the whole street can pass you by in one big blur.
Then there are the odd days when a person will notice the narrow entrance into Sugarhouse Lane. There are those who would say that the Lane only appears when it’s needed, others that it’s just a dead-end in all senses of the word.
It was on one such day, that Alex decided turn the corner into Sugarhouse Lane; maybe he thought it was a shortcut through to Blond Street, or maybe his curiosity just got the better of him. Whatever it was, he found the dead end and then he found the Bar At The End.
The front of the bar had already suggested to Alex the atmosphere and the smells to be found inside. As he opened the door, a smell of stale hops hit his nose and at the far end, a blazing log fire lit up an old man’s very red face; the fire seemed to have given the old man lines across his cheeks and forehead.
The low winter sun shone through a thick pane of glass, which scattered the light and caused little rainbows to settle on far-flung corners.
The carpets were a rich red colour that went with the deep brown oak which formed the bar, table and chairs.
Alex stood and absorbed the whole, beautiful, glorious place. It felt right, everything felt right. It was as if he had come home at last.
At the bar stood a man whose face invited you in to his world. When Alex had left the bar, he remembered the happiness that seeped from the man, but for the life of Alex, he could never have described the barman’s features, even if his life had depended on it.
“Drink, sir?” asked the barman. “My name is whatever you want it to be.”
Alex narrowed his eyes at what the barman had just said.
“Is it me, or is that a strange thing to say?”
“All part of the service, sir,” said the barman.
“Okay, I’ll call you Sandy, that was my dad’s name,” said Alex.
“Is there any name you would like me to call you,” asked Sandy, the barman.
“Alex is good, that’s my name.”
“I don’t care if it is, I don’t care if it isn’t Alex. Now what will be your pleasure?”
Alex looked around the bar, it seemed to be stocked with drinks from all over the world.
“Anything?” asked Alex.
“Anything,” said Sandy.
“What about strawberry flavoured milk?”
“Coming right up,” said the barman.
And it was sitting in front of Alex in a split second.
“This isn’t your normal type of bar,” said Alex.
“Indeed it isn’t,” said the barman. “And it doesn’t have your normal type of customer, either”.
Alex looked around to see who the barman was referring to, but there was no one except the old man by the fire. He shrugged his shoulders and drank his milk.
Alex felt better already. He’d walked up Charles street in a daze, thinking about his mother having the cancer check up, and then he’d taken that turn down a street he’d never actually seen before. Yet, he felt the better for it.
Alex had a strawberry moustache at the end of the drink, and Sandy the barman gave Alex a paper napkin to wipe it off.
“How much?” asked Alex.
“No charge,” said Sandy.
“Seriously, and mind you come back here, any time you’re passing,” said Sandy.
As Alex got off the stool to leave, the barman put his hand on Alex’s hand and said a curious thing. “She’ll be alright, you know.”
As Alex left the bar, the low winter sun blasted him right between the eyes and by the time he could see properly again, he was walking up the rest of Charles Street. Just as he reached the corner with Nebula Road, his brother called him on his ‘phone to tell him that his mother had been given the all clear.
Jinky James nearly got hit by a car and it wasn’t even lunchtime. He’d been thinking about what he was always thinking about – making money, and how he could make some more. There probably wasn’t enough money in the world for Jinky to be truly happy but he just had to have it.
He knew it was a kind of illness but he could only ever feel better with an increase in his bank balance – big or small, he didn’t care as long as it went upwards. Jinky did some of this and a lot of that to make money. Perhaps not all of it was completely legal but you had to take a chance now and then.
He cheated some people, friends if he was being honest, out of their hard earned bucks, just to make a profit.
He tended to find new friends as easily as opening his wallet. He didn’t mean to be selfish but he found himself walking passed those who begged for money in the street. Jinky thought that they must be lazy or stupid, to be in that type of condition.
So when he jumped out the way of the Bentley, the one that almost hit him as he strolled up Charles Street, he found himself in Sugarhouse Lane.
“Well, I’ll be, I don’t remember this little pokey street,” but his curiosity got the better of him and Jinky thought there might be an opportunity to make money at the end of it.
And there was an end - Jinky couldn’t go any further.
Jinky, looked the Bar At The End up and down.
“Oh, I say,” said Jinky as he wandered inside to get a drink and make himself more money.
On the bar stood a cold glass of champagne.
“My favourite,” said Jinky.
“Help yourself, sir,” said the unnamed barman.
“You know what, I’ve never been in this bar before,” said Jinky.
“Are you sure, sir?” Asked the barman. “Because I seem to recognise your face.”
“Well, I’ll be,” said Jinky.
Jinky sipped the champers back in a hurry. “Another one,” demanded Jinky.
“We’ve run out”.
“Run out? Run out! What kind of bar runs out of champagne?”
“This one,” said the barman.
“Then I shall take my custom elsewhere,” said Jinky, forgetting he had gone in the bar to make some money.
Just as he was leaving, the barman leaned over and put his hand on Jinky’s hand.
“Check your ‘phone, sir.”
“I think you’ll find that money is not what you need right now,” said the barman.
Sure enough as Jinky turned the corner into Charles Street, a text arrived on his phone. Could he call Doctor Stewart immediately as the doctor was concerned about a dark patch on Jinky’s X-ray.
bobby stevenson 2013