I was sitting in a pub, at some point in my history, it was on a Friday evening after work. A tide was washing over me, the tide was sweeping in and out, and each time it swept over me I felt something of myself being swept out to sea. That’s what it felt like, and I was sitting trying to keep the greater part of me from being lost. But I had that sensation anyway, it felt like I was slowly dying, shutting down, and I drank my drink trying to hold on to whatever it was that felt like it was slipping away with the tide.
There was a couple at the table next to mine. They were young. Younger than me maybe by ten years or so. They looked confident, and free, and at ease. They looked at me from time to time. The man looked at me very subtly, so that I never caught him doing it. The girl looked at me directly. She turned in her chair to do so. I smiled at her, and she looked away. It was fine. I knew I had to pull myself together before I left the pub, so I took some deep breaths, and closed my eyes a second, and rubbed my face, and got another drink. Exchanged pleasantries with the woman behind the bar, just a couple tonight, got any plans, smiled again, a momentary distraction, then back to my table, trying to hold it in this thought that the tide is carrying everything out until there is nothing left, and the effort to fake it, to have this facade where all those things like getting up in the morning, and washing, and shaving, and cleaning teeth, and going to work, or not going to work, matter as choices, and I wonder whether this time I might just melt through the cracks in the earth somehow and disappear. So I’m just faking it. Everyday, just pretending I am living. I need something radical to pull myself out of this slump, but I haven’t the energy to do it. I don’t know what I’ll do.
I think the people at the table next to mine are talking about me. But the waves are still washing over me. It is possible that I might begin to cry silently in a public place. There is nothing to fall back on. There is no safety net. The mind has reached it’s limit.
The man leaves, with an arrangement to meet the girl for a meal. Everything feels slow. Every moment feels distinct and long. He wears a black top, and has black hair, and has an earnest honest look, and a forehead that wrinkles, she has no shoes on, kicked them off under the table, red toenails, trendy hair, I can only see the back of her. They both have the quality of freedom about them. I’m not sure what that means. But I remember thinking it then. She turns in her chair, and asks me whether I speak English. She too has an open and honest face. She stands up and asks whether I have just been fired. Plants her feet squarely, a decision made. An intervention of some kind. My brain gives me no sensible response. She says are you okay, you look upset. I answer something mad, about always being upset. A response from some strange ugly part of me, that I didn’t recognise. Then I apologise and say I’m fine. The woman misunderstands and tells me she isn’t going to call anybody. She shows me her phone to prove it.
I remember to smile. A smile makes everything okay doesn’t it? It uses less muscles than a frown. It tricks us into being happy when the tide has washed the walls of sanity away. Of course a smile is always the best thing. It has magical powers. Really. I’m fine. I smile, I’m fine. I wonder whether I should offer her a drink, or to sit with me. But that seems like madness too. She drinks her wine in one swift gulp and leaves.
Sometime afterwards I leave too.