Terry sat in his usual seat, tucked away in the corner of the saloon bar in ‘The Main and Tail’, nursing a pint of stout. The sound of the clock echoed in the large empty space, the fireplace bare of flame, the bar bare of customers. Lily was making herself busy tidying behind the bar, checking half empty bottles of spirits to make sure they were still usable after goodness know how many years standing on the top shelf, polishing glasses that had waited far too long to be used again and doing whatever she could to make it all look welcoming.
There was no music to break the silence, just the sound of Lily’s endeavours. Eventually she stepped back to admire her handiwork.
‘There Terry what do you think? It’s a lot better now isn’t? Didn’t look as if it’s been dusted for years.’
‘Stan stopped bothering after Pearl’ he said but didn’t elaborate.
‘Oh well I’m sure we’ll have it back to its best soon.’
She could see that, as usual, Terry wouldn’t be drawn into a conversation. He always looked so lonely, so ‘buttoned up’ as her mother would say. She didn’t know his story, she supposed that might be forthcoming when he got to know her.
‘Always difficult when the village pub is taken over, you’ll get used to me I hope.’
No answer, just a fleeting look of sadness across his face. She gave up as she always did, three weeks and he’d barely uttered a word apart from ‘stout please’, he was almost the only regular left. Apart from Bob who popped in early doors and Reg who came in at 7.30pm on the dot for two pints of cider and a bag of peanuts, Terry was it. She had work to do if she wanted to make this place work.
She must have been a bit mad to take the pub on after Stan threw in the towel. He’d let the place go after Pearl but at 76 years old the brewery thought he was a liability and the area manager suggested he might retire. Stan wasn’t happy.
‘Been here for 40 years, place used to be full to the rafters every morning and every night, but men can’t go out for a few pints on their own now, it’s not like the old days.’
‘Times change Stan,’ Darren Green said, ‘habits are different, customers expect to see a menu and not just pies and pickled eggs. You’ve done your bit perhaps it’s time to put your feet up, go and join Beryl by the sea, I know she’s asked you to move there.’
‘What will I do?’ Stan moaned to Terry after Darren had left in his shiny company car.
‘You could help Beryl in the B&B, it’s in a nice place, we went there once.’
‘Aye well I’ll think about it. Suppose they’ll do the place up, put in them noisy machines and change the name. It won’t be the same.’
Terry had heard it all before, he doubted Stan would leave despite his daughter’s offer. He’d carry on serving dried out meat pies, warm beer and wait for the snow to arrive before lighting the fire.
To Terry’s surprise the signs went up the following week, ‘Would you like to run this pub?’ in a garish green and orange, hard to miss when he walked up to the door.
There’d been no farewell party, no send-off after 40 years in charge, just a sign on the door saying ‘Under Temporary Management’. Terry didn’t much like change. He liked routine and his walk to ‘The Main and Tail’ had been a fixture of his daily schedule for the last ten years. Before that he visited a couple of times a week on his way home from work, Tessie never minded not like some of the wives. She said he needed to have some time on his own, away from the noise at work, away from the noise of the kids at home.
He missed the noise.
The kids left home, to college, to work abroad, to marry and then Tessie delivered the devastating news that she was going too. One day she was fine, the next day she was ill. That’s what it seemed like to Terry but in reality she’d been ill for a long time but hid it well.
‘I didn’t want you worrying love.’ Always thinking of him, never thinking of herself.
Then the mine closed. Life as he knew it was over but at least he could rely on the pub, that never changing place that saw him drink his first pint, propose to Tessie and toast his first born. The hub of the community, well it was then, but gradually after Pearl left it slowly withered away as Stan lost interest.
The scene that greeted him the first time he went to the pub after Stan had gone lingered in Terry’s mind for some time. Lily was behind the bar wearing a multi coloured scarf wrapped around her head, singing along to music blaring from a juke box that had mysteriously appeared in the snug.
‘Will that be a pint?’
He’d looked at her in disbelief but she had just winked.
‘You’ll get used to me,’ she laughed as she pulled his pint and seeing the look on his face said, ‘I’ll turn it off shall I? Just had it put in and it had a couple of free-plays on it. I love Dolly Parton don’t you?’
Silence fell and Terry had taken his pint and his newspaper to his corner seat.
The place had a different smell, the windows were open and there were flowers on the bar. There was a damp patch under his table and he realised the floor had been washed. He couldn’t help glancing at Lily as she busied herself that day and every day after that when she tried to get some response from him. He’d been introverted for so long after Tessie died he just couldn’t open up.
‘Terry love, you couldn’t do me a favour could you,’ he looked up to see her balanced on a box on the bar trying to dust a picture that had seen better days.
‘What the hell are you doing? Get down you daft woman you’ll fall off and break something,’ he sprinted to the bar and grabbed her hand to help her down, ‘you must be mad.’
‘Mmm that was a bit silly wasn’t it, I was going to ask you to pass the damp cloth off the bar so I could wipe the glass. Gave you a bit of a fright by the look of it.’
‘Are there no step ladders here? Stan was a tight sod, never spent anything on the place and neither did the brewery. I think they just hoped he’d get fed up and leave after Pearl but he was a stubborn old fool.’
‘Nothing like that here, not even a screwdriver. I’ve checked everywhere, sheds, cellar, cupboards but there nothing much anywhere to speak of.’
‘I’ll bring my stepladders and tools tomorrow, best make a list and I’ll see what I can do.’
She smelled of vanilla and spice.
He liked it.
‘Oh that would be lovely Terry, are you sure because I should call someone in really but I was trying not to splash too much petty cash.’
‘No trouble. I’ll come early.’
He downed the remains of his pint, grabbed his paper, gave her a brief smile and left.
When he arrived at 8.30 the following morning Lily presented him with a cup of tea and a pile of toast.
‘I’ve got eggs if you’d rather?’
She was in overalls, hair wrapped up in a pink scarf, no make-up. She smelled of warm roses.
‘Toast is fine, thanks for going to the trouble. I don’t often eat breakfast since Tes…’
‘You can talk to me Terry. I’m a good listener and I’m not a gossip.
He perched on the bar stool, mug in hand, and picked up a piece of toast. They sat in silence for a while but gradually he relaxed.
‘That would be nice,’ he struggled to find the words but Lily made him feel comfortable, ‘I lost Tessie over ten years ago. It was sudden, well sudden for me but she knew it was coming. She used to come in here with me sometimes but mostly she looked after us all.’ It didn’t feel at all odd talking to Lily, telling her about Tessie, the kids and how his life had taken an unexpected turn when the mine closed.
‘Hard to move on I suppose,’ she said as she poured the tea, ‘and now here I am spoiling your refuge. Well I hope it won’t change so much that you stop coming in.’
‘Needs livening up, when the mine was running the place was always heaving, couldn’t get a seat most weekends. I don’t mind helping out with some chores, I’m a bit of a handyman for my neighbours. I offered to help Stan out but he never took me up on it, as you can see by the state it’s in.’
After he finished the immediate jobs in hand they made a list of things that needed to be done.
‘I’ll have to run it past the brewery but I’m sure they’ll be glad to let me organise the repairs.’
‘Thanks for listening earlier,’ Terry said as he packed up his tools, ‘can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a chat so much.’
‘Any time Terry, see you tomorrow, your pint will be waiting.’
The next day Terry didn’t bother with a newspaper and when he walked into the pub he sat at the bar instead of retreating to the corner. He noticed a board next to the fireplace with a list of upcoming events. A quiz night, a charity darts match, live music with a local duo and a message saying ‘suggestions welcome’ and it made him smile. He rummaged in his pocket for a £1 coin and dropped it into the jukebox before making his selection.
‘I love Dolly Parton,’ Lily said as ‘Love is Like a Butterfly’ filled the room.
She smelled of jasmine and sandalwood and he felt her hand in his.
He liked it.
©Nita Lewsey 2018