International Writers Magazine:
But the man with the
unlit cigarette grabbed my arm.
Lucky Was That?
tapped an unlit cigarette alongside me, and rattled his empty glass
on the bar. I stretched forward. I was sick of having to compete
for a beer. I was sick of having to project myself like a baby.
But the barman was busy. He fed a new roll into the till. I could
see the ink on his fingers, and the bare insides of the till. He
lifted the lid back, and I ordered a beer. He flicked a plastic
switch and poured. I paid, and walked away with the beer.
Whats wrong with here? Dont make a scene. Sit down.
He pulled me onto the bar stool so I was level with his mouth. I could
smell the alcohol.
This is where I tell you something.
Look, I just-
Let me tell you something.
I tried to move away, but the man held my arm.
Im driving home, and a copper moves in front of me so I stop.
He climbs out, and comes to the window. I wind it down, and say, You
cant touch me for a thing.
I stood up, but he pulled me back down again.
So I hit the gas.
I looked at the man.
Why do I think thats doomed?
He couldnt catch me. I drove home, put the car away, opened
up the fridge, and downed three strong lagers.
Thats crazy. Theyll get you.
Its not illegal to drink in your own home. When they came
I was all over the place. I said, Unhand me, monsieurs. They
looked at the empty cans. French. There wasnt a thing they could
do about it.
I was sure there was no truth in his story. He looked at the cigarette,
and then he looked at the door. I asked him if he worked.
I work in the sciences.
So what exactly is your involvement in the sciences?
None. I come here for a bite to eat. I read the paper. I do it every
Every single day.
Why not stop?
Because then I wouldnt have such worldly fun.
He raised his arms. I looked up. I could see the bare insides of the till
once again. The barman turned a wheel with his thumb, but he couldnt
feed the roll through the till. It was jammed. He shook his head.
The man clicked his fingers.
The wheels turned, and the mechanism moved. The till started rolling through
the barmans fingers. The barman smiled, and slammed the lid shut.
The man looked over his shoulder.
And then theres this. Page 245.
I looked round. A woman at the end of a long sofa was reading a book.
The woman looked up.
I said, page 245.
He clicked his fingers.
Am I right? Page 245?
She looked around. People stopped talking. They watched the man. He closed
his eyes, and put his fingers to his temples.
Page 245. Thinking just leads to what? Disaster. Why think?
If you think too much, you just end up thinking yourself out of existence.
He opened his eyes.
Am I right? Pick another page.
She flicked through the book, and he closed his eyes again.
Page 109. There was no way out. Twilight swarmed the beach.
That was the thing about beaches, they were okay in the day, but night
transformed them into nasty slopes into the sea.
He stretched his arms out.
Well, am I right?
The barman stood over the woman. He took the book out of the womans
How did you do that?
The man spun round, his arms outstretched.
Im just lucky, he said. Im just very lucky
He stopped spinning, and pointed at me.
Go ahead, sir. Tell me Im right. I know what youre thinking.
You cant possibly know what Im thinking.
Oh I do. Every second you stand there listening to me is a second
lost forever, and time is slipping away from you isnt it? Isnt
that what youre thinking?
I rested my arms on the bar, and looked at my watch. It had been a long
day. I finished my drink, I made an excuse, and I left.
There were long queues into the tube. I boarded a down escalator. Everyone
on the up escalator looked right into my eyes. I reached home in time
to turn round and go back again, but I didnt. I stopped and stared
at my front door.
I unlocked the door, and saw a long box in the hall. My partner was looking
at the box.
Well, are you going to open it?
That evening, we sat looking out through the wide windows into the garden.
I remembered the man in the bar. I remembered the till coming back to
I met a lucky man today.
I told her about the drinking exploits, the amazing recall. She sniffed.
Sounds like an ass to me.
I expect he is.
It was a clear evening. The moon made shadows across the garden. I wanted
to see the detail of the moon. It was way up high, blinding me with the
Anyone should be able to see that.
Its cold out there.
But she took my glass off me all the same, and slid open the door into
Go ahead, youre dying to.
I stood up, and dragged the box onto the decking. I opened the box. Inside
was a black case in a clear plastic bag. I tore the bag open, and lifted
the black case out. I unzipped the top.
There it was. A telescope and a tripod.
I took out the tripod and opened the legs. I put the telescope on top
of the tripod, and turned the thumbscrew underneath. I attached the tiny
viewfinder, and lined it up with a satellite dish on a neighbouring wall.
I looked through the viewfinder. The whole scene shook. I scanned up and
down and round the dish, but I could only see the fuzzy wall. I saw the
blurred moon. It passed my field of vision like a searchlight, me looking
for it, it looking for me. All I could think about was the magic. Why
wouldnt it work for me?
I decided to stop wasting any more time, and stood up. She laughed, and
moved up to the eyepiece.
You give in too easily.
She turned the tiny wheel.
Take a look.
I stepped up to the eyepiece.
How did you do that?
I could see the dry valleys, the craters, the vast expanse of the moon.
I could see the emptiness. I could see the hopelessness.
She leaned on my shoulder.
How lucky was that?
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© Ian Smith September 2007
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