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The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes

How Lucky Was That?
Ian Smith

A man 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.
But the man with the unlit cigarette grabbed my arm.
“Sit here.”
“Let go.”
“What’s wrong with here? Don’t 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.
“I’m 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 can’t 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 that’s doomed?”
“He couldn’t catch me. I drove home, put the car away, opened up the fridge, and downed three strong lagers.”
“That’s crazy. They’ll get you.”
“It’s 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 wasn’t 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 day.”
“Every day?”
“Every single day.”
“Why not?”
“Why not stop?”
“Because then I wouldn’t 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 couldn’t 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 barman’s fingers. The barman smiled, and slammed the lid shut.
The man looked over his shoulder.
“And then there’s this. Page 245.”
I looked round. A woman at the end of a long sofa was reading a book. The woman looked up.
“I’m sorry?”
“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 woman’s hands.
“How did you do that?”
The man spun round, his arms outstretched.
“I’m just lucky,” he said. “I’m just very lucky indeed.”
He stopped spinning, and pointed at me.
“Go ahead, sir. Tell me I’m right. I know what you’re thinking.”
I smiled.
“You can’t possibly know what I’m thinking.”
“Oh I do. Every second you stand there listening to me is a second lost forever, and time is slipping away from you isn’t it? Isn’t that what you’re 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 didn’t. 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?”
“Later, maybe.”
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 life.
“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 smiled.
“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 sun’s reflection.
“Anyone should be able to see that.”
“It’s cold out there.”
But she took my glass off me all the same, and slid open the door into the garden.
“Go ahead, you’re 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 wouldn’t it work for me?
“It’s hopeless.”
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.
“That’s amazing.”
“What is?”
“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?”

Subscribe to my blogs: Hold It Up For Ridicule,  Life Writing, and Tony Blair in the Wilderness
© Ian Smith September 2007

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