“You married?” the man at the bar asks.
Phil takes a sip from his drink, continues to stare ahead, at the row of drinks suspended on their optics. He pauses a moment before answering.
“No,” he says, before taking another sip.
“Ah, best way, mate, if you ask me,” the man continues “Stay single and independent that’s the way. I’ve been married twelve years now. Twelve years. You get less for robbing a bank don’t you?”
He looks down, into the glass: the amber liquid inside, swirling as he tilts it. Phil comes to the pub every night after he closes up the shop. A ritual he slipped into when the rituals of his past life had so suddenly ceased. One drink , that’s all. One drink and then home: he’d listen to sport on the radio, maybe the phone in afterwards. The man begins to laugh. He’s a large man, more than six feet tall and broad; wide shoulders supporting a round belly that stretches against the pale blue shirt he wears beneath his navy suit. He wears a red tie, loosened at the neck.
“Seriously though. Life changes once that ring goes on the finger,” he says “Your time’s not your own anymore. Don’t get me wrong, my missus is a cracker, I love her to bits. It’s just you know – all that Mars and Venus stuff. I mean, the toilet seat goes down just as easily as it goes up. Know what I mean?”
“Not really, no.”
“She watches all the soaps and those reality programmes. Corrie, Eastenders, I’m a Celebrity and all that nonsense. And then she has the gall to say I watch too much sport.”
“Maybe you should leave,” Phil says.
“Oh couldn’t do that. It’d break her heart,” the man says. It wasn’t what Phil meant, exactly.
“Nah, she’s alright I suppose. It’s just, you know…”
He trails off. Silence. The man drums his fingers on the bar, missing the rhythm of the song playing. After a minute or so he raises his pint glass to his mouth, takes a large draught of the beer. Phil glances at him, sees his throat ripple as the liquid goes down.
“Twelve years,” the man says.
“It’s a long time,” Phil says, recalling his own memories. He was a different person then. The man hums, tunelessly.
“Stay single, mate. That’s my advice,” he then says. “Master of your own destiny.”
Phil doesn’t respond. He looks down at the bar, sees a beer mat, frayed at its edge. Picks it up, tears it at the corner. Maybe he’ll open the shop up early tomorrow. As if that will make a difference. He throws the mat onto the bar, takes his drink; drains the contents.
“Time to go,” he says.
“What?” the man replies “No stay for another; my shout. It’s not like you got anyone to go home for is it?”
“No,” Phil says, pulling the zip on his coat up. “I haven’t.”