Short-Short 13: Last Orders

Living in London, there is always something new to see, some unique quirk of architecture to discover.  Forgotten tube stations lurk beneath the pavements; angels and lions lambast the sky in crumbling graveyards; Art Deco palaces press themselves against Edwardian elegance.  The eye never wants for something splendid.

Yet sadness lives alongside the splendid.  An abandoned pub sits quietly beyond the hustle and bustle of the high street.  Forlorn and stripped of glory, the Ralston Arms looks desperately lonely amid the expanse of empty, puddle-stained tarmac.  Faded white chipboard covers the ground floor windows and doors, though it hardly deters the more persistent drifters; jagged holes punch through the dusty windows on the upper floor, yawning like demonic mouths. The early morning daylight does not reach the upper rooms. The darkness inside looks thick and menacing, yet it taunts me all the same. “Come, look inside, and see what treasures I hide,” the darkness says.

Staring at this relic of a shrinking pub culture, I wonder for how long the Arms has stood empty. Advertisements are tacked to the outside walls, promising sweet abandon at the bottom of a bottle, but they look reasonably new.  The signage bears none of the flaking sadness of other forgotten pubs, still gaily proclaiming its existence in burgundy and gold. Perhaps it closed recently, another victim of the dreaded economic meltdown, a ‘good time hall’ cast aside when the good times became too expensive.

I think about all the celebrations once held inside; birthdays, engagements, anniversaries, or wakes. The passage of human life witnessed by walls that now stand silent, quiet observers struck blind by the departure of the pub’s occupants. If I listen carefully enough, I can hear the laughter, the drunken sing-a-longs, the good-natured rowdy banter, and the clanging bell marking Last Orders.

For a moment, the doors burst open; a party is in full swing inside.  Older men clutching glasses slop their pints across the bar as they sway to and fro, singing victory songs peppered with expletives and slanderous accusations.  Younger boys in football strips mimic their movements, spilling soft drinks on the sticky floor in celebration.  Even the pavement comes alive as crying girls stumble out of the pub, jostling for kerb space; they wail about infidelity, betrayal and lost purses.

A sleek sports car roars through the mist and shatters the illusion. The lonely ghosts disperse, shuffling away from the pub into the cold grey morning.  The doors swing closed, the lights flicker and go out, and the pub stands empty once more.

– Icy Sedgwick


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