Chris leaned his head against the bus window. He was tired but he couldn’t let himself even doze as that would turn into deep, much-needed sleep.
He said ‘Hello’ to a woman who got on at the next stop, he always saw her and they acknowledged each other.
It was a twenty-minute journey from his gran’s to the centre of town.
This was his guilt time.
He thought about the old dears.
Every Saturday, he’d come off nightshift having done a fifteen-hour stint and would go straight to his gran’s. They were struggling. They couldn’t look after themselves and everyone was too busy either doing something or doing nothing and he felt that he was left with it. This was his punishment for wanting a life at the weekend.
He’d get to their house at around three in the afternoon. He’d make them a cup of tea and prepare their dinner. Once they’d been fed and he’d cleared up, he’d make them a sandwich and a flask of tea for later. Then he’d use their freezing cold bathroom. The tiredness added to the chill. He’d have a wash and a shave in tepid water. He’d get ready and head out for the bus.
That was the reason for his guilt, the time that he left them. It was only six and he wasn’t meeting his friends until eight. But he needed to get away. He loved his gran and granddad but there was such a heavy feeling in the house. He hated it. Chris believed it was the fog in their minds as well as impending death.
…But he could’ve stayed for another hour or so.
Chris smiled at the woman as he got off the bus. He went into ‘Rankins’. It was a Rockers pub and was always busy. At this time it was full of those morning drinkers who hadn’t yet gone home. In a few hours there’d be ex-workmates and old school pals to put up with but at this time, it was only the old alkies he needed to nod to. He ordered himself a pint and found a corner to sit in. There’d be a few newspapers lying around. He’d pick one up and stare at it. Chris never read, he just didn’t want anyone to start up a conversation with him. This was his time to think himself into a sociable mood.
If he felt himself begin to nod off, he’d go back up to the bar. Pints to begin with and then onto the rum. Chris stayed there until just before eight.
He enjoyed the ten-minute walk to the pub where he’d meet his friends. It woke him up. That way, he seemed as fresh and as enthusiastic as they were. He never thought to tell them how he felt and they never thought to ask. The mentioning of the pub that he’d been in was more about drinking bravado than him admitting he needed space.
There was six, sometimes seven of them. They got on well and had known each other throughout school and into working life. But Chris didn’t feel a part of them. They were all on a lot more money for a lot less hours. He thought he’d catch that break sometime and that they would, one day, understand.
After the pub closed, they’d head to a club. Nine times out of ten they’d get separated for one reason or another. They’d meet up at the taxi rank. Chris never shared a taxi with any of his friends as he was going to the opposite side of town. He’d return to his gran’s and look in on them.
If he got lucky at the club, he’d go back to the girl’s place but he’d never stay. Most of them thought he was married and therefore never spoke to him again. He’d make sure that he was back at his gran’s early doors. He’d lie on the couch until his granddad got up and then he’d prepare their breakfast for them.
He’d heat up some soup and put it in a flask and butter them some bread for lunch. He’d make another flask of tea and leave it sitting where they could reach it. They’d be fine until his mother came down at tea time.
Chris would have a quick freshen up and get changed. He then headed into the pub closest to where his friends lived. They always met at one.
Chris was there at noon. He’d have a few pints and a few rums and try to stay awake. He’d use the time to think about his life.
This was when he’d buy another drink.
10 thoughts on “Different Times by Hugh Cron”
Absolutely brilliant. The low key attitude convey’s Chris’s sadness, And although your pieces are almost always presented with dialog, here you show everyone that your descriptive powers are in no way atrophied. A real stunner. One of your best.
Thanks so much for the kind comments.
I’m glad you mentioned how low key this was. I was hoping that came across and tied into how he was feeling.
I always appreciate a comment from your good self!
This is so beautifully underplayed Hugh. The simple telling of the story elevates the heavy sense of repetition and hopelessness. Easy to relate to the MC and I agree with LA’s opinion that this is up there with your very best work. I particularly loved the line ‘He never thought to tell them how he felt and they never thought to ask’ – conveys so much in a few simple words.
Hi there Nik,
Thanks so much for the comments!
I did enjoy playing around with the idea of how insular he was in such public places.
The line you highlighted does explore the need for expressing when being taken for granted.
Unfortunately not many can voice that concern and all that does is fuck you right up.
All the very best my friend.
A life of quiet desperation. So many sad lives.
It’s great to read a comment from you.
Thanks so much.
And you are right, not many in the story had happy lives, if any.
An excellent piece as others have said. I especially like the resonance between the last lines. I think we can all relate to one degree or another.
I hate having to think about a last line. I was lucky with this, it just sort of fell in itself.
Thanks as always my friend.
Sometimes that’s what you get for having a conscience, the price of being a good person. Sounds also like he feels he’s being left behind….. a dead end job, always tired, no thinking of the future because he’s taking care of the past. I really get the mood, the heaviness on his shoulders.
You have written some very wise words.
Life can pass you by due to you not being selfish. But if you were, would your conscience kick in?
Thanks as always my friend.