The old man sat alone in the bar and watched the people around him going about their lives. A young couple, sitting at the table across from him spoke to each other in whispers, intent only on each other. The girl’s clothes and makeup were immaculate, despite the hour. Seven in the evening, which meant that she’d gone straight home from work and gotten herself ready. Her eyes shone as her partner, a good-looking man with a carefully disheveled appearance, spoke to her in a low voice. The old man watched as the strings of their lives streamed out into the future, intersecting with other bright blue lines of possibly in bright bomb-bursts that created new lines of life in trails of orange, green and scarlet, each extending off into their own infinite possibilities.
He smiled to himself. A small, sad expression. Gratified to witness the potential futures unfolding before the young couple that contrasted the fading, lonely line of his own existence – stretching out for a few short years until it faded to nothing. His own line brushed against others; a brief brightening that created a few vague, quickly forgotten interactions on the futures of those that he came into contact with. A smile. A couple of choice words, or a phrase uttered in passing conversation that would be remembered at some point in the future, without the person remembering where they had heard those words before, or who had spoken them. Small, meaningless intersections with other lives that had little effect beyond the immediate future.
It had not always been that way. In his youth, the man’s life had been filled with possibilities. A spider web of interactions that had affected the lives of those around him. Chance introductions between acquaintances that had blossomed into love, marriage and children that blazed their own bright lines upon the future. Random meetings and discussions that had erupted in a cascade of potential futures, where the world had belonged to him and those he met. All of that was in the past now, though. He’d made a decision, years ago, that the small bubble of reality that he’d created with her would be enough. That he needed nothing else. He’d moved away from those who knew and loved him, holding their shared reality close as they chased a dream. Until that dream had faded and he found himself alone in a prison of his own making, the interactions with others reduced to little more than fleeting illumination along a progressively darker future.
He sighed and made his way to the bar for another drink. Another small dose of oblivion to numb his breaking heart and pass the empty hours. To dim the awareness of the lives extending around him. He smiled at the young girl behind the bar, aware of the shy, veiled glance that she gave to her colleague and the intertwining dance of the lifelines – a dance that in seven or eight months would have another partner – the child in her stomach hardly the size of a pea at this stage but already coloring their combined futures with an incandescent golden glow.
The shove came from behind. Unintentional but still with sufficient force to make him stagger, sloshing the contents of his glass across his shirt. A young man in grey tracksuit bottoms and a faded baseball cap, stumbling forward and forcing his way to the bar. He did not even apologise. Hardly even seemed aware of the contact. The barmaid frowned at him and shook her head. “Go home, Billy. You’ve had too many. I’m not serving you.”
Billy snarled, and the vinegar stench of his unwashed clothing assailed the man’s nostrils. A few slurred insults hurled before he staggered off towards the exit, watched by the barmaid and her partner, who now stood beside her with his arms folded.
The man saw the lifeline of the drunk stream out before him. A diseased, sickly thing, filled with undirected anger and bitterness tainting it and everything it came into contact with. An intersection with the young couple in the corner. Three lines coming together in a dark eruption. Only one line continuing on.
The door to the bar slammed against the wall as the drunk left. The young couple in the corner’s hands touch. They smile and finish their drinks, then retrieve their jackets from the chair beside them.
The man was barely aware of the barmaids voice as he stepped away from the bar, leaving a crumpled ten pound note behind him. The possibilities drained away before him – his vision narrowing until only a single path remained. One last choice. One last mark he could leave on the world.
He reached the door at the same time as the young couple. He smiled at the woman, then said “Is that your mobile phone underneath the table?”. They paused, instinctively patting their pockets. That second was all the time he needed. All the time he had left.
The man stepped from the pub into the dark car park. Felt, rather than saw the glare of the headlights. The pain was agonizing, but mercifully brief as the car impacted his body, shattering bone until fragments carved their way through nerve and muscle. For the briefest of moments he was flying – all pain forgotten – defying gravity until it regained its hold and drew him close once more in a final crushing embrace.
The young couple stood at the door to the bar, their lifelines blazing. The drunk leaving his car, slurring “I never saw him. He just came out of nowhere.”
As the light faded from his eyes and his body grew cold, the man smiled then breathed his last.
©2015 Graeme Reynolds