THREE THINGS, SIMULTANEOUSLY
Two things happened simultaneously.
The first was the realisation that Paul had made a huge mistake; the second was the sound of his nose breaking.
Actually, there were three things that happened, but the third wouldn't become apparent to Paul for a few seconds more.
Paul was a drunk.
People would say: 'Jesus Christ, you need to stop drinking or you're going to end up dead!'
'There's nothing funny about death,' they'd say.
'How would you know? Have you ever met him?'
It was comments like this that made people wonder whether Paul was an idiot or a genius. To some, he was a philosopher; to others, he was a self-deprecating apologist—it was all a matter of perspective. It is the gift of a certain type of drunk to be able to advocate sitting in the same seat everyday drinking non-stop, and to do so in one big philosophical cart-wheel designed to mask their words from what they truly are: bullshit.
Paul polished off his pint and made his way to the toilet, where he got talking to another barfly. Then he went outside and had a cigarette. By the time he got back to the bar, his seat had been occupied by a stranger.
He tipped the stranger on the shoulder, whose head shot around quickly, his face contorted into an angry scowl.
'You're in my seat, friend.'
The stranger gave Paul the once over, starting with his ragged shoes, up to his filthy blue jeans, his grease-stained beige t-shirt (it was white when he bought it) and finally back to meet his gaze.
The stranger sneered and looked away.
Paul was shocked, never before had he experienced such disrespect in his bar over his chair.
'That's my seat, friend.'
Again, he tipped the stranger on the shoulder.
'I said, that's my --'
In a blur the stranger turned and stuffed the word 'seat' back into Paul's mouth with his fist.
Paul collapsed to the floor like a wet blanket. He covered his nose with his hands as blood began to gush through his fingers.
'What the fuck!!?' he bellowed from the ground. 'You broke my fucking nose!'
Paul, on his knees, was facing the ground. He took his hands away from his face and looked at his blood covered palms.
'Jesus Christ!' The words seemed not to carry; he could hear them in his head, and he knew he had said them, but it sounded like he had screamed them into a pillow.
He listened. The pub, normally a loud affair, was completely silent. There was no reaction to what had just happened; there were no screams, no laughs, nothing.
Cautiously, Paul lifted his head up and looked at his assailant. The stranger still had the same furrowed brow, the same angry scowl, and the same fist extended out to where Paul's face had once been; but he was completely still.
Paul stood up and looked around the pub; it was happening to everyone and everything. In one corner, a group of newly old-enough-to-drink-in-a-pub teenagers were suspended in an eternal side splitting laugh. Near the toilets, an old man, mid fall, floated above the ground and braced himself for an impact that never came. To Paul's left, a glass, which had been knocked off a table, hung in mid-air, persistently threatening to smash on the floor.
Paul walked slowly through the pub. He waved his hand in front of people's eyes: nothing. He screamed in people's ears: nothing. He punched people in the arm: nothing. He stole people's drinks: awesome.
It was a voice that filled the still air of the pub and penetrated Paul's soul. He turned around.
In front of the door to the pub, there stood a man.
'What's going on?' Paul pleaded.
'Don't worry,' said the man as the door behind him started to open slowly. 'Everything is okay
Paul became very aware that he wasn't worrying and that everything was okay.
'Am I dead?' said Paul, walking towards the man.
A brilliant light shone into the pub.
'Was it the punch that did it?'
'Was it liver failure?'
'In a sense.'
Paul laughed. 'In a sense? What's that supposed to mean?'
Paul passed through the door.
'In the sense that you have to have a liver for it to fail.'
Death smiled; the term dead-pan had never been so relevant.
Paul walked by him and into the light.
'I knew death was funny.'
Glenn Cullen has been writing in one form or another for about twenty years. For the last decade or so, he exclusively wrote screenplays, working in collaboration with people in the amateur Irish filmmaking scene. The pandemic gave him the excuse to explore his, as yet unpublished, prose roots.