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  Short Story II  Page1   Page2
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....written by James McKenna author of  Last Exit from Bridgeton         (order his book)


 Star     ©


A chink of light appeared through the half drawn curtain, the man on the small bed stirred. His head hurt, his stomach churned, his mouth felt even drier than usual. Through the gap in the curtains he could see that it was half light outside. But was it dusk or dawn? As the window of the flat faced west he reckoned it must be dusk. At least the pubs would still be open he thought.


As usual he had not remembered much about how he had got there or exactly when. He still wore the same clothes he had worn when he had left the flat that morning, or was it yesterday morning? A wave of panic suddenly shot through him, his shakes in his hands becoming more pronounced. Had the missing hours added up to more than a day this time? He couldn’t be sure; his clear only memory at this point was having arrived at the King’s Head at opening time.


Must have been a particularly heavy session this time he thought as he struggled from the bed, well over the twenty-one ‘safety limit’ in one go. Not that this was unusual for him. It was always the same. On first waking he could not even face leaving the bed, could not even begin to function.

He reached for the half empty bottle at the side of the bed. He always seemed to remember where that was. The shakes in his right hand verged on the violent as he poured the gold coloured liquid into the glass on the table beside the bed. He rushed the first one down his throat and waited a couple of minutes. He then poured out a second, the hand a little steadier this time. He did not rush this one; there was no need to. After a few more minutes sitting on the bed he rose, he was “ready” once again.


As he dressed, little bits of his day came back to him slowly. He had sat alone in the pub at first, just as he always did. Everyone there knew him and he knew everyone, it was that sort of situation. After a few drinks he would be persuaded to join some of the regulars. By the time the drink was really taking affect on him big time he would usually give into demand and ask Sam the barman to bring out some of the videos from his old games, for them to be shown on the big screen at the side of the bar. At one time he had kept the videos in his flat but he was always forgetting them, leaving them in the pub or losing them altogether. It seemed safer somehow just to leave them with Sam.


It was always the same, he would go along to the pub with the firm (as he saw it) intention of resisting attempts by the regulars to put a video tape on. As time went on though and the drink took control he would get the tapes from Sam and a whole crowd would soon be cheering at the action on the screen.


Other bits of the day were slowly returning. He remembered that they had shown the video that day of one of his greatest ever games, one of his own personal favourites. It was the cup- tie in which he had scored five goals. He remembered that he had been shouting and roaring with the rest of them watching that one. After that though he could remember nothing more. From that point onwards until he had awoken on the

 bed, everything was a blank. Probably he had sat down with some of the pub regulars.  Some of them would have bought him drinks, and they would have sat there drinking for hours recalling the “good old days”. Perhaps they would have put on another video. He would probably have stayed there, still drinking, long after the rest of the regulars had drifted home.

Sometimes he would stagger the few hundred yards to his flat, on other occasions a friend would drive him there. On this occasion though he could not recall how he had got home. Again this was not unusual, most likely he had staggered home.


If the truth be told he did not enjoy re-living his glory days. It was always the effects of the drink that got him in the mood as it were to glorify the past. Sometimes in fact he wondered if that really was himself up there on the screen at his local. The hero of the two or three dozen pub regulars  on a daily basis, the idol of the tens of thousands who had watched him on the terraces up and down the country and in many far and distant lands all those years ago.


He had tried in the past to figure out exactly what it was that made him in his more sober moments so reluctant to relive the past. A past which after all had brought him wealth, worldwide fame and adulation. He had too often

wondered if it was the pressures associated with fame, pressures which had been further enhanced by an n inborn shyness and insecurity, pressures that could only be deadened, not removedentirely by drink that had led him on the path that his life had taken. In his increasingly brief periods of sobriety he would admit, if only to himself that the problem was exactly that and that watching himself up there on the screen in the pub was a reminder to him. A reminder of how the world at that time had been his oyster and that as a result of his own weaknesses he had thrown it away. These periods of introspection had become more frequent of late.

In the midst of so much success there was failure, failure writ large.


By now he had washed, had a quick change of clothes and was ready for his second visit of the day to the Kings Head. A couple of sandwiches sufficed for his ‘dinner.’ He did not eat very much these days, a reasonable breakfast and that was about nit as far as food was concerned.


It was now nearly seven-thirty; it was almost dark outside by the time he left the flat, turning into the main road from the terrace where he lived. In a few minutes he would be in the pub, surrounded once more by the regulars. At least he would not have to go through the routine of watching the videos this evening he thought, the big European tie was on live and everyone would be watching that.


“All right mate?” said Sam the barman.

“Oh not bad Sam, the usual for me, a double.”

The first few sips of the drink further advanced his steadily improving mood, he gulped down the remainder of the drink in one go, a satisfied grunt emitting from his mouth as the alcohol hit the mark.

The right hand, which had been shaking slightly, again to start with, had once more steadied itself.

“Same again Sam, fill her up.”


Sipping his second drink of the evening he looked around, it was half time in the TV game and most of the pub customers were discussing the events of the first half, the highlights were being shown, the main talking points being discussed by the TV pundits. It had been a slightly earlier kick-off than usual, to fit in with the television coverage.


Young George had joined him as he sat at his usual table at the corner of the bar.

Some game this evening eh?” said the younger man.

“I’m just in, missed the first-half, good game is it?”

“Sure is mate, great end-to-end stuff, good attacking football and a few goals as well, the way the game used to be played, the way you played it in your time. I fancy United to capitalise on their superiority in the second-half.”


“What you drinking?”  asked George.

“Oh the usual, make it a double

He watched as George moved, a shade unsteadily, to the bar for the drinks. He had known the youngster for about a year now. He was just starting out in the game; a sensation in his first season in the game had been eclipsed by disappointment in his second, in and out of the first team, his form shading off. This season his form seemed to have declined altogether. Playing in the first game of the season he had been dropped for the second game, argued with his manager and had been overlooked since.

That had been six months ago. Breaches of club discipline had followed; he had turned up late for training on a number of occasions and had been fined and suspended for these. He had taken this turn of events badly and the older man had noticed that over the past few months he had been drinking more often and drinking larger quantities than previously.


“How’s things with you then George?”

George placed the drinks on the table, taking a huge gulp from his brimming pint.

Struggling mate, struggling. My face just does not fit with the new manager, he’s a right bastard. If big Jack was still the manager I’d be playing for the first team every week.”

“I was lucky in my day” said the older man. “I played under one of the greatest managers there has ever been, he could be tough and firm, but he could be understanding and sympathetic too. Understanding? I got away with bloody murder at times.”

“But that was because of how good you were, you deserved favouritism mate.” Said George.I feel it doesn’t matter what I do for the team, it’s a personal thing with the boss, and he just doesn’t like me.”

George had by this time finished his pint, his speech becoming increasingly slurred.

“But you have to make it impossible for him to keep you out of the team. Go out there and show him what you can do, sock it to him as they say. Slow down on the drink, get yourself back into shape and go out there and do your stuff. Make tomorrow in training the first day of the rest of your football life, and then in the reserves this Saturday, think of that game in the same way. Every pass you make, every ball you kick, think of the impression you are making on that boss of yours, don’t let him beat you George, you can beat him, its all about attitude mate.

“I’m just going over to speak to Harry at the other table” said George, rising unsteadily to his feet. “Might see you later on pal.”


He watched George cross to the other end of the bar to join one of his younger friends. He genuinely worried about his young friend. The lad had so much talent, so much promise. In that first glorious season he had even been compared to himself at the same stage of his career. It had all gone to his head, the instant fame, recognition in the streets and everywhere else he went, guest appearances all over the city and beyond and packs of young women following him everywhere. The neat season, when things had started to go wrong he couldn’t handle it and the drink and the late nights had began to take over, the women too.

This was not the first time he had tried to talk to George about the type of life he was leading nor was it his first attempt try and steer him back on a steadier path.

It was so ironic he thought that he himself was trying to advise George. Not exactly a role model people would suggest, given the course his own life had taken and his largely self inflicted troubles. The thing was though that he saw of himself in George at the same age and at the same stage of his career. He truly thought that he could be of some use to George in his present troubles. It was true what George had said, he himself had been fortunate in having an understanding boss at the helm of the club. The situation was entirely different with the youngster although he had not helped his situation any with his public criticism of his manager in a Sunday newspaper the day after he had been dropped at the start of the season, a criticism which had overstepped the “acceptable” in tabloid sports journalism, by entering into the extremely personal.

Then the next month he had been involved in a late Saturday night pub brawl when he had been provoked as he saw it by a rival fan. There were also rumours that he had been fined by the club for turning up at training still drunk from the night before.

He had told George at the time that he would have to get used to that sort of thing and that it was one of those things that went with the fame and the adulation. He would have to turn the other cheek.

“Easier said than done” George had told him. After that his relationship with his manager had gone from bad to worse and he had been playing in the reserve team for months now. Sometimes he had not turned up for matches or training. Club suspensions had followed and he was now on the transfer list. He was considered so “hot” difficult to handle though that in spite of his undoubted talent, verging on the brilliant, no firm bids had come in from any of the big clubs though it had been rumoured from time to time that Chelsea were interested. George in his worst moments had even threatened to quit the game altogether.


A huge cheer went up throughout the bar, United had scored again.

“That’s three nil” shouted Sam. They’re surely going through to the Semi-Final now, what a fight back after losing the first game two nil.

He suddenly realised that for the last twenty minutes or so he had been lost in his thoughts of George’s career, consuming about three drinks in that short period. He had forgotten all about the game. Such was his ‘standing’ in the pub that all he had to do was to wave to Sam and his drink would be brought over: treated like Royalty he was.


The effects of the evening’s drinking were by now starting to show in him, he knew though he would be there until closing time, he always was. He glanced across the pub, George was still there. He had by now been joined by another two of his friends and a lot of noise was coming from their table, although almost half the length of the bar separated them he could hear the frequent uncomplimentary references to his manager uttered by George, growing in intensity as time went on, and with each drink. He watched George rise from the table to go to the toilet, the slight unsteadiness of earlier had now progressed to a stagger, and the young man swayed towards the toilet door.

He tried to think what had set himself on the road his life had taken. Yes there were similarities with young George he thought. Both of them liked the fame and the wealth that had come with instant success. He thought though that he had handled it better than George. It was about ten years into his own career that his problems had begun, when he was in his mid twenties. With George it was happening much earlier, he was not yet twenty-one after all. He had to keep reminding himself that a lot had changed in the near forty years since he had started out in the game; different values, different expectations of players,  from the game, different personalities, the lot. Yes, that was a particularly big difference he thought, different personalities. It was a whole new ball game, quite literally too. And, as George never stopped reminding him when he was administering one of his pep talks, he did have a good boss when he had been playing. In fact it was noticeable that his really big problems had begun when the elderly man was nom longer at the club. A similarity with George there he thought in that George had blossomed under his first boss, his present troubles seeming to coincide with the arrival of the new manager.


Then there was the drink. Yes the drink, it was probably the main factor in the whole equation. He had always enjoyed a drink, in the early days just to be sociable, to be “one of the boys” and to have a good night out and all that. After a few years though and the almost instant arrival of fame it began to be more than that. He had always been quite shy and a little lacking in confidence. But suddenly, with being in the spotlight on a daily basis he had felt the pressure. He had begun to drink more and it had snowballed from there. The premature end to his brilliant career had been largely of his own making and when it was all over he felt a void in his life that increasingly could only be filled by resort to the bottle. A number of failed relationships and a failed marriage too had added to the deteriorating state of affairs and that was how he had arrived at his present position. He financed his life style with guest appearances up and down the country at workingmen’s clubs etc. More occasionally he did some work for television and radio.


He thought that with George it was different. The youngster, or so it seemed to him was not lacking in confidence the way that he remembered himself having been at the same age. It seemed rather that George simply liked to drink, liked to party. He wanted the benefits, the rewards of the good life without always facing the duties and responsibilities of such a life. He had noticed a change in George from about the time of the arrival of the new manager at the club. The drinking had become more regular, and with a greater intake too. When he thought back to his own career though wasn’t it the case that he himself had at least to all outward appearances, taken the same path as George now had? And that he too had seemed to evade his responsibilities. Even in his steadily advancing drunken state he thought hard about that one. Perhaps their situations were not all that different after all, was that it? Different eras, different contexts, different situations and of course different managers with different ides on how footballers should be managed and treated but were there really more similarities than differences? Once more he thought hard on this. His final thought though was how fortunate he had been. He would always, even in his most drunken of moments admit that to himself, even if he would rarely if ever admit it to anyone else.


“One for the road Sam” he shouted his speech by now very slurred.

George was approaching the table; Sam was calling, “time gentleman please.”

Alright my mate” said George, by now very unsteady on his feet.

“Alright George, you watch yourself, your in a bit of a state”

“No problem” replied the youngster. “No problem. In fact I am going to take your advice and go into training tomorrow and let that bastard know I mean business. You want a lift up the road man? I’ve got the car and I pass your way.”

“You’re surely not driving in that state, wait a few moments and we’ll both walk it home.”

“I’m ok mate, see you tomorrow.”

He watched as George staggered out towards the car park. Hopefully he would be ok, he lived only about ten minutes or so up the road anyway, that’s if he went straight home and not into town to a night club or disco as he sometimes did.

He knew that he should have tried harder to persuade George to leave the car and he knew that had he been a bit less drunk himself he would have.


He had heard George’s pledge to mend his ways and to apply himself more to training before. He had little confidence that that this latest pledge would be any different from previous ones.


The pub was by now almost deserted, the football match having long since ended. United had won 4-1 and had once more progressed into the semi-final of the top club tournament in the world. It was a couple of minutes after midnight.

He swallowed the remaining dregs of his drink. “See you tomorrow Sam.”

“See you mate.”

By now he was unsteady on his feet as he exited from the pub into the cold air of the Spring night. He noted with some surprise that George’s car was still in the pub car park, as he approached the main road. Must have decided to walk home after all he thought, he felt relieved at this.

As he crossed the main road he could here the wailing sirens of an ambulance or perhaps a police car. He could see lights flashing in the distance to his right. Another wailing vehicle appeared to be approaching the scene, about three hundred yards to the west.


It was still dark when he awoke, he never bothered with an alarm clock, his “body clock” was more reliable he reckoned. Even during his playing days he always awoke early. If he’d had a particularly heavy night the night before he would usually lie on till late in the morning, this had become so frequent recently that it was almost the norm for him now. He remembered that this had caused problems in his playing days with him being late for training and sometimes failing to turn up at the stadium at all. It had always made big news when this happened and he had often read about himself in the early editions of the evening newspapers when this happened.


This morning he felt not bad considering he had done a “double session” the previous day. Drawing the curtains slightly he looked out. It was starting to get light; a light frost covered the grass in the small park across the road. He reckoned it was about 6am. Unable to get back to sleep he poured himself a drink, then another. By now he felt hungry, so he had a quick snack and a cup of coffee.


He then went back to bed, he awoke a few hours later, the sun by now higher in the eastern sky. He had another drink, then washed and shaved. He had vowed that in spite of his lifestyle and the toll it had taken on him he would always try to look his best.


For the next few hours he sat at the small table in the bedroom having more drinks, the bottle was soon more than half empty. The traffic outside was getting heavier and he could hear voices in the street. Another day was in progress, a lovely, sunny Thursday morning.


It was an hour or so later that he heard the loud, rather “urgent” knocking at his front door. On opening it he was surprised to see John, Sam’s assistant manager at the King’s whom he knew well.

A grim look was etched on the face of the morning caller.

“Have you heard the news?” he said quietly.

.” “News? Whats up? I never bother with the television or the radio in the mornings John.”

Its young George” came the reply.He was killed last night, knocked down by a speeding car after he lefet the pub” said the shaky, unsteady voice. “He had left his car at the pub and walked. It appears he was heading towards the estate to see one of his pals who lives up there, wee Davie.”

John, by now almost in tears went on.Its tragic, he never had a chance, especialloy the state he was in. They said at the hospital that he would have lost both his legs even if he had lived. What a waste, what a terrible bloody waste.”


The other man stared at John, unable to believe what he had just heard, then, his eyes moving he stared into space, into nothing for what must have been two minutes, finally he said, yes John what a tragic waste. Here, have a drink, you look as though you could use one. I could do with a large top up myself.>”


It was John’s day off and for the next few hours they sat there drinking, a few more bottles were opened and as time wore on they recalled the “old days,” the good times, the not so good times and the downright bad times. Inevitably though the conversation returned frequently to the tragic event of twelve hours ago.


“The kid had everything” said John. He had more talent than anyone I’ve seen since you in your prime, I mean that. He had all the looks too, just like you, with your long dark hair, George with his flowing blond locks. He was better looking than you though” a bitter-sweet smile appearing on John’s face.

The other man laughed.

I think he would have gone right to the very top, been world class, an Internationalist for at least the next decade,”

“I agree” said John.


Both of them were by now quite drunk.

John glanced at his watch. “Its after one, I really must go” he said rising unsteadily to his feet. I told Janice I was going round to see you but that I would be back by eleven”

“And she believed you?” said his companion trying to lighten the sombre atmosphere that even the drink had failed to dispel. “C’mon, have one for the road.”

No I really must go, you take care, put that stuff away and have a few hours sleep, it will do you good. You know this mate, you’ve been a lucky man, a real survivor too, don’t push things too far.”

John slurred a quick goodbye to his friend and he was gone.


He sat by the window for what seemed an eternity. John’s parting words seeming to stay with him constantly, like an old record with the needle stuck. Yes he had been lucky; yes he was a survivor. At times he despised his life –style, mainly in his more sober moments, but then the drink took over again, everything was once more “ok” and the whole cycle would repeat itself, like the rewinding of a video tape.

His thoughts returned to young George. In his short life he had never had the opportunities that he himself had had, at least not to the same extent. Now he never would. He himself had had the breaks; George had experienced little of these. That he himself had messed up his own life was largely his own fault. Likewise, he himself would determine the course the remainder of his life would take.  Again he thought of this last point long and hard. Even in his drunken state the significance of it was not lost on him. The choices were his and his alone, just like they had always been.


He was doubtful though whether George had he lived would have conquered his own personal problems; he did though think that he would have, given the right circumstances and a willingness on his own part. He remembered the first time he had seen George play, it was about two years ago and he had just broken into the first team. He left the ground that day along with over 50,000 others enthralled at what he had witnessed, it seemed a new hero had arrived, George had scored two that day, the second an unforgettable strike from the eighteen-yard line after beating five opponents down the right. He was not an emotional man but he felt somehow sad on recalling this, realising he would never see George do that again.


A chink of light appeared through the half drawn curtains. He rose from the bed, his eyes immediately meeting the chair that he had sat on for so long earlier, the empty glass still on the table beside the chair, the remnants of the drink having spilled on to the floor, probably as a result of his failed attempt to reach the glass before he passed out. He almost tripped over the overturned bottle as he made for the window; he had probably spilled the contents as he staggered on to the bed earlier.


“Must be evening” he murmured inwardly, seeing the declining daylight out to the west as he opened another bottle. “Least the pubs will still be open.”    © 


~ end ~

Short Stories  Page1    Page2   Page3   Page4    Page5

Jun 2009


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