Mike caressed the worn woodwork in a way that he had never caressed his wife. Each dent and patch of sticky varnish rekindled memories beneath his fingertips; the chip where the ladder had fallen whilst decorating for Paddy’s Day; the dark red stain where Beth had dropped an entire bottle of rioja over a customer; the shreds of silver tinsel still stapled to the underside. He looked around the empty pub with tired eyes.
He had purchased The Captain’s Wife when he was just thirty years old; a derelict pub on the brink of demolition. Mike remembered as a child sliding on his knees across the hardwood floors, begging his parents for another coke as they contributed to the heavy smog around them. The pub had been a regular scene of his childhood. But time had eroded the decor and the owner until he could no longer maintain it. Mike, on a whim, decided to buy it, and with love and hard work restored the bar to its former glory.
The Captain ran in his blood like his current dose of morphine. It was the reason he got up in the morning and he could never shake it from his mind. But it was also a disease, eating away at his brain and crippling his brittle bones. The Captain was an addiction, and without his permission, Mike was being thrown into rehab.
He heard banging outside and looked away from the empty optics. Outside, a man in a suit was hammering a sign into the flowerbed, its crude letters sending a stabbing pain through his chest. It was like an invitation for the world to come and peer at his loss. A few weeks ago his wife would have been ecstatic at the sight. Well, he thought, you got what you wanted after all.
“You got everything, dad? This is the last from the cellar.” Paula plonked a cardboard box on the bar and began sifting through the pile of mail next to it. He smirked at the irony of her question, but didn’t have the heart to make a joke. “Yes, thanks love.”
Paula tutted. “More of the same,” she said, holding up several envelopes with “URGENT” stamped across the top. “I wish they’d just leave you alone, they know the situation.”
“It’s fine, love.”
“It’s not fine, everything’s-”
Paula sighed. She squeezed his shoulder and said, “I’ll be in the car when you’re ready.” He smiled gratefully as she picked up the box and backed out of the front door. Silence engulfed Mike, and he loathed it. This was a place of noise and raucous laughter; the clinking of bottles and the smashing of glasses, the roaring chants of football fans, the tinny din of the outdated games machine. He’d give anything to have those back. But the iceberg had already been hit. The ship was sinking with its captain, neither steering through the storm without the other.
With a resigned sigh, he flipped the lights off, gave a last fond gaze and locked the door.