by Andrew Boulton
I take grandad out to The Struggler.
He lives in Swinderby so we drive past three, no four, other pubs to get to Eagle.
In the bar it is always six hours darker than outside. A crimson sofa snakes around the wall, pocked with footprints and the scars of dropped ash.
We sit in front of a sheet where milky footage of a cricket match is projected from a snide satellite TV box.
Grandad can never decide on the drink he likes best. Or perhaps he can never decide on the drink that will punish him the least in the night.
Today he drinks a stout called Ladysmith. Grandad doesn’t like me to drink at all if I’m driving him, so I have to hide two measures of rum in my Coke.
Every Saturday I take grandad for two pints and a ham cob that he eats so slowly he might as well be dissolving it on his tongue.
Beside us an enormous dog waits by a table for his owner. His neck is sourdough, his huge back is wholemeal. His eyes are too tiny for his face, like rowboats from the window of a plane.
Grandad can’t smoke indoors anymore and he scratches one finger nail against another in protest.
I used to try and get him to give up when I was a kid. Hid his fags in the organ seat once and it was the only time I saw him really angry at me.
Then he told me that the first cigarette he had was at 15, on a train, where a soldier had handed him a cup of tea, a pack of John Players and said “it’s alright son, you’re fighting for your country.” I never bothered him about it after.
When she died I was sure my grandad would have gone within a few weeks. It’s been three years now and I know he still talks to her. He didn’t hang up the phone properly once when we’d been chatting and I listened to him telling her about the pain in his shoulder and the kids who had broken his greenhouse.
Everyone he sees tells him how well he’s looking, how well he’s doing, but I never say it. He isn’t well and we both know it. He’s not living but doesn’t know what he has to do to die either.
I should offer, I know I should. He’s been the only friend I’ve had all my life, and that is both the reason why I should and can’t offer to help. I think he knows it, but neither of us brings it up. We just sit side by side, while the crease in the sheet makes the cricketers look taller than they are.
Andrew Boulton is a lecturer in creative advertising. His flash fiction stories have been accepted and published in journals including Retreat West, Lunate Fiction, Flash Fiction Magazine, Bath Flash Fiction Anthology and Storgy. He lives in Nottingham with his wife, daughter and a chubby cat.