Short fiction

Issue #8

Heaven Comes to Camarthen

New Year’s Eve, cold and damp, sleet stinging our faces.  The slick black streets shine with blurred red, white and yellow reflected from cars, street-lamps and shop-window neon.   A roar of talk and laughter blares out from a suddenly opened bar door – then stops.  Tottering towards us comes a loud gang of girls, high-heeled, bare-armed and tinsel-draped.  One, her hand clutched to her stomach in its tight red satin, stops to retch and spew in the gutter, strings of vomit joining her lips to her pale long hair.  A passing car, windows steamy, splashes her with a mixture of sick and rain puddle.  Her mates scream. Oh, it’s hilarious.

Here’s Carmarthen bus-station.  A few silent people bundled against the cold wait in bus shelters.  Cigarette smoke snakes around the smeared, rain-dirty glass.  The restaurant isn’t open yet, so we’ll go and have a pint somewhere that’s warm.  The Lamb and Flag’ll do.  Looks like a dump, but it’s nearby.  We get our beer and sit down at a sticky table.  A shapeless,  whiskery, head-scarved woman comes over to us.  “Will ya buy us a drink?”  She smells of piss and wet dirty clothes.  I fetch her a beer and she shuffles off to drink it in a corner.

Four men come in with a rush of icy air and loud voices.  They stumble to the bar and ask for bitter.  They’ve been drinking since they finished work, I reckon.  The one with brown curly hair spots us and brings his pint over, a hospitable friend to the strangers in this pub.  He sits with us and maunders through incomprehensible tales.   He’s a joker, a teller of dirty stories, a drunk.  I wish he’d bugger off.  His glass drained, he lurches back to the bar.  His friends slap his back and roar.  Curly-head is obviously their leader.  They have been waiting for him.

Then, from the smelly, steamy, sticky bar, the sound of angels lifts us all towards the stars.  Raucous shouts have changed into unearthly music.  Everyone is silent with wonder as drunken, foul-mouthed curly-head leads his friends in a beautiful, astonishing, four-part harmony.   Our hands around our beer mugs are still. We are transfixed, transported.  This squalid bar has become an enclosed sphere of rare beauty.  The angels are singing in Welsh.

Jackie Hopson