A FORGOTTEN COLOUR
The man in the fedora hat sat listlessly at the bar. The tumbler of single malt whiskey he had purchased an hour ago sat ingenuously on a beer mat in front of him.
The man in the fedora hat had no particular striking features; his nose was of a normal size and length, his chin was not weak or exceptionally strong. His face was not scarred nor had any distinguishable qualities to it. Judging by the lines on his face, if a passerby was to hazard a guess they would probably mark him down as being in his mid to late thirties, or at a push, maybe even forty. He was clean shaven and if a woman happened to walk past the bar to order a drink they would not be repulsed by his presence, but at the same time they would not be attracted to his character. He was simply a non-entity.
To his left, a group of raucous teenagers were animatedly discussing their plans for the weekend. It transpired to the man in the fedora hat that they were planning to travel to Dorset or Cornwall, to camp. He did not turn his head to face the youngsters, but could make them out in his peripheral vision. One of the spotty adolescents, clearly tipsy, was stating that he had a four man tent and they could all sleep in that, if they wanted to. He had, the man in the fedora hat thought, mentioned it innocently enough at first, hoping to plant the seed of the idea in their mind. Their conversation had changed subject several times within ten minutes, such was the tenacity of a young mind blinded by simple virtues, but the spotty teenager with the greased back hair that reminded the man of a younger, uglier version of James Dean, remarked about the tent again, this time more vocally. The two girls at the table were nervously giggling – they were mouthing that yes, this would be fine, but the man in the fedora hat could see that they were being amenable in order to change the subject to something else. The greasy teenager wouldn’t let it lie, and within several minutes of his request to share a tent going unacknowledged, he continued to go into great detail about the booze and drugs he could acquire from his older brother to sweeten the deal. The man in the fedora hat noticed an imperceptible change in the girl’s body language when the older brother was mentioned. He saw out of the corner of his eye one of them mouth ‘Is he coming?’ The spotty faux James Dean hesitated to answer; knowing subconsciously that if he answered ‘no’, then the entire weekend could be ruined. If he answered ‘yes’, however, then he knew that he wouldn’t stand a chance with the two girls, faltering in the shadow of his older, more attractive brother. The man in the fedora hat wondered if his brother looked even more like James Dean.
‘I never meant to do it,’ slurred the man sitting next to him, on his right.
The man in the Fedora hat did not turn his head to engage his fellow patron. It caused him pain to move now.
‘Little fucker was just there, y’know?’
The man in the fedora hat wrapped his hand around the tumbler, as if to raise it to his mouth, but instead fingered the glass with the tips of his fingers. His arms ached.
‘Working all day…to come home and see your walls covered in paint…’ the man continued, clearly speaking to no individual in particular, ‘was just meant to spank the little sonofabitch. Arm’s aren’t meant to twist that way…’
The man in the fedora hat wondered indifferently who he would pick tonight.
His own question was answered when a tall man in a leather jacket knocked into him at the bar from behind. An elbow collided with his hand draped around his whiskey, sending the tumbler spinning. The liquid dribbed down the bar edge.
‘Whoops,’ an insincere voice from behind.
The man in the fedora hat sighed. He shook his hand once, causing great pain. Slowly, he turned on his barstool and faced a taller, uglier faux James Dean. This was the older brother the girls at the table on his left had been enquiring about. The man in the fedora hat stared at him. Searching. Estimating.
The older brother sniggered. ‘Asshole, what’s your problem?’
The man in the fedora hat did not answer.
‘You a fag or something?’ the boy said, producing a few jeers from his friends now gathered around to witness the commotion. The man in the fedora hat could sense that the girls on the table had stopped chirping about the weekend in Cornwall or Devon. Now eyes were on him. The older brother inched closer.
‘I don’t like you staring at me, you hear me old man?’
The man who had been previously slurring to himself was now quiet.
‘How about,’ the man in the fedora hat whispered, ‘we settle this with a thumb war?’
The older brother took a moment to absorb this information. Once the words he heard passed into his brain and were deciphered as English, he shook his head, incredulous.
The man in the hat slowly, painfully, reached into this jacket pocket and produced a rumpled fifty pound note.
‘I bet you,’ the man said, wincing at each word spoken, ‘this fifty pounds…that you can’t beat me at a thumb war.’
He placed the note on the wet bar. The older brother looked at his friends, bewildered at first, until his cocksure attitude returned.
‘You’re fucking crazy, old timer, but fine.’ He turned to his friends who looked on in equal bafflement and exclaimed smugly, ‘drinks on me tonight lads, alright?’
They sat at the bar, the crowd intensified since his drink had been spilt. At first the older brother was unsure what trick this was, but when the man in the fedora hat deferentially offered his palm outward, the young thug simply shook his head and clamped his fist into a ball and stuck out his thumb.
Snaking his fingers round the young man’s, the man in the fedora hat grimaced in anguish as a spasm of pain travelled down his spine. Before they began, the older, uglier version of James Dean thought he heard the older man whisper ‘Alabaster white,’ but shrugged it off as a crazy old fool wanting to part with his money. The man in the fedora hat pushed his thumb down to the point between his rival’s thumb and index finger, and within three seconds and without much effort, the young man had won. The greasy older brother stood victorious, snatching the fifty pound note from the bar before the man in the fedora hat could protest. He screamed something jubilant to his friends and began ordering the next round of drinks. Once he received them, he hadn’t even noticed the old man had slipped off the bar stool and exited the pub.
One of the girls from the table, Sandra, slipped away from Grant prattling on about tents, and came up behind Peter, his brother. He was down for the weekend from University. She tapped Peter on the shoulder, wanting to find out what was going on with the old man at the bar, but it was really just an excuse to talk to Peter.
‘What was all that about?’ she said, in her most flirtatious tone.
When Peter turned to face her, she screamed. Peter’s jet black hair had turned completely white, his skin grey and blotchy. His eyes were jaundice yellow. He tried to mouth something but only a guttural sound spat at her. He collapsed to the floor.
The man in the fedora hat walked down the road. The aching feeling in his muscles now a dull throb, his appetite returned. He smiled, glad to feel no pain.
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