The Green Man
Lucy and Christian had arrived early, so they were there to see the scratching, clunking spectacle of the doors being heaved open.
Dumping the padlock and chain on the ground, Terry said: “Don’t come in yet. Let me clean up a bit first.”
They sat gingerly on an ancient picnic table, birdsong competing with the muted bangs and clatters from within. They talked briefly and in hushed tones about the evening ahead.
Eventually he emerged, smiling. “There we are, all done. I mean it’s not the lap of luxury but it should do all right. It’s still the Green Man.”
The pub had already been old and tired before it had shut, and the years since had done nothing for its charm. Yellowed woodchip paper was separating from the walls; the carpet’s familiar stickiness had attracted layers of dust. Presumably, Terry had at least removed the dead flies.
They threw open the windows and arranged photos, bunting and flowers. They fetched the cold boxes from the car and set out beer and wine. At 5 o’clock they took delivery of the buffet: sandwiches, sausage rolls, crisps, scones with jam. Thankfully it came with paper plates.
Amelie arrived soon afterwards, her hair in a bun and her eyes heavier than usual with mascara. She wore a floral dress, white on black, somewhere between celebration and mourning.
Lucy rushed to her: “I’m so sorry.”
The guests arrived in pairs and groups, some going straight for the drinks, others lingering by the book of condolence. At 7 o’clock there were speeches and music, and it was generally agreed that Jimmy would have wanted it this way.
Stan was the one who asked the question. He’d been one of Jimmy’s newer friends, a retirement acquaintance from the golf course.
“So what was this Bears thing all about, anyway?”
The conversation first went quiet in one corner of the bar, then across the room. Drinks were sipped.
“Well…” said Connor. “It goes back to our uni days. Not that I can remember much of them!”
The light ripple of laughter was not going to be enough to rescue him; he’d started this now.
“There were five of us, I suppose. Six if you count Davey, bless him. Call ourselves the Bears but I can’t remember why. We used to do everything together. Social stuff. Even lived with each other in the third year. And those terrible pub crawls you hear about students doing, ending up here. Always here.” He lifted his glass. “Shame this place closed.”
“And you kept on with it?”
“Yeah. Met up once a year for the first, what, ten years or so. Then it just sort of faded. We all lost touch. People got married. I think it was actually Jimmy who had the idea.”
“Get back together again. When we turned 50. See who was who and what was what. Come back here.”
He puffed his cheeks and let out a long breath. “It was a rainy afternoon, stupid really. We should have known this place had closed years ago, shouldn’t have bothered coming. Taking a bloody shortcut, what were we thinking?”
Amelie dabbed at her eyes. “Please, Connor. Please don’t.”
“I’m sorry, Amelie. I’m so, so sorry. But we should never have gone near that cliff.”