Bucket of crabs

by Jenny

The Salty Landlubber was the only place to go in our village that didn’t just serve watery tea and damp biscuits to gummy pensioners. If it wasn’t exactly loved, it was certainly a well-used, familiar establishment.

Our village is like a bucket of crabs, where everyone pulls each other down and down and down again, until the thought of leaving seems an impossible dream, vague and indistinct, like the idea of heaven. But at least you could get your pint and your packet of salt and vinegar crisps down the Lubber after a hard day at the Factory.

You got everyone in the Lubber, from your hardened drinkers, chasing whisky with whisky night after night, to your underage dabblers, overwhelmed to nausea by their lurid alcopops. Mrs Quean didn’t care. She’d serve anyone, long as you had your £2.40 or whatever. She’d survey the room meanly, draping us in the oxymoron of her smile as a lifetime of pounds and pennies dribbled steadily from our pockets to hers.

I remember her now, standing squint-eyed in front of the jars of pickled bratwursts, floating like severed limbs in vinegar, until someone had a fancy for one and it was delivered, all pink-wobbly and dripping, wrapped in a serviette, begging for dick jokes.

I was fifteen when I first strode inside with my child’s version of what I thought confidence looked like. I ordered my Snakebite and stood for several trembling moments under her basilisk gaze - I thought that she’d refuse, or gobble me up right there at the bar. But serve me she did, and I often thought how things might have turned out for me, if she hadn’t.

We used to talk about all kinds of things back then - what we’d do when we finished school, when we got a car, when we became supervisor at the Factory, when we’d saved enough to leave the Factory for good.

In hushed whispers over our pints we’d plan and dream and laugh at those hopeless old soaks who’d laughed at us on our first day. Of course, we didn’t know then why they were really laughing; what they knew that we didn’t.

I remember how hammered Jonny Graves got when he passed his A levels, the only one of us brave enough to even try. Fell down the steps outside and we carried him home. Same when he proposed to Fiona, because he’d knocked her up behind the bikeshed. She’d had twins and Jonny’d not gone to Uni after all. I remember his eldest getting married, and then she was pregnant with her own twins. They say it’s like that with twins, don’t they?

And then, one day, we looked up and inexplicably found that it was us propping up the bar now, trading our pints for the cheapest whisky that would get the job done - our excuses for staying here, in this awful place, trailed behind us like oily petrol in the wake of a captainless ship.