The Student finished his tale – further – by flopping completely forward on the table, and letting loose a prolongued sigh/moan combination. The group of us looked at one another in silence, each of us registering on some level that The Student was sad for one reason or another, but, because none of us were completely empathetic to other people’s needs, not quite getting why. After all, the man had recently returned from a trip to France where he spent time in France, speaking French, with French people, and thus, it seemed slightly incongruous to be sad.
Eventually, he inhaled deeply and sat back up, though he slumped just a bit. “Well,” he said, his voice devoid of humor, and sounding more like a nihilist’s upon waking up in the morning, “well.” He nodded. “Well.” He then spread out his hands in an invitation. “Go ahead. Tear it to shreds.”
The Writer pounded on the table.
Everyone looked at him.
The Writer sputtered some words, “What—did—how—there—show—characters?” He gave up trying to form a coherent sentence and simply made several gestures I’d never seen before, but he seemed to think were sufficient enough to convey his message. I looked around, saw my confused look on everyone’s face, and looked back to The Writer. He gave up even his gestures and just sat there making a sound that sounded like a cat sneezing.
“Well,” said The Traveler, “Student, I don’t know whether to thank you or turn you into the police: You’ve broken The Writer.”
“Huhzah!” shouted The Drunkard and The Stalker simultaneously, raising their glasses in the air. They looked at each other, then. The Drunkard with a look of concern—though I imagine it was concern for his own mental well-being, having just agreed with The Stalker on something—and The Stalker looking like he’d just crossed a line of his own. They settled their glasses down without taking another drink.
“I can’t help it,” said The Student. “I feel like shit,” he said, his voice raising just a bit, “Rebecca just dumped me—”
“Woah,” I said, “she dumped you?”
The Student slammed his fist on the table. “She dumped me!” he shouted. “For some Greek paratrooper fuckhead who wears God-damned gel in his hair!” He was standing now. The rest of us stooped in our seats, save for The Drunkard, who cheered on this bout of self-martyrdom at the hands of a woman.
The bartender shouted: “Oi, Yank, shut your fuckin gob or we’ll toss you out! The fuckin rugby’s on and—”
“Do you know how many pubs close in this country per week?” shouted The Student again. “Do you, you evolutionary fuck-up?”
The bartender’s eyes widened.
“Do you realize,” continued The Student, “how much of a fucking favor my friends and I are doing you by coming into this pub every Goddamn week instead of going to fucking Wetherspoons? So that you can continue to feature some of the best fucking ale I’ve ever had? Do you fucking understand that?”
The bartender, and the rest of the patrons, for that matter, stared at The Student as he continued to flail and spit all over the place in his rage. The Drunkard laughed and clapped like a seal. He was quite drunk by now.
“And yet, you have the fucking gall to assume you’re doing yourself a favor by playing rugby and attracting fucking benefits miscreants,” he here pointed at the men in track suits who were gathered around the TV, now staring at The Student, wide-eyed and open-mouthed, “while your business looks like it’s fucking failing because you’re in one of the most expensive areas in the city, and you don’t have the Goddamn business sense to make it classy? Or tie it in to the fucking Cathedral somehow? Oy gevalt, you’re insane! You’re mad! The mishegaas!
“So what if we’re loud? We blow like four hundred quid in here a week, and you should wish for customers like us! Now.” He took a deep breath and closed his eyes for a moment. “I think I’m going to buy a round for my friends, and one for you, as an apology for cursing so many times in one rant.”
Someone scored in the rugby match. It went unnoticed by the men in track suits.
“Right oh,” said the bartender. “If it’s all right, I believe I’ll pour myself a whiskey and have a think.”
The bartender, shaking a bit, poured himself a Jameson and leaned up against the back of the bar. When he’d sipped a bit of it, we went up, ordered our drinks, and returned.
After a little bit, the sports enthusiasts began talking about how the French were subservient to the English in everything, especially rugby—but in lower voices. The bartender still stood, confused, behind the bar, glancing around with a look that I’d seen before in a few people who were trying to figure out what to do with their lives; that not-quite-empty, but more overwhelmed wide-eyed and shocked stare around the room that accounted every nook and cranny, every piece of Americana and every vintage poster; all accounted for, and all weighed against the wishes of a younger self. All of that went through the bartender’s eyes, and I saw him shudder.
The Student sat back down and said, “So yeah. I feel like shit. Then, it’s like... academia. Really? The Ivory Tower is collapsing, but it’s still the only place where the Enlightenment is alive and people think that they can advance the state of human thought. How fucked are we?”
The Writer made a sound like a turkey mixed with a cow. He then shook his head and said, “But you’ve ruined a story by coloring it with your own existential angst and—dear God. I can’t believe I just said that.”
“Ha!” shouted The Drunkard. “Gayn cacken afn yahm, you schmuck.You just went back on your own modus operandi and—” he leaned forward, eyes widened, a giant sneer on his face, “—there’s nothing you can do about it.”
The Writer, defeated, screamed in horror, grabbed his hair, and bolted out of the pub.
“Well,” said The Traveller. “Um.” He drummed his fingers on the table. “Been reading Kafka lately?”
The Student shook his head. “No, but my deep alienation from the world knows no bounds, so I suppose Kafkaesque musings simply spew forth from my very soul without my meaning to. Indeed, were there an—”
The Drunkard clapped The Student on his back with much more force than was necessary, and the latter tipped forward. “My friend,” said The Drunkard, “we’re gonna go out tonight, out to—” he shuddered and gritted his teeth “—The Venue and we’re gonna get you hooked up with an incredibly drunk girl from Essex.”
“Oh,” said The Student, sighing, “good. I can’t wait to wake up and have my urine causing a fire in my insides.”
“Stop being overly dramatic.”
“So,” said The Traveller, “I think we’re all in agreement that The Student shouldn’t tell a tale while he’s in a depressive state.”
We nodded, raised our glasses, and paid up.
The bartender, it should be noted, was still scratching his chin in deep thought by the time we left the pub. The haunted self-analyzing look hadn’t left his eyes, and, if I was at all familiar with the typical length of a good existential funk (and I was), then I had a hunch that it’d be around five or six days before he got out of it.