(published ‘The New Truth’ 1988)
As a freak of fate, those who were already there when Antonian arrived in the lamp room, were discussing the dice-throwing set who used to frequent the commercial markets all over the world. Antonian had once considered himself to be part of that scene, but not for some years. It all came flooding back to him when someone shouted out: “Hey! Antonian, thrown a clutch of sixes lately?”
He scowled at the unseen perpetrator of this cruel jollity.
The gas lamps were so aligned with the wall mirrors, they cast shadows over the faces on the settees, but made the ceiling brighter than a sunny sky in mid-June.
He went to the hatch in the wall where pootch was being served at a guinea a schooner. The young lady serving, in contrast to the customers, was in full view, not even a shadow down her cleavage.
“Six schooners,” he ordered.
She poured them from a cask with a brass tap.
“Can you top them up - there’s at least half an inch of head.”
She stared back.
“Oi, Mistah, you may be a right oo-de-lah in your mummy’s eyes, but here you get what yer given. That’ll be six guineas and, if you want me to say please, thàt’ll be another guinea on top!”
Antonian fidgetted his feet. The lamps flickered as a nearby underground train shook the whole building. Like ghosts, the faces of the other drinkers were partially revealed by the tapering, leaning and bluing of the gas jets. He recognized at least one of his fellow shakers from the old days, one who owed him more than vice versa.
“Hey, Jack,” he called, “Give this here lady a guinea and she says she’ll say please.”
“Yes,” she laughed, “I’ll say please for a guinea and give me yet another, I’ll give you a sweet thank you too!”U
“How sweet, Brenda?”
He put his hand into his pocket and pulled out a wad of tight change. He threw it into her cleavage and heard the splash several seconds later.
“Is that enough, Brenda?”
She smiled innocently and fished down her front to retrieve the payment.
Meanwhile, he who had been addressed as Jack had stepped up to the hatch. If anyone had a misaligned smile he did - either that or his head had been put on at the wrong angle.
“Yes, I thought it was you Jack - come to rub along again with your old Uncle Antonian, eh? We were muckers once, so let’s call it quits. Give me a wad, and I’ll let this young lady have another one for her chest of drawers ... and maybe she’ll entertain us both together, later.”
“And maybe I won’t”, she said, as she topped up the six schooners.
“Thanks, Brenda, have one for yourself.”
Antonian wrapped the six glasses in his fist as if he were a born waiter and, without warning, smashed them all to the floor, splinters of glass and flecks of pootch flying in all directions … save one, where Antonian himself stood with Jack.
The rest of the company were not so lucky. They had their women picking shards out of their cheeks for weeks after.
But that was the last six Antonian ever threw. He left the lamp-room that night - smiling from ear to ear and, for the benefit of those who pry, he was carried out in a state of apparent drunkenness. Well, what do you think, after downing six schooners of pootch?
Brenda (if that was her real name), when dressing later that night, told Jack that she’d enjoyed it more than ever, his new pouch being far more chunky.... But it had been strangely dark in the lamp-room and, in this day and age, what matters is who trumped her - names were wild, bodies shuffled and tricks far too easy to take - and who cares whose deal it was anyway.