Encounters With Bums (A Short Story by Liam Gallagher)

I am in my early twenties with a lot of life ahead of me; what should feel so young feels so old. Broken. Many aches and pains; and sounds only nurses should hear in those homes – those prisons – for the sad and elderly that have been left to die on their own by the world. Their world. I woke up this morning just as any other, though, wondering why I was so tired. Scrambling around looking for a beer or some whisky. A drink that didn’t exist. ‘Fuck’, I thought, ‘I haven’t had a drink in almost a week now. What’s the world come to when an honest man can’t get a half of whisky to drown away the pains of being… well, of just, BEING?’

I walked down the street on the way into town. Nothing to do today but write, write tripe for pennies to stay somewhat afloat and eventually leave the hell hole of home. It’s that same hole that condemns me to sit with all of the dumb kids in the public library to get any work done. Sitting in that home – PERSONAL HELL we’ll call it – with those bastards stares and shitting out of their mouths, makes for only a few words on blank paper possible:

‘All work and no play……..’

The fog had come down quite a lot today. Winter mornings in January or February on this small island meant there would always be some sort of thick grey fog pouring over the streets, hugging the ground any chance the two got to meet. You could see faint headlights piercing through. I thought I saw Charles Bukowski walking the street the opposite way. A bum in rags, with the same face, the same tortured eye’s. He even had the same throaty warble, the same voice, a voice that didn’t care. He asked me for money. I had pennies, enough for few mouthfuls of food for that day, myself. I said no. He had no hat on his hair. The frost was creeping up each strand. I gave him mine and my old fingerless gloves.

‘Stay warm now, man.’

‘Thanks..’ He croaked.

‘Say, what’s your name?’

‘Hank.’ He murmured as he walked the road to the park on the other side.

Holy shit it was Bukowski. 22 years after his death, condemned to this town, and still no richer.

I carried down on the road to town, not really thinking any more. Not after meeting the barfly himself. Or not. Whatever. I got down to the public library just as it was opening. Sitting down for hours, holding out on buying food for as long as possible. This would be okay if I’d had some wine to fill the day, and stomach.

*

After four or five hours I couldn’t wait any longer. I needed something to eat. I went down to the cafe on the corner for a small plate of something that looked like slop. It was all I could afford. I saw a homeless woman outside the closed store next to the cafe. Sat right next to the ATM – a very clever idea if you ask me; always people with money, and they can’t deny it – some old man gave her some of his change whilst holding all of his bank notes in his other hand. I saw the same woman a few days earlier on a backstreet next to the hotel across from the motorway. You know the ones. The ones with people steadily coming by even though there is nothing around, barely even a corner store. Nothing around except the distant rumbling of cars and one bored hotel clerk waiting to… die?.. All sketchy people, broken people, unlike the ones you see in the day time at the shopping centres. She was trying to sell herself. No-one would go anywhere near her, though. Not with the obvious track marks on her arm. Sorrow. She seemed almost deflated, like the drugs had gotten the better of her. I felt bad and gave her cigarette. She was glad of that. I did not want anything in the backstreet though. She looked a little less hungry outside the ATM. She must have found a few guys near the hotel that wanted some action.

The slop was shit, but food is food when you need it. I finished it and headed back to the library. It didn’t take long to burn out with the boring writing. So I decided to read a while instead. Whitman. Poe. And some Bukowski. It seemed only fair to read a little of Charles after that brief encounter earlier that morning.

*

It had gotten to the time to leave. They were locking up and I had to meet my wife. She works for one of those big chain stores. First world slave. Making money just to pay others. It keeps us afloat though… I suppose. I love her. I wish I could get her enough money to leave that place. Enough to just go away one day and never come back. A hut at the lakes. Simple life, but happy. I do love her.

We walk back up the long road after she finishes. It’s getting fairly dark now. No more fog but a sense that the rains were about to descend.

On the way up I see a guy who looks homeless (maybe he wasn’t) sat on the bench at the bus stop. Drinking out of a brown paper bag. Looks like a wine bottle and his lips are red. He’s got a slightly ripped t shirt on that says:

‘The Sea Is My Brother!’

Keruac…. is that you?

I stare at him on the way past. Time was moving slower as we locked eye’s. He knew. I knew… Or maybe he just wanted my money. Or for the random guy to stop staring at him whilst he enjoyed his wine. I felt something, though. Are these people here for me now? Are these people supposed to help me or am I going slightly mad? Was this what they saw when they were young? Were they followed by their heroes before they became one of mine? And what happens if I become one?

We get home, have sex to pass the time and go to sleep. She does, anyway. I lay awake and stare at the roof. God, I can’t wait for the morning to be able to drown (or feed) this insanity with some whisky.

Oh, payday. So near yet so far.

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