It was nearly closing time, at the Pirate’s Head, and the regulars peeled themselves from their bar stools, out into the night where the rain fell gently. Shouting their goodbyes, and their hoots of laughter. Stella shrugged her shoulders. Another night, another load into the glasswasher. The till was full enough, and if her life was a little empty, that was her choice. The night had been the same as most, some arguments, a few songs. She had steadily poured their drinks, smiled, and taken their money.
The towels smelled of stale beer, and the drip trays waited for their turn in the washer. She had performed the shutting down routine too many times to have to think about it. The door was locked against the weather and anyone who might want to relieve her of the night’s takings. The cash was counted and locked into the safe. She was almost done. Just the bar and the tables to wash, and the floor behind the bar to mop, and her bed beckoned.
The cloth, smelling of fresh cleaning fluid slipped easily across the bar in her hand, and the steam rose from the bucket. She mopped the tiles on the floor, concentrating on the beer spills which were sticky underfoot. The smell hit her all the harder, because she had been smelling the sweet floral bubbles in her bucket. Nose wrinkling decay and rot assaulted her.
The man sat in the shadows at the end of the bar. One arm resting on the surface she had just cleaned, and a glass in front of him.
“We’re closed. You’ll have to go.” She told him. He lifted his head to meet her stare, and his mouth lifted into a smile.
“This is my place.” His voice cracked, dry and underused. He tipped the drink and pushed the glass towards her. It was straight-sided, not like any she had in the pub.
“No, mate, this is my place. My name is over the door. Time you went home.” He was not the first punter she had stood her ground with over the years.
“My name is over the door too.” He laughed. “I am the Pirate. They named this place for me, because they were so shitty scared of me. They took my money, when I had it, and bought my plunder when I had no gold. They sold me their women and their ale, until I had no more to give, then they sold me to the militia. I dangled just down the street. My feet danced to a merry tune, and I had to learn to be without breath in my lungs.”
“You’re telling me you’re a ghost.” She laughed. “OK, nice try.” She huffed a smile. “Just for sheer cheek, I’ll share a drink with you. What will you have?”
“Rum. In my glass.” She picked up his glass, and washed it in the sink, drying it with a cloth, and keeping her eyes firmly fixed on him, she poured him a good measure of dark rum. She poured another for herself, and carried the glasses to his end of the bar.
He sipped, and smiled. “Thank you, woman.”
“Stella.” She corrected him. “Tell me where you sailed to then, if you are a pirate.”
“I sailed around the world and back again, I miss the sea, the smell of the salt in the air and the feel of the swell under my feet. I miss the women, in Jamaica and Tortuga, but I am stuck here, where I fell in love, and swore I would not leave.” She topped up his glass, and he raised it in salute. “Her name was Lucy, and she worked here in this place. She took my heart, as sure as the militia took my breath. They took her too. The night they came here to take me in. They took us both to the castle out by the river, and locked us up. She begged for my life. I heard her. They wanted me to hear, what she begged, and what they did to her that night. I swore, on that dark damp floor that I would hunt them down, each one of them, and I would kill them for what they did to her.” He sipped.
“Not much you could do if they hung you, I suppose.” Stella topped up his drink. She loved a good story, and she would make him leave when he had finished it.
“I haunted them, hunted them. Every one of them met a sorry end. My Lucy was never the same. She died not too long later. She cried as she lay dying, for me to watch over the little ones. She had given life to three children of mine. One girl died of a fever when she was just a babe, the other two grew strong, here, in this place, where Lucy’s Father was the brewer. My son left and went to sea. He left no children, but a girl every port. My daughter, though, she had children, and grandchildren. She lived near here. I have watched over everyone of them, all through their lives. Helped them through to the other side, when the time came.”
“So, what brings you here tonight?” She poured the last of the bottle into his glass.
“You are my daughter’s descendant. I knew it had come full circle when you took over this place. You have no children, last of the line. My work is done. Tonight, we cross together, and I can see my Lucy again. You were right, it is time to go home, I am tired and I am ready.” Stella stood back from the bar, horrified, pushing herself away from him, shaking her head.
“No, I’m not ready to go.” He smiled gently, and pointed to the floor. Behind her, she saw her body, curled up next to the mop bucket. “I wasn’t ill. What if I say no? Refuse to go?” Her chin jutted out in rebellion. He recognized the look.
“You’re already gone. If you won’t go. We both stay, and we do nothing, just sit and watch the world carry on without us. I’ve waited a few hundred years, I’ll wait more if you want me to.” She stayed silent, but her eyes filled with tears. “I wrapped myself around you to keep the pain away, as I did for your Mother. It may have slowed it down, and given you a little longer. T’is time.”
He held out his hand and she swallowed, taking a last look at her body and her bar. Her hand in his, they walked through the front door, and into the life beyond.