Writings / Fiction: Philip Bowne

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Candles in the Sky

I was crying. I walked along the waterside and watched the water slop against the concrete shore of Lake Lucerne. Mount Pilatus towered over the city from the distance, collecting the only clouds in the clear sky around its summit. Sailboats bobbed out in the open water, their mainsails reaching up into a point from the boom. From a distance, they looked like fins of giant sharks lurking below the surface. There were other boats too, some tied in at the lakeside, and one rowing boat, Julia, letters fading from the wet wood. She was rotten through to her hull.

I found a pub on the waterfront, just along from the rowing boats. The sign was green and white – The Shamrock. I walked in and heads turned to inspect me. The Undertones blared out from a plastic jukebox in the far corner; Teenage Kicks. Four leaf clovers plastered the brown walls, muscling for attention over the white, green and orange flags. You could travel the world over and still wind up in an Irish bar

The locals stared. I was the tourist, eyes glazed with tears. They were all sitting on stools around the bar, ladies swirling red wine in bowl-sized glasses, men with Guinness.

A fat man pulled out an empty stool for me. I threw my rucksack down and took a seat next to him. Shirt sleeves rolled up, his forearms were splattered with mud.

“Christoph,” he said, stretching out a large, worn hand. As he spoke I watched his chin move. It was dotted with prickly hairs, like a raspberry.

“John.”

He had the sort of handshake that made everything seem fine. Christoph nodded to the barman and a Guinness appeared. It didn’t seem there was a choice.

“What brings you to Lucerne, John?” A half-crescent of froth lined his top lip. The foam gushed to the bottom of my pint in an avalanche, settled, turned black.

I glugged down half of it and placed the glass back down on the bar.

“My girlfriend. I came here to meet her, to travel for the month.” I drained the remainder of my drink.

“Oh, super! And she is coming?” Christoph swiped the cream from his upper lip.

“She doesn’t want to see me.” I could feel the foam bubbling up at the back of my throat.

“So you don’t travel?”

“She changed her mind. I’ll go back to England tomorrow.”

The barman placed a full pint at my fingertips.

“You can go alone, no?” Christoph patted me hard on the back with his big hand.

“It’s a bad start, getting dumped on day one.”

Christoph said, “Then it can only be better,” laughing from his belly. His gut was pregnant; swollen into a perfect globe. I could imagine peeling up his shirt and finding it decorated with a map of the world. “Why go home now?”

#

I spent the evening at the pub with Christoph and his wife, Diana. They told me about their farm, high on the hillside on the way out to Pilatus, about how their children all left Lucerne, about their cows and sheep. We played darts and Christoph spoke of his passion for Guinness.

“I could have it with my breakfast cereal,” he said. “If she would let me.” He nudged Diana. She was markedly slim in comparison to her husband, but didn’t seem to mind his figure. Long blonde hair fell over her shoulder, fading grey, but she was still young in the face. In her day, she was probably the most beautiful girl in the town.

The bell jangled for last orders.

“Come and stay,” Christoph said, placing his hand on my arm. “Help me on the farm tomorrow. Stay as long as you like. Share our bread.”

“I would,” I said, “But I’ve booked the night at a hotel.” I hadn’t.

“Oh.” Christoph’s face dropped.

“Tomorrow?” Diana said. She didn’t say much.

Christoph cheered. “Yes! I’ll meet you here, at eight thirty.”

“In the morning?” I asked.

“Of course in the morning,” Christoph said.

I worried what they wanted me for.

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