old bar wooden sign

The Publican’s Return – Flash Fiction

Someone is here. A key falters in the lock until the arthritic mechanisms fall in place. The rusty door knob turns but the front door is unmoving. Then with a grunt and a shove, the door is forced to surrender. Dust motes swirl in the stale, gloomy light of the public bar.

One by one blinking lights flicker to life. A fridge crackles and whirs. An abandoned keg gurgles. The sounds form an intoxicating and familiar rhythm. There is excitement that someone has come…But no…there must be caution. Remember those who’ve come before.

An intake of breath. Everything stills.

The intruder shows herself. She crosses her arms, scrutinising me from head to toe. I know this look. They all arrive with big dreams.

My vaulted ceiling sighs. I remember my humble beginnings as a coaching inn, a stopover for settlers, cedar getters and squatters. The gold rush that saw so many fortunes won and lost. The six o’clock swill. 

Four generations of the one family navigated my helm – gave me purpose. I was a meeting place, a haven – the beating heart of this town.

Within my walls tradies would share a beer and a yarn with their local councillor. After their shift, the police would unwind over a game of pool with the newspaper editor and community radio announcer, confident that almost everything was “off the record”.

Then one day the ‘For Sale’ sign went up. No-one in the family aspired to be a publican.

The next owners arrived from the city, determined to inject some “culture” into the town, into me. They took the chicken parmy and roast of the day off the menu, replacing them with vegan ‘pulled pork’ burgers and fine dining dishes that were half the size and twice the price.

They called me a ‘gastro pub’ and would only serve craft beer. The locals frittered away as did the owners’ life savings and again I was put up for sale. 

The last owner was a part-time DJ who turned the billiards room into a nightclub called the ‘Warehouse’. I was given an industrial makeover, my mahogany bar covered in shiny corrugated iron. The nightclub was a spectacular failure and my doors were permanently closed…until today.

A bar table wobbles to attention when the woman plonks a heavy folder onto its dusty surface. Her eyes sparkle as she pulls out fabric swatches and paint colour cards. They are all heritage samples. Indeed, there is a swatch almost the exact same shade as my original drapes.

The woman pulls out a photograph and props it up against the wall. A dimpled grin spreads across her face and the champagne glasses on the shelf tinkle in recognition. The dimples, the sparkling eyes, they’re the same as the moustached man in the black and white photograph – the first publican.

I exhale. I exhale with such force a rivet pops off my bar, freeing me from my corrugated iron cage. 

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Photo by Maria Orlova via pexels.

Kylie Fennell
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