THE BEATLES OR THE STONES?

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THE BEATLES OR THE STONES?

Postby Brian Gillespie » Thu Jul 03, 2008 1:44 am

He stands at the bar, holding on tightly. He can feel it coming on again. Maybe it'll pass this time, he thinks. Maybe. He catches his reflection in the mirror behind the cash register. He looks okay - Just another customer waiting to be served, nothing unusual there. A wee bit flushed probably. But it is warm in here. Fuck. He wipes a bead of sweat from his forehead.

"Hey, Billy," he calls to the barman, "any chance of getting that heating turned down?" Billy looks up from pouring his Guinness.

"You warm are ye? I'm fucking foundered. I must be coming down with something."

You're not the only one, he wants to say, but says nothing. Best to avoid unnecessary small-talk. Billy places the Guinness on a beer-mat in front of him. Considerate. Little touches like that make a good bartender.

"So, Joe, how's the job hunting coming along?"

Not the small talk!

"Aw, you know," is about all he can manage in reply. Billy gives him that sage-like nod then turns towards the cash register. They must all learn that nod in bartending school. He wants to fucking punch him in the face. But why? What did he ever do on him? He'd probably only faint from the effort of throwing a punch anyway. His legs felt like jelly as it was. He notices the vacant stool beside him as though it magically appeared there only a second ago, and he slides carefully into it. Billy sets his change beside the stout.

"You know, there's worse jobs than working behind a bar," says Billy. And walks proudly away to serve another customer. What a fountain of wisdom you are, Billy boy.

He chuckles to himself, then catches his face in the mirror again. He always hated seeing himself laugh. An artificial-looking grimace. He brings out his rolling tobacco and his lighter and tries to make a cigarette, but his hands are shaking so badly that he gives up. Jesus, why didn't I just buy filtered? he thinks. He takes a few tentative sips of his stout to calm his nerves. He looks around the bar. There's an old couple sitting at a table in the corner who never seem to leave the place. Probably have a couple of camping beds stashed behind the kitchen for them. They're talking in a hushed, conspiratorial manner, as though the future of the universe rests on whatever trivial conclusion they come to over the next five minutes. The old woman out of the couple notices him watching them so he turns away and takes another sip of his drink. He thinks he hears a remark being made about him but then decides he just imagined it.

Near the entrance, a man in labourer's overalls is playing the poker machine. The bright, twitching lights and electronic shriek of the machine seem to fill up the whole bar. How could anybody stand and throw their hard earned cash into those things? he thinks. Fucking waste of time. The odds are always against you - Just like life. He attempts to make a cigarette again and just about manages it this time. Good old Guinness. He lights the cigarette but it burns down on one side and he can't get a decent puff out of it. He stubs it out in the clean ashtray Billy placed in front of him a few minutes earlier. He looks around at the old couple again. Maybe he can scrounge a cigarette off one of them. But no, it would be impossible. He wouldn't even be able to walk over there to say hello, never mind anything else. Not with the fear in him. They'd probably scream for the cops or something. He can hear two men arguing loudly over something in the downstairs lounge. He can ask them for a cigarette surely? He decides no. They sound like rough types and they might think he was a queer trying it on and knock fuck out of him.

Why the hell did he come in here in the first place? He knows why - because of the fear. He was having a panic attack in the street and didn't want to keel over in broad daylight in front of all the happy shoppers and their children. He didn't want to go that way! The poker machine lets out an extra loud shriek and coins begin to pour from it's belly. Good to see someone is winning today.

He sinks the last of the Guinness and decides to go for a piss then head home. But as he gets up the feeling hits him again. He steadies himself against the barstool and makes his way cagily towards the stairs. He can feel the eyes of the old woman boring into him as he passes their table. He has to hold himself back from screaming, "what the fuck are you looking at!" and he holds on to the stair rail as though it were a lifeline being thrown to a drowning sailor.

When he enters the toilets, the two men he heard earlier are still arguing beside the urinals. They each hold a pint in one hand, and are gesticulating wildly with the other. Aw Jesus, no, this is all I need, he mutters to himself. He tries to ignore them but they are swaying drunkenly behind him.

"Wise up!" one of them slurs. "Everybody knows the Beatles were the best fucking band EVER!"

"Your arse," says his friend, "The Beatles we're nothing but a bunch of overrated wankers! At least the Stones fucking rocked."

He tries to keep his head down and focused on the job at hand but nothing will come out. A deep nausea is now billowing up from his stomach also.

"The Beatles!"

"The Stones!"

"The fucking… here, ask this lad then. Hey you?"

Joe steadies himself against the graffiti scrawled tiles and pretends he can't hear them. He feels a heavy tapping against his back.

"Hey you, young lad?"

I have to get out of here, now, he realises, and re-buttons his trousers as he turns. The two drunks are glaring straight at him, awaiting his ruling on the matter.

"The Beatles or the Stones?" the larger and more intoxicated one demands.

"Sorry?"

"The Beatles or the Stones? You have heard of them haven't you?"

"Of course."


"Well which do you prefer?" The other drunk demands. He is cross-eyed and Joe can't work out which eye is looking at him.

"Well, it really depends what mood I'm in."

The pair turn to each other then glare back at him. This was not the answer they were looking for.

"But if you had to pick.." the large one demands, but Joe suddenly feels an overwhelming urge to cry or retch or both and hurries out of the toilet and climbs back up the stairs.

He staggers past the old couple who are now both watching him, and manages a feeble wave to Billy the barman as he passes.

"Are you ok, Joe?" he hears Billy ask but he struggles on past the bar and, knocking over a stool on the way to the exit, he notices the man playing the poker machine turn and give him a look of utter disgust as he lurches towards the street outside.
Last edited by Brian Gillespie on Sat Jul 05, 2008 7:14 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Feedback on; The Beatles or the Stones by Brian Gillespie

Postby Louis P. Burns aka Lugh » Sat Jul 05, 2008 10:28 am

Brian Boru wrote:He stands at the bar, holding on tightly. He can feel it coming on again. Maybe it'll pass this time, he thinks. Maybe. He catches his reflection in the mirror behind the cash register. He looks okay - Just another customer waiting to be served, nothing unusual there. A wee bit flushed probably. But it is warm in here. Fuck. He wipes a bead of sweat from his forehead.

"Hey, Billy," he calls to the barman, "any chance of getting that heating turned down?" Billy looks up from pouring his Guinness.

"You warm are ye? I'm fucking foundered. I must be coming down with something."

You're not the only one, he wants to say, but says nothing. Best to avoid unnecessary small-talk. Billy places the Guinness on a beer-mat in front of him. Considerate. Little touches like that make a good bartender.

"So, Joe, how's the job hunting coming along?"

Not the small talk!

"Aw, you know," is about all he can manage in reply. Billy gives him that sage-like nod then turns towards the cash register. They must all learn that nod in bartending school. He wants to fucking punch him in the face. But why? What did he ever do on him? He'd probably only faint from the effort of throwing a punch anyway. His legs felt like jelly as it was. He notices the vacant stool beside him as though it magically appeared there only a second ago, and he slides carefully into it. Billy sets his change beside the stout.

"You know, there's worse jobs than working behind a bar," says Billy. And walks proudly away to serve another customer. What a fountain of wisdom you are, Billy boy.

He chuckles to himself, then catches his face in the mirror again. He always hated seeing himself laugh. An artificial-looking grimace. He brings out his rolling tobacco and his lighter and tries to make a cigarette, but his hands are shaking so badly that he gives up. Jesus, why didn't I just buy filtered? he thinks. He takes a few tentative sips of his stout to calm his nerves. He looks around the bar. There's an old couple sitting at a table in the corner who never seem to leave the place. Probably have a couple of camping beds stashed behind the kitchen for them. They're talking in a hushed, conspiratorial manner, as though the future of the universe rests on whatever trivial conclusion they come to over the next five minutes. The old woman out of the couple notices him watching them so he turns away and takes another sip of his drink. He thinks he hears a remark being made about him but then decides he just imagined it.

Near the entrance, a man in labourer's overalls is playing the poker machine. The bright, twitching lights and electronic shriek of the machine seem to fill up the whole bar. How could anybody stand and throw their hard earned cash into those things? he thinks. Fucking waste of time. The odds are always against you - Just like life. He attempts to make a cigarette again and just about manages it this time. Good old Guinness. He lights the cigarette but it burns down on one side and he can't get a decent puff out of it. He stubs it out in the clean ashtray Billy placed in front of him a few minutes earlier. He looks around at the old couple again. Maybe he can scrounge a cigarette off one of them. But no, it would be impossible. He wouldn't even be able to walk over there to say hello, never mind anything else. Not with the fear in him. They'd probably scream for the cops or something. He can hear two men arguing loudly over something in the downstairs lounge. He can ask them for a cigarette surely? He decides no. They sound like rough types and they might think he was a queer trying it on and knock fuck out of him.

Why the hell did he come in here in the first place? He knows why - because of the fear. He was having a panic attack in the street and didn't want to keel over in broad daylight in front of all the happy shoppers and their children. He didn't want to go that way! The poker machine lets out an extra loud shriek and coins begin to pour from it's belly. Good to see someone is winning today.

He sinks the last of the Guinness and decides to go for a piss then head home. But as he gets up the feeling hits him again. He steadies himself against the barstool and makes his way cagily towards the stairs. He can feel the eyes of the old woman boring into him as he passes their table. He has to hold himself back from screaming, "what the fuck are you looking at!" and he holds on to the stair rail as though it were a lifeline being thrown to a drowning sailor.

When he enters the toilets, the two men he heard earlier are still arguing beside the urinals. They each hold a pint in one hand, and are gesticulating wildly with the other. Aw Jesus, no, this is all I need, he mutters to himself. He tries to ignore them but they are swaying drunkenly behind him.

"Wise up!" one of them slurs. "Everybody knows the Beatles were the best fucking band EVER!"

"Your arse," says his friend, "The Beatles we're nothing but a bunch of overrated wankers! At least the Stones fucking rocked."

He tries to keep his head down and focused on the job at hand but nothing will come out. A deep nausea is now billowing up from his stomach also.

"The Beatles!"

"The Stones!"

"The fucking… here, ask this lad then. Hey you?"

Joe steadies himself against the graffiti scrawled tiles and pretends he can't hear them. He feels a heavy tapping against his back.

"Hey you, young lad?"

I have to get out of here, now, he realises, and re-buttons his trousers as he turns. The two drunks are glaring straight at him, awaiting his ruling on the matter.

"The Beatles or the Stones?" the larger and more intoxicated one demands.

"Sorry?"

"The Beatles or the Stones? You have heard of them haven't you?"

"Of course."


"Well which do you prefer?" The other drunk demands. He is cross-eyed and Joe can't work out which eye is looking at him.

"Well, it really depends what mood I'm in."

The pair turn to each other then glare back at him. This was not the answer they were looking for.

"But if you had to pick.." the large one demands, but Joe suddenly feels an overwhelming urge to cry or retch or both and hurries out of the toilet and climbs back up the stairs.

He staggers past the old couple who are now both watching him, and manages a feeble wave to Billy the barman as he passes.

"Are you ok, Joe?" he hears Billy ask but he struggles on past the bar and, knocking over a stool on the way to the exit, he notices the man playing the poker machine turn and give him a look of utter disgust as he lurches towards the street outside.

Hi Brian,

Thanks for clarifying by private message that you welcome feedback on your writing. I've noticed lately that some other writers, like Ack, don't appear to need or want this...

I've read The Beatles or the Stones 8 times since you posted it the other day and would like to firstly say that it worked superbly each time to draw this reader (me) in. From the opening line your central character is a solid fixture in the setting albeit emotionally shaky and unsteady within. I had the feeling of the story being part of a much larger piece, a chapter if you will and a familiarity with the central character; Joe's uneasiness was established from the outset.

So, as a short story it worked well for me when I compared it with the writing of some of my favourite short story writers like James Kelman, Bernard MacLaverty or Raymond Carver. All of whom succeed time and again to make their audience (readers) part of the story being told. Their use of the settings they create working to familiarise their characters with the 'ordinary.' Another way to describe what I'm trying to say here would be to say that I felt at times like a camera on a film set as your story unfolded, guided by your prop use and cues to lock on. When mixed with the internal narratives you have written this gave a keen and sharp perspective...

From the start I know Joe is not feeling his 'normal self.' He's unsure of the world immediately around him. Thoughts like; Has he committed a crime and become wrecked by conscience? Is he 'going up' on some drugs, pills or powders? Is he schizophrenic or on a bi-polar high? Is he simply waking up to the mundanity of the lives of those around him? Maybe he's having an epiphany or revelation in the only claustrophobic microcosm he's ever known and he's beginning to break free. These questions and thoughts remaining throughout, firmly seated in my experience as reader and leaving me wanting to know more with each paragraph I read.

I've no doubt this piece will attract criticism from the anti-swearing league out there who skim work looking for smug acknowledgement of their righteousness. So, batton down the hatches on that front Brian. Sensitize, like all these public forums has its fair share of head-the-gratens with deluded moral agendas. Don't be put off by them in any way should they ever turn up...

Were I writing a blurb for your story I would say it's: A journey through the panic and paranoia bubbling underneath everyday life. The mundanity of existence for so many gets a subtle address in The Beatles or the Stones by Brian Gillespie and the menace that lurks all around turns the journey into a white-knuckle ride into one man's hell, and beyond...

I would be interested in you discussing what prompts you to write and the characters you create. Do you draw from your own circle of friends and immediate surroundings, or are you a writer who cross-samples settings and situations that then allow your characters to develop?

The Beatles or the Stones is a great read Brian. Thank you for posting it mate :) ...
Last edited by Louis P. Burns aka Lugh on Sun Jul 06, 2008 7:36 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Catherine Edmunds
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Postby Catherine Edmunds » Sat Jul 05, 2008 10:57 am

Hi Brian,

I turn up here every now and again to offer technical/editorial thoughts on writing. Tell me to shut up if you don’t want any…

Typos: you don’t need to capitalise jelly or stout.

Formatting: new paragraph needed for “He chuckles to himself, then catches his face in the mirror again…” because you’ve changed the subject of the paragraph from Billy back to the narrator.

Tenses: you might want to consider using a very immediate present tense throughout, eg, “His legs feel like Jelly as it is” rather than “His legs felt like Jelly as it was”; and “He always hates seeing himself laugh” rather than “He always hated seeing himself laugh”.

Italics: consider using italics for “Jesus, why didn't I just buy filtered?” so that the change of POV (from third person to first and back again) is completely clear.

Punctuation and tense: I reckon you need a dash and present tense for this sentence – “He knows why – because of the fear.”

Punctuation: consider adding a comma after “toilets”, ie, “When he enters the toilets, the two men he heard earlier are still arguing beside the urinals.”

Typo: retch, not wretch (in this context).

All minor points. I suggest you adopt any you agree with, ignore the rest, and then submit this excellent short story to Byker Books. It’s just the sort of thing they’re looking for, I reckon.

Cheers,

Delph


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