“Last Orders” – a short story

“I’m afraid it’s bad news,” said Dr Mathie, “Neville is dead.”
David nodded in what he thought was a suitably grave way, then went to buy a pot of tea from the cafeteria.

***

Less than two hours earlier, the two of them were in a dead pub called the Lion and Swan. In the bar there was Neville and in a corner of the lounge if anybody came to look, David was found. In the bar, Neville supped pints of Boddingtons. In the lounge, David rolled cigarettes, seven at lunchtime and more than ten in the evening when he returned. Whenever he went to replenish his glass he could see Neville on the other side, his elbows taking the varnish off the bar. Neville could also see David but didn’t speak, in fact he didn’t even catch his eye, which suited David. That’s how it had been for twenty years and there is nothing particularly unusual or remarkable about any of these facts except that Neville and David were identical twins, and had been identical twins since in fact the day they were born.

If you ever visited the Lion you might be forgiven for thinking it an odd sight; two identical people drinking in the same pub yet not exchanging so much as a nod. You might also be forgiven for imagining you were looking into a mirror, so identical were these indifferent two men with their long grey hair, unkempt beards, bloodshot eyes, large noses and rosacea.

Neville and David were born fourteen minutes apart either side of midnight in nineteen-something-or-other to parents not particularly loving and seldom seen. From a not too plump age the twin brothers were left to fend for themselves, speaking rarely but looking out for each other and the terraced cottage in which they lived and which their father had walked out of, saying something like he couldn’t stand living another minute with a bunch of fucking lunatics like them. It had three bedrooms, their mother in the largest at the front, Neville – the older of the boys – had the middle room, while David did what he needed to do in the box room. That’s how it remained until the day it was wordlessly decided that the large room was too big for their mother and she was to go in the box and David was to have the middle room vacated by Neville. The fact that this decision was taken without discussion, disagreement, or in fact any words at all was because by then their mother had become a drunk and wouldn’t even notice she’d been expelled.

And that’s how the dynamic remained in the house for a good while after, up until the night their mother drowned in the pond in the fields behind. Even then, nothing was said. There were no words, just looks between the brothers, one accusing, one denying, but both deciding something needed to be done. Because they never talked, this was the closest they’d ever come to an argument, but it was tacitly agreed that even though they’d remain in the same house, share the same bathroom, sleep in adjacent bedrooms, eat in the same kitchen, drink in the same pub, they’d never have anything to do with each other ever again.

But then, on the night of this story, David flicked his cigarette butt down the grid and was about to return inside the pub when the landlady rushed out and said with a shriek, “Your brother’s collapsed!” and he found himself in the hospital waiting room for two hours until Dr Mathie came to find him with the news.

***

David sipped his coffee and pondered the pint he’d been forced to leave half-supped. He’d never make it back there for last orders so would have to write it off, or ask the landlady for a pint on the house next time he was in – it was after all exceptional circumstances and one couldn’t be criticised for expecting a token of condolence.

“You want another pot?” said the lady behind the counter of the cafeteria, “only I’m closing up in a bit.”

David shook his head, fished his pockets for his cigarette case and followed signs for the exit.

On the bus home he wondered how one went about organising a funeral, something he’d never done before. From what he did know, it seemed an awful lot of fuss and very costly fuss at that. Frankly, he thought, their mother hadn’t been worth it and neither was Neville after the terrible things he’d done to the woman. As he gazed silently on the moving shabbiness that was the approach to the place they never called home, David considered that this would have to be the simplest and cheapest funeral his brother’s money could buy.

David arrived home at 11.30pm or something like that. It had been an exhausting adventure, one way or another, and he decided an early night was the order of the day. Tomorrow he’d go into town and withdraw money from Neville’s account and go to the undertaker. Then he’d go and ask for that pint.  As he turned to glance into the living room that was now entirely his, he caught himself in the mirror and spoke out loud, “I’m afraid it’s bad news,” he said, “Neville is dead.” Then he snapped off the light and padded upstairs, chuckling to himself.

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