Time had slowed, so much so that he really should have been able to put out a hand, stop his face from hitting the road with enough force to burst his lip open like a rotten piece of fruit. The sheer quantity of gin that Ned had consumed in the hours leading up to his eviction from the tavern near the Thames prevented him from doing this. Fortunately it also prevented him from feeling pain as the pub landlord kicked him hard in the ribs.
‘I see you round here again and I expect to be paid, else this foot’ll be the last thing you see,’ he warned, slamming the door behind him and throwing across the bolts.
Ned lay there, dead drunk, face against cobbles that were wet even though it had not rained in days. Who knew what the hell this puddle was that he lay in. The hour was so late that it had become early and light had begun to slowly permeate through the cover of smog, the sun rising over this God forsaken street in south London. The warm rays prodded him, awakening him from his stupor gradually until he became aware of his precarious position, a horse and cart thundering over his cap which luckily was not on his head at the time.
‘You goin’ to lie there all day?’
Ned was propping himself up in the gutter when he heard the familiar voice. He looked up at his friend, slurring the words out, ‘Bloody arse of a landlord. Threw me out! With what I spend in there I should own the place.’
‘That’d be true if you ever paid off your tab,’ Sean agreed, crouching down to give his friend a hand up to standing. ‘Come on. You’re costin’ me money.’
‘Well he won’t be seein’ a penny from me now.’ Ned let Sean help him stagger to the end of the street, the entrance to Lower Marsh market where his friend had left his coffee-stall, guarded for a ha’penny by little lad who barely came up to Ned’s waist.
‘You’re in a fair mess my friend. Will you not lay off the drink a day or two?’ The sun shone piercingly bright and Sean had to shield his eyes to see Ned.
The pair of them shared a room in a lodging house not far from where they now stood. For three years now they had been best friends, since being thrown together through the circumstance of having very little money and few prospects. Both young men, scarcely grown boys really, had managed to keep themselves in employment, paying rent on time to Mrs Daxton their landlady. Five men lived at the Daxton residence, none of whom were her husband who had taken a dive from the Waterloo Bridge a few years before. The offer was there to pay the tariff in kind if no monies were available, but neither Sean nor Ned had been reduced to such low circumstances as of yet.
‘I only went for a couple,’ Ned excused himself and took the cup of coffee from Sean. ‘I saw Maggie earlier.’
‘Oh, Jesus!’ Sean commiserated, coordinating his sympathy with serving the early morning market goers. ‘Will you not get over her? It’s been months now.’
‘Three months, one week and two days, my friend,’ Ned corrected. ‘Love is a curse and I cannot rid myself of it so easily.’
‘Quite poetic that. Is that from your man Shakespeare?’
Ned shook his head, then regretted it instantly, feeling as though his brain were bouncing off the sides of his skull. ‘Maybe I could quote Shakespeare if they’d ever give me another chance.’
While Sean sold early morning breakfast to the working men (and, when times were hard, supper to the street walkers that traded their wares by the bridge foot at night), Ned was an actor by profession. Son of a comedian, and a ballerina who died before the first scream had blown out of his lungs, he felt that the stage was his calling. A childhood spent watching his father step in front of a merciless audience had prompted him to do more with his life. Not for him the sticky floor of a tavern, shouting out desperate jokes in the hope that somebody, please God anyone, would laugh. Ned would raise himself up, be a name. People would flock to a theatre when he was playing, not throw abuse at him as he stood there shaking in his ill-fitting boots.
Everything had been going so well. Right until that last New Year’s Eve. The night he met Maggie Lenahan. And then his dreams had all melted, like January snow washed away in a rainstorm.
For the first story in this series click here: