Wanted: Character for Novel
I’ve told this story before, but every telling leaves something wanting. Here I am having another go at it.
I think it was a Monday night. We play on Tuesdays now, but back then there was a game on a Monday. We were on table 13, which is way over in the far corner, the one that forms the column of a T with table 14. This guy was playing on table 14. I can’t remember anything about his companion, I’d never seen either of them before.
The guy was around forty. He had a weathered face. Beer gut; course-grained complexion; getting jowly. He was wearing faded blue jeans and he had a double-breasted suit jacket with something heavy in each pocket. When he walked it was like seeing someone on a tightrope, you know, with these things in his pockets to keep him balanced and vertical. It was fairly obvious that he had stopped responding to everything except crises.
What it was, in his pockets, he had two half bottles of black Navy rum. A bottle in each pocket. And he’d go to the bar and get a pint of bitter, bring it back to the table. Then he had a little schooner, and he’d fill it to the top with rum and very carefully lower it down into the pint. I can still see that, the black rum slowly clouding up the clear amber of the bitter.
He must’ve felt me watching him, because he looked right at me. Or so I thought. He was certainly looking in my direction, and if he’d been able to focus he would have been looking at me. But as it was he didn’t focus on me at all. He focussed on something a metre in front of, maybe a metre or two behind me. His eyes were empty, and it felt like something had walked in off the street and placed its cold hand on his heart.
He came alive at the table. He wasn’t brilliant, but he could put balls together. He could pot colours and retain control of the white ball as if there wasn’t a drop of alcohol in his blood.
I nudged Michael, my partner, said You seen this guy? But there was a woman with long legs over on table 11, getting ready to take a rest shot, so he was deaf to me.
They stayed maybe an hour, then disappeared back into the night. There was a guy worked the bar back then, I think he was called Paul; went on to a Ph.D eventually. I remember asking him if he knew the guy. But he’d never seen him before.
When I tried to capture the guy, to get him down on paper, he just slid away. Over the next months I slowly remodelled him. Took the booze away for a start, and when I did that he began to focus on things and people around him.
I got rid of his double-breasted suit jacket, found him an address and loaded him up with a passion for an American blues singer. And then I called him Sam Turner and wrote a series of novels about him.
Oh, yes, and I took some of his snooker shots away. Not too many, just a few, so there was time left in his life for living.
There’s no postscript to this story. I’d never seen the guy before that night, and I’ve never seen him since. Except, occasionally, when Michael’s at the table making his breaks and I’m sitting it out, I sometimes get the feeling that someone’s looking at me. I’ll turn toward table 14, and I know the guy’ll be there, and we’ll be trying to get each other in focus. But it doesn’t happen. Table 14 is in darkness. There may have been something there but it evaporated in my glance, like a ghost.