Ronald’s five strands of hair were pulled backwards, high, to give the impression of depth, but his tendency to bow his head and stare at you through his good eye mid-conversation ruined the already weak illusion. His stomach fought its way out of his aviation jacket in two distinct bulges, though he tended to caress it into one body when sipping a drink. His trousers were turned up high – too high to be anything other than functional – and he topped the outfit off with some equally functional, non-descript trainers.
Ronald was an alcoholic. It’s easy to tell an alcoholic from a drunk – a drunk wants to impress you, but an alcoholic just wants you to listen. An drunk is interested in conversation, and they’ll probably be good at drawing you in; the alcoholic doesn’t care. They’ll talk and talk at you. Talk through their lives, their worries, their reasons for stopping drinking, and their reasons for having one more.
Every single time that Ronald came in to the pub – and that would be every single day – he would talk through his new plan for cutting back on his drink:
“Just a soft drink please. A coke. I should probably only have a coke because I’m trying to sort myself out. Get healthy, you know. Have less alcohol. I’ve got this idea see – I’m going to have a bitter shandy on the first day of every month, and one right in the middle of the month. Because you’ve got to treat yourself haven’t you? You’ve got to have a little bit of fun in your life, don’t you? And I’ve got this funny thing about the first and the middle. So it makes sense to do it like that doesn’t it?”
He’d stop and look at you, bowing his head, staring through his left eye – the one that opened fully – and wait for you to respond.
“Yeah, I guess that makes sense if it works fo–
“–Oh right,” he’d nod, cutting you off, “so then I’m going to do the same with food too. I like the food here, it’s really tasty. And under a tenner for a meal’s not bad is it? What do you think? Is that bad?”
“No, Ronald, it’s al–”
“–Oh right. So I’ve got this thing about Thursday. I dunno why, and I said to my brother Eamonn that Thursday’s are my special day. I’m going to treat myself on a Thursday. I’ll have lunch here on a Thursday. And the rest of the week I’ll be good. Have ready meals and the like. Does that sound OK? To just eat here once a week?”
“It does, Rona–”
“Yeah. How do you make this coke anyway? You make it just how I like it. What do you do to it?”
“I just put the ice in the glass and press the button, really.”
“Is that right? Well. That’s good. Anyway, I’ll be off. There’s a film I want to see at three. I only come out from 12 – 3 because there’s nothing good on TV. It’s just daytime programmes right now. I like films and thrillers. You know, with, what’s it called… espionage. I like the films where you don’t know what’s going to happen. Films that keep twisting and turning ‘til the finish. And ones that have tall women in.”
Although we always talked about the same things, and although, like all people that came in regularly to drink during traditional working hours, I ultimately feared that I would end up like him, I felt a swell of goodwill when Ronald entered the pub. He was pleasant, odour-free, and strangely impervious to pity. I felt at ease joking with and about him, as if no matter what I said, I wasn’t sullying his character – I was merely celebrating it. Telling friends about the time that Ronald had excitedly come up to the bar one time to tell Simon the good news:
“I’ve done it. I’ve gone and got my brother Eamonn his Christmas present already.”
“Oh yeah? What’cha get him?”
“A scratchcard. A good £5 one.”
seemed not a jab at either the inadequacy of the gift, or the blatant skewing of priorities in his life, but a collective laugh with the quirky and lovable man with 5 strands of poorly combed-back hair. It was this innocence, combined with his invulnerability, that made me stop and think:
Would it really be so bad to be Ronald?