Humour / short story

The Reluctant Publican

“Good Friday alcohol sales ban to be abolished,” reads Frank to the empty bar. He sits on a high stool with the newspaper spread out on the counter in front of him. It’s Frank’s pub and this is usually his favourite part of the day, that period of time before he opens for business where he has the pub all to himself, in blissful silence. All is not bliss today, however.

Lifting the sales ban is unwelcome news for Frank. In spite of all the arguments raised ‘on behalf of publicans’, Frank was never consulted and would not have supported the move had anyone cared to ask him. Not for the cause of religion or observing the tradition of Good Friday, mind you. Frank is not a religious man. He has opened his pub on enough Sundays by now to make it clear to anyone wondering that his objection is not for reasons of faith. No, Frank’s objection is formed on simpler grounds than these.

Over the years, working as a publican in a small town, Frank has really gotten to know his customers. With four other pubs in the town, Frank sits firmly in the middle of the pack in terms of trade. The Goldilocks effect, he calls it; never too busy, never too quiet, just right. He has an established set of regulars that he knows he will see any day he opens the pub. And while all of these things may appear standard fare, these are the very causes of Frank’s objection. He is, after all, a sole trader. He may be his own boss, but Frank knows he has no business without his regulars. When they want him to open his pub, Frank has to open his pub. From early starts to the early hours of the morning to occasional cautions from the guards to close, Frank’s business is to open all the days that his regulars request, in spite of knowing, deep down, that his customers should not be trusted to decide these things.

Good Friday is the exception to the rule. The regulars could not blame Frank. It was the law of the land dictating that Frank could not open on Good Friday. “Blame the State,” Frank would say, “or blame the Church. It’s nothing to do with me!” So it was that he could close up reasonably early on the Thursday, knowing he had a clean slate for the following day. No obligations. No expectations. A day off is a day off but it matters all the more when every day could be a working day. Frank could spend all day in bed if he wanted to, or catch up with his family, or vegetate in front of the TV if he so chose. Year after year, Frank formed a habit of treating Good Friday like a mini-holiday. After all, taking a Friday off for a publican would be unthinkable in normal circumstances. It truly was a special day to Frank.

“Good Friday alcohol sales ban to be abolished,” Frank repeats to himself.

Under the blinds on the front windows, in the little gap between the blind and the windowsill, Frank can see shadows of people pacing back and forth. His regulars. Still 10 or 15 minutes before opening time, yet they’re waiting for him to open. Scratching at the doors like zombies in an apocalypse, shattering the blissful silence of his pub. These miserable fecks are the same people who couldn’t let him have one day like Good Friday to himself. The same people who could not think of something else to do with themselves on a day off except go to the pub.

“Shower of bastards…” Frank grunts to himself. “Ungrateful bastards…”

What more do they want from him, Frank wonders? He keeps a clean pub. The stools are arranged in a regimental line every day. Beer mats are readily available on the tables and counters. The kegs are well-stocked, the pipes in full function, fridges full of bottles and cans, and the backroom store provides for everything else the average punter could possibly desire. He puts tray after tray of glasses through the wash, getting them sparkling and ready for service. He cleans the toilets himself, encountering utter horrors as a matter of routine. He places the blue and yellow ice cakes into the urinal. He sweeps up all the cigarette butts tossed carelessly about outside the pub. Frank even goes the extra mile for his regulars, leaving the lights off in the Women’s toilets so they know they’re not welcome. He does late nights and lock-ins and works all through the Christmas, doesn’t really take a holiday in the summer, and all for what?

“Fuck them, anyway…” Frank mutters, folding up the newspaper as he readies himself to open for the evening, already wishing it to be closing time. Granted, they keep his business going, but Frank really and truly hates people sometimes.