Humour

Breaking the Pledge

The Barman looks Brendan in the eye and asks:

“Well sir, what can I get for you?”

Having only turned 18 a week earlier, towards the end of his Leaving Cert exams, Brendan blushes at being addressed as ‘sir’ but appreciates the gesture all the same. Now that the exams are over, he wants to make up for his postponed birthday and genuinely respond to the Barman’s question. It’s not an easy question for Brendan, however. He feels more than the pressure of ordering his first legal alcoholic drink. For Brendan, this will be his first alcoholic drink ever…

***

Among his peer group, Brendan is that increasingly rare thing: a person who made the Confirmation pledge and kept it all the way. Brendan stood with his Confirmation class and made a promise to the Bishop that he would resist the temptation of alcohol and cigarettes until he was of age, and beyond that if he could. There was also a bit about saying no to drugs which Brendan felt a little unsure about, since the hardest drug he’d ever taken was Solpadeine and it certainly made him better at the time. He knew he could promise not to drink or smoke. Although some questions were raised by his classmates, wondering if second-hand smoke counted even though that would be really unfair.

Six years later, Brendan continues to lead a life free of alcohol, cigarettes or other drugs. Well, almost free. There was that time at his granny’s station mass when he had a sip of Brandy which he had confused for Coca Cola. It barely touched his tongue before the intense taste forced Brendan to spit the drink back into the glass. “Such a bloody waste!” his Granny exclaimed, before quietly suggesting that Brendan should finish the drink since no one else would touch it. Instead, he brought the glass discreetly to the kitchen and drained it in the sink.

Up to now, avoiding alcohol seemed straightforward to Brendan. He made the promise in earnest and saw it through to his 18th birthday, adding a few extra days on account of the way his exams were scheduled. As this night approached, though, Brendan sought his parents’ advice on what he should drink. His father responded: “Sure, whatever you like,” a suggestion of little to no use. His mother scolded his father for the flippant suggestion before advising Brendan: “Be sure to have a drink of water between every pint, don’t go too mad for your first night on it.” This was helpful advice in its own right, yet Brendan was no wiser as to what pint he should try first. So, it fell to his friends to guide Brendan in choosing his first pint as they walked to the pub, some of whom had been drinking since they were 15 (not on a daily basis, it must be said). After heated debate, all agreed that Brendan should start off with a pint of Coors Light.

***

The Barman looks Brendan in the eye and asks:

“Well sir, what can I get for you?”

In the mirror behind the Barman, Brendan half-watches himself ordering his first pint. “Can I have a pint of Coors Light, please?” Brendan asks. The Barman nods, with no hint of ceremony, not knowing how special an occasion this is for Brendan. He simply moves down the counter and proceeds to pour that first pint. Brendan watches with growing apprehension. Is this the right thing to do? Is he wrong to turn his back on the promise he made simply because it’s expired? No reason he needs to start drinking, he could renew the pledge for himself just to prove that it is his own promise and not purely religious. Before Brendan talks himself away from the bar, the Barman places the pint on the counter in front of him. Brendan pays up and takes a moment to admire the golden liquid glinting back at him. There’s a light layer of condensation on the outside of the glass. His mouth starts to water.

“One little sip couldn’t hurt…” Brendan thinks, “…it’s not like it’s Brandy, anyway.”

He wraps his hand around the glass, feeling the weight of the pint, balancing it securely and preparing to lift. Brendan sees his reflection. This is what an adult looks like, alright. He raises the glass with a slight nod to his reflection, searching for a toast in his mind and faltering slightly. “Slainte!” Brendan says to himself as he takes a sip. His lips meet the rim of the glass and he takes a gulp, the cool refreshing beer passing over his taste-buds and on towards his throat.

Brendan’s face contorts, his eyes flicker to his reflection as his taste-buds respond to this new sensation: This is disgusting… This is utterly revolting. My God… I waited six years for this. Is this what alcohol tastes like? What’s the point? How on Earth has this gotten to be so popular? People drink pints like these all the time. There are people here drinking this and drinks like it right now. Why do people do this to themselves?

Brendan turns to look around the bar. Next to him, Old Pat Lennon nods to the barman and this is taken to be a silent drink order that both men understand. Old Pat notices Brendan’s gaze and gives him a wink before pointing to his pint. “Going down well, is it?” Old Pat asks, a warm grin on his bright red face, almost purple on his nose and cheeks. Brendan shakes his head slightly, and seeing Old Pat raise his eyebrows, Brendan explains: “It’s my first ever one, actually.” Old Pat sits upright on his high stool, folding his arms as he nods his head. “I see. It’s… an acquired taste, I think that’s what they’d call the beer,” Old Pat says with a smile. “You’ll get used to it, I mean…” Brendan shrugs his shoulders, unsure if that’s true or if Old Pat is putting a nice spin on things. “Ah well,” Brendan ventures, “I suppose the pledge doesn’t matter now that I’m 18, anyway.”

Old Pat laughs and slaps his thigh. “Not a bit, not a bit,” he says, reaching for the fresh pint that the Barman has just placed on the counter. “Sure, I kept the pledge until I was 18 myself, young fella-” Old Pat begins, pausing for a gulp from his pint that consumes a third of the glass. “That’s what I’m telling you, about the beer,” Old Pat says, exhaling happily and meeting Brendan’s stare, “you’ll get used to it. Don’t you worry. You’ll get used to it.” Brendan nods politely, turning for another attempt at the pint in front of him. As he raises his glass, Brendan sees Old Pat raising his glass at the same time in the mirror. They both drink, taking a decent gulp each. Both Brendan and Old Pat make a similar grimace as they rest the glasses back on the counter. “Oh yes,” Old Pat exhales happily once again, “that’s the thing about the beer, alright… You’ll get used to it.”