Elbow room, the lack of it; crammed into the corner of this bar. The atmosphere was raucous, but not rowdy. Not yet. That would come later. He was on non-alcoholic beer. It had nothing to do with his health. He'd been plastered every night since he got back. The house had been doing his head in. Too much silence, not even a radio to switch on, never mind a television. But there was something he had to do, and he wanted to be sober.
It was his old man's local. They used to come here whenever John was back. He glanced over at the seat in the corner. It was empty. He tried not to read too much into it. The space would be getting filled soon enough. He twisted round and looked at his watch. It would take half an hour to get to where he was going. More than enough time for another bottle of fizz.
He ordered a double whisky.
The man standing next to him nodded. 'I've been trying to place you since you walked in,' he said. 'Do you live in the town?'
'No,' said John. 'I'm just passing through. I grew up here, though.'
'Aye?' said the man. 'Where about?'
'Round the back of the shops,' said John.
Oh,' said the man. 'Bandit country. This place has gone to the dogs. I mind when...'
John paid for the whisky. He let the man talk. It was like listening to his father. Except it wasn't his father. His father knew how to tell a story, even if it was a gripe about how the good old days had turned into nowadays. Mind you, the guy had a point. The town, this part of it, was a dump. Fifteen-year-olds hanging out of windows drinking Buckie while their wee sisters tried to batter a new doorway in Wong's with a shopping trolley. Feral - you couldn't say anything. If you looked at them the wrong way you'd get your windows panned in then the police would be chapping your door asking what the hell you were playing at. He'd told his dad to move out years ago, but he'd been there too long. He was there till the end.