Lunsford has been taken to The Phoenix pub where he discovers more about Mr Sarson-Taylor whose family appears to own everything in sight. He’s never heard of the pub although he’s lived in the village all his life. In The Phoenix he meets the fabulous Mrs Werldinham, the formidable Robert Gum and he drinks the strange and heady local beer.

Mrs Werldinham stood up, giving way for Lunsford to move toward the door. “Should you need some company Mrs Lunsford please do let me know”, she said to the departing figure who was being gently bounced from person to person like a slow, deliberate pinball until he disappeared out of the door and onto the Green. The shock of the cold, clean air hit him like policeman’s words to a mother at three in the morning.

At first he couldn’t breathe. Then he grew used to the change and his lungs finished screaming. He was drunk. He’d not been drunk for years. After decades of learning the skills of a drunkard from watching his parents, he swayed and looked for something to steady himself with.

He remembered the bench outside the The Phoenix and headed for it. He sat down, nearly slipping off onto the gravel that glistened like fossilised tears in the moonlight. He had no idea what time it was. He had little idea where he was. He felt untethered but not scared.

He let out out a long, satisfying belch and sniggered like a child. He felt intolerably sad. This neck-breaking change of mood struck him as absurdly dramatic and so he mocked himself with a set of noises that could have become words but never quite made it. He looked back into the window of The Phoenix and saw golden light from electric bulbs all flickery and low. The pub was full but he could hear none of the usual pub noises. The windows were fogged in condensation and spidered with ice.

It’s a strange place, a very strange place, a very strange place indeed, strange. I like it. What do they put in that beer though. I’ve not been this pissed in donkey’s years. I feel sick.

“You feel fine. Drink more. Always drink more”, said his dad in his head.

I feel pissed drunk.

“You are pissed drunk. Drink more. Always drink more”.

I feel alone.

“You are alone. You deserve it. Learn to deal with it. It’s the only thing you can be sure of”, his long-dead dad said.

I’m no help! I’m drunk, drunk as a skunk lord. Drunk as Christmas Eve, he thought out loud.

He looked up to the sky for some help, from God or a Guardian angel, or a meteor or a monstrous claw or himself.

He hadn’t thought about God in so long. Not since he had been demobbed and married his Chloé. The War had taken God away, sunk him to the bottom of the North Atlantic, weighted down with his own words. The War couldn’t destroy God of course, nothing could, but fathoms of ice cold salt water could obscure him.

Chloé was not, as she put it, “a godly woman”. The only reason they were married at St Eades and not in the register office on Croschester’s Courthouse Lane was to keep his mother happy. Mum was the kind of Catholic who fell in and out of compliance with her faith depending on the time of year or the amount of unpleasantness going on at home or in the wider world.

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