He thought the night with the fellas would be spent sharing a bit of the craic, joking around, not in serious recollection of past experiences. They’d come to eulogize a friend in their typical fashion, over a pint. Sammy had been gone for ten years, but pleasant memories of him seemed like yesterday. Okay, maybe last week.
Every one of the guys missed him, even though they mourned in different ways. Thomas made our reunion plans at the urging of his wife. She never tired of hearing the stories but encouraged Thomas to ring up the boys on the anniversary of Sammy meeting his maker. Thomas had talked about that now infamous date looming on the calendar for two weeks straight. She thought it would help her husband to reminisce with his mates instead of her, who didn’t know Sammy near as well as the lads.
Meeting at the Black Dog Tavern, Amon brought along a small book of photos from their days of playing rugby together. He disregarded the others messin’ about how girly it was for him to do so and watched as sentiments leaked from the corners of every eye at the tabletop in the middle of the loud, smelly pub. The atmosphere of the place was one Sammy would have liked, claimed Amon. He said, “God love him, ol’ Sammy boy woulda been right at home here – smoking a cigar, flirting with the ladies, and drinking the place dry.” He raised a glass to honor Sammy, and we all followed suit.
Unfortunately, a place like this one had helped send Sammy to his end.
He’d been a great friend. We all grew up in the same neighborhood, went to the same primary school. Our mothers all knew each other and would slap us upside the head, our own Mam or not, if we were caught doing anything wrong. The drink had not been considered wrong, though, even when we were young ones. All the old dodgers laughed at us when we stole gulps of a glass when we thought no one was looking. A back would turn, and there we were nicking our pa’s pint. The gents laughed even harder when we got falling-down drunk at age 12, 13, stumbling down the lane to get home from the pub where we watched our tired fathers go at the end of every work week.
Sammy kept up the habit on his own as a young man, and his dependence on it got worse over time.
He did well enough in school to graduate. His ma found it brilliant that he finished at all. Most of us went to university, but Sammy stayed on to work. Places like the Black Dog saw him a lot more than they saw the likes of us. A real regular. He’d still be there with those other fellas taking the piss if it weren’t for the accident.
We only heard the details later when we attended Sammy’s closed-casket funeral. The undertaker insisted it was the best idea to protect his poor mother’s heart. She’d suffered enough to learn how her son had stepped off the curb, into the lane and right into the path of a lorry traveling down the cobbled path. The driver had no chance to stop before striking him, with no lamps lit to reveal a drunken Sammy as he fell to his untimely death.
“To Sammy,” offered Amon, and “To Sammy,” we all agreed, clinking our glasses together in an ironic salute. The toast continued, “May he have been in heaven a week before the devil knew he was dead.” We all echoed, “Aye!” A table full of men, not a dry eye in the bunch, silently passed around Amon’s album forgetting the ridicule from earlier.
Someone bought one more round, none of us realizing the irony of our sharing the spirits that precipitated our friend’s demise. It was tradition to honor the dead with a toast. We took the last swallows and bid each other farewell, exiting the worn wooden door of the Black Dog Tavern and stepping into the lane, off a curb not too unlike our friend did ten years before.
May the devil not know when any of us go, indeed.
*The Woven Tale Press hosts weekly writing prompts, and this week the prompt was “crack.”