Snooker loopy

In the quiet of the upstairs room, the crooked old man, Ernie, bent against a stick, cracked his neck back and to the left slowly. Half-stood up, he wiped his nose with a noisy parp, then stowed his hanky in the right pocket and sat back against the faded green cushions of a well-worn banquette. Reaching over to the little square table, he picked up a pint glass and took a couple of sips before replacing it carefully in the dead centre of the beer mat.

Briefly, he examined his hands. They were a mass of scars and lumps, arthritic knobbles, fingers folded mottled brown and pink over each other. Ernie swallowed silently and rubbed the hands drily together with a noise like newsprint. Brittle, he thought. His eyes, a bright, watery blue, glinted for a moment. He blinked slowly in the dimming autumn sunlight coming through a gap in the window blind and, taking in his surroundings, reached for the half-full glass on the table.

Looking straight ahead with a slurp, Ernie tilted his face the other way slightly. He spoke past the pint glass at Alf, who was standing by the long table under the light with an expectant expression.
‘That was an affront to thermodynamics.’
‘Fiver.’ The crisp rejoinder. Alf came round the big table and held a slightly shaky palm out as he lowered himself on to the banquette by Ernie’s side. ‘Played for and got.’
‘Hmmph.’ Without looking, Ernie passed a note. Alf tucked it into his shirt pocket. He lifted his own glass with a grateful and exaggerated sigh of victory.

Thoughts bumped off each other, the sounds of the other games still in play, softly, click, clunk. The two old men were sat side by side, looking at nothing. Slowly, gazing into space, one of them scratched his nose, though it wasn’t itching.

On the telly behind the bar, a white-gloved woman in a dark suit rubbed her hands and magicked a white ball onto green baize. The player standing behind resumed, still on for a maximum.

A succession of colours.

The comfortable silence of the frame.

We’re an affront to thermodynamics,’ Ernie said to Alf. His wheezing laughter rasped beneath a pulsy treble cackle from Alf. Creaking, Ernie turned on the banquette. ‘Young ‘un,’ he added, with another wheezy laugh.
‘ “Young ‘un”. You old bastard. Three years at school is nothing when you’re our age.’
‘Yeah, yeah.’ A pause for a drink and consideration. ‘Look at the way we get older, though.’ Ernie held a hand out in front of him, as if to point, then folded the fingers back in and lowered his fist to the table to knock gently on wood. He lowered his voice. ‘Look at Greg there and his plastic pants.’ They turned to take in another table, where an impossibly senior man in a knitted waistcoat was trembling at a lengthy pot. The ball moved impossibly slowly, eventually dropping into a pocket at the far end.
‘Plastic pants,’ Ernie murmured. He shook his head sadly. ‘Nappies. He’s regressing. You know what it is? It’s proof of the symmetry of time.’
‘You what?’
‘It matches up. The end is the same as the beginning. Goes round in spirals.’
‘Goes round its own small intestine more like. Sounds like shite to me… oh, oh!’ Alf had a hand on Ernie’s arm.
‘It’s going to…!’

Just for a moment, all action was suspended. Six players and the barman fixed on the TV screens around the room. A ball travelled very slowly up towards the corner pocket.

‘Oh, there it is.’
‘He’s missed.’ Alf lightly punched Ernie’s arm.
‘Told you.’ The frame closed. ‘Told you he’d bollocks it up.’
‘That was then, this is now.’
‘Pay up, you time-addled tool.’ Another note appeared and was pocketed. Moments passed. Ale supped.

‘We managed 147, years between us, though.’
‘Yeah. We got a good break.’

Alf and Ernie rasped and pulsed as Rocket Ronnie broke smoothly on the little TV behind the bar. Paul the barman looked up from his paper, swept the room with a glance and, spotting the emptying glasses by the banquette, did an inquisitive circular gesture at the pint pots, the table, the gents.
Ernie nodded. ‘Alf’ll get these, though, Paul.’
Alf, with mild protestations, was already halfway out of his seat. ‘Aye, set ’em up, Paul. I’m doing this old fart out of his kids’ inheritance and he’ll need to drown his sorrows.’
Ernie snorted. ‘Inheritance? One day, son…’ He gestured around the faded room, half lit with fringed lamps and the setting sun.
Looking down at the glass he was holding under the nozzle, Paul shook his head. ‘You two don’t half talk a lot of balls.’
Ernie and Alf laughed again. Alf got to the bar and leaned in under the soft light of the downward spot.
Pushing himself to his feet using his cue, Ernie made his way slowly towards where the triangle was hanging. Deftly, his dry hand plucked the black out of its pocket as he continued on his way.

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