A whipping breeze cooled the sun’s heat, making it the perfect day for laborious tasks. Joseph heaved the sack into the barn and glanced around the farm. Normally the sight of his land on a sunny day was enough to fill him with peace; a self prescribed tonic for troubles and woe. Today however, its effect was drowned by the mournful song of his tired body. From top to toe, he echoed hard work, and the pain reminded him how he used to slog twice as long and hard to feel even a murmur of complaint. It was one of those days when he felt the sum of his years, a day burdened by memories of her beautiful laughing eyes.
Helen ran the muggy towel along the length of the bar, smiling at her only customer, whose eyes bore into his pint as he jingled the change in his baggy jeans pocket. Each breath heaved his rotund stomach against his shirt which had been tucked in to contain the familiar burden. He rocked on his heels, ignored Helen and glanced at the still door, eyes pleading lazily for company. Looking around the almost empty country pub, Helen counted the hours to the end of her shift, feeling momentarily guilty that she was wishing her life away – a sin according to her father. She took the number of hours anyway, multiplied them by her hourly rate and traded this in her mind for how many drinks she could buy in the next town. Being a barmaid even only part time depressed her, but it was one of many jobs she felt she needed. A gentle clearing of the throat from her patron and Helen took the empty glass with a smile. She knew how barmaids were supposed to be: busty, funny, flirty, listening to customers and taking an interest. Helen found it difficult to feign the interest, was far too shy to try funny or flirty and wanted her modest cleavage leaving out of things altogether. When she took the job she had hoped for an easy time, but soon realised that country pubs were perhaps more difficult than the bustling bars she liked to drink in. Customers had plenty of time to poke fun at her and would crow with delight if they could make her blush. The problem, Helen felt was the over familiarity between customers and the ever absent landlady. This no doubt added to the charm of the local pub, but caused endless problems for Helen when trying to maintain some form of order. With patient, confiding tones customers would tell her how they received “preferential rates” or how “She always lets us do this” or even “She said I can pay her in the morning…” and no matter how ridiculous the claim, there would be complete collusion amongst the pack. It was frustrating, but Helen’s level of concern to the business was in direct proportion to her minimal wage and so with a forced grin she would bend and sway to their every command. Anything for a quiet shift. She handed over a rare and perfect pint, and strained to hear the applause.
“Good day?” Helen wondered if she could encourage the kind of communication and banter that seemed to flow easily between the locals. The man raised his eyebrows and shrugged.
“Can’t complain…” Helen smiled uncomfortably during the following silence and both were relieved when a group of men walked through the door. They brought with them the brief glimpse of the outside world, of fresh air and country sounds, and Helen counted down the hours till she could leave the confines of the local watering hole. Shyly, Helen’s relief was overshadowed as she waited expectantly for the men to tease her. It made her neck prickle with unease. She recognised the tallest man, Sam with cropped red hair and a matching complexion that seemed to blend out from his hair line into the paler skin of his neck. He slapped his hands on the bar and leant forward, grinning down at her.