The whisper of hope

21 Jun 2023 | Written by By Elsa Browne

Elsa Browne shares this gripping short story about one couple’s ongoing battle for sobriety…

Jeff saw her, sitting at the bar in a striking green dress, the moment he walked in and scanned the crowd. She was facing away from him, her elbows on the counter as she chatted to the barman. He took a seat a distance away at a table in a quiet corner where he would not be easily seen, his head low, and took out his phone so as to appear uninterested in what was going on around him. A too-friendly, loud laugh made him look up to see that the woman had turned to face the room, her lips a scarlet smear – or perhaps that was just a shadow. She was talking to a man who slung his jacket over the back of the barstool as he squeezed into the seat next to her. It made Jeff feel envious and unsettled and he dropped his gaze again. She looked tired and drawn in the dim light of the room and he thought “I wish I had a magic wand”. A young man came towards him as if to take his order and he motioned “Not now” with a shake of his head and a tap at his wrist, and mouthed “Later”. The waitron nodded and walked away. 

Drawn to the scene at the bar, and watching her intently now as she turned back to her drink, Jeff tensed when he saw the woman sway on the high barstool but she steadied herself, her fingers spread wide on the counter. The barman put a second glass, as large as a small bowl and filled with amber liquid in front of her with a practised smile. The bar was filling up rapidly now with the after-work crowd and the hubbub of noisy conversation clashed with a ringing in his ears. “I should just go home” he thought, but the thought of the empty house was unappealing. And still, he could not take his eyes off the woman at the bar revelling in the attention of the rowdy group vying for her attention, their voices getting ever louder in their pursuit of the possibility of a long night of revelry. 

The barman pushed another drink across to her and the man next to her touched the card reader in payment. She drained the remains of the drink in the glass nearest to her, flicking her dark hair as she did so. She grabbed the full glass too quickly and raised it to the man beside her in thanks, folding her body towards him before turning to face the room and smiling uncertainly at Jeff, as if to gauge his response. 

But as she leaned in again to her drinking companion, Jeff decided that there was no point in lingering. “I need to get out of here” he thought disconsolately. He rose from his seat at the table and picked up his coat. As he reached the exit door, he looked back at her one more time, but she was busy on her phone. His phone buzzed in his trouser pocket and his fingers automatically searched for it as he stepped outside. He stood under the street light to read the text from her. “Tomorrow clean slate    I promise last one. I’ll see you at hom. Xx”. He clasped the phone tightly and strode off feeling light, his sobriety intact for another day, and hers, again a sweet whisper of hope for tomorrow.

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