3rd, Open Category 2005 - Doreen Hinchcliffe

The Regular

They set their watches by him. On the stroke
of eight he came in every night for years
returning from a job he never spoke
much of, to do with people in arrears.

He'd lean against the bar, reserved, withdrawn
but never rude. His wit was dry, sardonic,
delivered with a smile, his humour born
of insight, just as clever and ironic

as that of a philosopher or scholar,
Guiness in hand, he'd stop and hesitate,
gazing at contours in its creamy collar
as if, like tea leaves, they could tell his fate.

The details of his personal life stayed grey,
devoid of any colour, like his clothes.
he had a wife, a teenage son, he'd say,
the rest he was reluctant to disclose.

He'd drink for hours, motionless, at the borders
of unconsciousness, ignored, unseen,
till, roused by cries of time now please, last orders
he'd take his pint and play the fruit machine.

That Friday he struck lucky, heard the clatter
of chaotic jackpot coins spewed forth
above the froth and buzz of drunken chatter
and strains of Abba floating from the hearth

Cupped hands heaped scattered coins, then scraped the pile
inside a plastic bag that someone gave.
He left with just a flicker of a smile,
the customary farewell nod and wave.

Next day they found him (didn't find a note)
stretched out behind a disused railway shed;
the windfall coins still weighing down his coat,
the windfall plastic bag upon his head.