The Old Man and the Pipe

by Martin James Hunter

 

It has been a heavy night and most of us have made it back to the flat. A few stragglers left behind as always. But there is no use considering the fallen when there is so much fun to be had.

There is cider going. Lots of cheap cider. So as you can imagine our condition is in no way graceful. The owner of the flat has his pads on and is jabbing the wall. I can only watch as he noisily bites away a segment of plaster and turns to show me. The remains of his meal spread over his gums. I nod in approval.

The door goes. The arrival of one having been considered lost. On his face a mischievous grin, behind him two guests. The party ceases for a moment on their arrival. A male and female, both in their sixties. Dressed for their local karaoke, I can only imagine the conversation that led them here.

They seem eager to mingle. Quickly the woman perches on the bed beside me and we engage in conversation. She speaks of the seventies and eighties and it turns out we share a lot of favourite books and authors. Touching my leg, she reveals that the man accompanying her is not her partner. I immediately make my excuses and join the others on the floor.

After only a few hours things only get bleaker. Alcohol running low, uppers all but consumed. Having no choice we turn to the grass, of which my friend has plenty. For a while my mind becomes clouded enough to forget the sexagenarians. Then again I remember.

The elderly male is barely keeping with the intoxicated debate. His contributions are rushed and outdated and we exist on a different level. His friend has given up completely. She lies asleep on the bed, the top palate of her false teeth having slipped from her mouth and now resting on her chin.

It does not take long for us to become immune to the relentless waves of joints being rolled. In response to this change in circumstances my friend points out the smoking apparatus in the corner. An ineffable glass tower leering above our heads. A multi-chambered, multi-purposed goliath that has all our names on it. I stagger backwards from the great thing into a friend. Try to speak but words fail me. He nods anyway, eyes also fixated on the bong’s apex. I know, he whispers. I know.

The old man seems unfazed. Boasts about having smoked weed for decades. Belittles the glass structure in favour of smoking equipment from his past. My friend offers to set the thing up and the geriatric nods in response. A hard lump goes down my throat.

With very little effort the apparatus swells with white fog like a pint having been poured too quickly. There is a sharp intake of breath from someone to my left. Astonishment at such a thrilling display of ergonomics. For a moment I am convinced that what we are witnessing is stage magic.

The choke is released. In no more than half a second the milky smoke rushes into the unfortunate man’s lungs. He locks on the spot and for a moment I simply watch, uncertain as to if time has inexplicably frozen. Uncertain as to if a heart attack is imminent. Uncertain as to what we would say to the authorities. Then gracefully he lifts his head to the cosmos, and in one smooth breath empties his lungs like a dragon.

He says nothing for the next fifteen minutes. Just remains there lost in the cavities of his mind, and for a while I watch him.

A cry of triumph seizes my attention. Someone has found a can of Tennents and is passing it around like a plate of lines, the value of the lager having multiplied significantly in this grim hour. I take my sip and in the resulting excitement forget about the old man. By the time I glance back there is only a space where he used to be.

 

Encore

My friends sit on the bed at either side of the remaining geriatric. She is now both awake and flirting with them. The curtains have been closed for some time, denying the morning. Bottles and cans litter the place.

We are the only four left. Conversation has ceased, in its place an unsteady atmosphere. Testosterone chokes the room, and suddenly it is obvious what is to come next. Glancing towards the clock I see that the first train of the day leaves soon.

Their eyes are no longer of reason, their intentions as clear as the azure sky. Join us or leave, my mischievous friend says without speaking. Concerned only with myself I select the latter, abandoning the poor woman to her fate.

 

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