Last Chance Saloon

Entry by: Paul McDermott

27th November 2015
Last Chance Saloon

Billy had already walked three miles – mostly uphill – to get to the Dole Office. He had no choice: he didn't even have the price of a bus ticket. And of course the weather was atrocious: the gale howling in off the Atlantic had pummelled Liverpool with a sadistic admix of rain, sleet and half the contents of the ocean, dumping most of it on him. Every inch of his flesh had been flayed beyond red-raw, but there was some unexpected small mercy when he passed a threshold he'd never known existed. His exposed hands, fingers and neck became quite simply numb, incapable of registering or recording pain and discomfort.
The third- or fourth-hand trainers he'd haggled for at the local charity shop last summer leaked at every seam. He was sure they'd soaked up enough water to double in weight since he'd left home. Every step he took cost him more effort. This must be what it feels like to be the victim in a Mafia movie when they give him 'concrete wellies' and toss him in the river, he thought.
Under the guise of 'Efficiency Measures' and 'Re-allocation of Resources', Dole Offices all over the UK had been reduced to less than a quarter of what they had once numbered. In the space of those five years three General Elections, two hung Parliaments and a spineless attempt at a Coalition Government had effectively done more damage to the British economy than the combined might of the German Army and Luftwaffe had achieved in a similar time scale.
As he rounded the corner of Green Lane, Billy was ready to sing the Hallelujah Chorus when he stumbled on a moment's respite from the elements in the lee of a building which he could barely remember being a superb cinema, later a bowling alley during his early childhood. It had been empty and unused now for over thirty years, but because it was a 'Listed' building it couldn't be bulldozed, even though it had deteriorated to such an extent that it was now a serious threat to public safety, liable to collapse at little more than a sparrow's sneeze. He huddled into the remnants of what had once been a sheltered doorway, squeezed some of the excess water out of his hair and tried in vain to stomp some feeling back into his numb, soaked feet. Looking up the road he could see his journey's end. Halfway point, he corrected himself: he still had to face the long walk home once his 'business' was complete.
As always, there was a long line of other 'Jobseekers' queuing in the driving rain outside the totally inappropriately-named 'JobCentre'. There was little movement in the crowd, no chaff or banter: to a man (and woman) they seemed resigned, without hope or expectation.
No chance for Billy to dry out, and even less chance of getting any cash to survive the next seven days if he didn't join the end of the line. As for the chance of NOT getting any wetter … he sighed, and moved on.
Zombielike, the Line of the Living Dead shuffled and shambled a few paces every few minutes. The rain started to ease just as he reached the end of the queue. He was pleased when he noticed that the line of Seekers arriving after him soon outgrew the number in front, awaiting admission to the Inner Sanctum, the Holiest of Holies, the Ten-Second Bum's Rush Inquisition of the number of Jobs he has sought and applied for, how many interviews attended, replies received ...
Incredibly, Billy felt himself wafted on the wings of angels. In less than an hour, he had progressed to within touching distance of the double-glazed, double-defended Portico of Paradise.
Double-defended, you ask? What other explanation for the Men in Black: immobile, silent pillars of stone sculpted on both sides of the Pearly Gates, alert for any sign of unrest in the unwashed unruly hoi-polloi of unemployed awaiting audience? Sad that such security measures are a common sight outside that most British of institutions, the Pub: sadder still they are now deemed necessary outside our JobCentres
Billy has almost reached Nirvana: he is inside the building, out of the rain. He is acutely conscious of the loud, liquid squelching sound he makes as he approaches, leaving a trail of damp muddy footprints on the deep pile of the carpeted floor. Mine Host at this Last Chance Saloon is a true professional: he knows his regulars, and has Billy's order ready and waiting as soon as he reaches the bar.
“This really has to be your Last Chance, Billy. You've been out of work for twelve months now. If you don't make an effort very soon you'll find yourself on a twelve week Sanction ...”