They sat there passing the bottle around, and there was nothing that could bother them, nothing at all.
It’s cold in the garage, but there’s a bottle for warmth and canned beans to be turned over a tea light, slowly bubbling.
It’s a cheap haven. Oil stains shaped like Africa and kipple abandoned against dull concrete walls. A small plastic ventilation window hasn’t spun in years. A dozen pasts buried in boxes all the same brown-grey now and heavy with damp. Never be unpacked again. The past didn’t bother them; it couldn’t, not at all.
Bottles askew on the rough concrete floor are smeared full with cigarette ends and spent matches are stuck into the hard wax of candle spills like sunken ships burnt masts exposed at low tide.
In coats and hats pulled low their breath hang’s undisturbed like dock mist. The cold didn’t bother them; it couldn’t, not at all.
Tea lights buck and flick like valley beacons. Cigarettes are rolled and lit and the bottle goes back and forth. Talk radio murmurs bulletins out the plastic short wave. Penetrated corks and bombed screw-tops are checked by armoured insects on patrol on the dead dust of the floor. Stained tumblers are lost in the shadows; they drank from the bottle, sometimes wiping the top with dirty cuffs.
Out the side door they’d rattle the back fence with thunder-piss under a sky of startling stars or bleak rain; just a variable to report.
When summer came it would smell fresh and the roll-door might be raised and they would watch people passing, going somewhere. In winters black cold they kept still unwilling to disturb the warm air that built around them like an aura.
They played chess. The board battered and peeling. Its two halves had separated long ago, frayed and warped and uneven where they pushed together. Wax in clumps clung to the board to be picked at with chewed nails. A peeled treble A battery was a black rook.
There was no rush. There was no anything. They were untouchable. The bottle a raw comfort of reassuring weight that went down fast but they never ran dry anymore. There was always another bottle.
The week and the world and the morning couldn’t touch them. The chess was a distraction but the bottle and the waiting for the pass and the holding on to it, that was the real focus.
The bad news on the radio came out crackly and dry. It was a source of mirth and couldn’t touch them. Sometimes they’d swap books and discuss history’s classic follies. It was a source of mirth and they mocked all these things bitterly drinking away tense and blind mercury hangovers in the stale shadows.
Nothing could touch them, not at all, not with the cool warm bottle and cigarette smoke that never drifted away and an age to sit and choose a move on the ruined board.
The game had been on for four years now.