Jake Treleaven stood huddled in the freezing wind outside The Smuggler pub on Fore Street in St Ives, Cornwall, feeling every one of his fifty-two years.
It was almost ten o’ clock on a Thursday evening and the street, which bustled with tourists hopping from shop to shop during the summer, was completely deserted. Of course, it was February and in the winter months all of Cornwall hunkered down against the fierce winds that blew in from the Atlantic and hammered the coast like a battering ram.
The pub was pretty and typically Cornish, built from grey sandstone. Above the door, on a black background, golden lettering pencilled out THE SMUGGLER. Jake planned to walk into the pub and have one last drink, just like a normal man would, and then continue down towards the coast. He had been an alcoholic for a year, since he lost his job in construction, and then a complete ruin when Maria finally left him. Now, every day from late afternoon onwards, he would sit in his small flat on Belyars Lane and drink until he fell asleep, whether it was Aval Dor vodka or Tribute beer it didn’t matter. He would sit there in his scratchy armchair for hours, doing nothing but drinking. He would let the poison flow through his bloodstream and take away the pain, and the pain would go. At least until he awoke in the morning with a splitting headache and a sadness even worse than the night before.
For a moment Jake considered turning around and going home. He tried to tell himself that if he went home, he could watch TV or read a book; but it was useless. In his heart of hearts, he knew that he would simply sit and drink all night, and nothing would change. That had to stop. This way he would break the vicious cycle and do what had to be done. Jake stared at the sign hanging outside the pub. On it was an image of a smuggler from the Georgian era. The man wore a purple jacket and had an eyepatch over his right eye. He had a bottle of some type of alcohol, probably rum, in one hand and a flintlock pistol tied to his belt. There was a wicked grin flashed across the smuggler’s face. It was a grin that said: “Don’t stand on ceremony Jake. Come inside, Jakey my boy. There are some fine drinks inside, the finest you’ve ever tasted. Come inside Jakey my boy and all your troubles will drift away.”
The smuggler was welcoming Jake inside like an old friend, it would be rude of him to refuse the invitation. It had been almost twenty hours since he’d last had a drink. Way too long. Besides a drink would help, like a crutch for him to lean on. A drink would sooth him and put his mind at ease. He deserved one for having the courage to finally finish it. Jake ran a hand through his thinning grey hair and then over his sagging and unshaven jowls and opened the front door.
Inside, the place was empty of patrons and there was not even a member of staff in sight. The smell of beer, habitual in all pubs, was only faint. Business must be slow tonight, Jake thought. The bar encompassed the entire back wall and the drinks stacked on the shelves glistened like diamonds in the dim light. The carpet was red interwoven with dark blue squares and to the right was another room filled with tables. Jake walked up to the bar and sat down on a plush, velvet stool near the wall. He glanced up at a photograph on the wall. It was black and white and the date at the bottom said 1899. The photograph was of a picturesque little cove. In the background, the ocean of hopes and dreams stretched into the horizon. A couple, maybe sixty years of age, stood on the shingles in front of a boat piled with fishing nets, their arms around each other and looking truly happy. It reminded Jake of him and Maria. “How times change,” Jake whispered to himself.
“Good evening sir, what will it be tonight?” Jake turned around and standing behind the bar was a bald man of perhaps forty.
“I’ll have a Doom Bar please, support the local stuff,” said Jake.
“Certainly.” The barman filled a glass with the frothy brown beer and set it down on the counter. Jake picked it up and downed half in one gulp. “Three pounds, fifty pence please,” said the barman.
Jake handed over a twenty and said, “I’ll have two more.” He finished off the rest of the pint and felt much better. The beer was cool and delicious, and Jake believed Doom Bar to be the best Cornish ale. Two more glasses appeared before him and the barman handed over the change. “Busy night tonight,” Jake remarked as he began his second pint.
“Tell me about it,” replied the barman. “We’re quiet all the time from October to March. If it carries on like this, we might have to close during the winter.”
“That’s a shame, this is a nice watering hole.”
“We’re fine in the summer, when the tourists start turning up. This place is full every day until closing time, you can’t move for want of trying. In season, you could cook a crab with the body heat in this place,” he laughed.
Jake held his home in high esteem and lamented its demise. “That’s the thing about Cornwall isn’t it? On the outside, all is fine and dandy but when you draw back the curtain, you realise the economy’s pretty much shot and there isn’t any work. People are leaving before they become skint. The perfect façade,” said Jake.
“Aye sounds about right,” said the bartender as Jake finished his second beer and moved on to his third.
Jake thought about old times, happy times. He remembered performing with the band. There were three of them, him doing vocals, Johnny Angwin on guitar and Fred Keast playing the drums. They weren’t even remotely famous, but they didn’t do it for that, the three of them did it because they enjoyed it. They played mostly rock music, (both classics and their own stuff) in pubs like the one he was sat in now and at local community events. He had been a builder by trade, but he was a musician at heart. He loved performing. He loved crooning a great tune while the people clapped and sang along. He loved chumming with friends he’d known since school. All long gone. Fred and Johnny were both dead now. A quick and nasty case of lung cancer did for Fred and Johnny had a heart attack six months later. Jake hadn’t performed for nearly twenty years and that deeply saddened him.
Jake raised his hand, muttered, “Another,” and put down the change he received earlier. The drinks brought back the memories, the bad now replacing the good, flooding into his head like high tide at Porthminster beach. The bartender put a full glass of beer in front of him along with a fiver and a one-pound coin and Jake started on his fourth pint.
He recalled how one day a year ago his boss had brought him into his office and told him the building company was going bust and that Jake would be made redundant. It was a familiar story down here. The company, like many others, just wasn’t making any money. And there were crackpots who thought Cornwall should become independent. Ludicrous. How the county’s economy could be strong enough to survive on the profits of six months of selling ice cream and pasties he didn’t know. All you had to do was venture inland and away from the tourist hotspots to see the crumbling villages with half-finished shells of houses and little grocery shops with banners out the front saying, “Closing down, all stock must go.”
Jake was unable to find another job. He had drudged around the house all day while Maria was at work. Not knowing what to do with himself, he had started to drink. Maria was a teacher at the local primary school and that had kept them off the streets. They were hardly speaking by then though. He was depressed, unemployed and his hand was tightening its grip on the bottle. He only watched as she became more and more distant from him. She hounded him to cut back on the drink, he said he would and then carried on doing the opposite. Not because he wanted to spite her, but because he was an alcoholic and alcoholics have to drink, just like the sun has to come up every morning. He could sense her becoming more and more frustrated. He told himself he didn’t care, but he knew that wasn’t true. The truth was he didn’t have the strength to put things right. There was tension in their home, simmering and seething below the surface and Jake remembered how it all boiled over one night three months ago.
He was sat in front of the television, a whisky in his hand, watching but not really watching some game show, when Maria walked into the room. Her eyes were watery, her face shorn of makeup and her long, black hair was unkempt. “Jake, we need to talk,” said Maria.
“Fine let’s talk.”
“This has to change.” She spoke to him like she would to one of the kids in her class who she’d just caught throwing paper across the room.
“What does?” he replied. Although he understood what she was on about. He sipped his drink.
“This!” she sighed heavily and gestured towards all of him. “This moping around, doing nothing with your life, your drinking. Jesus you drink so much!”
Maria was right, of course she was, and Jake knew it. But fuck her, she hadn’t helped him. All she’d done was ignored him, expecting him to get out of it on his own.
“Yeah okay,” he said and threw back the rest of the drink.
“I mean it,” said Maria. “This has to stop. You need to find a job. I know it’s difficult with the economy the way it is, but instead of sitting around all the time you need to actually try.”
Jake’s temper snapped. “I am trying!” he screamed. He got up out of the armchair.
“No, you’re not!” She was crying now. “I ask you to stop drinking, you promise me you will and then you just pop open another can of Heineken.”
Jake wanted to ask for her help; he couldn’t become sober alone. But he was too proud for that. He was the old-fashioned type, stiff upper lip. Just carry on. Pretend he was fine when really the monkey upstairs was doing cartwheels and crashing a pair of cymbals together.
“Stop nagging me Maria, that’s all you do. Nag, nag, nag and it makes me sick. I do like a drink, but I’ve got it under control. So, stop having a go at me!” shouted Jake. He didn’t have his drinking under control, and he didn’t believe he did, not even for a second, but he couldn’t let himself look weak in front of his wife.
“You’re not the man I married. You don’t care about us, about anything and I can’t watch you make a wreck of yourself anymore Jake,” Maria shouted back.
“I’m the wreck, that’s rich, take a look at yourself in the mirror darling,” he retorted. That did it. Tears streamed down Maria’s face and Jake instantly regretted saying what he did.
“Jake, I can’t put up with this anymore. It’s me or the bottle,” croaked Maria as she wiped her eyes with her fingers. Jake started forward. He almost put his arms round her, almost apologised for being so harsh to her, almost promised to properly stop drinking, so that they might have a chance to save their marriage. But he didn’t. Instead he strolled past her, opened the large, brown cabinet in the corner and poured himself another glass of whisky.
Maria Treleaven left that night, packed her things into a couple of cases and just went. Jake didn’t try and stop her. She sent him a text in the morning that said she was staying with her mother in Launceston and that she thought it was best for them not to contact each other for a while. That suited him perfectly, he was angry and didn’t want to speak to her then and indeed he hadn’t since the bust up. However, he loved her and couldn’t bear being without her. They’d been married for twenty-six years and he hated to see all they’d been through just thrown away. He wanted to call her, see how she was doing, apologise for being a dreadful husband and maybe even see about fixing everything. If only he could bring himself to do it. If only.
Jake lifted his head out of his hands and emerged from the land of memories. He drained the last of his beer and picked up his money that was still laying on the counter. He wouldn’t need it anymore, not at all, but he took it with him all the same. The bartender was gone. Probably somewhere out the back. Jake felt slightly dizzy and nearly fell off his stool. He held onto the bar to steady himself and then stood up. He then stumbled to the door and went outside into the icy air. The wind had grown stronger and Jake shivered as he looked all the way down Fore Street, past the Superdry store and was relieved to see there wasn’t a soul around. That was just how he wanted it. He wanted to be alone now. It was time. Jake wrapped his coat around him tightly and began to walk.
It had gone midnight when Jake eventually stopped walking. He had reached Hellesveor cliff, just outside of town. There was a full moon out and the landscape basked in a beautiful glow. Hellesveor cliff was stunning, right out of a postcard. Lush grass and ferns covered the clifftop while the rocks jutted out below. In daylight the views of the Atlantic were truly majestic. In another life, Jake used to come here with Maria. They would amble along the cliffside, enjoying the scenery and the company of each other, listening to the waves breaking calmly against the shore. This was where he would do it. He would jump off Hellesveor cliff and kill himself. He couldn’t live in his pitiful existence anymore. His life had been bad for a long while now but after Maria left it seemed to Jake that no hope remained, the last light in his soul had gone out. Jake moved to the edge of the cliff, where the land fell away and there was nothing below but water and jagged rocks and looked down. He felt sick, from both the alcohol and pure fear and he bent over to hold his quivering legs. He was an utter failure, but he had never thrown up from drinking too much and that was something. He was a man that could hold his drink.
When he jumped, he would plunge downwards, hit the sea and die instantly. His body would wash up on the beach and eventually someone would discover it. This was the best way to go, nobody would be one hundred percent sure he had committed suicide and that was the way he wanted it. If he had used pills or a rope there could be no mistaking it, no wriggle room, but this way it would be entirely plausible that he simply fell. Add in the lack of a suicide note and the bartender’s testimony that Jake had drank four pints of beer the night he had died, and the police would more likely than not conclude that Jake Treleaven had been drunk and lost his balance while out walking. There might be murmurings in St Ives of suicide, owing to his unemployment and the recent separation of him and his wife but accidental death would be the final verdict. So, this is how it ends, he thought. Jake stood up and prepared to let himself fall off the edge.
And then Jake stopped. He looked back towards St Ives, where the lights of the town twinkled in the dark. A beacon of hope. He thought of the band again and about resurrecting the musician inside of him. He would be a one-man band, there was no Johnny or Fred anymore. He could start writing new songs and learn how to play the guitar, (he would need to if he was going to be on his own.) He could play in pubs again and earn some money, and maybe, just maybe it could get him back on his feet. It would be hard though. He would have to work harder than he ever had before and throwing himself off Hellesveor cliff would be easier. Far easier. He had an idea. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the one-pound coin the bartender had given him earlier. The light from the moon allowed him to just about make out the head of the Queen and the floral emblem on the other side. Tails he would go home, have a good sleep and wake up in the morning ready to start composing new material, he would also give up alcohol, for good this time and he meant that. Heads and he would chuck himself off the cliff as planned. Jake placed the coin between his index finger and thumb and flicked it into the air. He caught it and slapped it onto the back of his other hand. Then he looked down at the coin that decided his fate.
Oliver Swift is a young writer and lives in the rural East Midlands.