Friendship

by ALAN SHAPIRO

Christmas Eve in a packed, small, noisy pub, which despite the swirling smoke was still somehow too bright with all of us jammed in so tightly shoulder to shoulder there was hardly space enough to lift the pint glass to your lips. The friend I’d come with was nowhere now in sight though later, in his retelling of the story I would tell him, he’d claim he’d seen it all unfold as in a movie, how I stood there holding the glass not drinking, pushed up against a shitfaced man whose upper and lower front teeth were missing, cigarette in a corner of his mouth, asking where I got the lovely jumper, and what would happen do you think should someone pour his drink all over it, and as he poured out a little of his Guinness on my sleeve I...well, what do you think I did? What I always do. I ran, I shoved my way through the crush of bodies some of whom shouted as I pushed past, wanker, watch it, Crikey, fooking bloody gobshite fooking yank, Frightened, shamefaced and humiliated, I punched a wall hard on my way out. When my friend found me outside, my knuckles already badly bruised and swollen, I told him I had hit the guy, and then I ran. It must have made a better story for us both because he told me right there to my face he saw me do it. And later that night at another pub he told some other friends of ours what he had witnessed, and how as he followed after me, the bartender shouted, there’ll be no fightin’ in Kehoes, lads, you won’t be drinking here again. He described it all in such elaborate and colorful detail even I believed him when he said the man dropped so fast when I hit him it was like the pint glass in his hand had hung cartoon-like in the air a moment before crashing to the floor—Take a look at his hand, at his knuckles, look at the teeth marks, he marveled, proud of his brawler pal. I dabbed away the blood and held my hand out for inspection. There were the mangled knuckles, there were the beer and bloodstains on the sleeve of the jumper. Everyone oohed and aahed; I held my tongue. It was his story after all, not mine, and I was nothing if not a good friend, a devoted friend, too trustworthy too generous too loyal to ever contradict him. And anyway I have the scars to back it up. Look, I’m showing you my hand.

ALAN SHAPIRO has published twelve books of poetry, most recently Reel to Reel and Night of the Republic, a finalist for the National Book Award and the Griffin Prize. He teaches at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.