As is decided, so too is done.
A paladin is shown the ropes. How a cash machine works. Load a dishwasher. Swapping kegs, pulling pints, taking orders for food when a kitchen is open.
Old memories stir to life. A young woman helps her sister at her new job. Tries her hand at honest work. Picks up some real world skills – the kind you do not learn at school. Pulls a decent stout. Whips a sharp tongue.
Pints of stout are swapped for mugs of coffee. Old men in a corner leave and others take their place. Candles burn and music plays and afternoon moves to evening. A familiar accents trickles back into a paladin’s speech. A right upriver lass she is.
A paladin slips into her role as barmaid. She knows her tasks and finds her ways. An old pub is not a stranger. Is happy to see her.
One by one, in pairs and in groups, men and women step through a door. Weary from a day at work. Wet from a walk through rain. Local folk, welcome in the warmth of a local haunt.
Words bounce back and forth. Paladin, sister, patrons. Conversations, banter, jokes. Talk is easy. Words are spoken and nothing is said and no one really cares.
It is not a night for gravity, and a pub has heard too much this day. It is time to chat, smile, heal. Laugh, drink, hug.
A room is warm and full of people. Wet coats. Sweaty brows. Shining eyes.
Perhaps this night more hands are held, and shoulders wrapped by loving arms. Perhaps more pints are raised, and songs sung along to. A paladin does not notice, and a sister does not care. Both are too busy. Both are too happy.
And behind a bar, in a pub in a forgotten part of town, a woman with flowers in her hair does not dance, but her hips sway to the rhythm where she walks.
Time passes in a haze of smiles and beers and song, and all too soon a night comes to an end. Lights go up. Music stops. Patrons of a bar make their way through a door. Leave in the night. Disappear in the dark. Head home.
All that remains is two sisters and a mess left by a good night out. Two sisters and a pub.
– – –
Toini sighed and let her shoulders slump. She leaned against the bar, supporting herself on her elbows and leaning her forehead against her arms.
Finally, silence. Her ears rang, her feet hurt, and her mind was finally starting to spin down. There were no more orders to take. No pints to pull, crisps to serve, or change to give. She still needed to take a washcloth to the bar and clean up the spilled beer, but that could wait. There wasn’t anyone left to put their arms in it anymore.
Except, well, her…
Cursing under her breath Toini pushed away from the bar. She whipped her arm back and forth trying to shake as much as possible off and then reached for a pile of napkins on the bar.
She’d removed her parka before the evening even started, leaving her in a washed out green tee with its arms ripped off. Functional, comfortable.
“You okay?” Paivi appeared in the doorway to the kitchen.
“Smeared beer all over my arm.” She rubbed the napkins against her arm, but still felt sticky.
Paivi grinned at her. “Smooth girl. Smooth.”
“Yeah, well, so’s your face.” Toini shot back, and then she too grinned.
“Read to get started, or do you want to take a moment.” Paivi nodded out towards the room.
Toini took a deep breath and took in the room around her. She’d seen battlefields tidier than this.
Crushed pints and broken bottles. Forgotten hats and twisted umbrellas. Candle wax. Crisps and peanuts. Peeled off stickers from bottles of beer and crumpled up packets of cigarettes, and on the floor a soggy mess of spilled drinks and mud dragged in by rain-wet boots.
Next to an overturned chair stood a pair of sparkling high-heeled pumps that someone forgot to put in their purse before they left.
Who in their right mind wore high heels in a place like this?
“Uhh…” Toini took a deep breath. “Might as well.” She paused and shook her head. They’d be here all night. “It’s not gonna clean itself is it?”
“No, let’s do this.” Paivi snapped her fingers and pointed towards the door. “We’ll start outside.”
“There’s always a mess outside and we need to take care of that too.”
“I’ll go grab the stuff. You go check there’s no gathering outside still.
– – –
A cold rain falls over a city tucked in to sleep. Few people linger in a square in a forgotten part of town. A young couple huddle in a greengrocer’s doorway. A group of people stand by a fountain and its dragon, arguing about something – or maybe singing.
Two sisters stand outside a pub. One tall and dark, one short and blonde. One in raincoat, one in sleeveless green.
A mess is not so bad out here. Bottles. Bags of paper and wrappers of plastic. A few forgotten pints now full of rain. Cigarette butts.
Water and wind keeps a street clear.
Two sisters get to work. Two brooms and a shovel and a square metal bin. Sweep. Gather. Dispose.
A blonde woman shivers. Cold. Wet. Tired. Stubborn as ever. Work is work and work needs doing. No duty fulfills itself.
– – –
Toini rubbed at her arms and muttered to herself. She shouldn’t have said no to that spare raincoat. Stupid.
Water ran down her face. Her tee clung to her skin, her hair hung heavy from her head, and her fatigues had begun soaking through
It hadn’t been long – and they’d be done soon – but she was already soaked to the bone. Only her socks were still dry.
She grabbed another bottle and placed it in the bin. Half a pint glass. Not much left now. A plastic bag with two soggy apples and an empty water bottle. Almost done.
“How’s it going?” Paivi’s voice came from across the street. She’d been down to the fountain to check on the group of people gathered there.
Toini straightened up and pushed a few dreads from her face with her free hand. “Good. I think. Almost done.” She smiled for a moment, and then the cold and rain wiped the smile away.
Paivi came up to stand beside her. She put her hands on her hips and surveyed the area in front of her pub. After a moment she nodded. “Yes. This will do. It’s good enough. Thanks.”
“No worries,” Toini muttered, clenching her jaws together to keep her teeth from clattering.
“Great.” Paivi bent down to pick up the shovel from the ground next to the bin. “Let’s get in and do the rest and then we can have a cup of tea before bed.”
Toini groaned. She’d forgotten about that. It’d take forever to clean that mess up. Dirt and mud and broken bottles everywhere.
She just wanted to sleep. It was cold.
“Chin up sister. We’ll be done in no time, you and me.” Paivi raised a hand and poked her in the arm – and then her eyes grew wide and her mouth fell open. “Toini! You’re freezing. I’m so sorry. I didn’t…”
“It’s fine.” Toini shrugged and forced a wry grin onto her face. “Don’t worry. I’m fine.”
Really. She was just tired. She’d had far worse than this. Just cold and tired.
“Nonsense!” Paivi wrapped an arm around her shoulder and pulled her towards the door. “Let’s get you in by the fire. I’ll get you something warm.”
“Let off!” Toini threw her arm up and shrugged out of her sisters grip. “I can walk on my own.”
Paivi rolled her eyes. “Yes, yes, but lets get inside and get warmed up.” She waved her hand towards the door. “I’m cold too.”
Toini scowled at her, and then she nodded. She went and picked up the square bin with the rubbish they’d collected. “Come on. Get the brooms.”
“Aye aye, captain.” Paivi throw a mock salute and went to grab the rest of the things.
Shivering in the rain, Toini looked towards the door. She was being an idiot, and she knew it, but she was the stupid paladin here. No way she’d let her sister tidy up after her while she could still stand.
She’d help tidy up the bar too. There was a clean sweater in her bag she could wear. She’d be fine. Rest later.
Stupid paladin indeed.
– – –
Two sisters stand inside the door of an old pub. Still. Silent. Unmoving. Two mouths hang open. Four eyes stare wide.
It is all done. A room is in order – neat and tidy.
As clean as an ancient old pub can be. Dark wood polished to a shine. Floor scrubbed. Brass fittings gleaming behind a bar.
Everything is in its right place. No crushed glass, beer stickers, crisp packets. Fresh candles burn on every table. Empty glasses line shelves behind a bar, and soft music streams from speakers – something with a violin.
No chores remain for two sisters to complete.
It is all done.
– – –
“What?” Toini said after a long moment of silence, and then she ran out of words. “What?” she repeated – just to say something.
Beside her, Paivi said nothing. Her mouth opened and closed, but no words came out. She blinked a few times, sniffled.
Eventually she took a deep breath and rubbed at her eyes with the back of her hand. “It hasn’t done that in years.”
“It?” Toini stared at her.
Paivi nodded. “It.”
She set down the brooms and shovel she’d been holding on to. Leaned them against the wall beside the door and took a few steps into the room. “My pub. The building itself. Its spirit.”
“It can do that?”
“Yes.” Her sister nodded again. “If it wants to. It almost never does, but it can.”
“Wow. That’s amazing.” She set down the bin she’d been carrying and walked over to brush her fingers across the surface of a nearby table.
Spotless. Not a speck of dirt.
“It must be really happy to have you back,” Paivi said from over by the bar.
Toini closed her eyes and felt it. Warmth. Welcome. Joy. She belonged here. She was safe here. Loved. Here.
Cold. She was also cold. A shiver wracked her shoulders and she sneezed.
“Come.” Paivi beckoned to her. “Let’s get you out of those wet clothes. Come sit by the fire.”
– – –
In the snug, in front of the fireplace, she pulled her wet tee over her head and tossed it over the back of an empty chair. She unlaced her boots and wriggled out of her fatigues. Almost naked, in only her underwear, she knelt down in front of the fire, let the heat of the flames warm her skin.
She reached out her arms. Warmed her hands. Let life back into her body.
Her sister brought her a blanket and wrapped it around her shoulders.
Heat licked her cheeks, bit her lips.
Eventually she drew away, pulled the blanket close around her and sat down in one of the chairs. She pulled up her knees and wiggled her toes. Warm and happy. Mostly dry. Her hair could take care of itself. It’d be fine soon enough.
Her sister brought two steaming mugs and set them down on the table.
“Mulled wine,” she said with a wry grin. “The tea’s gone missing and the bastard pub has locked the door to the kitchen.”
– – –
Paivi woke up.
She wished she hadn’t.
Her head ached, and her tongue tasted like someone had used it for an ashtray. The light that filtered in through the curtains hurt her eyes. Thoughts dragged themselves through her mind like tired feet through wet sand.
She was in her bed. On her bed. Across it – with her feet sticking out the side. She still had one of her boots on.
Her head ached.
At least she was at home. She couldn’t remember going to bed though, or up the stairs.
Someone snored in the other room. The noise tore at her ears and she groaned and that hurt too. Crap. Stupid.
Had she pulled? She hadn’t. Please say she hadn’t.
Groaning again, she rolled over and pushed herself up to sit on the edge of the bed. Her head swam and bile rose in her throat and she clenched her fists against her knees and pressed her jaws together.
Get a grip.
What had she done last night? It had just been a normal evening, hadn’t it? She closed her eyes and tried to collect her thoughts.
The last things she remembered was pouring six shots of whiskey for her and her sister.
And then the rest of the memories from the day before slammed back into her mind like a demented ogre with a battle axe.
Her stupid sister had come back from the dead and they’d decided to have a quiet drink after they closed the pub for the night. Yeah, that had worked out nice. Stupid Toini.
A tired grin spread across her face. Pushed through the pain and the nausea. Her sister still snored like a stupid lumber mill.
On the floor in front of her lay her phone. She must have dropped it during the night.
Paivi stared at it for a moment, and then she bent down and picked it up – slowly. It was not a morning for hasty movements.
She had one new message.
It was from Roy.
“Don’t let her leave. I’m coming home.”