“Ozzie, Ozzie… it’s morning.” said Maggie, standing by the edge of the bed. He looked over at her, not accustomed to being awoken. Blinking several times, and briefly wondering who and where he was, it all flooded in. Today was the day.
“Oh,” he said slowly. “So it is.” He breathed in deeply, and let it out slowly.
“Iffin it makes ye feel any better, t’is fer the best.” she offered, before slipping out the door and padding barefoot down into the pub. He watched the door after she left, and pulled his nightcap from his bald head. The urge to turn over, go back to sleep, and forget about all this was overwhelming. Instead he stood, poured the water Maggie had brought up into the wash basin and splashed his face, then dressed slowly and methodically. The violet waistcoat. It was her favourite.
As he walked down the steps into the pub Maggie was squirting some tonic into a glass of gin for Murg, whose eyes were already watery… but then, his eyes were always watery. Maggie turned.
“Where is Bib?” Underby asked.
“He’s up on the roof with her.” Maggie said, her mouth downturned. Underby nodded. Of course, she loves the skyline of the city, always had. He turned and looked at the only photograph he had of himself with her, when she was still breathing. They stood on the roof of the Sweetwater Square building he had used to lodge in. She smiled, standing beneath a black parasol. It was how Underby always tried to remember her.
He pulled up the loose board behind the bar and took out his personal bottle of Inverness Batwing Whisky and poured a generous glass. Murg’s bulging eyes scanned every inch of the bottle while it was in view. Underby drank, and felt slightly more relaxed as it slowly spread through him.
Underby turned to Maggie. “Alright.” he said.
“Time?” Maggie asked. Underby nodded. “Go fetch Bib to bring her down, and then you know what to do.” Maggie’s mouth pressed firm, and her small head nodded once, then she was off.
Murg began to ask a question, but Underby raised a single hand, and slumped into his chair near the bar. “Later.” he said, hearing the footsteps upstairs growing louder. Bib walked in with Miss Dizelle drifting behind him. She looked around at the pub in amazement, as she had every single day since she had stepped inside it, having always forgot she had seen it before. She clapped at the candlelight.
“Now?” asked Bib.
Underby stood and tugged at the bottom of his waistcoat. Dizelle cooed softly when she saw it. “Not quite yet, Maggie has not returned with him yet. Perhaps you could play us a song?”
Bib smiled. “Sure boss.” Reaching behind the bar, Bib pulled out the old violin, placed it under his chin and tapped the bow against the strings.
“Daaaaaaaahhhhhhh?” Dizelle asked Underby.
Underby smiled and nodded. “Of course, darling. Of course we can dance.” He took her rough cold hand in his, and stepped out to the empty part of the floor in front of the dartboard and waltzed slowly with Dizelle while Bib played a tune. Murg sniffled slightly, wiping his nose on a lacy handkerchief.
“Daaaaaaaaah!” Dizelle said slowly, her head dipped back, eyes closed. Just then the front door opened and closed and tiny feet scampered inside.
The two small figures stood in front of the bar. “Here he is, Ozzie.”
Underby stopped dancing, and looked down at the small man. He nodded. The little man in the large hat nodded back. Underby turned Dizelle toward the small man, slowly, so not to confuse her. He wondered if she would remember, but needn’t have worried as her eyes widened the moment they set on Pip.
“Puuhhhhhrp!” she called, and held out her arms. Pip ran to her, and threw his arms around her thin neck.
“Allo miss Dizelle. Allo, i’m back, like.” he said. She laughed and sang. She repeated “Puuuuuhhhhrp” over and over.
Underby turned away, his eyes meeting briefly with Bib’s, and looked to the portrait of the Emperor on the wall. He would need to begin preparing for the Drinking Festival. Yes. It was good to think about business just now. New drinks, posters, the like… lots to do.
Bib was staring at him, he could feel it. He looked over. “Now?” Bib asked. He swallowed slowly.
Underby’s mouth was dry. “Yes.”
“We could always do it tamarraw,” Bib offered. “No real reason it’s got ta be t’day.”
“No.” Underby said. “I’ve been putting this off long enough.”
Underby took Dizelle’s hand and kissed it. She smiled toothlessly. “Daaahhhh?” she asked. He smiled. “Yes, soon.” he said. He lead her to the back of the pub where the box sat waiting. He stood her inside, then with Bib and Maggie’s assistance, laid her down gently inside. She giggled. Maggie turned away, and sobbed once, while Pip and Murg stood nearby.
“Bye, Mizz Dizelle.” Bib said, and kissed her forehead.
“Baaaahhhhhh” she said, smiling.
Pip, Murg, and Maggie said goodbye also, with varying degrees of success. Bib had walked quickly toward the front of the pub, and stood looking up out the window at the street.
Underby crouched down beside Dizelle. “Goodbye my darling,” he said. “I will always love you, and will never forget what you did for me.” he kissed her firmly, and while doing so switched on the reality enforcer which laid between her scrawny legs. When he stood back up, her eyes were closed. He stared at her for a few moments, then placed the lid on top of the box, and began to nail it closed.