An excerpt from

The Mule

David Quantick

I WAS IN a bar. It doesn't matter where. It's not relevant to the story. (If there's one thing I've learned in my job, things that aren't relevant to the story have to go). The bar was pretty quiet, which suited me because I don't like to go to bars that play loud music, where everyone's shouting to get a drink and it's so dark you can't see the prices of drinks. Funny — loud and dark always go together with bars. You never see a loud, brightly-lit bar, do you? It's like not content with numbing our senses with booze, the bars want us blind and deaf as well.

Anyway, this bar was pretty much perfect so far as I was concerned. There was no music at all, the lights were OK — I could see the drinks were a reasonable price for the middle of town — and there were no hen parties or big groups of people making their own racket.

I signalled to the barman, who had his name on a badge on his shirt. "Good evening, Don," I said, smiling. "I'd like a Martini please. Vodka, and —" But he had already turned away to make it. I think he didn't like me saying his name. If I had a job where I had to wear my name on a badge and people said my name, I wouldn't have a problem. If people said, "Excuse me Jacky, could you look at these pages before the weekend?" or "Hey Jacky, this is more of a technical pamphlet but we figure you can handle it," I wouldn't mind at all. Of course I'd have to pick a version of my name that I felt comfortable with, which I admit would probably not be Jacky. Jacky is what my mother called me and I have never liked it. I would much rather be a Jack or even a J — "Hey J!" — but there we go. Whenever I say to people, "My name's Jack," they always look at me as if to say, "Really?" and before you know it, they're calling me Jacky. If they call me anything at all, that is. I have never had any luck with getting people to call me J.

All these thoughts were going through my mind as I waited for my Martini. The barman didn't seem to be in any hurry to make it and I was wondering if I should call him over using his name — "Hey, Don! Where's that Martini?" or just do what I always do, which is sort of mumble "Excuse me..." and hope he heard me, when a girl sat next to me at the bar. She looked at me, in that way where you're not sure that someone was looking at you with some kind of interest in their eyes, or maybe you just caught their eye because of an unusual or deformed thing about you. I'm not saying I'm deformed or even unusual, by the way, I look pretty ordinary. My eyes are kind of big, though. At school, some kids called me 'Bug Eyes', until my mother went in and told the teachers that her Jacky was sensitive about his eyes. All this did was make the teachers start calling me Jacky. I was on the verge of persuading people that I was really called 'Jay', but after my mother went to the school, it was goodbye Jay, hello Jacky.

I averted my eyes — not so bug-like nowadays — from the girl, just in case I was staring back at her, and lifted my hand to wave at the barman. But I could see the girl still out the corner of my eye and I felt self-conscious — who would she think I was, waving at barmen like a rock star or something? — and tried to turn the wave into a different gesture, like I was just about to scratch my nose.