He patted the old red brick wall, as if someone on the other side might hear and open a secret door that no one else can see. “I swear, it was right here,” Garrison said as he stepped back and looked all around at the aged building, looking like he’s taking stock of every brick. “There was a door here, and it opened to a stairwell. There were maybe a dozen steps and at the bottom of those stairs, that’s where it was.”
“The pub,” I said, raising an eyebrow. “The one where you swear you saw an elf?”
“Are you sure it wasn’t…” Tillie hesitated to finish her thought. “It wasn’t just a little person?”
Garrison looked back to my girlfriend. He rubbed the stubble on his face and used his hand to comb back his dark, greasy hair that grew long enough to cover most of his forehead. “Little person?” he questioned. “You’re thinking of Santa’s elves. Elves are actually tall and slender.”
“You mean Tolkien elves,” I interjected. Garrison and I both loved The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. We met in an English lit class and we worked on a group project studying the Tolkien mythology in the context of the 1960s. Through that project, I got the sense that he liked Tolkien a lot more than I did. And maybe took it a bit too seriously. “Remember, there’s plenty of European mythology with elves who were tiny.”
“Yeah, I know!” Garrison barked. “But I’m not talking about those elves. I’m talking about sharp blue eyes, pale skin, and pointed ears.”
“Okay, so you think you saw Elrond at a pub last night,” I continued. The building we were standing in front of was maybe four stories tall and quite old. I couldn’t tell quite how old, but all the buildings around Camden looked like they might have started pretty old but had some work done for the tourists. There were plenty of pubs around Camden, so it didn’t surprise any of us when Garrison told us we had to find this one cool spot he visited the night before. But when he dragged me and Tillie into the alleyway where he swore the door to the pub was, I had to question how much he drank last night.
“It wasn’t Elrond,” Garrison said. “More like Arwen, and I need to find her again.”
It had been a long time since Garrison met a girl he liked. Tillie and I were starting to think maybe he was asexual. We met plenty of people while at Camden University who came out as gay, bisexual, and asexual. It was never a big deal to any of us and Garrison always seemed quite curious about these other orientations. Maybe it was just to explore his options.
University was tough on him. It should have been the best, party-fuelled years of his life. Instead, he spent most of the parties drunkenly embarrassing himself trying to talk with pretty well any girl who hadn’t already rejected him. Being his flatmate wasn’t easy through those years. There were a few times I was certain he killed himself in the bathroom. He would lock himself in all night throwing up whatever he drank and smoked and dropped and snorted. No substance was off limits for Garrison and I was certain his heart would give out at any time. When he tried telling us he met an elf at a basement pub in the Camden party district, I thought his mind gave out before his heart did.
“Okay, let’s say this pub exists,” Tillie began in her completely wonderful rational sort of way. She was good at talking to Garrison, especially while he was on edge. I always told her she missed her calling as a social worker. But I also knew she was living her passion designing the kinds of buildings that give cities their skyline shape. “We should retrace your steps, make sure this is actually where you found the door.”
“I know this is where I found the door,” Garrison said. “I remember walking out of the same door and stopping for a shawarma at the counter right across the street.”
Garrison pointed to the falafel takeout counter. We walked out of the alleyway and jogged across the street to the closed eatery. Tillie pressed her face against the glass door to look inside. I stared up at the grey sky. It was another cloudy day. I missed the regular sun this time of year back home in the Okanagan. Garrison and I both moved back after we finished our degrees at Camden, the same degrees we could have got at UBC, but decided we wanted to add a worldly adventure to our formal education. That’s where I met Tillie and she moved back to Canada with me, though we made regularly pilgrimages across the pond to visit her family and stop in at our old favourite watering holes.
“This place does keep late night hours,” Tillie said as she moved away from the glass door. “Do you have a receipt from your late night snack?”
Garrison reached into his khaki pockets and then into his windbreaker’s pockets. He pulled out a single, small piece of paper and looked down at it. “I think this is it,” he said. “I paid cash, so all I have is a till receipt showing I paid six pounds. No time or address.”
“The register inside does look old,” Tillie said. She looked down either side of the block. “And you’re sure you had to go through an alleyway to get to this pub?”
“Absolutely,” he answered. “Maybe I just can’t see it because it’s daylight. I need to come back at night to find this place.”
Tillie wrapped her blue cardigan tighter to herself as a cold wind blew by. She kicked some of the street water off of her brown boots and looked over to me. “Shall we pub crawl tonight?”
It was after dark when we finally left the hotel to retrace Garrison’s steps. He hung out in our hotel room the whole time and even ordered room service for us all. Despite having his own room just next door, he didn’t want to leave us. I guess he didn’t want to be alone.
The streets of Camden were as busy as I always remembered them. My finishing school didn’t slow down the party scene and plenty of college-aged kids were still out, drinking until they were slurring their words and walking like they can feel the world around them spinning.
Garrison was taking long swigs from his mickey of whisky as he marched us to his first stop from the night before. As we moved through the night before’s stops, Garrison started blending more with the young college crowd roaming the streets. His walk turned to a shuffle and a stumble. His words made less sense and he needed to repeat everything at least twice. I hadn’t taken a single drink that whole night. I grew past that, started to find it boring and pointless. Garrison was still right in it. This discrepancy between us didn’t dawn on me until we walked through those streets together.
“I don’t fucking get it,” Garrison mumbled, staring again at the blank brick wall. “It was here. We walked exactly what I walked last night. I retraced all of my steps. The fucking shawarma place is even open. Where the fuck did it go?”
“Maybe it’s time we accepted that the pub doesn’t exist,” I said. “Maybe you stumbled into somewhere else and you don’t remember. I don’t doubt that you met someone last night –”
“Yes you do!” Garrison shoved me. “You do fucking doubt it. You doubt everything with me. I don’t even know why you hang out with me still. Why you bring me on these fucking trips, just to rub in my face you have someone else now you get to travel and do cool shit with. And I have fucking no one. I’m not your fucking charity case! I don’t need you to bring me along to shit because you feel sorry for me!”
“I never said I felt sorry for you!” I screamed at him, my fists clenched.
“You don’t need to say it,” he spat back. “Everything about you says that. Well fuck you! I don’t need it. I’ll find this fucking place on my own!”
Garrison walked off. A light drizzle came down and I could feel water dripping through my hair and down my forehead. Tillie hugged me and said, “Why don’t you head back. I’ll keep an eye on him. He didn’t mean what he said. He just needs to blow off some steam.”
“You heard what he said,” I pointed to him. “He doesn’t want us around.”
“He doesn’t want you around,” she stressed. “You know I can talk to him better than anyone else. He’ll open up to me. I’ll get him to calm down, we’ll come back to the hotel, crash, and find some breakfast in the morning and it will be like nothing has changed.”
“I think that’s the problem,” I quipped. “He hasn’t changed.”
“Despite your composed outer exterior, you haven’t changed much either,” Tillie quipped back. “You’re still condescending, conceded, arrogant –”
“Then why are you with me?” I asked, maybe a little too harshly.
“Because,” she looked up at me. “Because despite all your flaws, you’re a good person with a good heart. And I get to see that every time you’re with Garrison. He’s your best friend. And you need him, and he needs you, just like I need you. I’m going to talk him down over a pint and in the morning, things will be fine. I promise.”
I kissed her the way I hoped to kiss her on our wedding day and walked back to the hotel. With my wet clothes still stuck to my body, I fell into the bed and instantly asleep.
The daylight through the window woke me and I saw Tillie sitting on a chair, staring out the window. It was the first bit of sunshine we had seen since we landed and she watched it the way I’ve seen old people sit by the lake and watch the waves crash in and out. She looked to me and smiled.
“So, where are we going for breakfast,” I asked.
“I have something to tell you,” she began. “It was about last night.”
“What is it?” I sat back down on the bed, worried something terrible happened to her or to Garrison. “What happened? Is everyone ok?”
“Everyone’s fine,” she smiled. “You won’t believe it, but, we found it. We found the pub.”
She told me how talking over a single pint suddenly turned into talking over many pints and shots. She couldn’t even remember which pub they were at, but they fell out and decided to try and find the door one last time. And there it was. Exactly where Garrison said it was.
Just like Garrison’s story, there was a stairwell, maybe a dozen stairs, and a basement bar. Tillie went on about all the strange people at this bar and how she had never seen any people who looked like that before. She described small men with large hairy feet, hooded figures with bows and quivers of arrows strapped to their backs, armoured men with swords hilted at their sides, and beautiful pale people who were tall, thin, and had pointed ears.
I started to assume that she had even more to drink last night than she had let on and maybe even someone slipped something into her drink. But she insisted she saw all of these things, ripped right from the books Garrison and I studied in university and Garrison continued to obsess over after we finished school. She even said she saw the elf girl.
Tillie’s account was that Garrison had wandered off once they were in the pub and as she stumbled around for a bit trying to catch up, she finally found him in the corner of the bar, talking to the beautiful woman. But not just casually talking, but instantly talking passionately with her. Like they had been talking for hours by the time Tillie found them. He was leaning in, his hands on the table illustrating a story. She had her hand on her check, and she was giggling and mesmerized by every one of Garrison’s words. Tillie had never seen Garrison talk to anyone like that before, let alone a woman who he was obviously drawn to.
“Where is he now?” I asked. “Did he come back last night?”
“When I was ready to leave, I asked him what he wanted to do,” Tillie explained. “He smiled and he said he was going to stay a while. I’d never seen him smile like that before. I think he was actually truly happy.”
He didn’t come back to the hotel. He didn’t make it to the flight back to the Okanagan. He wasn’t there when I proposed to Tillie or on our wedding day. He was gone. My best friend was gone and for a while, it bothered me. Tillie was right, I did need him. But as time wore on, I realized that despite needing him, I would be ok. I had my memories with him. I could always recount a story of one of our drunken nights together running around the streets of Camden. I thought I was being a bad friend at first by leaving him behind. But, the way Tillie told the story, leaving him behind was the best thing I could have done. What he found in that pub made him truly happy and there was nothing more in the world that I ever could have wanted for my friend Garrison.