Short Story: “The Weight of Achievement”

In Bernard’s local pub, everyone carries their life’s achievements with them in a big black bag.
Kings Arms pub

Stow-on-the-Wold, UK – July 6, 2020: Facade of The Kings Arms pub in Stow-on-the-Wold, a market town in Cotswolds build on Roman Fosse Way, on a summer evening. © Alena Veasey /

January 07, 2024 05:52 EDT

Something to consider when reading/listening: If you were never allowed to tell anyone about your successes, which of your current goals would you continue to pursue?

Bernard’s back roared with pain as he settled into his chair in the far corner of his local pub.

He nodded to Rick who shuffled over, dragging his huge black bag behind him. “What’ve you got in there?” asked Bernard.

“Oh you know,” said Rick, “just my thirty-years at the post office, my forty-year marriage, my three children and seven grandchildren, my two years in the military and a swimming badge from when I was six. What about you?”

Bernard looked down at his own enormous bag and said, “I’ve got two marriages in there but both ended on good terms. Twenty-five years in a bank, and a prize for trader of the year 2007. A written-off Porsche and an Alfa Romeo. One son and one granddaughter. And that cruise I took around the world.”

“I’ll get us a drink,” said Rick and waved to the barman who hobbled over to them, pulling behind him a huge black bag containing the gig he and his band once did on one of the smaller stages at Glastonbury.

As Rick ordered two pints of bitter, a young couple entered, eyes bloodshot and faces drained from pushing their A-level results, their university offers, their acne-free skin and their two thousand Instagram followers up the hill.

Looking around the pub, the couple realised there was nowhere to sit or stand. Every spot was taken either by a person or by a huge black bag. They looked at each other, shook their heads, took hold of their own bags and lugged them slowly out of the pub.

Rick and Bernard carried on talking for several hours, each taking it in turn to hoist their bag up onto their lap and feel its crippling weight against their knees. 

“Saw the pyramids,” said one of them.

“Went to the FA Cup final,” said the other. 

“Saw the late Queen.”

“Shook the King’s hand.”

Just before closing, they noticed a man in his forties working his way around the pub collecting glasses. He was wearing black jeans and a black top, his hair slightly overgrown, his teeth slightly wonky, but he was moving with an ease they found unsettling.

“Here,” said Bernard as the man approached them, “you’ve forgotten your bag.”

The man smiled. “No,” he said, “I don’t have one.” 

Rick and Bernard looked at each other. Their eyes widened. They gripped the table. And, as though possessed by a singular thought, they said to the man, “How on earth did you manage to achieve that?”

The man shrugged, picked up their glasses and said, “I don’t like to go on about it.”

[Doe Wilmann first released this piece on his short story podcast, Meaningless Problems.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.


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