The alcoholic halted in front of colonnaded spaces overrun with produce stalls, ragged slaves, and shoppers haggling for lower prices from toga-wearing purveyors. With spring upon them, the people—most of whom he detested—tended their business with renewed vitality, bickering loud and endless. Across the street of concrete overlaying stone loomed his nemesis, the Twisted Vine, a two-story tavern twice wider than tall, its limestone walls painted the color of purity, the terracotta rooftop looking ablaze in light of the downing sun. Three arched windows spanned the Vine’s upper floor and another two separated by a vast doorway were on the ground level. Shadows lent the front a mysterious, come-hither quality that caused his gut to hollow until butterflies took flight.
In life preceding sobriety he had often frequented the tabernum, but since quitting the drink, he had tried to eschew the Vine. For the good it did. Regardless his efforts of pluckiness he nevertheless fell vulnerable to circumstance, as now, though usually he could blame the Vine’s heady temptations. The place was an ever-wily seductress tugging at his elbow and murmuring in his ear, an alluring she-devil who insisted he submerse in the gaiety of her customers and partake of her gratifying whores. Aromas that might have been the most damning of temptresses enticed through fruity wine and the yeasty perfume of fresh-brewed hops. His breaths drew shallower as he reminisced about how the brew’s bitter tanginess lasted long after swallowing. He closed his hands into fists, their surfaces scarred and bruised, his palms calloused. Their current condition was poorer than when he last squeezed dice while playing poker and feared losing, the exhilaration building prior to his last-ditch effort of capturing victory and gaining salvation.
He snorted with disgust at his cowardice. What man feared his own soul or a straightforward duty? He just had to go in, get the coin, and come out. Children with a penchant for misbehaving managed an errand so simple.
I shall not wager—
He rubbed his palms together to erase their clamminess…
—nor will I—
…and wiped his lips.
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In life preceding sobriety he had often frequented the taverns, but since quitting...