Wednesday, 2 November 2011
Tuesday, 28 June 2011
‘What the hell am I doing?’ I stuttered.
‘You’re getting married.’ Steve replied.
At least I think he said that. Steve was slumped over the bar next to Alex, his head in his arms.
‘Because you love her...probably.’
‘I do. She’s great. She’s....’
Alex spluttered and began to blubber, whining like a little girl.
‘Alex.’ I tried, peering past Steve on the next stool. ‘Sort yourself out. Go and welcome your guests.’
‘Yeah, Alex.’ Steve lifted his head. ‘I’m the one with the girl problems. Mary’s pissed off at me.’
‘Well, you’re not alone.’ I said softly.
Alex and Steve peered over to me.
‘Allison ‘s mad at me too. I lied to her. I don’t work at the museum. Not done for awhile.’
‘Bernard was ill...is ill. He couldn’t hire me. Then Allison handed in my notice.’
‘Fuck.’ Steve sighed. ‘Did you tell Allison about Bernard?’
‘I tried. She’s still mad because I lied.’
‘Fuck.’ He repeated.
Alex put his drink down and picked up his tie. Wiped his mouth and looked at us both.
‘If you two can mess us your relationships so bad. Over the most stupid of things. Steve...she’s haivng your baby. Take responsibility. If you lose your job...get another one. And for God’s sake stop taking the piss telling everyone you used to be roadie. Your Mum told us you were a truck driver last year.’
‘Hang on.’ Steve perked up.
‘Leave it, Steve.’ I stopped him.
‘And Dylan...’ Alex looked at me. ‘How you managed to get the love of your life to get you sacked...i’ll never know. And how you managed to keep her from the fact that you weren’t working...again...I’ll never know.’
‘Me neither.’ I shrugged.
‘But if you two can do that.' Alex rose to his feet. 'I can provide for Fran.’
‘I’ll see you at the church.’ He said proudly.
Me and Steve watched him pace out of the room. He turned swiftly to the right before he got to the door.
‘Need a piss first!’
The church ceremony was in a lovely little church beside the park. We sat on Alex’s side, obviously. With Mary and Allison sat a few rows down from Steve and I. It’s easy to know when women are mad at you, they simply cut off all knowledge and eye contact. It’s different with men, you either get a foul mouthed text message or a kick in the bollocks. Girls are far more subtle.
‘How can I make it up to her?’ Steve whispered to me.
‘I don’t know. I’ve got my own problems.’
‘It’s easy for you.’ Steve scoffed. ‘You two are young. You both can find someone else. Us two...after forty you’re either alone our it’s Singles Nights.’
The ceremony rolled on quite swiftly. Fran was wheeled down the aisle by her father John. John looked exactly like I presumed he would. A round, grizzly faced man who looked as if he’s grown up on a farm. Rosy red cheeks and a smart suit that looked like he was more suited to a lumberjack shirt than a waistcoat. Alex had managed to sober up. The fresh air outside the pub did wonders and the 4 pints of water supplied by Jake sealed the deal. It was a lovely ceremony. Up until everyone heard a ringtone to a mobile phone. It sounded like it was coming from behind me, but as the volume increased I felt the vibritions in my jacket pocket. Oh. Shit. Every single person in that church was praying it wasn’t their phone and it was mine. Of all the people invited to this wedding and it was my phone to ring. Brothers. Sons. Next door neighbours. Old university friends. And it was my phone that rang.
A hot flush of panic splashed over me like a bucket of water. I dove into my pocket and ripped out my phone, press the flashing red button to ignore it. What I couldn’t ignore was my red face and a church full of staring eyes. Even Allison was staring at me and she sworn off all contact. I didn’t recognise the number when it flashed up on the screen. It wasn’t in my phonebook. It wasn’t one of those scary Unknown Numbers. Just a phone number.
At the end of the ceremony we all clapped and smiled and took pictures. Alex looked so proud, holding Fran’s hand as they headed towards the door. It was such a lovely moment. Not lovely enough for me to throw the confetti and ignore another phone call, obviously.
‘This is Bernard.’
Bernard. It was like I was talking to the dead. Bernard wasn’t dead, I know. But for all I know he could have been. His wife last spoke to me months ago and said he wasn’t well. Now he’s ringing me. The dead don’t ring people.
‘Bernard...Hey!’ I said, trying to block out the cheering from outside the church.
‘Yes, sorry for the huge delay.’
‘Oh, It’s OK. Your wife said you were Ill.’
‘Yes, I’m still not one hundred percent...’
What a great time to ring me and tell me he’s still not well and still cannot hire me. At a wedding of all places!
‘...but I’m back at the museum...only part-time, you understand.’
‘But I’ve kept you in mind. I want you to come in on Monday and fill in the gaps, as it were.’
Oh, Bernard. His lovely, deep, middle-class voice was warming my bones.
‘What do you mean?’
‘Be my right-hand-man, for want of a better phrase.’
‘We can meet up Monday and sort things out. We think we need a fresh touch to the place.’
‘So what do you say?’
I films, this is were the main character turns down the offer. Worldwind of excitement ensues. Maybe some music plays. But so far, nothing has gone like a film.
‘I say yes. Of course i say yes.’
The wedding meal was at the same place where I had my 18th birthday party, above a library in town. The hall was decorated beautifully with huge white flowers in each corner. Tables were set out like how you would imagine a normal wedding reception to look like. White tables with party favours, bits of glitter and balloons everywhere. Just enough for every small child in a tuxedo to inhale a weeks worth of helium into their lungs. Jake dazzled us all with his speech, with every laugh i’d turn to Allison and expect a rye smile and a glance over, but I got nothing. She wanted to get through the day. I’m pretty sure Steve was doing the same thing but it must have been tough, looking for Mary across three tables. Mary hadn’t even sat next to Steve, making Allisons anger seem tiny and irrational and mediocre, leaving Mary sat next to a fat grandmother with bad ankles.
‘...and I can safely say that Alex is the man for Fran.’ Jake finally announced, a glass of champagne in hand. ‘He’s warm. Kind. Thoughtful. And always gets the drinks in at the bar!’
Cue the small round of appoving applause. He’d kept it clean. No filth. Just annecdones of drunkenness and gentle ribbings. Fresh from a Google search.
‘To the bride and groom!’
Jake raised his glass and everyone followed along. We all clapped and cheered and smiled warmly at Fran and Alex. But as the applause died down, more clinking whirred around the room. At first I thought it was coming from behind me, but as the clinking got louder I realised it was coming from my table. I turned and realised Steve was on his feet. A spoon and glass in hand.
‘Excuse me everyone....’ He said, clearing his throat.
Oh no, we’d already managed to interupt the ceremony with my ringing phone but Steve was taking it too far. I couldn’t help my ringing phone. Granted I could have put it on silent, but still, Steve was purposely interupting!
‘Can I just say...I spent a few hours with Alex before the wedding and...actually a few years with him at work. I feel that I know him pretty well. But before the wedding he was afriad...’
Everyone looked confused. Fran looked annoyed. Alex looked terrified. Even Steve didn’t look completly sure what he was doing.
‘He was afriad of what would happen. It’s a big thing. And it comes with pressure. He was scared that he wouldn’t provide for Fran. He was scared he wouldn’t be able to look after her as a husband. But what I will say...is that we’re all human. We all make mistakes...’
A few people nodded. Alex looked over to Fran lovingly. Now Steve was peering over to Mary.
‘But a couple is a team. They should be honest about their hopes...their fears and their dreams. And should be sorry when they’re sorry. Because that’s what a team does. They stick together....’
He finally looked back to the couple.
‘And that’s excactly what they’ll do.’
A few seconds elapsed before the first clap sounded. The round of claps slowly evolved into a huge, almost ear splitting applause with a kiss from the happy couple. Everyone looked made up. Even Mary.
An hour later we were all tucking into our main course. Allison hadn’t spoken a word me in all that and it felt like a decade had passed.
‘You still mad at me?’ I said timidly.
‘What do you think?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘You don’t know?’
Girls just ask questions when they’re angry, that’s what I’ve learned.
‘I’m sorry. I didn’t want to let you down...’
‘And you let me hand in your notice! How embarrassing.’
She slammed his hand down on the table, making the faces around us look up.
‘I know...but Bernard rang me...’
‘There probably isn’t a Bernard, is there!?’
That’s what I thought this morning.
‘Yes! He rang! And...’
‘Forget it, Dylan.’
Allison pushed her chair back and left the room. To the toilets, probably. She left her purse so I knew she hadn’t fully left. I should solve crimes. I needed to prove to her that Bernard was real and so was my job. I had a plan. My plan needed my phone.
At the bar, Steve bought me and Alex a drink.
‘Congrats, mate.’ Steve patted him on the shoulder.
‘Cheers, and that speech! Wow...’
‘I know. It was brilliant.’ I nodded.
‘You should have been my best man!’
Steve blushed. Alex sipped his beer. I got a tap on the shoulder. It was Allison. Holding her phone.
‘Bernard just rang me.’
‘Oh...’ I said, pretending to be shocked.
There was a second of silence filled by the DJ introducing Kool and The Gang, I thought of something to say. But before I could think of something she leant forward and kissed me.
Maybe things do end like the films.
Fran's Dad's pub was a cosy little haunt, nestled by the mouth of a nearby wilderness. It's long gravelled drive split off in several directions. One would lead you to a disused farm, another to a park where teenagers usually hang out to burn things and the third was to the pub. Steve found it no problem, after giving up on his sat nav after a forty minute drive.
'Got it off my mate down the market.' He sighed.
'The man who wears pyjamas?'
His choice of clothing didn't give Steve any indication that what he'd bought was shit and of no use what so ever. I found out as soon as me and Allison squeezed into the back seat of his Skoda, right around the time the sat nav blurted out directions in Korean.
'I'll take it back to him. He'll sort it.'
'The man can't dress himself.' Mary scoffed. 'How the hell can he fix a sat nav?'
'We're here!' Allison interrupted.
We pulled up outside the pub. Stood outside were a few people, all smiling warmly whilst sipping soft drinks. Fran had arranged this special meet and greet before the ceremony for both families to chat and get ready for the day. The four of us were greeted by a few familiar faces at the door. Jake was the first to do a round of handshakes and greetings, introducing and re-introducing us to Alex's brother Duncan, cousin Jim and a few aunties and uncles of the bride.
'All right, Steve. You sobered up, yet?' Jake giggled.
'Yeah, just about. Good night, wasn't it.'
We were told to go inside and order anything we wanted and Fran's Dad was paying for it. Inside the foyer the fresh air hit us, shaded from the clear day outside. Largely framed pictures of old men stared seriously at us from each wall, with aged glass cabinets stood beside them, displaying trophies for bowling, darts, dominoes, snooker, women's snooker, pool, cards and rugby. Through the first room was the games room. It wasn't a shock to see considering the amount of games they'd won. But what was a little odd was the size of the pub from the inside. From the outside it seemed like a vintage, grand old man's kind of pub. Maybe one with a beer garden or a separate restaurant area. But inside it was tiny. With low ceilings and wood panelled walls showing off more medals and certificates. From the foyer you could see the pub formed a complete circle, moving from room to room in order to form it.
In the centre was the bar, itself a smaller circle. It was as if the pub had won so many dart's competitions in it's lifetime that the whole building had formed into a huge dartboard. All that was needed was a giant tomatoe in the middle to make a bullseye.
The bar appeared custom built for old barfly's and lonely hairy men. That stale stench of aged ale and the slight scent of cigarette smoke still lingered on the nostrils long after the ban. But instead of the usual clientèle, the bar was propped up by Alex. His gold and black suit matched Jake's but Alex's seemed like it had been worn for a week or so. His shirt was untucked, his tie was on the bar next to his half finished bottle of Budweiser. It looked like the bar was propping him up, slouched over it on a bar stool in the corner. Mary, Allison, Steve and I approached him from behind. The inevitable 'wedding chime' da dum da dum's greeting him.
'Leave it out, guys.' He sighed.
'Come on, Alex.' Mary patted him on the back. 'Big day!'
'Yeah.' He replied, sipping his bottle.
'How many have you had?'
'I don't know...four...five.'
'Jesus.' Steve sat down next to him. 'I've heard of Dutch Courage, mate but this is more like Dutch...'
The four of us glanced at him as we heard the cog's whir around in Steve's brain, desperately searching for another word.
We all angled our heads and accepted it.
'Well, I need it.' Alex sighed again. 'I've just had that talk with John.'
'Who's John?' We all asked.
He looked like a John. Big John.
'The talk!You know...providing for his daughter. Protecting her. There's so much pressure.'
'I know but you'll handle it.' Allison tried.
'Yeah...' Mary rubbed his back.
'Yeah, but what if I don't?' He finally turned around to all of us. 'What if I can't provide for Fran? Anything could happen and it's all up to me!'
'It'll be fine.' I said generically, hoping it wouldn't be challenged.
'But what if it won't!'
'Alex, Alex.' Mary said warmly, nudging Steve out of his stool. 'This is a classic case of cold feet. It's perfectly normal to be worried but remember...you are a team. You and Fran are great together and whatever happen's you'll work it out.'
'I suppose.' Alex shrugged.
The barman interrupted Mary's flow.
'No.' Alex said. 'I'll have Jack Daniels and coke.'
'On the rocks?'
'...Yeah...' Alex narrowed his eyes. 'Can I have it with ice, too?'
Now the barman looked confused.
'Can I get two pints of bitter, mate?' Steve asked the barman. 'What are you guys having?'
'Steve, you're having two pints?'
'What? John's paying!'
We all sipped our drinks in the empty pub. The sunlight was streaming in through the large windows, more friends and family that were arriving were casting shadows into the room.
'Thanks, guys.' Alex smiled softly. 'It just shocked me, that's all. I mean, what if I lose my job? What will happen to the flat?'
'You'll get another job.' Mary said.
'Fran will pay for it.' Steve said at the same time.
'What?' Mary asked Steve.
'What?' Allison asked Steve.
'...What?' Steve asked us all.
It was like a cowboy stand off. Except it was in an old pub in England.
'What if she can't?' Mary asked Steve, staring him down.
'She'll have to.' Steve shrugged.
'She can't do it on her own.' Mary protested.
'Guys...' Alex tried to gain a grip of the conversation.
'Not now, Alex.' Mary cut him off. 'Is this how you see a relationship? Is this how you see our relationship? What if you loose your job? Do you expect me to take care of you with a baby on the way?!'
'Well, no...but...' Steve started to sweat.
'But what?' Mary snapped.
'NOT NOW ALEX!'
Mary leapt off the stool and grabbed her handbag.
'I can't believe you think like this...'
I looked at Steve. Allison looked at me. Mary stormed off and Alex ordered another drink.
Me and Allison decided to leave Steve and Alex in the bar with their drinks and head outside to mingle. I never normally enjoy mingling at special occasions but I didn't know many people here and with Allison, I had my own back up for when mingling died out. There was no sign of Mary in the huddle of well dressed friends and family, all sipping and chatting in the sunlight. But we did see Sharon, a few yards away from everyone else enjoying one of her long cigarettes.
'Ah, Dylan. Allison. Good to see you here.' She attempted to smile. 'How was your last shift?'
'I got pissed on by rain and threw a rude woman's shopping away.'
...What? She's not my boss any more.
'Lovely.' She ignored it, popping her lighter back in her handbag.
'He's better off at the museum.' Allison rubbed my arm.
'Really? I thought you said you don't work there.'
'What?' Allison asked me.
'What?' I asked Sharon.
'What?' Sharon asked us both.
Oh fuck. I completely forgot I'd told Sharon I wasn't working at the museum. All the panic and desperation of getting out of that office...and keeping Allison away from the truth. It completely slipped my mind.
'You said...' Sharon stared at me. 'In my office. You're not at the museum.'
'Is that true?' Allison turned to me.
'Well...' I put my hands in my pocket and looked away. 'I've not been for awhile...'
'You went on Thursday...you said.'
I cleared my throat.
'When did you last go?'
'Erm...what day are we on now? Erm....May...sometime.'
Allison put her head back and glared at me. It felt like slow motion. She made a click sound from her throat, tutted violently and stamped away from me. All I could do was leer at Sharon. She just lit another cigarette.
Brilliant. A pissed up groom and two angry girlfriends. And it was only 11am.
End of part one.
Sunday, 19 June 2011
'He's lying.' Steve hissed. 'Like when you said you saw that couple having sex in a car.'
'It happened!' Tommy protested. 'Right outside PC World! I would have filmed it if I had my phone on me!'
'Dylan, why should be believe you?'
'Well, you don't have to.' I shrugged. 'I'm at the museum now.'
'Museum?' They both stared at me.
'Yeah, I mention it every shift, lads. You don't the a blind bit of bloody notice, do you?'
'No, I know.' Steve nodded. 'The museum, of course...'
'Yeah, let's get a bird.' Tommy grinned.
'Yeah, or a gamer.'
'Steve said he's already suggested three replacements to Sharon.'
'All girls names?' I asked.
'Yeah, should be a great day.'
'We're all meeting up at Fran's Dad's pub beforehand. For a bit of a drink.' I said, piercing a chip with my fork.
'Cool, what are we getting them for a gift?'
'Alex just said they want the cash...so, a fiver?'
'Well...' I shrugged and smiled.
'Give him a fiver and ask for change!'
‘Well, it’s dead out here, mate.’ He said, putting his coat on. ‘Plus, you’re here now.’