Those who know me, or have read this blog for any length of time, will know that what writing I do tends toward the non-fiction. However, a couple of years ago I fell in with the wrong crowd and was tempted to cross to the dark side and try my hand at fiction. As a consequence I wrote a couple of short stories.
So far, these stories have been read by possibly half a dozen people, so I thought I would post one here to see if I could double that total.
So if you are at a loose end this New Year give it a read and let me know what you think – it’s only just over 1500 words so it won’t take long. Fell free to leave comments and (constructive) criticism below, but please be gentle with me!
“Don’t think you’ve heard the last of this, we’ll be having a Conversation about it later!”
Will winced, partly because the crash of the front door slamming reverberated through his aching head, resulting in the little man inside redoubling his efforts with the jack hammer, but mostly because of the audible capital C in Conversation. Bugger. He hated it when Penny insisted on a Conversation. He was fine with chats, and he liked a natter as much as the next man, but Conversations were always bad news. And always the result of something that Will had done wrong: which happened quite a lot.
He tried to piece together what the problem might be from the train wreck passing for his memory of the previous night. He’d finished work after a hard day and, being a Friday, he’d nipped into the pub for a quick drink with the lads. Nothing unusual there. True, they’d ended up staying out longer than planned. And they had drunk quite a lot. Still, nothing came to mind that would have got back to Penny to make her so upset.
Will dragged himself into the kitchen. His mouth felt like something furry had crawled inside and died and he needed something to take the taste away. As he put the kettle on snippets from the previous night played through his aching brain: an ill advised round of tequilas early on in the evening; Kev getting into an argument with a big bloke in Wetherspoons, leading to a quick retreat before it turned nasty; flirting drunkenly with the girl behind the bar in the club: in short, a normal Friday night.
He made a large mug of tea and stumbled upstairs to the bathroom in the hope that a shower may revive him. As he stood under the jets of warm water, enjoying the sensation as they massaged his scalp, he allowed his mind to wander, drifting almost into a state of sleep as the steam built up around him easing his aching head and limbs. Suddenly he came to with a jolt of realisation, a sick feeling in his stomach. He knew why Penny was so annoyed: he’d agreed to take her out last night.
Bugger. Conciliatory measures were required. He quickly dressed, grabbed his keys and headed into town: this called for chocolates, and good ones!
Having paid an unreasonable sum of money for the large, prettily wrapped box of chocolates now tucked under his arm, Will decided he deserved a drink and headed for his favourite pub. He quickly scanned the familiar interior of the magnificent fourteenth century building: plain wooden floors with sturdy, slightly worn rustic wooden tables. There were a few people inside, but it was still too early for the Saturday lunch time crowd so it was fairly quiet. Will had hoped to see his mate Stevie, but he was not there – probably still sleeping off last night’s excesses – so he made for one of the vacant bar stools that lined the long wooden bar counter.
Having made his selection from the long line of bar pumps, Will took out his phone as the barmaid poured his pint and scrolled down the list of names. Stevie wasn’t the sort of friend that you ring for a chat, so Will selected Paul and dialled the number. It rang for a long time before Paul finally answered:
“Fancy a drink? I’m in trouble with Penny again and felt the need for a beer.”
“Sorry mate, I can’t. I promised I’d take the wife and kids out. Try Andy”
“No point, he works Saturdays. Never mind, catch you later.”
Will hung up and looked dejectedly into his pint. Out of the corner of his eye he noticed that the old guy who had just come up to the bar was watching him. He pulled up a stool alongside Will:
“Woman trouble, huh?” he said.
“Yeah,” said Will “no change there!”
“They can be a real pain can’t they,” the old man said, “better off without them really.”
“I often think that,” agreed Will, “They’re so damned demanding! Blokes are just happy to go with the flow and have a laugh, with women it’s all ‘going out for a nice meal’ where you have to plan weeks in advance and book tables at over priced, pretentious restaurants. And ‘quality time’ together – what’s that about!”
The old man chuckled and took a drink from the pint that the barmaid had just handed him. “Cats are the answer,” he said, “companionship without ties. As long as you feed them fairly regularly they’re happy. They never complain if you stay out late or come home drunk. They don’t make your life difficult if you’ve engaged in some harmless flirtation. Or even the less harmless kind for that matter!”
Will took a pull on his pint and nodded. “It’s not even the flirting, really,” he said, “it’s just about going out with your mates and having a laugh. Women don’t seem to like that. Don’t get me wrong, Penny has friends – Penny’s my girlfriend by the way. Well, fiancée really I suppose. Anyway, she has friends, but when they go out it’s always ‘organised’ – she can’t understand my need to be spontaneous.”
“I know what you mean,” said the old man, “you can have much more fun with your mates. I used to love going out on Friday and Saturday nights – quite often in the week too! We used to have a real skin full and get into all sorts of trouble I can tell you!”
Will grinned. “Right on,” he said, “take last night for example, we had a really wild time.” He went on to regale the old man with some of their exploits. He didn’t know why, but he enjoyed talking to this old guy. It was good to off-load to this stranger who really seemed to understand where he was coming from.
“Women really don’t understand the lure of beer, boisterous songs and good curry do they,” laughed the old man, “you just can’t do that stuff with the woman in your life.”
“Well,” said will, “you can to some extend. Penny actually likes a good curry, and we’ve had some great nights together in the pub, just the two of us. Not for quite a while now though.”
The old man shrugged dismissively. “Not the same,” he said, “friends are what’s important. Of course, they’re not always there when you need them,” he added, looking pointedly at Will’s phone, which still sat on the bar. “You find they drift away as you get older. They succumb to marriage and kids and all that bullshit. I really don’t understand it. Why would a bloke prefer to stay at home with the wife instead of going to the pub with his mates? It makes no sense.”
Will looked reflectively into his beer. He thought back to the evenings that he had spent at home with Penny, snuggled together on the sofa with a good film, or sharing a bottle of wine over a superb meal that she had prepared. His mind wandered further to the long lazy weekend mornings they used to spend together, having sex, reading the papers, tea and toast in bed. In fact, if he hadn’t gone out with his mates last night, that’s probably exactly what he’d be doing now.
The old man watched Will from over the top of his pint glass as he took a drink of his beer. “You know,” he said, interrupting Will’s reverie, “it’s not too late. You’re not married yet, there’s still time to choose the cats. But you need to decide before it’s too late.”
“You’re right,” said Will, grabbing his phone and heading for the door without even finishing his pint. “Nice talking to you,” he called out over his shoulder as he left. His mind was racing with images of growing old without Penny, ending up like the old guy at the bar with no-one but his cats for company, looking for strangers to talk to in the pub to ease the grinding, lonely monotony of life.
The old man was right, it wasn’t too late and he did have a decision to make. Before he even reached the door he was dialling Penny’s number. He’d make it up to her. They’d have that Conversation and then he’d take her out to dinner: if it wasn’t too late.
The old man watched wistfully as Will virtually ran through the door. No sooner had the door swung shut behind him than it opened again and a tall, elderly lady entered. She was well dressed and although her face showed the lines and creases of age she was still an attractive woman. She walked toward the old man at the bar.
“Hello,” she said as she approached, “what are you up to?”
The old man looked up at her and smiled: the sight of his wife of over 50 years still made him smile, even now.
“Oh,” he said, “I’ve just been having a nice conversation with a young man who seemed to be having some problems. I think he’ll be fine now though.”