Short Changed. Part One.

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic
An alcohol sodden, hilarious ghostly tale of lost potential, forgotten dreams and the boundaries of male friendship.

Submitted: June 08, 2013

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Submitted: June 08, 2013

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Short Changed. Part 1.

 

Act I

 

The grotesque vein that circled his temple on its way to a suitably poisonous artery pulsed rhythmically like a clipper’s gusset in a gaudily lit Berwick Street doorway. The unsteady bubbling lava contained within his sinewy form that manifested itself in this embossed blue map on the side of his head, could only mean one thing, Rachael was on her way. It was far too early in the afternoon for the arrival of that waspish bitch, she must be contained at all costs.

 

“Whose round”, quizzed Nolly to his assembled companions as he tapped an empty pint pot on the heavily varnished bar. “Well he certainly is!” barked MG, pointing to Ed, his ample friend whose gut tumbled over his straining brown frayed leather belt. “Put her back in her box,”, boomed Nolly. “We don’t want that vicious little tart casting her judgemental aspersions this early in the proceedings. And anyway, your grammar’s all up the wall. Should be ‘Who is round’ if you‘re gonna take the mick out of Ed.” “Rachael’s asleep”, muttered MG. “Sorry Ed.” he grovelled, his pulsing temple fading rapidly, “I’ll try and keep a lid on her for now.”

 

Rachael was MG’s alter ego. A ghost writer for his dialogue. An extremely crude and cruel extension of himself that only came out to play when he was utterly arseholed or suffering from sleep deprivation. MG rarely slept and he liked a brew. If you could see her, she’d be a drag queen, parading her nastiness and vitriolic hatred, spitting venomous catty put downs by the barrow load. The lads hated her, and she hated them.

 

They were anything but locals. Yet the quartet had a pompous arrogance about them as they commanded the far right of the bar, adjacent to the sumptuously rustic fire place with its brass kettles, brass bed warming pans, brass teapots, horse brasses and well, … brass. MG was stationed to the far right near the hearth and in front of the array of real ale pumps. It was no accident that his image easily reflected back at himself from the comforting mirrors below the optics, he courted vanity like no other. Ed the Bear was beside him and had absolutely and forgivably no interest whatsoever in his own reflection. Nolly stood beside the bear, diminutive in stature with legs firmly planted away from his midsection and hands plunged deep into the pockets of his trench coat. He was a mass of a man, and with gravity as a firm ally could absorb the pulverising onslaught of an armoured car. Nol was neither fat nor big boned, just quite simply solid. And then there was Mel, stood directly opposite MG and flanked by the other two, he completed the semi circle. Melvyn’s elbow never left the bar. His hand was at right angles to his wrist, his legs were crossed and he leaned in to this arc of friendship listening intently. He resembled a priest taking a confession with his Ray Reardonesque widow’s peak carving an angular V into his soft pate. He had been of slight build in his youth and, by all accounts, still was, save for a rather distinguished pelvic girdle that left his erogenous zone in shadow. He patted his tummy rhythmically when emphasising strong words in conversation. Despite the obvious clues, Mel had a firm handshake and was certainly not a vicar. Neither was he limp, sexually or otherwise. A chap removed from his own time, he quenched his cultural thirst on a diet of 70s high camp. While the others were watching the Tube and David Letterman, Mel was happy in his world of Hancock’s Half Hour and tuning into UK Gold for repeats of the Generation Game.

 

Mel also had a passion for writing scripts, gags and short stories and would spend hours hunched over a typewriter creating characters that unfortunately were never seen by the right eyes. By his seventeenth birthday he knew all the addresses of literary agents and television channel submissions departments off by heart and was referred to by the sales assistants in WH Smith as Envelope Man. Back and forth he would go to stock up on paper, stamps, paper clips and ball points to feed his insatiable desire to create and hopefully achieve literary recognition. That was until now. Mel had tossed his ink stained towel into the literary ring. The precious few that replied in his supplied stamped, self addressed manila envelope merely patronised his efforts, failing to appreciate his unique hybrid style of post modern comedic prose delivered from an old school perspective. Mel had talent, but it was wasted within his lifetime. A consistent trait that touched all the lads.

 

MG’s mum had come into some cash. She had invested it wisely in a holiday flat, thankfully a short walk from this pub. Brandishing empty promises of care, hygiene and tactful diplomacy, he had persuaded his unsuspecting mother in parting with the keys for a few days. So, after crippling the suspension of MG’s tiny car for over two hundred miles, here the lads where. Their favourite watering hole and spiritual home. This building had a magnetism for the boys. Before becoming acquainted, the lads had each individually with their respective families visited the pub. This place was a beacon for them. Its presence on their collective lifeline essential, yet unexplained. It required no investigation or analysis as to why this particular inn punctuated their lives. It just did. Miles away from their homes, plagued by inclement weather and a selection of locals whose piercing gaze would test the hardiest of visitors, this tiny picturesque village with its mediaeval timber, angular flower beds, unnaturally colourful hanging baskets and winding and unfathomably beautiful backstreets provided an insidious welcome to our heroes.

 

Heroes? Hardly. Yet to each other, the four were indeed heroes. Each had one thing that the other yearned for. Nothing else, just one trait, experience, characteristic that elevated envy in the eyes of the others. Whatever cosmic architecture arranged their acquaintance, it did so with aplomb, engaging each of their life essences. It knew what it was doing. They needed each other.

 

This captivating inn was split into two rooms and separated by an enormous rustic chimney breast. The raging inferno that crackled beneath the ton of rock that seemed to levitate above the flames fashioned a comforting and consoling bouquet of damp but warm wood that remained in your nostrils for far longer than invited. A painting on yellowing canvas depicting two determined fell walkers hung above the fire reminding the patrons of the enormous contrast between the dangers of inclement weather on the peaks and this homely womb of contentment. This place was a proverbial cigar and the lads gladly inhaled the very essence of the building into their moribund lungs. The abundance of aforementioned brass, cast flickers of shimmering sunsets around the hearth that bounced up to the ceiling and clung to the hop vines as if they were clouds. Did this room have its own micro climate? A weather system to heal that lad’s woes? The steins that symmetrically punctuated the black heartening beams overhead, each echoed and reflected an emerging sunrise back to the stone floor where the warm yellow hue diminished only for the cycle to begin again. This place could thaw the most resentful soul. Through a narrow whitewashed passage was the back room, an old smithy that once upon a time housed industry and sweat and not forgetting of course, the blacksmith himself. An ancient anvil stood menacingly in the centre of the room with a delightful selection of accompanying tools and sinister apparatus hanging from overfed beams and nailed to wise old window frames. This room contained a tiny adjoining bar and, of an evening, was a hive of cheerful drunken merriment as locals and tourists alike sat on their inhibitions and sang along to a regular folk playing threesome. The rampaging joy of slopped beer, hungry fire places, crafty cigar smoke and the solidarity chanting of, “.. and it’s no, nay, never … BANG BANG BANG BANG” provided heavy contrast to how the room lay in the early afternoon. The old smithy’s ghost adorned a cloak of uncertainty about the four walls. With only one stained glassed window providing any light other than the weak glow from the whitewashed passage way through to the main bar, the heavy walls banished all the joyful elation from the previous evening and swathed the interior with an intimidating darkness that oozed alarmingly from the toxic plump seat cushions. A trip through this bar to the lavatory was a hurried affair.

 

Nolly stepped forward, briefly disrupting the semi circle, “I’ll get this one in then seeing as you three seem to have lost the power of speech.” “Ah, you’re beautiful, man.” countered Mel, momentarily distracted from listening to the collective confession. Nolly’s bar presence was formidable. His twenty pound note clutched teasingly between index and second finger waved slowly as he put into action his fruity yet frustrated thespian tones. “Four pints of Double Hop if you will please young lady.” The aging old crow prised herself away from her sudoku and began wrestling the ale pumps into life. Her sinewy limbs, tanned with age spots and showing as many folds as a discarded bed sheet, strained with the effort and forced terrific blue veins to the surface of her leathery outer shell.

 

“Not sint ye fellas int ere forra spell.” she croaked in her strong parochial squawk. Both MG and Mel spoke at once. “Was it cold in the ground this morning, love?” stung MG in a half whisper that was thankfully absorbed by Mel responding to the old dear’s opening gambit with, “We’ve come on holiday to escape our lives, though how we’re expected to do that in each other’s company is beyond me.” The old bird ignored Mel and stared from beneath her drooping lids at MG. “What ja sey, eh? she stammered. “Oh I was just saying that it was cold around the lake this morning.” lied MG. She raised her crooked, decaying claw and pointed the bent digit in his direction, “Just ye remember, I‘m watching.” Rather than letting the moment go, MG stepped up to the plate and announced, “Well who could blame you, love.” while simultaneously checking his reflection in the mirrors behind the bar and attempting to tease his long split ends into life.

 

Nolly’s booming tones put an end to this potentially volatile exchange as he hissed at MG, “I thought I told you to put her back in her box.” He was of course referring to Rachael, MG’s waspish alter ego, whose presence was indeed much out of character for the time of day. MG took the first pint from the bar and after a satisfying slurp commended the swiftly fossilising bar maid on the production of a fine pint. “Ignore my friend there, he had some bad news yesterday.” MG attempted to emulate the effortless grandiose boom that came so naturally to Nolly, but his occasional stammer and hybrid of accents that covered most of the Pennines let him down terribly. He had, however, succeeded in distracting the barmaid from the previous exchange. “Nowt trivial I ‘ope.” she countered with toothy grimace. Mel gladly picked up the baton of failure and continued to tell of Nolly’s bad news, “Failed his GCSE maths again and only managed a D grade in the part time evening photography course he was doing at the local college.” The old dear’s eyes twinkled as she took careful aim on a potential victory that loomed in her sights. “Woulda thought a chap wee a loud voice like thee would be a clever sort.” she sneered at Nolly.

 

Desperate to recover from his mild stammering episode and achieve a hollow victory of his own, MG gleefully added, “and tell her about your RADA interview and the fool you made of yourself in front of that bloke from ‘Yes Minister’, go on, tell her.”

 

This inn eased the lad’s minds considerably from the collective failings that they had each experienced in their respective lives. Outside of here they would never dream of singling out the causes of their bitterness and resentment for life and using them to beat each other into an early psychological grave with. However, the surrounding sensation of ease provided by this soothing alcohol sodden lung allowed for a certain amount of detrimental verbal attacks, all in the name of comedy you understand.

 

“Off you go Nol, regale us once more of how you had to get your Mummy to drive you to London. Of how she produced some crab paste sandwiches just minutes before your audition and insisted you not go in on an empty stomach.” MG was beginning to flow and grow in confidence. Both Ed and Mel sniggered while Nolly’s agitation began its usual manifestation. He rocked backwards on his heels, flicked back his heavy, sumptuous, Byronesque and well coiffed dark locks and, after grasping the waistband of his beltless jeans from beneath his large white granddad shirt, heaved his trouser wear high up to just below his nipples. “At least I had a go, luvvie.” he countered with a notable amount of bitchy bitterness. “I performed my piece in front of some top names, you know. Paul Edington and Rula Lenska were both on the panel.” MG urged him to continue by temporarily altering his approach from primary antagonist to concerned friend. “Some Hamlet wasn’t it?” he encouraged. “Yes it was.” replied our would-be thespian, who was beginning to enjoy his centre stage despite its uncertain beginnings. “It was going so well until that Lenska woman, the dried up old husk, asked me if I had anything else in my repertoire. I tried to reply but the words just wouldn’t appear. My acting career was hovering above my lips…” Nolly’s sentence faded to a stammering silence but Mel gladly took up the mantel and finished his line for him, “along with the stinking remains of a crab paste sandwich no doubt.” All four of them including the barmaid laughed heartily.

 

The old dear shuffled her bones back to her stool beside the till and resumed activities within the pages of her book of puzzles. Ed sighed a satisfied sigh and raised his glass, “S’been a long time coming, here’s to a pleasant afternoon in the pub.” The clink of pint pots and a baritone of hear hears seemed to lay a foundation of respectful calm between the boys as they let their earlier banter fade. The eyes of the sparse locals once again dipped below the pages of their Racing Posts and Westmoreland Gazettes as the lads initial gush of enthusiasm for the proceedings shimmied seamlessly into the more polite drone of conversation.

 

Act II

 

They were gradually covering all the bases that governed their respective lives when they were not together. Checking within this new forum of regard that each of them was indeed functioning well and without any worrying issues. This was a phase of the afternoon that would inevitably pass. The quartet would inescapably be drawn back to hurtling degrading abuse and exploiting taboo at each other’s expense. They were laying a foundation of friendship before the banter would commence once more. Each ensuring that the other was mentally prepared for what they considered to be humour, as they would in due course mercilessly antagonise, degrade and debase one another. It wouldn’t stop there. After the pints would come the whiskey and references to mothers, sisters and even fathers in terrifyingly frank accounts of sexual scenarios. Demeaning and humiliating each other was absolutely essential. In some ways this behaviour was the bond in their relationship. They were acknowledging that among the four of them, nothing was sacrosanct. The level of comfort they felt when together was insurmountable to the point of pure love. They adored one another. They had the confidence to say words and phrases that would shake the foundations of anyone outside the circle, rendering them a shambolic wreck in need of counselling, yet all their vile and depraved chatter was merely more glue that left the boys inseparable, cementing them together like conjoined quadruplets formed in utero. Even when Rachael reached for her large advocat, raised her petticoats and demand that the lads violate her, she would be forgiven.

 

MG felt an elbow nudge his ribs and glanced sideways to see Ed visibly quaking as he fought hard to contain his mirth. Ed motioned with his head and stared hard at the source of his amusement. The old crow who was sat upon her rickety stool seemed to be suspended with wires by an invisible puppet master who kept letting her rock back and forth. She had fallen asleep and her emaciated hunched form was gently rocking rhythmically to the beat of what passed for breathing in her living corpse. Her spectacles that were once firmly placed against the bridge of her nose when she admirably held her own against the boys earlier gentle taunting, were progressing slowly down her crooked beak revealing two heavy sacks of skin that were presumably her eyelids. Ed swallowed hard determined to keep his ale within the confines of his body and quietly belched, “Her mouth, look at her mouth!” Foamy spittle had gathered at both sides of her lipless mouth and was slowly following the line of her oral ravine to the centre where it gathered and was beginning to stretch into an elasticised shoelace of human drool destined for her own lap.

 

The nudging whispered around the semi circle and an expectant silence fell upon them as they gaped open mouthed at the hilariously awful sight before them. At that very moment, the old dear exhaled sending the pendulous dribble in an arc in the general direction of Ed’s pint that he had placed on the bar for fear of spilling it in the inevitable ensuing hilarity. As the flow of gob reached the height of its trajectory, her exhalation forced her lips into a rippling flap as her sweet brandy laden breath chased the arcing spit towards its destination. The flapping bags of skin that, in their relaxed state, resembled anything but human lips, puckered and teased the air like a yawning windsock on an ancient World War Two airfield that had long since given up the ghost. With a satisfying and expectant plop, the airborne globule of pensioner’s phlegm rotated for a final flourishing time and quite ceremoniously attached itself to either side of the circumference of Ed’s glass.

 

“Jesus H Corbett!” coughed Ed. His understandable volume together with the inevitable eruption of laughter from the others startled the old bird and she sprang into life. Wiping her mouth with her crusty sleeve, drooling was quite clearly part of her daily routine, she poked her glasses back up her beak and had the audacity to glare at the boys, particularly Ed, for awakening her from her slumber. Oblivious to her folly she scowled at the lads to keep the noise down, upped herself from her precarious perch and disappeared down an open manhole to what was presumably the cellar, muttering while she went, “Gorra change bluddy barrel nah, place full a chuffin’ toorists.”

 

“What about by damn pint?” Ed called after her, but deaf ears were listening attentively. Ed’s ears were also reasonably deaf. More accurately, dead to reason. He lived his life along a set of rules imposed by himself. Strict rules that not only he must abide by but his friends too. Should one of the assembled other three deviate from a stipulated rule from Ed’s manual of life then he would give them one of his looks. This was physical art at its finest. He would hold your gaze while narrowing his brow and eye lids. His left eyebrow would raise in mock amusement but his mouth would remain firmly shut so as to hold mirth at bay for a more appropriate moment. His right eye would then open wide in horror that would lead to a very slow and effective shake of the head and a deep sigh of disappointment. He would then raise his head to a position of aloofness while still holding eye contact. At the last moment he would look away leaving his opponent dead of will and with a deep chasm hopelessness yawning before him.

 

There was of course a screaming irony to Ed. Although applying his regulations, clauses and indices to life in general, failure always chewed at his leg, gnawing at him to above the knee rendering him to amputee status in his own social hierarchy. He’d plan endlessly but make little progress. He had the largest house of all the lads that, in its day, would have been a fine example of Victorian architecture. Nevertheless, with Ed at the helm the renovations deadlines were five years since. Beauty on the outside but wheelbarrows full of masonry where plush sofas once were on the inside. It was the details that let him down. Insisting on bakelite light switches and slate fire places that had to be helicoptered from stone quarries near Ben Nevis. The visions were grand and impressive yet the reality, some years after renovation began, were quite different indeed.

 

Ed’s passion lay within the railway network, not quite a spotter but a keen enthusiast nonetheless. It symbolised everything he aspired to be; organised, slick, contoured, punctual and steeped in interesting history, pivotal to the economic revolution of Britain. Ed’s side project to the renovation of his house, much to the chagrin of his wife, was the reconstruction of his favourite railway station within the confines of his loft room. Rather typically this was an unhurried and often interrupted affair. The vast loft space contained all the components of Ed’s railway equation, however, all potential common denominators had withered and died. You see, Ed toiled for hours assembling the enormous table upon which the railway was to be built, he grafted for days nailing tiny nails through even tinier lengths of track. But as soon as the over excited bear placed one wagon on the infant, incomplete home railway, production ceased. Stood at the highest point in a house with so much potential, he looked down upon his unfinished symphony that too had so much potential, and all he was capable of doing was moving the wagon with his heavy fore finger back and forth over a set of points. The huge smile on Ed’s face as his oversize digit wheeled the slick steel wheels over the shiny symmetrical rail yielded to orgasm as his brain acknowledged the physical realisation of his upper most desires. All following visits to the loft to attempt to make progress on his labour of love yielded to distraction as soon as he started fingering his carriages. Yet, like the house and so many other areas of his life, the railway would never be finished. Ed hinted at majesty and greatness, he eluded to gestures of excess and fortitude without a morsel of conceit, yet tragically was surrounded by ill financed projects, unachievable mortgage repayments and wheelbarrows full of broken concrete. Yet the finger remained on the wagon, and the smile remained on the face, back and forth like an autistic child remedying the worlds woes through his own affair with the middle distance.

 

Ed’s strength however, was his stability, both physically and mentally. When his manual of life was tucked away and, should you have a problem, his analytical, compartmentalised brain could deconstruct an issue and find a solution with ease. His physical presence was also impressive. He left most six footers treading water in the deep end while his firm trunk like legs remained rooted to the enamel floor tiles. Ed had unfortunately grown far too tall for his hair and suffered from occasional scalp conditions. His choice of t-shirt, usually black, would forgivably leave his friends wondering if he had taken to the superstitious ritual of throwing salt of his shoulder. Ed, however, was a lovely man. He didn’t have an unstable, waspish bitch like MG’s Rachael waiting in the wings and, despite the obvious setbacks, had achieved considerably more security in his life than Nolly and Mel. He was just Ed, and like the other three, was guilty of nothing more than whitewashing the stained wall of life with a veil of deceit.

 

“Well that’s dead”, muttered Ed as the laughter died and faded as quickly as the old dear conveniently found something else to occupy her time. Opposite, Mel was still guffawing at the state of his old school friends pint of beer and rallied, “What’s dead? The old bag or your beer?!!” Ed, finally conceding that there was some humour in the episode, smiled and commenced rummaging in his pocket for some cash for a replacement pint, “Don’t see why I should have to pay for another.” he grumbled.

 

Mel and Ed went back years. What all four lads resembled now was effectively conceived while Mel and Ed were at primary school together. The embryonic form of this friendship first found its genesis in the playground battlefield of a washed out holiday resort in the early 1980s. Cast out by the cool kids wearing Kickers, the two intrepid Clarks wearing pair soon found each other and other like minded souls. They sought solice in their own company, and as aspersions were cast about their nerdiness and general unpopularity, they were utterly content in finding their own ridicule in the sheep like mutant forms that roved the playing fields in their mock self regard.

 

Ed had long since jettisoned this social insecurity, albeit not deliberately as he quite rightly felt that mutant sheep that feed on false kudos were merely nothing more that humanoid husks devoid of any appeal whatsoever. Ed had the confidence and self belief that he was right. Mel did not.

 

Mel’s character was a little more complex. Growing up in a predominantly female environment and with more than a passing interest in the aforementioned 70s comedy, he had a tendency to be quite expressive with his mannerisms. He was without any machismo whatsoever and although as straight as a die, often appeared a little more, shall we say, ’arty’ than the rest. Unfortunately, arty types are hardly revered on the harsh landscape of a school playground and as a result Mel was often the target of predicable jibes regarding his sexuality. Mel was an honest man. He would not erect a wall of stupefying male testosterone in order to escape the raised eyebrow or to get the girl. He relied solely on his own brand of humour and personality to win him through. And it worked, most of the time. There was an issue that arose when he eventually did get the lucky lass back to his inner sanctum. You see, as a youth Mel turned to his arty side in order to make his bedroom a more palatable place to reside. His heroes adorned the walls, John Inman, Marty Feldman and Benny Hill would all be staring down at the object of Mel’s affection as he attempted to woo her into a state of undress. As one hand tenderly rested on his latest belle’s shoulder while he gingerly and expertly fiddled with her bra clip with the other one, the fortunate filly would inevitably gaze towards the ceiling, letting her flaxen locks cascade over her shoulders in a pre ecstatic state only to see the grotesquely camp grin of Bruce Forsyth leering down at her.

 

Mel’s childhood loyalty and devotion to the television programme, Doctor Who had followed him into his young adulthood. When he was much younger he had constructed a large Davros figure from paper mache complete with decaying claw-like hand. But remaining steadfast and true to himself, he would not remove it when entertaining the ladies. This, along with an assortment of associated figurines and scrapbooks did not lend itself appealing to the average teenage girl of the late 1980s. However, Mel didn’t care.

 

For all the ups and down in Mel’s love life, for the last few years, or at least since he had known MG, there had always been another woman present in his life. This particular woman in question wasn’t a woman by gender. She was Rachael. You see it was Mel who christened MG’s alter ego and in some ways this made Mel carry some of the responsibility for her presence. Well, that’s what MG would think. Rachael surfaced from within MG’s consciousness following a particularly troubling liaison he had with a young lady that he met in a club while out with the boys. She flattered the young randy pup and enticed him into her life where he remained for five long years until she eventually spat him out. The shadow that was his former self was now dominated by a vicious and bitchy creature that, while physically resembling the happy lad of old, was mentally consumed by all of the bitterness and bile that had punctuated the life of his ex wife. When sober and after a good nights sleep, MG could keep Rachael at bay, but should he stray too far from sobriety or forget to take a sleeping pill the previous evening, then the foul mouthed, monstrous slut would make her entrance. Mel had had his fair share of denigrations from her.

 

Hapless MG had been used as a divining rod for a young woman who had experienced a devastating amount of miserable circumstance in her life. She clutched hold of the emotionally blank sheet of paper that was the youthful MG, and promptly scribbled her vitriol and self loathing of the human race, particularly men, all over the unfortunate boy’s psyche. Try as he might to escape her claws, she cleverly rendered him the proverbial rabbit trapped in headlights as he floundered for the right words to placate what was effectively the effluence of another man’s abuse. He didn’t love her but saw himself as her Sir Galahad and he tried in vain to keep her head above her own white water rapids. She didn’t deserve him.

 

MG was thankfully of average height, not a six footer like Ed. Had he been taller he would have looked quite frankly ridiculous. You see, in order to keep his ex wife placated during their time together, MG’s metabolic rate had soared to climatic proportions through the heightened state of stress and pressure that the young lad had been under. His mind and body had danced to her sinister yet merry tune. He had kept all her demanding plates revolving speedily on the end of their spires and in doing so created the sinewy fat free zone that he was today. MG had to consume at least five thousand calories per day just to remain at a steady ten stones in weight. Would his metabolic rate ever return to the level it was before he met that dreadful life-leach of a woman? Perhaps only when he finally managed to nail the lid on Rachael’s coffin who was undeniably their bastard offspring.

 

It all sounds horribly dreadful but as we now know, experience, be it good or bad, is potential comedy, and that’s what the lads do best. In many of their more liberal states of mind, the boys would often taunt MG about his awful time spent with his ex wife. MG was convinced that this was merely an act of retribution for the occasions that Rachael had reared her ugly head when he’d had a few. “What about that time when she punched you in the face, ripped of your Lennon specs and then stamped on them in front of that pub full of pissed up scousers.” Nolly had reminded MG and the other lads while they hurtled up the M6 on the way to this much needed break. “And then there was the time when you pointed out those two old red telephone boxes on the sea front beside the theatre. C’mon, you remember?” This was a statement rather than a question as he was only too aware that the other three would remember this particular tale. “You know, you dumped her in the first one and then grovelled your sycophantic apologies in the next.” Nolly was relishing his centre stage and consequently his booming tones had more in common with exploding Zeppelins than the required volume level for talking within the confines of a small cramped Ford Ka. It was all true and dreadfully unfunny yet during those moments that the lads shared, it was fair game. No malice was intended, they could laugh at how life had short changed each of them.

 

A case in point that requisites a mention at this juncture that perhaps uncompromisingly illustrates the relationship that the boys have was the unfortunate, but timely demise of Ed’s Nan. Within days of laying her to rest, MG, without any nuance of apology or concern for demonstrating a lack of empathy, quite openly and without fear of reprisal, asked his good friend, “soon as your ready, Ed love, let us know when the old girl is fair game.” This quite astounding statement in the eyes and ears of others was greeted with a wry smile and a knowing look from Ed.

 

The thing was that MG was left with Rachael, which meant that the other three were left with Rachael too. She was the skid mark his ex wife had left on the tissue that MG had so kindly presented to her to use to mop up her own life. Although Rachael didn’t have a conscience, a lot like her birth mother, her surrogate father did, and hated hearing tales of the previous evening that he had completely forgotten about in an alcohol induced fog of filth and ferocious verbal attacks upon his friends. Rachael had the confidence and ability to hold court within a group but it was always at the expense of one of MG’s dear friends that she did this.

 

It wasn’t just MG’s Rachael that was capable of such scathing wordplay. Mel nudged Nol and nodded in the direction of Ed who was cursing and muttering to himself as he fished the old woman’s phlegm from the rim of his glass. Her spittle was now on the inside of his index and second finger and as he slowly parted them, it slithered, forming a translucent web that foamed at the edges. “If you could bottle this stuff it might come in for something. Quite a viscous fluid with a high resistance to free flowing.” commentated Ed on his own thoughts. Mel let out a high pitched amused whooping sound that he stifled by exaggeratingly biting down on Nolly’s forearm. Mel could no longer retain his comic train of thought and let Ed have it with both barrels, “Plenty of uses in your house then, eh love? Sticking down frayed wall paper, cleaning your Aga, it would probably hold a sturdy wig down and might even make a good moisturiser.” As this final crack left Mel’s lips he knew he’d over stepped the mark with his trusted life long friend and lurched over to the simmering bear wrapping both arms around his neck cuckooing loud, camp apologies.

 

Ed was no fool. Sure, he had a longer fuse than most, but only a naïve young pup would assume it to be infinite. He was the proverbial hibernating bear and Mel had touched a nerve. More accurately Mel had poked our dozing grizzly with a short sharp stick and had made the fatal error of not retreating to a safe distance. While Mel was hanging around his neck, Ed placed both index fingers inside Mel’s front belt hoops and lifted him six inches off the ground. “Right, you little twerp!” he glared. He then addressed Nol and MG, “Seems young Melvyn here has walked casually into a greenhouse and started hurling careless stones about.” Both MG and Nol both chimed in with an almost scripted, “Don’t go into the greenhouse, man.” Ed laughed and dropped his verbal sparring partner back to the ground. He soon found his annoyance again and continued, “I might get the odd bit of druff now and again yer cheeky bugger but at least I didn’t spend most of my late teens in bath of Aqueous cream and still come out looking like a bowl of unmilked Ready Brek.” Cue another scripted slow duet of, “You bastard.” from Nol and MG. Not to be out done and rather than sit looking hurt and dejected, Mel quickly responded with an observational ditty of his own, “Ah yes, Ready Brek. Isn’t that the chemical reaction when you add water to one of Nol’s ex lady friends?” The bar was then filled with forgiving laughter as this cruel banter was a welcome distraction from the mundaities of life.

 

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Act III

 

So, the four boys gathered every now and again to remind themselves of each other’s failures, downplay any success and more importantly open a forum of utter comedic honesty in the hope that they could collectively and individually forget, just for an afternoon, the rough deal they were convinced life had bestowed upon them. So here they stood moored in life’s harbour of desolation, warned away by jagged rocks and signposts alerting to strong undercurrents and dangerous sandbanks, yet somehow all drawn in by their own lighthouse of doom. Human shipwrecks deserted in rock pools of capsized dreams. Nol with his thespian aspirations, Ed with his desire to create Edwardian grandeur for his young family, Mel in his quest for unrequited love and literary recognition and MG to conclusively ditch his past and find out what he really wanted to do when he left school. All four had been sucked onto a pedestrian crossing by a sinister Belisha beacon that welcomed them to a crossroads of opportunity only to ensure that an articulated lorry mounted the pavement and left grotesque tyre marks tattooed on their crushed spines.

 

Ed had been waiting quite long enough. He slipped off his barstool and stood at his full height with his enormous palms resting on the bar. Looking left and right at the deserted bar he began tutting his disapprovals and noisily clearing his throat when a younger blonde woman emerged from a small door to the far left beside the coffee maker. Although quite obviously heading for middle age, this new barmaid was a little easier on the eye than the old bird and immediately smiled a welcoming smile as she took his order. “Four more pints of Hop and we better have a round of Bush Mills too please.” “Right you are.” she followed. “We can’t start slacking this early in the afternoon,” countered Ed. As she gathered the lad’s empties, she gave the soiled glasses a quizzical look before returning to the ale pumps. “You’ve met my old man, George then, I assume?” she asked. “I didn’t realise he was on an early shift today.” Ed looked at her, momentarily baffled until she gesticulated to the empty glasses. “Oh right.” said Ed, “No, I didn’t catch her name but we were served by an older lady.” MG was listening to this polite exchange and decided it was time to inject a little humour to the dull predictable banter. “She served you a little more than you bargained for, eh Ed?” Nolly and Mel both distracted from their chatter chimed in with a little laughter of agreement. The barmaid now looked utterly perplexed and announced to the assembled guffawing four that she was the oldest woman in the building and had no idea what on Earth they were talking about.

 

Right on cue an older man appeared from the passage way that led through to the old smithy’s bar brandishing a drip tray and an armful of bar towels. “Pops, there you are!” she half shouted, almost announcing his arrival to the assembled punters. The bar was still relatively empty. It had started to rain outside which had clearly impacted upon their lunchtime trade. The heavy slate skies made this mid afternoon seem like early evening. On his way over to the bar George diverted briefly to the heavy, centuries old wooden door that was rattling in its ancient frame at the mercy of the autumn wind outside. He opened the door and a scattering of leaves blew across the stone floor. George slammed the door shut and the rattling ceased, the elements held at bay for the moment.

 

“Eh up our Ellie.” came George’s throaty greeting. He was a tall man, not quite as tall as Ed but a hearty presence none the less. He had stooped slightly with age and had a nest of unkempt curly white hair that circled a woody beige biscuit of scalp about the size of a hob nob. Wearing black slacks and a cream aran cardigan, George looked as if he had been created with the sole purpose of working in this pub.

 

Mel’s gaze tracked George as he traversed behind the lads, passed the front door and towards the end of the bar beside the coffee maker where Ellie had positioned herself to greet him. Mel strained but failed to hear what they were saying to one another. His intuition told him that something was afoot by the knowing and loaded looks and responses that their quiet, yet animated conversation displayed. As George continued his progress behind the bar in the direction of the lads he quite audibly grumbled to himself, “Oh, not again.”

 

Mel, ever the peace maker and concerned that he and his chums had perhaps caused some sort of unrest in the pub, immediately and diplomatically tackled George. “A lovely pint, Sir!” he announced to the elderly gent as he passed. George smiled and nodded his approval. While he had his attention Mel added in a low but direct and friendly manner, “Sorry to appear nosy but I couldn’t help but notice yourself and … is her name Ellie?” Mel tailed off desperately hoping that George would take up the mantel and finish the sentence for him. George started nodding immediately and Mel’s open ended attack had paid huge dividend.

 

“Your friend over there, big chap like me, is probably wondering the same thing. Ellie is indeed the oldest woman in the pub, with the obvious exception of some of the old hags we get in here on dominoes night!” While this exchange was occurring, Ellie had served Ed. The lads had polished off the Bush Mills and MG had ordered four double Balvenie each. Their pints too were once again edging on the side of empty.

 

“Her name is Alice,” continued George, “or more accurately, was Alice.” Mel inhaled deeply and stood up from his barstool. He leaned conspiratorially towards the old pot man which encouraged him to divulge more. George glanced towards Ellie who was slowly shaking her head as if she didn’t approve of her colleague sharing this information. George continued unabated. “She is apparently the ghost of the old blacksmith’s wife unable to rest because of the way she was killed.” “Killed as in murdered?” Mel asked. “I’m afraid so. Rumour tells us that he was a bit of a tyrant and he shackled her over that damn anvil through there and beat the poor mare black and blue with his hammer before decapitating her with a blunt saw. What’s left of her was allegedly left to decompose below the stone flags in the cellar.” Mel, ever the sensitive one, turned ashen. “I suppose it was too far in the dim and distant past to warrant investigating?” he asked. George happily filled in the blanks, “The village flooded after a freak three day storm in 1983 and the cellar was left unusable so we had it filled in. The ale is pumped from an outhouse in the yard.”

 

Ed, who had been ear wigging attentively coughed and spluttered a gob full of Double Hop all over the bar. “But the old dear that served us went down that trapdoor in the floor to change a barrel. She was moaning about tourists or something.” George strode over to the trap door and with some effort leaned over and clutched the metal ring at one end of the door. “This is where the workmen pumped in tonnes of concrete.” He heaved the heavy wooden door open with a grunt and all four lads audibly gasped in bewilderment. They were greeted with the sight of solid grey stone that lay just below the lip of the trap door. Silence befell them.

 

Nolly broke the uneasy hush and raised his whiskey glass, “To Alice!” he boomed. “To Alice!” repeated the other three in harmony. George looked on as the boys necked their spirits and added, “Four more I expect?” “I think that’d be very wise under the circumstances.” confirmed Nolly. George placed the freshly filled tumblers on the bar and surreptitiously added out of Ellie’s earshot, “These are on the house!”

 

MG was becoming agitated. Rachael was stirring. The blue touch paper had been lit by this unforeseen and frankly quite frightening episode. In addition to the pints and quality scotch that usually set her off, Rachael could also be used as a barricade for MG in moments of uncertainty. This was one of those moments. MG had never seen a ghost before and, rather than confront the issue and display a healthy dose of fear to his friends, he subconsciously marched his waspish alter ego to the front line while he himself cowered in the trenches. Mel sensed her arrival and immediately set about a pacifying routine. Once too often he had been the unwitting Ernie Wise to her Eric Morecombe.

 

“Hey MG” spluttered Mel, feigning jollity as he himself was still recovering from seeing the undead. “D’you remember when we where here that time when …” He tailed off as his eyes met Rachael’s and recognised the blue pulsating vein in her temple. Still determined to try and find his chum beneath the quickly flourishing exterior of this bastardised bitch, he continued, “Ah, thanks for emailing me those you tube links for Tucker’s Luck and Bread. That guitar intro to the Tucker theme is quite proggy, y’know.” “I’m well aware of that which is why I emailed it to you in the first place,” she countered with eyes rolling beneath the flickering eyelids of a seriously distracted MG. Nolly, who had been chatting to Ed about the installation of a new central heating system and which brand of boiler would be best suited to a house of his size, sensed agitation from Mel and immediately realised what was afoot. Although talking with Ed, Nol kept looking over towards Mel and MG and grunting distracted affirmations.

 

“Am I boring?” Ed asked to seemingly nobody. He had become aware of Nol’s distraction. “It’s not a bloody rhetorical question.” he continued upon receiving no interest whatsoever from his friends. “No you’re not.”, hissed Nolly as he turned his attention fully from Ed to MG and Mel. Nolly put a heavy hand on MG’s shoulder and whispered sharply in his ear, “Keep her at bay, brother friar, we’ve things to discuss and Mel doesn’t deserve one of her lashings, at least not yet.” Rachael glanced down at MG’s good friend and betrayed her host for the umpteenth time, “ Perhaps not yet he doesn’t, but that dull bugger over there certainly does.” She continued, “Yes, you are boring, Ed, exceedingly so. Why do you think Nol came over here to talk to Mel and me?” Ed the bear reared up onto his hind legs and took a proverbial verbal swipe at Rachael, “Stamp on her Nol, for Christ’s sake, the yard arm hasn’t cast its shadow over seventeen hundred yet and she’s already begging to be dragged through the ginnel by her underskirt!” Rachael, silenced for the moment, allowed Ed to follow up his initial insecurities. “Nol, not that I begrudge the idle chit chat and enquiries into my life, but why is our conversation always so bloody practical? I mean, here we are in our mutually hedonistic lair and you’re quizzing me about lagging my loft pipes and whether or not I’d choose a Vaillant over a Walcabe boiler.”

 

Nolly was about to answer when Mel uttered the words that they were all avoiding. The sound of his words even pulled MG up through the layers of Rachael’s psyche and back to the bar of their favourite pub. “Have we really just seen a ghost?”

 

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?Acts IV, V, & VI to follow ....

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