Last week Sharon's brother makes an announcement. 'Sharon's down this weekend. It's her birthday,' he says grimly.
On Friday night I'm in the pub early and in she walks. She's wearing a crop top with a glittery number '69' on the front. Her boyfriend is expecting her round at his place, she says, pulling her 'bored and trapped' face. He's cooked a meal and got the drugs in and everything, but she can't face it. Not right now, anyway. What she wants right now is some action.
There's a dark-haired young bloke sat in an alcove with his mates. Sharon fancies this bloke like the clappers. 'Godboy' she calls him. She goes over and chats to Godboy for a minute or two, then she comes back and says, 'Me and Godboy are going for a drive, Jerry.'
Next morning I'm woken by a commotion going on downstairs. Later, when I get up and go downstairs, Sharon is sitting at the kitchen table wearing my bathrobe. I wish her a happy birthday and ask what all the noise was earlier on. She says Darren broke in to the house again, came storming upstairs and found her and Godboy together in her brother's bed. (She and Godboy had spent the evening 'talking' in his car, then she'd brought him back for the night.) Blows and hard words were exchanged, then Darren stormed off. He was in a right old state, she adds, as if she's surprised by it.
Anyway, would I like to see her new tattoo, she asks. She turns round and lets the robe drop, revealing that handsome back of hers. On her upper spine a blue phoenix is fluttering wildly to gain height and shedding a few loose tail-feathers on the way. Darren bought it for her for her birthday, says Sharon, pulling that 'trapped and bored' face at me again. I compliment her on it and on her tan, which has lasted amazingly well. It must be a good two months now since she and Darren went to Morocco. 'My tans always seems to last longer than my boyfriends,' she says sadly.
That night, the Saturday night, I'm up the pub early to get a good seat. Darren's already in there limbering up. He comes up to me and stares at me threateningly. Then he speaks. He says if Godboy comes in, he's prepared to take the legal consequences of what happens next. Sharon's going to get what for as well, he adds. I advise him, politely, that if he assaults Sharon he is off my Christmas-card list.
Seats are at a premium already, but there's a spare stool next to the gents. Other potential players present in the bar, I see, are Trevor (the hard man Sharon was living with before she met me) and Sharon's brother, who is drinking with his rugby pals. Trevor and Sharon's brother have seats at adjacent tables on the far side of the bar, next to the window.
When Sharon finally makes her big entrance, she's wearing an ankle-length coat with velvet collar. She removes it (beneath it she's dressed for the beach) and asks me to look after it for her. As I stow it carefully under my seat, I hear glass breaking. I look up, and at the other end of the bar there's Darren holding Sharon by the throat and raining down punches on her peroxide perm.
Reacting way ahead of anyone else, old flame and local hard man Trevor leaps up, grabs Darren's head and shoves it through a windowpane. Orange sparks from the cigarette lodged between the fingers of Trevor's right hand add a momentarily festive effect. After that, there are that many do-gooders and heroes on their feet trying to intervene, I have to queue for the epicentre in order to get one in myself. After consulting with a linesman, the pub's landlord, an ex-Moss Side copper with a face like Mr Punch's, gives Darren the red card, and out he goes, dabbing his head with a bloody bar-towel.
As a prelude to his attack, Darren had thrown a pint of Stella Artois over Sharon's head. Her hair flattened and mascara in rivulets down her cheeks, Sharon isn't looking her best. She doesn't let that spoil her evening though, and soon she's circulating with all her usual social adroitness and firing back pints of lager as if nothing has happened.
She even convivially follows me into the gents for a chat while I relieve myself. Then in comes her brother, and now we have our whole household together, which is something of a rarity lately. I say something homely like, 'Shall I be mother?' and the next thing I know I've turned round and Sharon and her brother are trading punches, right there in the gents, her brother with his dick out. I get between them and in trots Mr Punch, a lieutenant in tow. Sharon must now leave, he says. He is trying to run a pub here not a babysitting service.
The gents is a small one, however. And with so many people in there at once none of us can turn around, let alone leave, until Mr Punch can organise an orderly evacuation based on the principle of last in first out.