Jeremy Clarke

Low Life | 25 July 2009

Old haunts

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‘Busy in here tonight,’ I observed. ‘Hello, stranger!’ she said. ‘We’ve got a band on later. Didn’t you know?’ I didn’t. Eight pints of Foster’s, ten Silk Cut, and a game of pool had been the upper limit of my ambition for the evening when I looked in the mirror before coming out. I told Candice to make hers a large one.

‘And have you heard?’ she said over her shoulder as she pressed the glass up against the optic. ‘I’ve got a fella.’ ‘No!’ I said. Candice hadn’t had a bloke to call her own for ages and she couldn’t quite believe it herself. More good news. We both laughed. ‘Poor bloke,’ I said. ‘Anyone we know?’ ‘He’ll be in later,’ she said. ‘I’ll point him out. If you see a lad who looks like he needs a good night’s sleep, that’ll be him.’

I was going to ask her whether Trev was in yet, but I could already hear him crowing like a cockerel and yelling, ‘Who’s the Daddy!’ in the pool room. I took my drink over. Trev was cueing up a long red and sighted me over his bridging hand. ‘Look what the cat dragged in!’ he yelled, smashing the ball into the top corner pocket.

His cueing hand was covered with a plaster cast. I asked him what had happened to it. He managed to look both sheepish and proud. He’d been in a fight down at the King Bill, he said, and he’d hit this creep over the head with a crate of beer. And as the bloke had gone down, he’d stupidly punched him on the top of his head as hard as he could and broken a bone in his hand. He’s like Africa is Trev: there’s always something new.

Was I out for the night? he said. I was, I said. Would I like a couple of slimming pills? He was trying them out. He wasn’t off his head on them so far; they were a bit speedy, that’s all. Go on then, I said. He swallowed another couple himself while he was at it. Had I heard from Sharon lately? He had, he said. She’d been round to see him. She was crying as usual. He rolled his eyes, which were red and bulging, at the emotional fragility of womankind in general, and at the extreme lengths to which Sharon takes it in particular. He always likes to swap news of Sharon before we move on to other matters. I think he sees us as Chairman and Vice-Chairman of her Veterans’ Association. But if Jane Austen’s observation is true that in every sexual attachment there is always vanity on one side and gratitude on the other, our experiences of her were of a different order. With Trev, Sharon was the grateful one, abjectly, self-abasingly so: with me, she was only staying around until something bigger and better came along.

Sweat was trickling down the sides of his face. Did it seem hot in here to me? he said. He wiped his face on the crook of his elbow. He was hot. Suddenly he became angered and agitated by the sudden rise in temperature. It seemed possible that he might start punching in a minute. It was the pills, I offered. They were upsetting his thermostat. My suggestion pacified him instantly. He always has the greatest respect for the rational explanation, does Trev. His pool opponent, clearly an underage drinker, had fluffed an easy yellow and been waiting patiently, humbly, for Trev to notice that all the balls on the table were stationary and that it was his turn to start smashing them asunder again.

‘So what do you know, then, dude?’ said Trev. ‘Been anywhere lately?’ Egypt, I said. Immediately bored, he returned his attention to the green baize, yelled, ‘Who’s the Daddy!’, and stalked around the table. He’d forgotten what colour balls he was aiming for. ‘What am I on?’ he shouted. ‘Red,’ said his opponent. The landlady passed by on her way to the Ladies. ‘Could be bloody anything if you ask me,’ she said. Trev leaped after her, intercepted her in the doorway, clasped her body roughly against his and kissed her gently on the mouth. To my surprise, she not only accepted his kiss, but melted into it. Trev returned to the table pulling his dastardly villain face.

I went to the bar for more drinks. Candice served me again. ‘Is your fella in yet?’ I said. She pointed happily to a young chap slumped at the other end of the bar. His head was resting against the wall. His eyes were closed. She wasn’t joking. The bloke looked absolutely knackered.