18 Jan 2012

Exes and Sevens

*Excerpt from my novel-in-progress (ahem!) "Exes and Sevens"* 

Phil knew I hated being left alone at the bar. Especially after last-call, when the place was practically empty.  He couldn’t help it; he would never make it all the way to his bedsit in Clapham if he didn’t empty his bladder before we left. I went looking for him on our first time out, concerned after waiting twenty minutes at the bar. I found him hunched over the urinal, one hand propped weakly against the wall, the other shaking, cajoling, stroking. He was perpetually worried he hadn’t got rid of it all, that some of it was still only trickling its way down from his epiglottis in an O. Henry-twist.

My thoughts turned to the reason for my discomfort in sitting there: our curmudgeonly bartender, Marty.  It was just her and me again; the two of us and her sullen, implied misanthropy. Just like every other night. I shifted in my seat and watched her work. She emptied the beer trays, polished the counter, dried a fresh batch of glasses from the dishwasher - anything but acknowledge my existence. And I was a regular; we went there everyday. Not for the first time, I wondered why we didn’t just find a different pub. 

“Do you need some help?” I asked. She didn’t seem to have heard.
“You know I’ve always wanted to work in a bar?” I tried again.
“You’ve been to university.” 

It was a question and a statement. I knew what was coming. I tried to suppress the swell of pride, to adapt a tone that signaled ‘I know I could do better, but it’s one of those things..’

“Yeah, why?”  I said. Nonchalance is key.
“Did you study bartending at Uni?”
“Umm, no but a few of my mates used to work part-time at the union bar and…oh. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to imply that anybody can just swoop in and do your job. You probably need a specific set of skills that…You’ve probably been to Uni too for all I know – not that it would be a surprise or anything. Maybe you just chose to work here. Right? I mean why should someone with a degree not work in a bar? I think they should make it mandatory that all bartenders have some kind of formal education. I mean, what can you really do with a degree these days? Do you like Margaret Atwood?”
“Never read any. You think I’ll like her?”

I looked at her. Then I turned and fixed my gaze on the television. Marty was like the Sun. I couldn’t look her in the eye for more than a few seconds at a time. 
“Oh yeah, she’s great.” This is a trap. I’m walking into a trap.
“No, why do you think I would like her?”
 “Coz what’s not to like, I mean..”
“Coz I’m gay? Coz I have tattoos on my arms and a ring on my clit? Does that make me a feminist?”
Chip, you’ve met Shoulder, haven’t you? Oh that’s right, you live there. 

Marty crouched down to get something from under the counter. A cleaning cloth maybe, or her glasses. Whatever it was, she seemed to have misplaced it. I watched the top of her head move from one corner of the counter to the other and back again, searching, cursing, impatient. It was a comical sequence of bobs and dips and expectant ups and downs, reminding me of a hen pecking grains off the ground. Or a blowjob. A cartoon-hen performing fellatio.The image made me smile.

“Well, I don’t know that Atwood would approve of the term ‘feminist’,” I said grandly, “besides, feminists probably think tattoos are too conformist. These days, anyway. I mean, Cheryl Cole has a tattoo. Victoria Beckham has a few. Everybody’s got one.”
She stood up. I duly trained my eyes on my glass, and rattled the last of my drink.
“Oh so now I’m sheep. Part of the unthinking, unblinking, brainwashed collective.”

There was that question/statement thing again. I wondered if she wanted me to disagree. She would probably disagree if I disagreed.
“I was just trying to make conversation,” I said.
“It’s not in your skill set. Will your mate have another drink?”
“No, I think we’re done.”
“Ok, goodnight. I’ll let him know you’re outside.”

I lit up a cigarette and waited on the pavement. The night was wet and miserable. It made me feel better. Phil eventually walked out holding two cans of Stella. “For the road,” he said, holding them up. “She has a ring on her clit,” I informed him dutifully. 

*Want more Exes and Sevens? Excerpts here and here.


red dirt girl said...

Wow, that was effing AWESOME! You had me hooked. I wanted to step in and save your guy - give him the right words to use with a gal like Marty...hmmm ... not that I know the words exactly, but I do know ANGRY COMPLICATED female when I read one. I've been one, once, long long ago.

Please promise you'll send me a signed copy (I'll pay) when you get that first book published.


icyhighs said...

Aww that's very sweet Red Dirt Girl; thank you. As for sending you a copy, let's just see how my e-book works out. (As soon as I figure out how to format one, obviously!) I may have to kill myself before I can even finish this one if it bombs.

red dirt girl said...

Icy, with writing skills like yours, it's NOT going to bomb. Trust me. I'm friends with a number of writers and haven't read anything this fresh in a verrry long time. Good luck!


icyhighs said...

Thanks Red, coming from you that's a real compliment!
Which brings me to: why can't I comment on your blog? I absolutely loved 'No Ill Will' but everytime I hit 'comment' the screen just goes blank and I have to restart. Never been a poetry person except for the mandatory Dylan Thomas phase, but I think I might check some out now. Maybe you can recommend something thematically similar to your stuff?

icyhighs said...

Heh, I like 'Red'. Ooh that's growing on me already.

goatman said...

The next bar down the road could not be less friendly.
Nice read . . . and I think Atwood would appreciate the tattoo, and even the ring but probably on someone else. May say:
"the colours impressed brightly on the skin like a smile on a permanent face"
Save me a copy

red dirt girl said...

Hi icy,

I have no CLUE as to what is happening to my comment sections these days. You're not the first to tell me it isn't working. Overnight, 'Blogger' switched my comments into a threaded format. Even I'm having difficulty opening up the comments page. I don't know what to say! If you continue to have problems, let me know. I might have to switch comment formats. It's very frustrating.

Red is good! It's my favorite color.

Ummm ... poets. Start with Carol Ann Duffy. She's from Glasgow. She had some minor trouble with a poem entitled Knife in England. It was pulled from school curriculums because it apparently glorified knife crimes.

Of course I'm going to send you to Sylvia Plath. I like Marge Piercy, Anne Sexton, Jane Hirshfield ...Wow too many to name. I love Li-Young Lee, Tony Hoagland, the polish poets: Czelaw Milosz and Wislawa Szymborska.

Try the blog How a Poem Happens. It's varied and usually has interesting interviews with the poets re: their creative process.

For the next girlfriend, memorize some Pablo Neruda - a master of love poems. Oh and I can't forget Rumi !


icyhighs said...

Cheers Goatman. Everytime I see your name, I feel like singing it- rather than saying it if that makes sense-to the tune of Spoonman. Bit eerie? Yeah probably. "...like a smile on a permanenet face.." -whoa, where's that from?

icyhighs said...

Much appreciated Red, we have a 4-day weekend here in Singapore thanks to the Chinese New Year, so I'm going to town on that reading list. Will start with Carol Ann Duffy, me thinks, though Plath is one of my favourite authors. 'Bell Jar':definitely in my desert island top 5.

red dirt girl said...

We'd better compare desert island lists just in case we end up on one together... I'm going ahead and striking Bell Jar off of mine!


icyhighs said...

Lord of the Flies - William Golding
The Virgin Suicides -Jeffrey Eugenides
High Fidelity - Nick Hornby
Immortality- Milan Kundera

*in no particular order


red dirt girl said...

The English Patient ~ Michael Ondaatje
The Hours ~ Michael Cunningham
Truth and Beauty: A Friendship ~ Ann Patchett
The Last Time They Met ~ Anita Shreve
The Sound and the Fury ~ William Faulkner

but then I'd have to have my five favorite poets .... sort of like shoes for a girl - we can never pack enough shoes for a trip ...!


Sanjana said...

that's realllllllly good! I'm jealous!