It was a middle aged party but he went anyway. He arrived after midnight and saw the debauchery had been at fever pitch for some time. Assorted parents, let off the leash; some leather-clad in that fiftyish, lets-take-a-risk way; the women talking about their husbands’ impotence and the guys addressing themselves to the nearest set of tits. All the stuff that dinner was spent avoiding.
He headed to the laden buffet table; as much a reason for being here as any. He was ravenous, hadn’t eaten since that morning. He spotted his now ex-girlfriend leaning against a wall nearby, blotto, and talking to someone’s potato shaped wife. They spotted him and Georgy, his ex, pointed him out. “I should body-swerve this ugly looking situation whilst I can,” he thought. But gut necessities were the motive force and before his plate was heavy enough, the potato came squeaking over; too tight leather pants compressing the blood into her cheeks.
“Are you David ?”
“You must be craaazy to split up from such a bonny lass. Why are you going away, what’s the matter? Are you crazy?”
“Oh, you know. It’s complicated.”
He looked over at his ex. She was smashed, no doubt about that, looking good too; they didn’t break up because she turned ugly. It was complicated.
She looked at him and smiled. Alcohol gave her a certain glow and she had a tendency when drinking to get as shitfaced as possible and never anything less. David felt drunk just looking at her. Drunk in all the right ways. “Perhaps I should go over and speak to her,” he thought, but could think of nothing to say.
He thought about her letter. The job would pay for his escape in one month exactly and for her, now was the watershed; to say all the unnecessary, unsaid things.
He made his way out to the garden. The occasion was the “official” unveiling of a new summer house, built by his friend’s father; a Highlander’s idea of a mid-life crisis. The week before, all the sons and daughters had got pleasantly intoxicated in that little hut. Therefore, it had already been claimed as theirs’.
His friends were near, gathered around a small but fierce fire. They greeted him with their usual histrionical belligerence. He had a beer and a joint thrust at him before he managed to sit down. They were all ripped and definitely twisted. He didn’t mind.
They bombarded him with how are you’s and how was the first night on the new job? He had a lot to say about that and was hard pressed to put it all into order. He was hassled and cranked but didn’t mind.
Craig, Niall, Simone, Kelly, Evelyn, Gilmour, Kevin, Allan, Georgy, Stephen, Peter, Neal, Fiona-original mates and some younger brothers and sisters. He had known some of them for ten years now; a couple were his closest, best friends. He was the Last Guest, the one with weekend hours to do. He locked into the skewed humour and forgot about it all, enjoyed the beer, food and dope. Honestly earned now, they did their job that much better. He sat back and enjoyed the post-work come down, looking over the younger siblings and how they’d avoided so many of the mistakes of their elders.
Someone came to fetch him because Georgy was now puking drunk. They all knew the two of them were finished yet he was the only one expected to help her. He didn’t really mind. He was aware of the questionable psychology but there was something sort of pleasant about this Saturday night dependency. And for her part, she didn’t want anyone else to pick her up and put her to bed. It was an artefact of something better.
She seemed to be trying to articulate similar thoughts, as he cleaned up her vomit from a still new carpet.
“David....David...God, I’m so fucked....I...uh....”
“Yeah. I know.”
He returned to the fire. He tried to put it to one side, for a better time.
The problem was Neal. Maybe it was himself. He couldn’t be sure.
Neal was a degenerate fuck-up. A rage of hang-ups and unfathomable concerns; somewhere between a wannabe porno star and a football hooligan. He had a reputation as a bad drunk. He would be obnoxious and offensive, he would do everything to get thumped and he often did. He acted like the town brawler in some hackneyed Irish novel, without the muscle or wit to get out of the shit when it hit. Which was a shame because he was not a bad person, nor lacking in wit. When sober.
That was Neal. He was meant to be some kind of friend. David was not sure.
Neal started on something about his ex-girlfriend going at it with him sloppy porno style now that she was available.
He asked Neal to back off, it wasn’t appreciated. Neal did not do this. David had often been a target for a slagging because he often had trouble knowing how to take it, although he usually gave as good as he got. Neal kept at it.
“She’ll be gagging on it the night. Does she spit or swallow? Doesnae matter, ah’ll find out soon enough. Bet she bangs like a brick in a washing machine.”
He felt the bolt of adrenaline, slamming in like the body’s special forces unit. He made a vicious threat, which was unusual for him. He hoped it would be enough to avert what was so clearly coming, as if lighting the fuse averts the explosion.
Neal came over to stand over him. He had an unopened bottle of Rose wine in one hand and a bottle of lager in the other; holding it by the neck; wielding it.
“You’re so fucking full of shit.”
“Neal man, just fucking can it, OK.”
“Aye, you’re always talking a good fight, ya fanny.”
“Fuck off man. I’m fucking warning ye.”
The bottle moved. He weighed a clear 15 kilos more than Neal, who went in for the elegantly wasted look.
“Who the fuck do you think you are you fucking cunt, standing over me wi’ a bottle, ya gonnae glass me, is at it, cunt?”
The adrenaline supercharged into critical mass. He kicked at Neal, just left of the groin, to force him back. He needed clearance. He was a second too slow. Halfway on his feet, the bottle connected.
He stopped. He heard glass on stone. Felt liquid on his face. “Have I just been bottled ?” he thought. Astonishment gave way to something wordless, some flee or fight back brain trip switch.
He grabbed Neal by the scruff of his neck and felt the pins of pressure in his fingertips. His fist was numb with impact force before he’d made any decision to strike. Neal flailed against the attack but buckled under the second blow; David’s fist cam-shafting into his head with terrible force. David felt like he could keep this up all night long. He saw a girl he would like to sleep with turning away, disinterested.
This fighting equilibrium then floundered into something that made him feel sick. Someone was playing referee. Neal was gone and he was being restrained. He didn’t know why; he wasn’t struggling. He couldn’t feel his head nor his arm.
He thought: “Was that a fight?”
Obligatory school yard dynamics took over; exclamations of shock and hilarity both, an instant argument about who threw the first punch; everybody up out of their seats and milling around. Neither participants were known for premeditated violence and so the crowd fairly whooped it up.
The shock of adrenaline now burned out, some kind of stunned rationality returned to David as he allowed himself to be shepherded away by Craig.
They repaired to the bathroom. The parents had cleared out somewhere; keys in the bowl, probably. Craig tended to him. He had a gash at the hairline, a lot of blood on his cheek. He felt weak at the knees and on the verge of unravelling. Was it the head wound or the high blood of the fight coming back down?
“He’s a dick. You’ve seen him like that before. If it wasn’t you it would be someone else. He was fucking with me earlier on. I told him to go home. Hitting someone with a bottle!”
“Christ Craig. I’ve never done that before...”
“Wha’? Been bottled? I thought it was a passage of rites for all you Alloa boys.”
“Don’t man, please. I was in primary school last time I hit someone, and that was in self-defence.”
“Doesn’t look like the bottle actually broke. Either that or you’re one lucky bastard. Sounds like this was a case of self-defence to me.”
“Shit man, I dunno. Maybe I hit him first.”
“So what? He was asking for it. This isn’t the first time someone has thumped him. He could make Mother Teresa pissed off enough to do it. How d’ya feel?”
“Like a motherfucker. And I can’t feel my right hand.”
They returned to the fire. Ooh’s and aah’s. Neal was still in the other bathroom.
Craig described the scene thus.
“I went into the kitchen to make a sandwich. Then I hear breaking glass and someone screaming. I come out and I see Neal being led away by two people. He’s flailing and shouting, doing that “let me at him, let me at him” thing. You are standing over the fire. The flames are reflected in the blood on your face. Very primal. I only went to get a sandwich. I ask Niall what happened. He’s making a joint, unflappable. He says, ‘oh, nothing.’”
Nothing. It was the only response David could come up as well.
The dictates of form took over from any question of how to feel. He made his way to the other bathroom. To say sorry.
Two people were tending to Neal, including his sister. She looked at David and sort of smiled. Maybe it meant something.
Neal was a mess. The right side of his face was an angry bruise coloured blue. There was an evil looking injury over his right eye. The brow had been opened up and was fairly pumping out blood. He looked pale in a way reminiscent of heavy blood loss and hospital-ward shock. Somehow his nose had escaped but David saw blood between his teeth. In short, he looked exactly like someone who had just been seriously bludgeoned.
David knew how he ought to feel and how he would feel by the following morning. At the moment, he had the reassurance of a small victory and felt all the more evil for it.
Immediately, they shook hands. It was ridiculous. Where did that come from ? Sorry man, sorry, sorry. Neal had definitely came off worst. Poor lad had gone from blazing to straight as a die with three blows to the face.
Infirmary time over, they all returned to the fire. Neal and David let lose with the one-liners, the pretend start ups, the “wasn’t that fun”? The banter galloped a mile a minute and the two of them had the rest laughing away like it was all part of the billing.
He remembered someone once explain to him that when you hit an asshole, you become an asshole. It sounded like an insight but now, he realised, it was something he ought to have known long before this party. David had done something to his right hand. He must’ve caught Neal’s eyebrow ridge with the lower part of his thumb and now he couldn’t move his hand. It would be six months, and another place, before he regained the full use of it again.
It had been his first night on a new job, to save up money to fly away from all these people.
When the night finally ended, he lay down next to the comatose Georgy, who had missed it all. He didn’t sleep and felt like someone he didn’t want to be.
The next day, they went kite flying.
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