A Celebration by Allan Wilson
(an extract from Wasted in Love)
I’m sitting with Jack having a few beers when he eventually gets round to asking. He says, “Tony will you…will you be my best man?” He says it like a proposal.
It’s after that the two of us really get to drinking. The girls are out celebrating and me and Jack have all night. He says my sister cried when he asked her. That he was on one knee and she wept. He asks if I ever plan on making an honest woman of Eve.
At one point I suggest we hit the supermarket to get more drinks. But I don’t say supermarket, I say supermarche. And I know I’m pretty much gone. That’s when Jack tells me to wait a minute. He comes back from the kitchen with the good stuff.
“This is a celebration,” he says. “If we’re not meant to drink it tonight then we’re never meant to drink it.”
Later, when the TV goes to static and we’ve started drinking the whisky slow, Jack tells about when he was a kid and his Mum decided he’d be better off home schooled. “Two months we lasted,” he says. “But then my Dad found out and he got the courts involved. The funny thing is I loved school. I only put up with being at home for her.” He tells again about the time he met Quentin Tarantino. About how they stood side by side at urinals during the Monte Carlo Grand Prix. I’ve heard him tell that one a few times. He always uses the same punch line: “I looked down. Then Tarantino looked down. We made eye contact. I winked. Then Tarantino went pale.”
I ask Jack if he’s ever heard me tell about the time I got locked in a disabled toilet and had to climb into the ceiling. He’s heard it. I ask if I ever told him about my sister’s friend I refused to kiss during school who’s now a model in Japan. My sister told him that one. I ask if I ever told him Eve’s story. About the time someone left a puppy on her doorstep. “Someone’s told me,” he says. “Maybe it wasn’t you but I definitely know that story. How the puppy was just lying at the door wrapped in a blanket then they had that party and the puppy…Yeah, I know all about that one. It’s a good one.”
“What about the time with the Doctor. Have I ever told you that story?”
“What’s this?” he says.
“Man, this is a good one,” I say. “If you think the puppy story is a good one, wait until you hear this.”
So I start to tell him.
“I was in the pub at the bottom of the road. Normally I go to the shit one cos it’s quiet and cheap but I’d had a pretty tough week and decided to go to the nice one. You been in?”
“Only with you,” Jack says.
“Well anyway, they’ve split it into two sections so that the restaurant is completely separate from the bar. Means if anyone is eating they don’t have to put up with the drinkers. And the drinkers don’t have to put up with them. It was about lunchtime I went in. I hurried through the restaurant to the bar. The restaurant was mobbed but when I went through the curtain I was the only person. You can’t hear a thing from the other side. It even smells different in there. So I went up to the bar and ordered. I wasted my change on the puggy then grabbed a newspaper.
A couple of minutes later a guy came in. Well dressed. He had a scarf on. Leather gloves. He went up to the bar and I looked over the top of my paper at him. He ordered a whisky. But then he looked over at me and said to the barman, ‘And I’ll take a pint of whatever he’s having.’ I thought to myself here’s some old pervert. But fuck it, a drink’s a drink, right? Then he went and sat down in the other corner of the room, sipped the whisky then started on the pint.
The next time I went up to the bar I ordered a pint but then I thought, I know what I’ll do, and I said in a pretty loud voice, ‘And I’ll have a glass of whatever whisky he’s having as well.’ I said it so loud that the guy looked over. Then I took my drinks, sat back down and slammed the whisky in one.
After that, if you want to know the truth, I pretty much forgot all about him. I was getting lost in the papers and with it being so quiet in there I was thinking aye, I could really get used to this place. Maybe it’s worth spending that little bit extra for a classy joint like this. I was looking around thinking yeah, even just once a week as a treat I could come here instead of going to the shit pub. Now you’ve got to remember that I still had enough redundancy cash to last me another three months or so. I wasn’t even worrying about that. But then what happened was we synchronised, you know. I’d be at the bar then he’d be at the bar. I’d be at the pisser then he’d walk in. The second time it happened I said something like,’ Fancy meeting you here,’ you know, something stupid and the old guy laughed. Then he said, ‘Come here often?’ And I laughed. But then he said, ‘No, I’m asking. Do you come here a lot?’ I told him how I normally go to the other pub. ‘Is it always this quiet?’ I said and he said, ‘I don’t know. I don’t normally drink in the afternoons.’ ‘Yeah, me neither,’ I said, then went like that, whoooooop, with my nose.
By the time we sat down I’d worked out that this guy was pretty ruined. His eyes were slow and he was shaky on his feet. See, with the black curtain, it’s really dark in that section of the place and even though it’s lunchtime you always feel like you’re one drink away from last orders. So I said to him, ‘How come you’re in here drinking today then?’ and he rubbed his eyes and went, ‘I finish up next week. Decided to take a half day. What they going to do? Fire me?’ Then he started to laugh. This was the laugh to end them all. More to shut him up than anything else I said, ‘So what is it you do then?’ When he eventually stopped laughing, he said, ‘I’m a surgeon. At least I was. Now I’m a retired surgeon.’
‘Surgery?’ I said. ‘What type of surgery?’
‘Breasts mostly,’ he said. ‘Breast enlargements, breast reductions, breast uplifts, nipple corrections. Nipple tucks. That type of thing.’
‘Shut the fuck up,’ I said.
‘I’m serious,’ he said. ‘Breasts have been my life work.’
But he was smirking a bit and I said, ‘I wish they’d been mine.’
I started to imagine seeing them cut up so I said, ‘Does the novelty not wear off though? Do you not sometimes get sick of tits?’
He sipped the whisky and said, ‘Would you?’
I raised my eyebrows.
‘Well there’s your answer then,’ he said.
‘And you’re retiring man?’ I’d work that job to the death.’
‘We all get old,’ he said.
For a while we chatted about his retirement and I told him what had happened with my job. He said his name was Francis. That his Mother had named him after the Saint; brother of the poor, talker with birds. He asked me if my mother had been religious and named me after Saint Anthony. Said Anthony was Patron Saint of the lost. I said she’d named me after my Dad. He went up and bought us a round then later I did the same thing. We were just chatting to each other. It was good. And that laugh. When he got started. How contagious it was. I went up to the bar to get another round in and the bar tender, he goes like that with his dour plum-sucking face, ‘Yous two are going to have to keep it down or I’ll stop serving.’
‘Are you kidding on mate?’ I said, ‘There’s nobody here to annoy.’
‘Through there,’ he said, and pointed his thumb at the curtain.
‘Och lighten up man,’ I said.
‘I’m being serious,’ he said, ‘I mean it right. I’ll stop serving yous. I will, don’t test me. You wanting to test me cos you’ll see, I’ll stop serving. Just you wait, I’ll do it, blah, blah, blah and all that crap.’
So I took the drinks over and whispered to Francis, ‘We’ve been ordered to keep it down by the drill sergeant over there.’ He looked over at the barman and said, ‘Oh, right. I see.’ And for a while we stopped talking. Eventually I got round to telling him Eve’s story. I asked him, ‘Do you like dogs Francis?
‘I really like dogs,’ he said. ‘I love puppies.’
‘Aye,’ I said, ‘I bet you do. In your line of work.’
‘Funbags,’ he said.
Then that laugh.
The barman glared over and Francis held his hand up in apology. I ended up telling him how Eve made these posters describing the puppy. But stupidly, almost before anything else, she named him. I said how she called him Rory cos she thought his growl sounded like a baby lion trying to roar.
‘Aww God, the worst thing you want to do is name the damn thing,’ the Doctor said. Then he went, ‘I do that with breasts sometimes. You see a lot of women. Some come in with lopsided ones. Paps with personalities I call them.’
I ended up telling the guy how she put posters up three miles in every direction. He was leaning close in and I could smell his breath. I told him how Eve put ads on the internet, called the local paper. Then I said how that night she had to go to a party and didn’t want to leave the wee guy so she took him with her. I told him how everyone was fawning over the dog calling Rory, Rory, trying to teach him paw, trying to teach him fetch but the wee guy just wanted to stay with Eve and curl up in her chest.
‘It’s a very nice place to curl up,’ the doctor said.
I explained to him how one thing led to another and Eve ended up drunk. Rory was fine so she went mingling and eventually met this guy. Now this is a while before I knew her and I don’t mind admitting she ended up sleeping with the guy but I’m with her now, you know. As long as it was before my time, right?
I told the Doctor how Eve met this guy. I said, ‘I’m sure I don’t have to tell you Doc, but when you meet someone new like that and you both get those feelings you forget about everything else, don’t you?’ I told him how she claims she never forgot Rory, said she was just sure her friends would be looking after him, but for whatever reason she ended up in the bathroom with this guy, his name was fucking Colin or Charles or Clarence or something. Actually, why am I lying, his name was Craig. Just makes me fucking angry to say the guy’s name out loud.
Anyway, one thing led to another and they ended up shagging. So Eve says nowadays that she half remembers hearing scratching at the door. Half remembers hearing Rory’s growl. But I said maybe she just thinks that now because of the guilt and she couldn’t promise that wasn’t the case.
I was waiting on the doctor hugging me or something. Telling me that Eve was with me now so that other guy didn’t matter. That I must be much better if she chose me over him. That she must love me. But he didn’t. He just said, ‘Can you keep a secret Anthony?’
‘Aye,’ I said, ‘but gonna call me Tony, you’re making me feel old.’
‘I take photographs,’ he said.
‘You take photographs?’
‘It’s standard procedure.’
‘What is?’ I said.
‘No, no, no,’ he said, ‘in private practices it can be standard procedure.’
‘Fucking hell, you mean of the tits?’
‘What’s not standard practice,’ he said, ‘is keeping the pictures of the girls that end up going in a different direction. The ones that decide surgery isn’t for them or go to a different clinic. But I’ve not gotten to where I am by following standard procedure.’
‘You want to see a few?’ The Doctor said.
Now, you know me. You know how polite I am with strangers. I hate starting new relationships off on the wrong foot. So even though I’m feeling like a duty of care or something for these girls, that I’m worrying about all the times I’ve ever been to a doctors, about all the times Eve has ever been, I don’t say any of this to this Francis guy. I mean, in the back of my head I’m thinking about what doctors must have whispered to each other about her after an examination, but you know how polite I get. Did I tell you about the time I got my haircut by a racist barber? Well yeah, I didn’t want to upset him. I just let him carry on.
We ended up out the back of the pub. Lads together and all that. He had his arm around me and we were spilling pints everywhere. The doctor glanced about and when he was sure there was nobody around he opened his jacket and took a couple of Polaroids out his pocket.
‘Now these are only the ones I took today,’ he said.
He showed me these photographs of women against a white wall and they were topless. One of the women was covering her eyes with her forearm but the other was just staring straight down the lens.
‘She was good,’ the doctor said. ‘A Mizzzz Symington. Divorced. Very much the entertainer. She wants to enlarge from a 34C to a 34DD.’
And there was me man, staring at this girl’s tits. Unbelievable. Anyway, he went on to tell me how he has a room in his house where he has albums. He said when he first started taking the photographs he would never capture the face. He’d focus purely on the breasts. Nowadays he tries to get in as much of the face and body as he can. He told me I should see the haircuts. That the funniest thing about it all is the change in haircuts. He’s got photos going back twenty years, he said, you should see some of the hairstyles, God.
‘Do you remember all the women?’ I said.
‘Only the most recent. The most recent are always the best.’
We heard the door open and the Doctor stashed the photos back in his pocket.
‘Yous are still too noisy,’ the barman said. ‘It’s carrying all the way through to the restaurant. This is the last time I’m warning yous then you’ll be out.’
‘Our apologies,’ Francis said. He smiled at the guy. He had that charming bedside manner, you know. ‘My fault,’ he said. ‘Not the boy’s. I’m a retiree. We are having a retirement celebration. But we apologise. The noise will stop.’
‘Well okay then. That’s good then,’ the barman said.
We sat on the bench beneath the smokers’ heater and drank. Every so often I got a fit of the giggles and Francis shrugged or said something like, ‘Just one of the perks,’ or, ‘It’s a tough job but someone’s got to do it.’
We finished our drinks and I said to him, ‘You want another one?’ He looked at the glass for a while, checked his watch and said, ‘Afraid not young man, I’ll have to be going.’
‘It’s still early man,’ I said, ‘have another.’
‘It’s late for me,’ he said, ‘but have a few more. My treat.’ He dipped into his pocket and brought out some cash and handed me it. Thing is, behind the note was one of the Polaroids. The one of the girl with her hand across her face.
‘You made this day bearable,’ the doctor said.
‘Thanks,’ I said.
‘Enjoy the gift,’ he said. ‘And listen, don’t worry about your girl. Let me tell you, she’ll make a great Mother. Keep that in mind. If she did that for a puppy then think what she’d do for a baby.’
And with that the guy was gone.
I sat for a while and finished the dregs at the bottom of my glass. I was thinking about what he said. And then it started to dawn on me that maybe he was being sarcastic. Maybe he was telling me she’ll sleep around. And I couldn’t get this thought out of my head. That this Doctor, who has known more women than I’ll ever know, he was saying that my girlfriend wants to fuck other guys. I started getting that watery feeling in my mouth, you know, the biley feeling that comes just before sickness, but I managed to calm it down. Instead of buying more drinks I took the guy’s money and headed up the road. I stopped in at the Supermarket to buy a bottle of red and a couple of steaks so I could start making us dinner.
When we were eating I began to tell Eve all about him. But obviously I didn’t tell her everything. I just told her what he told me. About what he does.
And Eve stood up. Said we should call the hospital and tell them. Call the papers, call the police. I told her I didn’t even catch his name. That he was probably just a janitor with a wild imagination. But she said, ‘No, we have to do something. This is big, it’s sick. He’s a sick man. What pub was it?’ I told her I got the train into town and went to a pub near the station. The guy could be from anywhere.
‘I really can’t believe this,’ she said. ‘I feel like I’m going to be sick.’
‘This is why I can’t trust men,’ she said. ‘You hear stories like this and you know you can’t trust men.’
‘You can trust me,’ I said.
‘I can’t trust you. You know fine well I can’t trust you.’
‘That’s not fair,’ I said. ‘I’m actually fucking raging you’re even saying that. That’s fucking out of line.’
Eve walked away and sat in the kitchen. And you want to know what I did? I almost left. I almost went back down to the pub to try and find the guy. For a second I actually missed him.
Jack sits forward and shakes his head.
“Jesus Christ,” he says, “what a fucking psycho.”
“I know man,” I say.
“Look listen,” he says, “I was unfaithful once. It was ages ago.”
“What?” I say.
“I know, I know, sorry. But you’re my best man now. I need to tell you this stuff. It was so long ago, I’m talking years and well, you know how it is.”
“But that’s my sister, mate.”
I’m about to say something else when we hear a key in the door. We hear their voices in the hall and quiet laughter as they tiptoe about so as not to wake us. I hear Eve’s whisper and her footsteps pad on the laminate. And all I want is to tell her I’m sorry. That I’ll love her forever and I’m sorry.
This section: Love Poems, Stories and Tales from Glasgow writers
Filed under: Love Poems, Stories and Tales from Glasgow writers
- David MacLennan
- Maggie Graham
- Brian Hamill
- Paul McCafferty
- Louise Welsh
- Dave Anderson
- Ellen McAteer
- Frankie Gault
- Elaine Reid
- Allan Wilson
- Leela Soma
- John Hamilton May
- Denise Mina
- John Dingwall
- Paul McQuade
- Off Balance by Magi Gibson – a poem for Valentines
- Love Stories by Glasgow Writers. Sticky Love by Pauline Lynch
- The Carrbridge Rose – Brian Whittingham
- Love Sticky Lick by Jim Byrne, a love poem
- Valentine Haiku by Leela Soma
- A Poem for Valentine’s Day: I’m Counting by Rona Fitzgerald
- ‘Love’ a story by Maggie Reeve
- Past Love in the Museum of Transport – poetry by Ciara MacLaverty
- Dream Lover Two by Ian Macpherson – a love story for Valentine’s Day
- One Track by Maggie Graham – a love poem for Valentine’s Day
- ‘Fact’ by Magi Gibson – a love poem for Valentine’s Day
- Out of Sight by Ciara MacLaverty: a poem about love.
- The Question by Calum Maclean. A Love Poem (of sorts).
- First Love – a poem by Leela Soma for Valentine’s Day
- A Valentine’s Story: 24 Hours in the City of Love by James Carson
- Selkie’s Song by Finola Scott
- A Valentine’s Story: Status Update by James Connarty
- Love Poem by Stephen Watt: I Think I’m Falling In Love With Football
- Ars Technica, A Short Story by Paul McQuade
- Memoirs: An Old Photograph by Mary Irvine