[Part 2 HERE]
Back in his hometown. Back from a misspent year in drab Johannesburg. He’s drunk, drunker than I’ve ever known him to be. Definitely a problem supporting each tall, quick drink. I don’t want to know what it is. I know that I’m being selfish. I absorb myself with more happy hour draught. For some reason, the beer’s golden colour has mutilated into a sickening yellow. Like piss. I take the biggest swallow that I can.
The Monk’s Inn, or the Hole as we fondly call it, is our refuge from work (that is, when we’re employed and the pathos that we sometimes become. Although, there are the occasions where it does the reverse, like thrusting a mirror in our nose so that our brain can look at everything but vanity.
But it doesn’t help to begin the evening with any thought but that of escape. After seven years of been a regular, I discover no problem with initiating that. Soon I’m lost in that time poised between the stroke of a cue, the observation of breasts, a sip of brew and the crack of the white ball against objectives.
Then I’m with the actual events and the band plays to the throng that’s us. As usual, the music’s too loud but no one asks for it to be lessened. We rather shout for conversation or sing along to The Cure and its ilk.
It’s four games before I foul on the white and watch my weed-high opponent attack and deposit his balls. I’m ejected from the arena.
My drunken timing’s immaculate. I follow John’s gesture to see Linda arriving with husband in tow. I wave wildly and they head towards us. The B.F.Q.’s complete.
“Howzit Linz. Hi Barry.”
“And Franky’s back!” Linda yells. “God, it’s good to see you.”
She hugs him hard so that half his drink spills down his shirt and onto his pants.
“Wet dick,” John offers.
“Pisshead,” I join in.
Franky ignores us. With his first genuine smile of the evening, he stands quickly, pours a little beer onto Linda’s blonde head, and, before she can move, hugs her and plants a kiss on her lips. From the far side of the table, I have a view of the grimace on Barry’s face. Good. John noticed as well and is right behind me to repeat the affection.
“I’d better buy some drinks before happy hour’s over,” Barry excuses himself.
“You’d better hurry,” I warn. “There’s only fifteen minutes left.” I tell him this with the knowledge that the five jugs beneath the table are probably sufficient for all of us. He rushes away. Without a friendship with the overworked barmaids, there’s no way in hell that he’ll get drinks in time. Inside, I smile nastily.
Franky decides to brave the toilets for a piss that makes John conscious of the same desire. Linda and I are alone in the midst of a table rocked by over a hundred and fifty drunken spirits. I cling to my half-empty beer glass and when she grabs for hers after a particularly hard bump, I’m again grabbed by how pretty she is. Her left sleeve spoils that thought. As she reaches for that betraying glass, it stretches and pulls back. The bruise is ugly.
“Fuck it, Linz,” and my glass topples as I lurch for her other arm and pull at her other sleeve. Snap. “I’m gonna kill that bastard!”
“Bullshit ‘shut-up’. He’s walked to the end of this rope. I’m your friend. We all are, goddamnit. We love you.”
“Stop it … now.” I hate it when she cries. “We’ve been through this before. This is my life. Mine, you hear. My pain. My choice. Let it alone … please.” She swabs her tears with a hand. “He’s a good man. He just has a few problems.”
“Yeah, me. Problem uno fucking numero uno.” We only use twelve percent of our brain (although I’m confident that some use less) and it’s probably alcohol that unlocks the storage bin of swearing. Fuckin’ A, I affirm.
“Please,” she begs.
My attitudes smouldering. She’s right. We’ve been here before. Don’t like it.
Miracle glass. It never broke. I wipe the wasted brew off the Formica top. My hand’s gonna be sticky. I lick it and with the same hand grab a jug to change the poor condition of my full-empty glass. Down-down. Pour another and clink against Linda’s glass. “Cheers, lady.” I lie with a thrown smile. Mollified, she relaxes.
Perfect (or imperfect) timing. Barry’s back. A drink for him. A drink for Linda “Love”. Bastard never bought us a round. He’s noticeably displeased at seeing Linda with a beer already in her hand. Good. That self-centred observation aids his failure in noticing her reddened eyes.
“Full price for these bloody beers,” he whines. “When they going to hire better barmaids. More … and fire those conceited bitches.” I’m sure that Cath and Ronel (the aforementioned bitches) would appreciate his concern.
My coin is next up on the pool table. I’m rescued … for now.
The boys are back. Franky nods that he’ll partner me and brave the pool game with his alcohol-hazed head. He’s shooting well. Way above normal. I, of all people, know what this means. Bad thoughts are being unleashed on those poor balls. Franky’s always been the joke-filled one so I’d volunteer myself for a devil’s braai if this never involved a woman. Besides, I’m experienced at this. Damn. Now the B.F.Q. was truly complete.
I regret what I’m about to do. Isn’t self-wallowing enough?
“Tell me what’s wrong,” I ask with my sincere, look-inside-you look accompanying. He appears to stay a dam but in his eyes I see the Red Sea verging on parting. “I’m your buddy, aren’t I? Telling me can’t make things worse.”
I am Moses. In-between shots, he opens up. What a damn mess.
“… She wasn’t like the girls I’ve known in Durbs … she was a woman … classy, confident…” He misses the maroon ball so hard that the white bounces off three sides before sinking our blue ball. “I love her.” Another ball in the hole. “I pitch at her place one morning … it was a Tuesday, raining, early … I wanted to put a smile on my face before work. She was reluctant to let me in … said that she was tired … but I get inside … tell her I’ll give her a massage. She’s wearing her Garfield nightie. The one that I bought for her. Real sexy in it … doesn’t wear underwear.”
A slice and another clonk into the centre pocket. The black ball is the last. It rests on the far cushion. Franky takes an enormous swig of beer, hands me his glass, positions himself, hesitates for some reason, and then, with a lack of confidence, plays the shot. The black ball gets hit but the white ball kamikazies onto the floor. Our opponents are grinning. Their balls are all set up.
Franky doesn’t speak or move. His eyes are glazed. I take the cue from his hand and give it to the enemy.
“And then?” I prompt him.
He swallows the beer and a lot of air.
“Another woman steps into the lounge. She’s naked, Mike … unembarrassed. A real stunner. I’m stunned. I look away, pretend to Jacqueline that I’m unimpressed, that my eyes are only for her.”
I try to imagine the situation. Can. Goddamn incredible.
He continues: “It’s her face that fucks me over – gives her away. I think that there’s relief there … like she wants to be given away. ‘Frank’ she reckons. This is Tamulla’ (like Waltzing Matilda). ‘We’ve being seeing each other for three months now. I’m sorry it happened this way. I wanted to tell you. Truly … I just didn’t know how. I care about you but this is who I am. I know that now.”
“BITCH!” he yells and reinforces his opinion with a hard punch into the wall.
He doesn’t say goodbye. I’m glad ‘cause I wouldn’t know what to reply. He leaves hurriedly. The others look at him curiously.
He leaves me with a fantasy in my head.
The enemy sinks the black ball.
[Part 4 HERE]