Random Writing 6

I staggered into the bar, hoping against hope that no-one I knew would be in there. It was a crowded Friday evening, though, the place packed with regulars and student pub-crawlers, and much to my annoyance I bumped into Meg almost immediately. Meg works in the same office as my girlfriend - they get on well, despite something of a personality clash. My girlfriend (Hannah) is an old-school protestant work ethic type of girl, turns up early and leaves late, and doesn't stop for breaks. Yes, thanks for asking, she is starting to develop ulcers. I once caught her replying to an email while I was going down on her (she'd surreptitiously swiped her blackberry from the nightstand), which I can assure you is not an entirely ego-boosting commentary on my oral skills.

Meg, meanwhile - or rather, "Meg in contrast", since although I say meanwhile in real life, I notice in print it makes it look as though I'm aware of what Meg was doing at that moment that the little click of buttons reached my ears and I peered through the little thicket of Hannah's pubic topiary to see her holding up the glossy black of the PDA and mouthing to herself the exact line she was going to take when replying to an accusation that she'd put the wrong figures into a sales spreadsheet - Meg in contrast was the kind of person who you could meet in a bar and chat for a few moments about facial injuries and not suspect in the slightest that she was the sort of person who would take five cigarette breaks before lunchtime and that even when she wasn't sitting outside the fire door (alarm disabled by the supervisor who wanted to be able to sneak off early to see his mistress) with a cigarette in one hand and a copy of Heat in the other, she would be rearranging the tiny china houses which covered her desk, trying and failing to chat up the security guard behind reception, or sitting in the spare chair behind Hannah telling her all the gory details of her last night's date.

In retrospect, given that last item, it is entirely possible that I know (or knew) what Meg was doing while I was making a sort of coughing noise to attract Hannah's attention, because Hannah is the kind of woman who extends her love life vicariously through her friends' anecdotes, and will tell me (whether I want to hear them or not) all the gory details over dinner.

So, Meg is there on her own - well, not quite on her own, but her date wasn't due to turn up for another hour, and she had arrived straight from work in order to spend an hour and a half drinking up courage (or to put it another way, removing an hour and a half's worth of drinking from the time between her date turning up and the two of them adjourning to somewhere that I would no doubt hear about from Hannah in the course of a meal next week).

I'd fortuitously arrived on her right, so I had the duration of her explanation in which I was able to buy a shot, down it, buy a pint and then make my way halfway to the bottom before I accidentally turned enough for her to be able to see the shiner I was sporting.

"Jesus, what happened to your eye?"

I reached up nonchalantly, which I don't need to tell you is exactly the wrong thing to do if you're still shaky from being on the losing side of a fight and have some drinks inside you. Instead of gently touching the swelling around my eye I poked myself in the eyebrow.

"Ah, ow, ow, ow!"

"Christ, don't jab it," Meg told me. "Did someone hit you?"

I nodded.

"Yep. At length. You should see the other guy, though." She raised an eyebrow skeptically. "Completely untouched. But you should see him anyway, he was some looker."

Meg folded up a napkin, dipped it into her drink, then reached it out towards my forehead. I leant back quickly.

"Woah, woah. What are you doing?"

"I'm cleaning it," she said.

"Did you learn your medicine from How Clean Is Your House or something? That's for cuts." I batted her hand away gently, and she pursed her lips and stared at me for a few seconds, then dropped the napkin back onto the bar.

"Does Hannah know?" She asked.

"Well of course, she was there holding my coa- No of course she doesn't know!"

"Oooeeeooo! I was just asking."

I waved the barmaid over and bought myself another drink and one for Meg too as sort of a peace offering. Although she can be profoundly stupid at times, it's obvious that she meant well. I explained to her the details of the fight - why Anderson had punched me in the face to start with, and then how I learnt that I was completely unable to hold my own in a fist fight while Anderson could not only hold his own, but those of several others.

"Damn," she said. "Sounds like I ought to meet this guy."

"Well he's handsome enough," I conceded, "but then on the other hand I'm pretty sure the story I just told might clue you in that he's not for you."

"Huh? Oh, the gay thing. Right." She made a faux-resigned face, then her eyes went glassy and she ducked her head down towards the bar. "Move to your left slightly," she hissed.

"What?" I went to turn around, but she grabbed my right arm and pinned me in place.

"Don't turn around. Move to your left slightly."

I did so.

"What's going on?"

"He's here early," she told me.

"Who?"

"My date. Robert Close. He's her early, and I am not nearly drunk enough yet."

I laughed a little, unable to help myself.

"Your date is Robert Close? The Robert Close?"

"Yes, goddamn it. Keep your voice down!"

I carefully looked round to my right, looking in the mirror and trying to find him in among the bottles of booze. Sure enough, there he was - Robert Close in the flesh, clearly trying not to be noticed himself. I was amazed that he hadn't asked for somewhere a bit less crowded to meet up, given everything.

"How do you know Robert Close?" I asked.

"We were at secondary school together, he had a crush on me. I was just interested in being friends, you know. We've got mutual acquaintances still."

I stared into the mirror. Robert Close, well well.

"Shit," said Meg. "I need more booze." She gestured the barmaid over with one of those tight little waves that you see people doing in farces. "Two triple vodkas," she told the girl, then pointed to me. "And whatever this guy is having."

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