Monday, August 1

Sweet Thing

For the wedding reception I decided I would dress smartly, in a full suit and tie, I would even polish my shoes. I planned to catch the seventeen-thirty train and so decided to spend my day doing absolutely nothing of any worth – my mood somewhat diminished from the night previous. At three o’clock in the afternoon I masturbated and then fell into a doze, oversleeping and finding myself in a rush to catch the train. I was unable to pick up anything substantial to eat, but found an empty seat next to the window. Perspiration covered me, so I removed my jacket to air off. Two pints of beer and a limp tuna mayonnaise sandwich from the buffet cart. The carriage was busy as we left the city, bearing north-east through two counties. The sandwich stuck to the inside of my mouth; I checked my cufflinks; wash the bread down with beer; the first beer is the quickest, then another. I looked out of the window throughout the journey. I arrived, the glad smell of leaves around the station of my destination, bowing thinly over the fence that lined the platform. There were roadworks going on and everybody was confused as to where they were supposed to go. I paused on a traffic island for a moment and looked around me. I considered the address of the wedding, somewhere out in the sticks and most certainly I would require a taxi. At the top of the rank, I approached a car, and rapped on the window, catching the driver by surprise. He was a one-armed cab driver. I considered his disability, but figured I was not his first customer and got in. He did not know where it was I wanted to go, and tried to type into the satellite navigation system with his one arm while still driving. I checked the integrity of my seatbelt. The car wobbled about the road. ‘For god’s sake, pull over,’ I thought—‘you’ll kill us both!’ The town was left behind and we were in the rich green of the countryside, the stench and sweetness of it bubbling in through the open window. ‘How much do you reckon it’ll be from here back to C—n?’ I asked. ‘About fifty quid, I reckon.’ He had a Suffolk accent—‘I can take you, if you want.’ I booked him for the journey back to my parents’, interested as I was with his single arm.
The venue was a newly converted barn nestled in a valley and concealed by thick trees. There was a gravel path that led to it. Inside I recognised not a soul and wandered around for fifteen minutes before going to the bar and then resuming my search. Some young men ushered me over. I sat with them awkwardly until I spotted my friend, the groom. He beamed at me. He is a lovely gentleman. I shook his hand and congratulated him. I asked him how it went, asked if he had brought his cat. We talked and then I said hello to the bride. Some more of my friends turned up and we spoke, then more old friends and it was good to see them all. My friend’s wife, who I had not seen in a long time, was especially good to talk to. We took it in turns buying rounds. A guitarist played music and sung in the background and the usual merriment was all around.
She, her, beautiful song walking through the crowd! She wore a blue dress that exposed her bra-less back and the faint tan-line of a missing strap. She had short blonde hair and large cheekbones and smiled everywhere she went. I could not pull my eyes away from her. In an instant she had overwhelmed me and I was a sucker for her. ‘Look at her, man! She is stunning!’ ‘Yeah, she’s nice.’
The first dance began, or so a crowd congregated excitedly and we gathered also to observe but could see nothing but hearing the music and the flashes of bulbs at the new couple. ‘What’s that song, jukebox?’ my friend asked me. I shut my eyes and squeezed them together—‘It’s a cover of Van Morrison’s Sweet Thing, but I dunno the artist.’ ‘Ah, yes,’ everyone said, nodding. I added—‘Never heard this song at a wedding before.’ ‘Let’s go to the bar,’ a friend said. ‘Nah, stay! Enjoy the moment. We’ll go in a bit.’ They cheered the couple; not a sight of my friend dancing, but I could imagine it. I got us another round of beer and shots. Often I would retreat from the barn onto the lawn, where there were twinkling lights and small groups of people chatting and laughing. It was there I alone would stand and breathe in the country.
Five-and-a-half hours seemed too few to spend at a wedding, so I tried to absorb as much as I could. I was becoming more and more drunk, but in good spirits with it. I stood at the edge of the dancefloor and enjoyed watching all the dancing people smiling and having a good time. It was a pleasure to observe them. Naturally my eyes fell on the girl in the blue dress. She danced quite unspectacularly, but her smile and beauty were enough; I did not like to stare, so would only gaze for a moment, before forcing my eyes away, and being as subtle as I could be. Then, from nowhere, a drunk approached and began rubbing himself against her. She tried to move away, but he persisted. He ground himself into her and she was not happy; her smile had gone, but I watched watched watched staring and becoming angry. ‘Look at this cunt,’ I said to my friend. ‘Will you stop staring at him,’ he said—‘You look like a fuckin serial killer. You got the eyes of a serial killer.’ ‘But look at him!’ When the drunk would not leave her be, she took him by the arm and angrily led him outside, where they sat down on the stone steps and talked. I went for another beer and shot. When I returned she was coming toward me—
‘Are you okay?’
‘Are you okay? That fella looked like he was pissin you off?’
O, that’s my boyfriend!’
She was so beautiful—‘Your boyfriend? Fuckin hell… But, are you okay?’
‘Yes, I’m fine, thanks.’
I moved away, embarrassed. It had been none of my business, of course, but he angered me. It was none of my business. She was beautiful. She was none of my business. It was none of my business. I necked my beer and then got another and a shot to wash it down. I was quite drunk now and hungry but the hunger would fuel the alcohol, so I refused to eat. By the end of the night I went to the dancefloor, good and merry to dance. ‘One more round!’ I said to my friends—‘My round. One for the road.’ We danced and it was something I had not done for some time, but it was fun. In my stupour, I stopped absorbing my environment. Floating on a sea of booze. I had lost everyone. The lights came on. My bag was in the back, where the bride had stashed a change of shoes. Did I say good-by to anyone? I do not remember. On the way out, the girl in the blue dress was sat straight and elegant on a chair, waiting. Without thinking what I was doing, and ready to make a quick exit lest he overhear, I bent down to her—‘Excuse me. You are absolutely stunning. You should leave your idiot boyfriend. You deserve so much better than him.’ She looked at me bemused—‘Uh… thank-you?’ ‘You’re welcome,’ and I fled. Before he could get any sniff of me, I was in the darkness of the country, negotiating myself back up the gravel path, the stones crunching beneath my feet. It was pitch black and not a thing to be seen. He would never catch me. I shook my head at myself; it had been none of my business; she had been none of my business. I was a drunk fool, no better than he! My cab was waiting, a light on inside, illuminating his one arm. I said hello, told him my parents’ address and fell asleep. She was none of my business.

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