Sunday, December 4

The Dog & Horse

When the announcement that the works had been signed-off spread – starting quietly at first and then cheered louder – everybody walked around and shook one another’s hand. It was the first time I had witnessed such a thing firsthand. I was sat at a desk, eating my lunch and formally commenting upon some drawings. All the contractors seemed very happy, because it had been such a hard slog and relief is a most pleasant thing. They started to ask—‘Coming down the pub?’ Why, yes, a celebration was in order.
The pub was around the corner and I had been there many times before with the contractors and builders. There were a great number of us and we occupied the place. It was two in the afternoon on a Monday, a time I was most unaccustomed to drinking through. This will get messy; once I begin drinking I find it difficult to stop. At first I lingered nervously in the centre of the room, alone, dividing my attention between the daytime t.v. being broadcast and the chatting groups around me. Such occasions, being both professional and social, fill me with discomfort. If I am not discussing work with someone, then I am being unprofessional. Any time it became too much for me, I would flee outside – the quiet side of the street – for a cigarette. After a few beers I was able to communicate, and did so. One of the client’s representatives on the project came to talk to me. Months ago he had not thought much of me at all, and I set out to change that reputation because I do not like to be thought of as a fool. I believe I have won him over. When he talked to me about work, I quickly changed the conversation to ask him about his family. It went back and forth like that for a while, yet I did enjoy talking to him. He apologised for giving me hell during the project, but I reassured him that, strangely, I didn’t take such things personally.
Later on in the evening the landlady appeared and I said hello. She informed me that my friends were there: her two dogs, lounging calmly in the corner on their respective beds. I went over straight away to greet them. I was very happy to stroke the dogs. A builder said to me—‘You’re reunited with your friends. Why don’t you steal one?’ I asked to him distract the crowd and I would do so. My friend – a friend I had made during my time on site – arrived. I embraced him. We caught up. It was going well. My boss had left and we were all laughing very much.
The evening continued. People dropped out, disappearing undeclared. Truly I liked many of the men I had met, had got to know throughout the course of the contract. It was sad for us all to part and carry on with our lives, or at least it seemed so to me. The landlady brought me out a bowl of chicken wings as consolation, then another and another. She did not even ask for a penny in return! just setting them down in front of me and smiling. I sat on a stool and devoured the chicken wings.
By eight o’clock I was quite merry. Because it was a Monday it felt like no day at all, but an isolated event offered out of the blue, one of a kind, nearing nonexistence. The people who remained were my favourites: drinkers, humorous, kindhearted; the best company. My friend suggested we move on. A stripclub seemed a good enough idea; I had never been to one before and curiosity caught me. I agreed and three of us got in a cab and went away into the night. My friend pestered the driver that he turn the radio up, that a certain song be playing. The car moved slow; we were travelling west to east; the lights glistened, speckled and broken, in the window; laughter in the slug of the taxi.
We stumbled out. The front was quiet, closed, unwelcoming except for the pink neons. It was not a proud establishment. Inside we were the only customers. I bought us a round. Immediately we were greeted by the dancers. I regretted my entry. How strange and how surreal! I did not want to be touched by them, but they touched me; as they did I froze and looked at the ceiling. I was becoming angry. I necked my beer. Big men stared at us. One woman began to grind up against my leg. I turned. Another woman appeared demanding money. I told her I had none. She called to one of the big men and I explained myself. A short while later it happened again. I could not bear it. My friends were enjoying themselves. I looked at them. I called time. Without saying good-bye, I sunk my beer and rushed out, the November night smothered me in its fine fog. I spat. The drink was consuming me now so that I could not walk straight. It was a joy to be out of there, but my mood had gone; all the happiness and inclusion I had experienced earlier had been swept away. I was close enough to my flat that I could walk home, even with my meandering across the pavement. It was something. I was there. I made it home.

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