From my novel “Here am I Sitting in my Tin Can.”
Impulsively I’ve decided to stay another night in Lancaster. Part of me wants to see James again; it was a weird adventure but I enjoyed his company immensely, our conversation engaging and diverse, from Nietzsche to Nostradamus, the influence of Somerset Maugham on George Orwell, both of whom are my heroes, the joy of writing and the misery of supporting Stoke City and Southampton respectively. Part of me, however, knows I will never see James again. But given my decision to stop another day I think my best use of time will be a leisurely walk down the Lune and a visit to the castle, then eat and drink and quietly see what happens. So around two o’clock I find a nice-looking pub called Merchants 1688 in Castle Hill as my pit-stop to observe the human race.
In a corner by the window, my pint in front of me, I practise my art of appearing in my own world yet listening to everyone else’s. On the table next to me there is a man, his wife, and two of their friends both male, one of whom is an ex-pat who’s flown over from Florida for a school reunion. Given that such an event has been mooted on Facebook for my alma mater, my interest is piqued. They are filling their bellies with food and their heads with nervous anticipation and excitement, wondering what happened to so-and-so and so-and-so and isn’t it amazing that such-and-such is now Lord Something or other? So I’ve rapidly gleaned that these were all in the same class, and the man and his wife were sweethearts therein and have stuck together since 1979, which is indeed remarkable if not miraculous, not least because I’ve also gleaned that he is a know-all and a prick.
“How’s your burger?” says the man, who is bald, to the man who’s flown in from Miami.
“Great,” replies the man who’s flown in from Miami and who isn’t bald.
“How’s your fish and chips?” says the man to the other man, who also isn’t bald but is receding.
“Very good,” the man who is receding replies.
“And I know you’re enjoying your mixed grill,” says the man who knows everything to his wife, who has hair freshly done for the do.
“I am,” she confirms superfluously because the man who knows everything already knew.
Nobody, I note, even his wife, asks the man who knows everything how is his steak.
Between mouthfuls, the man who knows everything goes on to describe how he discovered this pub, speaking as if the place didn’t exist before he discovered it, and how the reunion has been organised by him to the minutest detail, no stone unturned, no corner cut, nothing overlooked, nothing underestimated, from the choice of music, the decor in the room with the posters he’s made, and even the bar staff militarily drilled as to the kind of drinks everybody has stipulated so the barrels won’t run out. Hotels have been booked for those travelling distances and all expenses down to the last penny are ledgered for all who can be bothered to see on the spreadsheet he’s emailed out. When the party starts, in exactly three hours and forty-six minutes, if the man who knows everything has anything to do with it, everybody will have a damned good time whether they like it or not. But first, he decrees, they’ll enjoy their bite to eat and move in synchronisation to their separate hotels for a wash and brush-up prior to getting suited and booted for the main event.
Plainly in order to shift emphasis, the man with receding hair asks the man who’s flown in from Miami what, if anything, he misses about England. “Fish and chips I reckon,” says the man who knows everything, and laughs single-handedly. For a moment I break cover and glance up to see his wife is throwing me a private look.
“I know you’re writing about us,” she seems to say, “You’re pretending not to listen but I know you are. And I know you think my husband’s a know-all and a prick.”
“You’ve got me bang to rights,” I want to say, “Please accept my apologies.”
“Not a problem,” she seems to say, “He is a know-all and a prick.”
“You don’t love him then?”
“So why have you stayed with him since 1979?”
“There must be something you like about him?”
“Certainly not his tiny cock. Write that in your notebook.”
And so I do, because while none of the above has been spoken, it is worthy of note.
By now the meal has finished and the man who knows everything has told the waitress that nobody wants pudding. So the plates are being cleared away as he works out with superhuman precision what everyone owes for the tab. Once everyone has coughed up, no tip offered, the man who knows everything tells his throng that according to his watch that’s never wrong, it’s time to go and get ready for the bash. His wife and the man who is receding behave accordingly, but the man who’s flown in from Miami is disobedient; he’s staying put for a few more beers. Much to the man who knows everything’s chagrin, only three chairs are scraped back in synchronicity on the woodblock floor.
Now alone with the man who’s flown in, I decide to go in for conversation.
“I couldn’t help overhearing,” I say, “I gather you’ve flown in from Florida?”
“Three days ago,” he says, “and can’t wait to go home again.”
“So why did you come?”
“For this fucking reunion,” he says flatly. “I have family too of course, thought I’d come and say my last goodbyes.”
“Your last goodbyes?”
“Cancer,” he says, and I instantly regret my decision to converse.
“Sorry to hear that.”
“Thanks. I hate it here.”
“What do you hate so much about it?”
“Oh actually you know I guess that’s not true. I don’t hate it, I just love the US more. They make you work hard but they give you shit-loads for it. The weather, pool in the back yard, what more could I want? Apart from my health I guess,” he adds with a chuckle.
“What about the people?”
“You get the occasional asshole, take Trump for instance, but most of them are OK.”
“So I take it you’re not looking forward to this reunion?” I venture.
“I’m curious I guess,” he says, “to see how people are doing.”
“I couldn’t help observing it’s all been organised with minute precision.”
“You mean Superman? The guy who knows everything?”
“The guy who’s never been out of his back yard. The guy who’s never been anywhere and knows it like the back of his hand. It’s his wife I feel sorry for.”
“Me too,” I say, “She looked at me as if to say I’m sorry you have to listen to my husband, he’s a know-all and a prick.”
“Yep that’s Superman,” he says. “But I’ll tell you one thing he don’t know. I fucked his wife last night.”
And with a conspiratorial wink, the man who’s flown in from Miami gathers our two empty glasses with a clink and heads for the bar, while I sit here smiling, glad that I have stayed.