(c) Daniel Hunter 2013
It’s the first time Steve’s been out of the house since it happened. I pull on his hand and take a quick glance at his wrist. At those marks that scream. The hurt of a life crammed full of lies. I remember telling lies, to family, to everyone. Lies I used to tell myself, the biggest and saddest lies of all. So I look into Steve’s frowning face and squeeze his sweaty palm.
“Come on man, stay with me, you‘ll be fine,”
He smiles back at me. We reach the pub and stumble in. I’m flying. My brain floating around my skull as I nearly trip. There is a noisy hum of voices and laughter. That loud free laughter that comes only with a full pint glass. We head for the bar and Steve’s face becomes whiter as the seconds roll by. Alfie’s behind the bar, as he always is. He raises his eyebrows. I look back and order our drinks. Steve picks up his pint with shaky hands.
Everyone knows Alfie. He owns the place and works everyday. A squat little man with beady eyes that look hard at you, like he’s trying to work you out. Those little eyes glow as he solves the difficult sum of your life in cool, calculated seconds. He has a fixed grin. Probably thinks it’s good for business, and doubtless it is here in a boozer out in the sticks. Alfie’s made a career out of his jokes and tales. Amassing a repertoire of who was sleeping with whom and cheating on whom. Spending hours gossiping about Andy, the local dropout and what he’d bought on credit. Or laughing about old Jim who was drinking himself to death. But lately there was a bigger joke, me, who likes it gay.
We stand at the bar as Alfie whistles and serves the crowded bar. He runs a hand through his spiky grey hair and I wave to catch his attention again.
‘Double whiskeys, please’
‘Coke with that?’
‘As it comes, mate’.
Alfie’s eyebrows rise in mock surprise. His double chin creases as he smirks at me. I look straight back and watch as he measures stingy shots. I turn to Steve who’s scratching his chin and supping his lager. In a few seconds he’s drunk half his pint, his eyes darting around as he spills it down his front. I place whisky in front of him and keep looking at him, at his trendy retro quiff I tease him about, and his sad blue eyes. He flashes a nervy grin but keeps silently supping. I know how hard it must be for him. To be seen here. With me. In this small town. Where people talk. And how shocked his parents would be if they knew, coming from an even smaller town. They’d filled his head with tradition and dead values. So he grew to believe he was wrong, unnatural, sinful, godless. After a life rebelling he stands on the cusp of breaking through but it’s like he’s about to blink at the very last and stay afraid. Live afraid.
We both knock back more drink and shots. And as I get drunk I feel closer to him. The already strong bond strengthens. Alfie moves chairs and tables to create a small Saturday night dance floor. I touch Steve’s shoulder and nod but he shakes his head and bites his bottom lip. I can see the anxiety bubbling in him. It’s in every awkward movement and gesture. I grab his hand, laugh and tug at his arm.
“Come on. Have a dancccccce with me”
I begin to sway. Steve gets up and lumbers heavily out of time, like he always is. I don’t tease him, its not the time for that. I just do my best to say with a look that everything will be ok. I’m getting that funny drunk feeling. I’m becoming the music, the laughter, the night. I grab Steve and we move as one. He’s stiff and awkward but it doesn’t matter, we’re here and we’re together.
I keep holding on. The alcohol’s made everything melt away. The anxiety and the insecurity. The bullshit. And all that’s left is my connection. With him. Real and heartfelt. In some beautiful drunken daydream. I let go and can see by the softness of his face that Steve feels the same. Moving freely as the embarrassment fades away. He looks at me, his face filling with a big warm smile. I stop swaying and kiss him. A big kiss that has ached to be kissed for months. He pulls away, flushing a bright shade of red and runs to the toilet.
I lean against the wall and drain the dregs of my cider. Laugh to myself because Steve’s going to make it, we’re going to make it. A few songs roll by. I stop smiling and start to wonder if it’s too much for him. I rush after him. The clean white urinals are empty except for a sad stream of stale piss. I push the cubicle door open and ice cold fingers close round my heart. I breathe out as the sight of him fills my eyes. He’s kneeling with his head in a toilet and dry retching. Then he retches again and vomit comes spewing from the pit of his stomach and into the bowl. It has that reek of bile and old food. He breathes hard and looks up. Off green liquid runs down his chin.
‘I fucking love you, man’
I nod and laugh but I know there’s no going back. Local tongues will wag and Steve’s parents will find out. He already has the scars to prove how hard it will be. But he will be strong, real strong, because I will be there for him. Every step of the way, to support and love him. Always.
- Daniel Hunter has been writing for two years. slow going. had a second place in a flash memoir competition. clean toilets by day, stare into digital screen by night.