"Needed Encounters" by Stephen J Regan
Office life in South Yorkshire, dull as it sounds, relentlessly so today. He toils though his lunch hour, stops at 3pm. Needs wine.
Jamie’s brought to work a microwaveable lunch, risotto with chorizo. Must be taken with red wine. Fuck tea. Fuck the office staffroom.
No wine at work, but a crap hotel bar nearby. So he nukes the risotto, hides the steaming pot in a big brown envelope, then walks to the hotel with it. There’s no point eating any of the food served in this hotel restaurant. It’s over-priced and shouldn’t, in any case, be taken internally.
He enters the bar area – there’s no barkeep. He yells ‘medical emergency in the bar!’ through to the back via a staff doorway. No response. Louder – ‘medical emergency in bar!’ – a scowling barmaid appears. He recognises her. Debs. Bless.
He loves her face. It betrays a life of sorrow, reminding him of a framed picture of Our Lady which hung in his grandma’s parlour in Sheffield in the ‘seventies.
Debs is annoyed – but only momentarily. She recognises him. He’s done this before. Come in here, shouting the odds, just because the bar staff are too busy helping in the restaurant to serve him straight away. She thinks he has nice eyes – even as she eyes up with suspicion the large brown, steaming, stinky envelope under his arm.
Jamie explains to Debs, gently and reverently (because he’s still thinking of Our Lady, in all her grief at losing her son on the cross), that each time he’s entered this
bar there’s been no-one serving. Annoying.
Debs starts making excuses but stops, her scowl quick-slips to a smile for this man in clear need of a drink. They laugh at how awful employers are. She over-pours his measure, deliberately – super-large glass! He over-tips her. Then outside to a bench overlooking the car park, for lunch and a smoke.
Food from a brown paper envelope, by a crap hotel near Doncaster. Has his life really come down to this? After the London years and all? But the grub’s good – and the wine.
He burps, fumbles in pockets for a fag. Shit! He’s left them on his desk. Now a man has joined him on the bench – a slinger from the building trade who’s just been sacked. The slinger gives Jamie a cigarette, then another. They laugh at how awful employers are.
Jamie goes back to bar. Yells ‘medical emergency!’. Debs’ face appears. He orders more wine – and a beer for the slinger.
He needed these encounters.