Saturday, 6 June 2020

'Nap of the Cloth' by Steven John

Fifty-five years is a stretch to know someone as a friend. Okay, there are some who glue themselves together that long in marriage, but a friend. Fifty-five years is a long time as a friend.

‘Fifty-five years,’ we say, and shake our heads, glasses to our lips.

We take turns to pick the hotel. He goes for the exclusive country house. I’ve kept up, hidden the bills from my wife. He scrunches his classic Jaguar up the gravel driveway. I’ve parked my hatchback around the back by the kitchen bins.

I compliment him on his shoes, gleaming black with a splinter buckle. He tells me the shoemaker’s Italian name which I pretend to know. He tells me he bought them off an internet auction for half the normal price.

‘I wear dead men’s designer shoes. You should try it,’ he says and hands me the menu. ‘You order.’

He reckons I know more about food than he does. I think we’re both relieved there’s something. He says he’s never heard of bouillabaisse.

‘Fish stew,’ I say, ‘Let’s try it. We can’t eat fish at home. My wife’s lips swell up.’

He selects champagne from the list. I could buy wine-in-a-box to last me three weeks with the same money.

*


Over our bouillabaisse we talk about our respective offspring. His are straight A students, all still at home. He pays £300 a week to keep two refrigerators topped up with organic food. Mine have decent enough jobs in hospitality.

‘We get on with them fine now they’ve gone,’ I say.

We talk about our wives over the main courses. Parts of their bodies they’ve lost over the years and some they’ve gained. How long since we were intimate with them.

‘Things are pretty good in that department,’ he says.

‘We don’t sleep in the same bedroom,’ I say.

He tells me about his affair with a work colleague. I tell him about the affair I nearly had. We tell the waitress how much we enjoyed the fish.

The conversation turns to sex, which lasts through dessert and cheeseboard. We go over old ground. When we shared a flat, we did alright. We replay names and faces. Girls that stayed for a night or a year. His girlfriends were beautiful. Mine - more on the quirky side.

‘It’s all going to change,’ he says. ‘Doctor gave me some bad news last week,’ and he looks in the direction of his lap.

‘Mate, I’m sorry. Curable nowadays.’

‘Depends on your luck,’ he says.

We ask for coffee to be taken in the snooker room. We toss a coin, chalk the cues, run our palms over the nap.

This is how it was. Friday night, clean shirts, pressed jeans, best of three before the pubs open. Reggae music in the snooker club, smoke filled low hanging lights. Adrenalin high, expectation higher. Kitchen table post-mortems.

We were equals then. Everything to play for.

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