The weekends, though more preferable, were becoming as predictable as the workdays.
Garbutt was enjoying his first pint of the evening in the Coach. Groups of people were scattered around but there was also some men in that most natural of unions, old age and isolation, a sight not in any way unusual. Garbutt was close to sixty but still looked young enough to appear out of place when alone, a compliment of a sort, even though he half wished himself another ten years older so that he could fall into solitude without awkwardness.
Old men were often on their own, their wives gone before them, and would probably not care to look for a replacement. They waited for their own fall from the roundabout so that they could go to the same place where their loved ones resided. Where that place was, was unclear, but it was for certain the same place.
Where do I go when I die, Garbutt asked himself? Another perfectly comprehensible query yet another that was impossible to answer, just like one of Dorsett’s big questions. He would try to inscribe the thought into his head before the beer, like a tide, overflowed the sand to rinse away all previous imprints.
The thought took his mind away from the drink and he barely noticed that he had almost finished another pint. He threw the last inch of it down his throat and stood at the bar, smiling a greeting to Harriet, who, familiar with his choice, served him another.
The collision of an elbow next to him turned him sideways and he saw Dorsett exaggerating a jolt of his head in surprise at an apparently coincidental meeting.
‘Hello Garbutt.’ he said. Garbutt returned the greeting with a nod and was about to pay for his drink when Dorsett intervened. ‘Let me get that for you.’
Garbutt knew the offer would mean taking part in conversation, a prospect that didn’t galvanize him, although he was curious to discover how the talk would develop with alcohol rather than coffee to help it along. As they waited for the beers to arrive, Dorsett looked about the pub.
‘It’s the first time I’ve been here.’ he said, ‘Is this your local, Garbutt?’
‘One of them.’ he replied. ‘The other is the Dog down the road.’
‘The Dog? Do I know it?’
‘Obviously not. Otherwise you wouldn’t ask.’
Dorsett laughed as he paid for the drinks.
‘I asked for that.’ he said.
They turned to look for a suitable place to sit as the pub was beginning to fill up. Garbutt gestured to the ledge near the gambling machine and they walked over and placed their drinks on it.
‘So what brings you in here?’ asked Garbutt.
‘The need for a drink, of course.’
Garbutt didn’t believe him but stayed quiet. He watched Dorsett look directly at him and knew another question was coming.
‘You come here on your own, don’t you Garbutt?’
‘Derek told me. He says even when you come out with him you end up drinking on your own.’
‘Derek sometimes gets into conversations with others, like the Irish corner over there. So he isn’t left alone. I leave him to it and take a walk.’
‘Don’t you like the Irish corner?’
‘I have no reason to dislike them. But you can’t join a group that’s already half drunk when you’re having your first pint.’
‘You could drink faster.’ said Dorsett, smiling.
‘Or maybe I could ask them to slow down?’ replied Garbutt seriously. With alcohol inside him he felt more confident in the confrontations, and this was his home ground.
‘Did you have a look at that book I gave you?’ asked Dorsett. ‘The one with the Mobius Strip?’
‘I read a few pages. It’s a shape that means infinity.’
‘Don’t you think it weird that someone could create something like that?’
Garbutt corrected him. ‘It wasn’t created. It was discovered.’
Garbutt watched him take another drink, one that he thought wasn’t necessary. Dorsett licked the foam from is upper lip.
‘And did it get you thinking?’
’About what exactly?
‘How something can be without end.’
Garbutt looked to the ceiling in mock concentration and then shrugged his reply.
Now he felt like playing games. He knew that he was in that place of early drinking where the beer would stimulate him, not cascade his thoughts to crash into one another in a rush to be expressed. Dorsett kept at him.
‘Did you think of any big questions tonight?’
Garbutt almost mentioned the one he’d had earlier about the unknown destination of the dead but resisted.
‘No. No big questions, either.’
Dorsett gave him a look that wasn’t pleasant, one that seemed to know what he was up to. He changed the subject.
‘Derek said that you’d never go into a pub that didn’t play music. Yet I can’t hear any.’
Garbutt looked across and saw the DJ setting up his speakers.
‘Five minutes.’ he said. ‘I can even tell you what record he’ll start with.’
‘So what music do you like?’
‘It doesn’t matter what music it is. If it evokes, then that’s enough.’
‘Evokes what?’ asked Dorsett.
Garbutt felt that he was being led on a path against his consent. If he couldn’t use logic to escape it he would mess it up with mischief.
‘Whatever it is it evokes.’ he said.
‘Do you mean memories? Things that have happened in the past?’
‘Sure.’ said Garbutt. ‘The older you get, the more you have.’
‘Don’t you think of anything else?’
‘I don’t know. Anything.’
Garbutt had had enough.
‘Why do you ask so many questions, Dorsett? Where the fuck are you from? Where do you live?’
‘That private estate.’ He said, gesturing towards the window, ‘The Park.’
Dorsett stifled a belch before replying.
‘There is no such road, Dorsett.’
‘Are you saying you know all the roads in the Park? It’s a big place.’
Garbutt wagged a finger at him.
‘You see, that’s a mistake right there. If the address you’d given was genuine you would have said, yes there is. But you paused to give yourself time to answer, and then you deflected my question with one of your own. You could have said 14 Gainsbrough Road, The Park. But you didn’t because there’s no such road, is there?’
Dorsett lifted his empty glass and clinked it against Garbutt’s.
‘Drink up. I’ll get you another one.’
‘No you won’t.’ said Garbutt, ‘It’s my round.’
It was only when he stood at the bar that he realised Dorsett’s interrogation had been discontinued by his timely offer, one which he knew would end the conversation.
When he returned Dorsett was gone. Garbutt placed the drinks down on the ledge and considered the possibility that he’d gone to the toilet but had a strong suspicion, based on nothing but intuition, that he would not be coming back. For someone he knew little about, he felt uncomfortable with the thought that he could accurately predict such a thing.