I never thought the two of us would’ve ended up doing this again. It’s nice. We’re sat opposite each other in a nice secluded booth, in a bar with a distinct 50’s American diner feel. There are a few nameless people sat at the other tables, but no one pays much attention to anything going on. It’s nice. But we’ve hardly spoken in the last few minutes, and I’m struggling to find something to say. Rita seems more engrossed in the menu, while I wait to decide until the last minute. I take another look around the diner – customers are filling their faces with random combinations of food. Looks like one dude is chowing down on a large frankfurter dipped in marmalade. Each to his own I guess. The waiter shows up holding a clipboard, and wearing a hard hat which I’ll admit seems like an odd choice of uniform. He stares at me expectantly, wondering what I’m going to order. Rita is still choosing so it’s time for me to make a decision. I look out the window for some inspiration - nothing to see. No, literally nothing. No people, or roads. No buildings or trees. No sun or rain. No white or black.
Rita puts the menu down and stares straight at me. She asks what I’m going to do now. Then, without warning or explanation, I’m flying through the city streets – Matrix style! Cars and busses are lifted off the ground in my wake as I rush to catch something. No, someone. Someone’s falling from the top of that building. Time is running out. I’m too late.
* * *
08:01: I wake up with a start, banging my head on a poorly placed plank of wood above the bed that is supposed to act as a shelf. I’m sweating – a fact made even worse by the fact that I’m still in half the suit I was wearing last night. I try to work out where I am, and how the hell I got here. I look to my right – a mixture of shock and disbelief washes over me when I realise I’m not alone. The fragments start to piece together in my head despite the onset of a mild concussion from that stupid shelf.
We got a room last night. And if I’m honest the room wasn’t half bad. Room 121 was one of the so-called ‘Executive Suites’, with a separate lounge away from the bedroom. It still felt like an Ikea showroom but at least they’d put some thought in to it. The room was quickly filled with eight up-for-it party revellers and one slightly guilt ridden and cautious radio DJ. It turned out that trying to score a room off a hotel manager who seemed to have a small bowel movement every time your fathers name is mentioned isn’t that difficult. The guy was still crawling, trying so hard to apologise that he gave us the room for free. It made me feel a tad guilty, but he insisted. I wasn’t going to argue, although I did apologise for what had happened earlier. He was very understanding. Anyway the Shapiro’s came with us, Max & Lucy, Raph, Rita and me, eventually joined by Karim and Brad who were so disappointed that their wedding guests were leaving – they just didn’t want it to end!
I think the idea was to have a lock in – go all rock n’roll by raiding the mini-bar, trashing the room. Karim even dared his other half to throw the chunky TV out the window, but thankfully he declined. Everyone knew who the sensible one was in that relationship then! In the end it wasn’t so much of a party – it just wound down to a nine-person chill out.
“Anyone here just feel really…” Jenna looked up hoping to find the word spelt out in the white speckled ceiling.
“Old?” asked the other head known as Rick.
No one answered, I don’t think anyone dared. We all just stared in to our empty Champagne glasses, seemingly searching for all the things that had slipped us by – youth, vitality, friendships.
“Hey who wants to watch a film?” Max screamed, grabbing hold of the card off the top of the TV. Everyone half agreed in the form of a moan while he searched for the remote like an excitable dog, leaving his wife looking on.
“Funny isn’t it?” Lucy asked watching her husband in semi-wonderment. “How things never turn out quite the way you expected.”
“Oh I don’t know” Jenna says, staring in to the eyes of her other half. “Dan’s doing what he always said he would do!”
“I don’t remember Danny-boy proclaiming that he would shag anything with a pulse!” By this time Karim had consumed so much alcohol he was in full-on stereotypical bitchy mode.
“Yeah, so how is that working out for you?” Lucy asked, crossing her legs towards me. “What happened to the one girl for me routine?”
The eyes of the entire room were flickering between me and Rita, who continued to keep her composure under such gazes. I on the other hand hadn’t felt this uncomfortable since I filmed that comedy panel show and the host asked me to re-enact the music video to the Spice Girls ‘classic’ Wannabe.
“You must’ve been getting more action than a top of the range porn star!” Rick screamed a little too loudly, betraying just a hint of jealousy and regret. In the meantime I couldn’t think of anything to say, instead looking for a quick exit – the window seemed as good a chance as any!
“Aw leave the boy alone!” Max requested, finally locating the TV remote. “He’s just doing what anyone else in his situation would be doing!”
“I don’t remember Terry Wogan or Jimmy Saville sticking their dicks in anything that moved!” Lucy said, folding her arms.
“They would’ve if they could’ve!”
Half the group leapt on the opportunity to scream a much needed catch phrase “Jangly-jangly-jewellery- jewellery!”
The TV sprang to life and Max started flicking through the channels. As usual, despite there being more choice than paying guests (which to be honest may not have been that many so a possible bad analogy there) there was still fuck all on – at least until the commercial break came on. And then it started.
“Yo!” Rick’s scream was so loud it managed to wake his slumbering wife who for just a few seconds was so unconscious she dribbled a little on his shirt. “Look! It’s her, it’s, y’know…”
Suzy had briefly mentioned about appearing in some TV ad campaign, though she’d never mentioned what for – I’d never given her the chance. That was just before things had ended. I think she may have been searching for something interesting to tell me. Of course I’d taken no notice. But I certainly was now, along with the rest of the nation no doubt, and my current comrades. Buying a can of deodorant had never looked so essential to the male arsenal in the ongoing battle of the sexes.
“You broke things off with her?” Karim’s entire being demanded an immediate explanation.
“What a twat!” Rick’s increasingly high-pitched and increasingly annoying voice declared everyone’s feelings, mine included. There was no denying, she looked amazing. In those moments I was more concerned about people’s eyes burrowing holes in to my skull than what I was thinking about Suzy. A respite came when the ad ended, and Max started channel hopping again, so we could all start something more sociable, like a conversation - more difficult than you would’ve thought. Once we’d entertained the usual of the weather (which was now close to something resembling a small hurricane judging by the noise from outside), the state of the economy and whether marriage is actually worth it anymore, there wasn’t much left to say. Everyone soon started drifting off to their own mini-groups, with Rick & Jenna pairing off in predictable fashion, promptly followed by the newly-weds who involved Raph in a quest for some kind of legal advice. And with Lucy moving to chat to her old house-mate and Max seemingly as content as his offspring with a TV remote in his hand, I found myself the spare wheel yet again. Only this time I decided to use it.
* * *
I stepped in to the adjacent room and pulled out my mobile, searching through the contacts before realising that I’d stupidly deleted it in a fit of rage when things ended. Fortunately I’d dialled the number so many times it was practically engrained in my head. The very second that I pressed the call button every molecule of saliva evaporated from my mouth. I even found it a little tricky to hold the phone steady to my ear, my hand started really shaking. And then to cap it off, I realised I had literally no idea what I was going to say. If you were to search even the deepest recesses of my mind at that moment you’d have found it looking more like a giant empty white aircraft hanger with a tiny budgerigar called Joey chirping away in his cage in the corner. My left ear was registering the ongoing ring tone, while the right could easily register my increased thumping heartbeat, which increased an entire octave when there was finally an answer.
“Yeah?” The question was shouted down the line, backed up by what sounded like a gaggle of loud hens in a games arcade. “Hello??” Maybe it was the background noise but the voice sounded a little drunk, and manly. “Look who the fuck is this?” I realised I should probably speak, but hearing a blokes voice on the end of the line completely threw me, even if it was slightly familiar, and all I could seem to manage was a couple of large sighs as I tried to put together some form of oral communication. Unfortunately this could have turned in to some kind of scary heavy breathing which wouldn’t have sounded that good on the other end. “Look man fuck off! She ain’t gonna talk wiv you!” Maybe I’d dialled the wrong number and by some weird coincidence had got through to one of the moronic staff at the Major Hotel. The phone went dead and like a nervous school boy I pressed redial, at least this time with a little more idea of what I would say. But as the phone continued to ring there was more commotion in the room next door than what I’d heard on the last call.
Imagine a scene from a really old, bad western movie. The hero walks through those swinging wooden doors, the bar is filled with dodgy piano music and the patrons either laughing and joking over a few shots of whisky, or punching the crap out of each other after losing a card game or a bet, or some other pathetic excuse. Now swap that scene for the inside of a modern re-interpretation of Fawlty Towers, with the doors barely opening all the way because the carpet hasn’t being fitted properly (and on closer inspection one of the hinges is coming off), there’s two patrons in the corner barely able to keep their hands off each other (Karim scrambling all over Brad in a fit of drunk, inhibition-less wedded passion looks more like a huge bear that’s been scurried all over by a small ferret!) while another group of patrons are gathered round waiting for one of their comrades to beat the living shit out of the other. You’d just never expect the stand-off to be between husband and wife.
“You hypocritical bitch!” Max’s face was so red I thought what little hair he had on his head was about to explode on to the poorly fitted cheap chandelier above him. “After how you carried on with that ponsy-ass arty-fartsy French fuck!” The air was almost sucked out of the room as everyone took another gasp of disbelief. Another infidelity, and in the same marriage – it was fast turning in to a really bad soap opera. Think 80’s classic Crossroads, but with a worse set!
“That is completely different Max. He didn’t get me pregnant!” Everyone took a step or three back, clearing some room as Lucy seemed to expand with rage.
“He got her pregnant?” I suddenly realised Rita was stood right next to me, riveted as anyone else by the unfolding drama.
“That I didn’t know!” Christ no wonder there was fallout at the office earlier!
“And then there’s Aubern Audrey, isn’t there Max?” Lucy’s seemingly innocuous remark sent Max’s face crimson red, presumably with embarrassment. We all stood around for a couple of minutes, waiting for an explanation (well, all except me who knew the whole sordid tale but thought better of regaling the current crowd!). To be honest I think Max was lucky she didn’t tell the whole story herself; she just let it hang there like one of Bungle’s bad farts!
None of us knew what to say or how to behave. We all just watched as two of our formerly closest friends aired their stinky laundry for everyone else to wretch at. It was sad. Eventually it was Rita who did the decent thing. “Look I think we should all call it a night.”
* * *
The air was cold and fresh in the Bournemouth night. The storm had cleared and the sea was lit brightly by the full moon. I’m sure there were some lucky romantic couple somewhere in town looking out and realising what a special, perfect night this was. Wherever they were they certainly weren’t stood outside the front of The Major Hotel. Karim was still drunk and nestled snugly in Brad’s muscular concrete arms (looking a lot like a small kitten that had been dressed by Elton John’s costume designer after a heavy night on crack cocaine) but even he had the fortitude to not say anything too crass. He just bid us all a goodnight and the two of them headed back to their room for their first night as husband and, well, husband.
Rick & Jenna looked to have had the wind knocked out of them a little. Seeing a couple everyone thought would go the distance to suddenly blow up in your face must have a sobering effect on some. Even Raph, who must’ve seen his fair share of marital breakdowns during his career, seemed a little saddened. In an odd move we all swapped phone numbers, vowing to make more of an effort to stay in touch. I don’t think any of us really meant it. We were just desperate for the distraction while Max and Lucy continued to disintegrate in the corner by the badly parked Mercedes.
“And you needn’t think you’re coming back to the house either you cheating fuck!” Lucy’s voice was getting louder and drawing attention from some of the hotel guests, many of the guest room lights flicking on and drowning out the moonlight.
“Oh that’s fine” Max shouted back as they both returned to the group. “I’ll give you twenty-four hours to pack up your shit and get out of my house!”
“It’s our house you balding dumb fat fuck!”
“That’s not what it says on the mortgage. I bet Raph here wouldn’t have a problem making that stick in court.”
Poor Raph shied away, preferring not to get tangled up.
“You wanna take this to court bitch?” Suddenly Lucy was on The Jeremy Kyle Show.
“Hey you name the date and I’ll be there. Better yet why don’t you get that Toy-boy-artsy-French-fuck to paint me a picture with the date on? Then you don’t even have to call!”
“Fine. You can have your assistant fax me a reply the next time she’s bent over the machine taking your tiny cock up her arse!”
The audience was now a lot bigger than just us five. Some guests had turned up in their dressing gowns still half asleep. I think one couple thought it was some kind of amateur dramatic production. More concerning though was the sight of the Hotel Manager with a phone to his ear and that classic I’m calling the police look in his eye. I couldn’t blame him – if Dad was there he’d have shown us all off with a couple of blasts from this Twelve-boar. Rita and I stepped forward to try and break off the feud – I guess we figured withdraw and regroup. Lucy had clearly said all she wanted and looked ready to leave. After that it all just kicked off; Rita tried to drag Lucy away but Max grabbed hold of his wife, quite brutally too. Max looked like he was going to do something even more violent so I stepped between them to try and break-up that break up, and then he started on me. How he wished I’d never come back, that this was all my fault. It was pretty much the same tirade as back at his office earlier in the day, so it just washed over me. Rita and Lucy tried to leave and Max tried to follow, getting even more violent. Raph had to actually restrain him by his arms while I tried to talk to him, and then...and then I’m here.
Back To Life
I look around my room again suddenly aware that I have no idea how I got here. I wasn’t that drunk! Still trying to piece things together and with the hangover really kicking in I get up as stealthily as I can, avoiding the pointless shelf so as not to wake my slumbered companion for the night. The florescent bathroom light eventually flickers to life and I double take when I see my reflection in the mirror. The entire left side of my face is one huge bruise. Either it looks a lot worse than it feels or I’m still half asleep and consciousness hasn’t quite returned to that part of my body. A few splashes of cold water on my face wakes the pain up, and in a flash I remember how I came to look like a poor man’s version Two-Face from the Batman films. “That fucker kicked me in the head!”
I head back in to the room where my companion is now fully awake. “You alright there?”
“You kicked me in the head you fat fuck!”
“Shit! Did I do that? I don’t remember anything.” Max’s reaction is hardly one of genuine concern or regret.
I just lean against the wardrobe with my arms folded, much like my Dad did whenever he was going to call me out for being a twat. Max has changed quite a bit over the years but losing his memory to the drink never happened to him. He knows exactly what happened, and he knows I know.
“Don’t suppose she called did she?” He makes a half-attempt to look for his mobile.
“You” I repeat, louder than I expect. “You kicked me, in the head!”
“Look I’m sorry” he snaps back, unable to look me in the eye. “I’m not exactly having the best time here. She hasn’t even sent a text.” He throws his phone in the corner of the room like a spoilt child. This is getting really sad!
“Well given that the last thing I heard her say was something like ‘the next time you hear from me will be through my solicitors’ I’m not surprised.”
He keeps his eyes on the mobile waiting for it to show some sign of life. I kind of feel bad for him – oddly it feels slightly better to get a message that’s filled with disgust and hate than no message at all. At least you don’t feel completely alone.
The room fills with a heavy sombre silence, and even though I feel bad for the guy he had kicked me in the face, so I try to ignore his problems and turn on the ancient portable TV in the corner. Max takes that as a cue to head for the bathroom. Even the door sounds depressed as it squeaks and clicks shut. The small screen is filled with hundreds of little people running through the streets. It’s Marathon Day. Thousands of people who have spent months, even years building up for one of the world’s toughest endurance events are on their way through the packed London streets. I try to find a parallel between the marathon and what’s happening here but fail. I suppose the only person who’s spent a long time in the middle of an arduous regime which is seemingly coming to an end today is Max!
There’s a loud vibrating sound coming from under the bed. I suddenly realise it’s my phone and practically dive over the bed to find my trousers. I suddenly realise I’m not wearing my trousers. I get an uncomfortable itch down my back while my brain ponders the implications of this revelation and my hand answers the phone.
“Dan are you there?”
My mind races back to my shared house on Nightingale Road. Rita’s on the phone.
“Are you ok?”
“Rita? Yes, sorry. I’m here, just trying to wake up!”
“How’s your eye?” It’s hard to tell whether she’s genuinely concerned or just making small talk. Still it’s nice to be asked.
“It’s a shiner but it’ll go soon enough. Where are you?”
“I’m with Lucy.”
“How are things?” I’ve asked some stupid questions in my time but this one is definitely in the top five!
“Not good. You need to tell him to stop texting her Dan. She’s really upset!”
I glance round the room to where I’d seen him throw his phone only moments before. It’s not there anymore. “Has he been sending her messages all night?”
“Yes. It started when she refused to answer her house phone. I think he’s losing it Dan, and he’s really scaring her.”
The sudden outburst of angry tourettes from the other side of the bathroom door concerns me a little too. He must be texting her right now. “Leave it with me, ok?”
“Sure” Rita replies, before asking me something completely out of left-field. “And Dan, just quickly, I was wondering if you had time to meet up later?”
The question is like another smack around the face. I mean given the circumstances you just wouldn’t expect it. Plus I remember that this was a question I wanted to ask her. We never really got round to what I really wanted to say to her last night. “Um, yes definitely. I’d love to. Just give me a chance to switch off Max’s stalker mode and I’ll call you back.”
I put my phone down and shout to Max through the door, demanding to know what the hell he’s playing at. There’s no coherent response, just more of Max’s expletive filled tourettes, which I’m guessing with these paper thin walls has woken up the entire B&B by now.
“Max you’ve got to stop this. You’re scaring her!”
“Oh she ain’t seen shit yet!”
The door is firmly locked, making things slightly more difficult as direct action is clearly needed and I don’t relish the thought of paying this hotel for a new door. “Max, open this door right now!” There’s no response, so I have no other choice. I take a step back before ramming the door open with surprising ease. Max is stood by the sink with his bottom half fully exposed for public view, his phone gripped tightly in both hands and his tongue dangling from his mouth like a crazed dog. He’s seriously losing it!
“Get the fuck out of here!” he shouts, his face turning three shades redder.
“No” I reply shortly, while shielding my eyes from the area where his Danger Mouse boxers should be. “Now give me your phone Max!” I make a grab for it but he hides it behind his back. At least that means he can’t send any more messages. “Max you’ve got to stop this. Look at what you’re doing. Look at yourself!”
“Look at yourself!” he retorts. “Unless you want me to even out that face of yours I suggest you stay the fuck away from me!”
He’s never going to give this up without a fight, so taking a deep breath (not to mention an extraordinary amount of mental power to block out the image of a dude stood in front of me with his pants round his ankles) and I lunge for the phone. There’s a struggle, which turns in to a wrestle. Somehow I manage to get the phone out of his hands and throw it in to the bedroom. Good for Lucy, bad for me. His fist connects squarely with my jaw, and suddenly I’m not the only one seeing red. What started as an attempt to stop my former best friend from further ruining his dilapidated marriage turns in to a full on quest to beat ten shades of crap out of him. There’s a few punches thrown, but the bathroom is too small to find any room for manoeuvre so it’s back in to another wrestling hold. Each of us try to find some object to defend ourselves with. Max thinks he’s come up trumps with a toothbrush, until I find my deodorant can. I unleash the full force of Lynx Africa in to his already contorted face and wrestle-throw him in to the bathtub. He’s screaming at me. “This is all your fault!” he shouts. “You ruined everything you bastard!” I notice the shower head, and in an inspired reply that wouldn’t be out of place in some textbook Hollywood action movie I tell him to “cool off” before blasting him with pressurised cold water.
I don’t know how long I stand over him blasting him with the water, but when I finally calm down I realise he’s not screaming anymore. And the water from the shower head isn’t the only reason his face is soaked. The man is bawling his eyes out. I put the shower down and kneel over him, hoping that a few seconds will give him a chance to get recomposed, but the waterworks just keep coming. It takes a good couple of minutes for him to construct a word or two, but they’re not exactly awe-inspiring. “God I’m fucked!” Well I guess he gets ten points for observation! There are more snuffles and grimaces of regret before he finally tries to look me in the face. “I love her y’know!”
“I know you do chap, but you have a fucked up way of showing it!” He’s shaking, thankfully more from the cold than rage – hopefully that’s passed us by now. He continues to declare his undying love for his recently estranged wife while I make numerous attempts to lift him out of the tub. When I finally get him on his feet his feelings have shifted target slightly.
“Dan I’m sorry man!” He emphasises his words by grabbing hold of both sides of my head, which is now fully evened out, stinging on both sides. “I shouldn’t have taken this out on you, I know that ok. No hard feelings? I mean, really, I’m sorry, for everything.” His arms stretch out as much as they can in the bath, inviting a hug of reconciliation. No point in staying pissed at someone who’s flushed his own life down the toilet. We share a hug, him a little more in to it than me, further proven when he says “Love you dude. I missed you!”
“What the hell is going on in here?”
That’s a new voice! I turn to see the B&B manger looking like he’s now infected with the rage that only minutes ago was coursing through Max’s veins. I can still see the shower head out of the corner of my eye.
“What have you people done?”
It’s a fair question, and one that’s going to be hard to answer. I mean never mind the mini-war zone that is now the bathroom, complete with a broken door for added effect, but there is also the issue of two grown men stood soaking wet in the bathtub in a seemingly passionate embrace and mostly without clothes. I’d like to think that me being the one with the pants on still gives me an ounce of respect but somehow I doubt it!