The next Friday evening. Suzie held my hand
as we walked up George Street. A nasty little east wind
came down from Broad Street
to greet us. Her blonde hair streamed out behind her
as the wind whipped up old
newspapers and new tensions. This would be tough going, so I steered her
into the Grapes; Suzie peeled away and found us a seat. As I waited at the
bar, I became aware of being
stared at; someone close by had their eyes on me. Surely no one wanted to
fight this early? I glanced in the mirror and Kenny nodded.
Maybe someone did want a fight!
For a brief second I prepared, bunching my fists and watching his eyes in
the mirror, but it was unnecessary. By his standards he appeared relaxed,
his breathing easy as he glanced around the bar. I nodded at the mirror
towards him and took a sip of beer. The slightly sour taste, plus Kenny’s
presence and the cigarette smoke-filled, bar jolted me back to life.
I said, ‘Neutral ground – I don’t have to be polite in here.’
But he just ignored me.
I tried again, ‘Where’s Ron hiding, then?’
‘Who knows?’ A distracted
response as Kenny’s eyes
were in the mirror, resting on Suzie. His eyebrows came up
as he said, ‘Doesn’t she
work in the restaurant?’ He said it like it was one down from working in
Auschwitz. Then he said, ‘Kathy doesn’t smell of chip fat.’
Kenny brought his eyes into mine and I wanted to tell him that I knew
exactly how Kathy smelt. Instead, I bluffed a smile and said, ‘When you see
Ronny, tell him I need to talk to him.’
We stared at one another for a few seconds, before I picked the drinks up
and turned away. Suzie had sat in a small booth, directly opposite the bar
with two small tables neatly compressed into the gap. I nearly spilled the
drinks when I saw Kathy sat on the next table, a couple of feet away and
looking assiduously at me. Eventually she slowly took her eyes towards Kenny
and fixed his whereabouts before coming around and staring at me again.
‘Kathy, what a surprise.’
More than a surprise, a shock that sent palpitations up and down my spine,
inducing vertigo and a panic attack all at the same time. All these symptoms
were accompanied by a complete, never ending delight. My smile spread wide –
despite trying to affect my best poker player’s expression, I was suddenly
holding a straight flush instead of the usual pair.
No hesitation from Kathy; a wide smile, then, ‘Stuart.’ Kathy nodded at
Suzie, then came back to me. ‘Aren’t you going to introduce
‘Suzie, this is Kathy, Kathy this is…’
Kenny slammed Kathy’s drink into their table, sat down and stared out of the
window as he drank his beer. We all sat in a tensest, tightest, most awkward
little group. I turned back to Suzie, she raised an eyebrow, then stared at
the table. Not a word between any of us, until Kenny stood and spat one
Kathy resignation manifested in a sigh and raised eyebrows as she stood. She
quickly glanced my way and said, ‘Have a good night.’
Kenny had disappeared and Kathy kept her eyes firmly on the floor as she
clipped her way out of the door. Kathy might as well have said have a good
fight – predictable as a Caribbean hurricane in September, Suzie lit a cigarette,
smoked in silence, looking at the frosted windows, itching for an argument.
Finally she said, ‘Who was
‘Kenny.’ I tried for casual, but it sounded defensive.
‘Not him.’ Suzie began the preparations for a full frontal assault.
‘That woman, she kept staring.’ She Attacked me like a bull fighting
banderillas, placing his
darts, every time, unerringly between my shoulders.
‘At what?’ Questions became my wall.
‘Mostly you – but me as well.’ She stubbed her cigarette out, a vigorous
hammering into an empty ashtray. ‘You looked at her a lot too.’
‘I’ve known her – both of them – for years.’
‘She’s trouble.’ Suzie lit another cigarette. ‘What did you say her name
‘She’s as big a bitch as that whore of a mother-in-law of hers.’
‘What did you just say?’ I felt the blood rush to my cheeks, ‘What’s Shirley
got to… Don’t talk about her like that.’ I stopped and took a deep breath,
‘I was at school with both of them.’ I shook my head and tried to shrug it
off casually. ‘Anyone would think you’re becoming obsessed with it all.’
It sounded anything but casual, abrupt, more like. It sounded…
Subject closed I think.
We walked the few yards up to the
Palace in silence. I
enjoyed the food but we ate in a frosty hush. It took two more vodkas before
she loosened up enough to say, ‘You called me Kathy – the other night.’ She
was talking to the table as she spoke, explaining in an unsteady voice,
‘When we were making love.’
Deadpan, I forced myself to make eye contact and – say nothing.
‘I know you said it – I saw how you looked at her. I know who she is, I
nearly fell off the chair.’
Despite the tears that dribbled down her long face, I sent another lie her
‘You’re dreaming – you’ve made a mistake, that’s all.’ I held her angry
gaze, ‘I’ve known them years. Shirley is a lovely woman and I never called
you Kathy and just because I talk to another woman, it doesn’t mean I’m
giving her one.’
I sighed. That was far too brutal, but I remained deadpan and held her
stare. I'd said too much;
let her blow the storm out herself. I stirred my coffee and waited for her.
Still tearful, Suzie said, ‘I know what you said.’
I was angry, not because people at other tables were showing an interest in
our murmured exchanges. Annoyed because Suzie might be right and irritated
because I didn’t want to upset her. ‘Listen, if you don’t believe me, I’ll
just take you home now and we’ll call…’
With the ante raised, Suzie folded, her face that of a poker player folding
a flush, bluffed out of it by someone
who held a pair. I tried to
calm down, still fractious because I’d managed to hurt her.
‘I’ll get the bill and take you home.’
She lit a cigarette – resignedly, I thought, accepting my asperity, until we
got in the car and she started effing and blinding, called me a fucking
liar. Well, I couldn’t lie anymore; beaten down, tired of this life, the
crude cheating. One thought – I want the war to end, I don’t want to
fight anymore. Drained by it all; the spinning of webs, the plotting of
plots, the spiralling half-truths that sounded like truth, the offering up
of a fact just to prop an up earlier lie.
I wanted to tell the truth for a change. Tell the truth and end the war. I
wanted V.E day and a new dawn tomorrow. Instead, I sent another lie her way.
‘I’m not having an affair with her...