You Say So
By Mark Burrow
YOU SAY SO
Pat closes the front door. -Have we got any more wine? he says to
-Probably some in the kitchen, replies Maria, dropping into an armchair
by their stereo.
-We must have some left, says Pat. -You didn't drink it all, did
-Am I in trouble if I did? she says.
-What's the voice for?
-It's how I speak.
-Like that is it? So have we got any or not? he says.
-Calm down, she says.
-Don't tell me to calm down. I am calm. You didn't drink it all before
we left, did you? I want some wine.
She feels in her coat pocket for cigarettes. She still hasn't taken her
coat off. She doesn't normally smoke, only when she goes out for a
drink. Pulling out a pack of ten, she flips the lid and sees two
cigarettes left. She studies the orangish colour of the butts, speckled
with what looks like chips of wood.
He wanders to the kitchen.
-Bring an ashtray, she says.
She hears him open a cupboard.
-And some matches, she says.
There are a box of matches in a fruit bowl on the table. She sees them.
-Forget the matches, I've got some, she says, pushing herself up off
the arms of the chair and taking the wooden match box from the mix in
the bowl of small change, switch card receipts, paper clips and creased
post-it notes. She strikes the match and drops it into a dirty wine
She sees the match buried in a dribble of wine and smears of sediment
at the bottom of the big glass. The glass belongs to a set Pat's
parents bought for the two of them last Christmas.
Smoking the cigarette, she sits back in the armchair, using the glass
as an ashtray.
A bottle of wine is uncorked.
He's in the lounge with two clean glasses.
-We're sorted, he says. Two bottles, left. One red.
He places her glass of wine on the carpet.
-Top night, wasn't it? he says.
-I enjoyed it, she says.
-Yeah, it made a change. They're alright, your friends. Although
Suzanne does have to remind you of her status, don't you think?
-I like her.
-I know you do. I do too but when she was talking about her travelling
the world with her job and that?She was showing off. You know she
-If you like.
-Don't you think so? I'm not slating her.
-Course not, she says.
He drinks from his glass and picks up a copy of Richard Brautigan's
Trout Fishing in America.
-Listen to this, he says. -There's no one to touch this guy.
She drops her cigarette in the glass and lights a second.
Pat had taken Thursday and Friday off from work. He told her that he
would get things done in the flat. Get someone in to repair the leaky
washing machine. He said he would fix the curtain rail himself. Do the
jobs that she always ends up doing.
He finishes reading. -Brilliant, he says.
(I don't like it, she says to herself).
-Don't you think?
-Well is that it? Don't you have anything else?.
-?No, Pat, she says. -I don't.
She can tell he's frustrated.
-Sorry, she says.
-Okay, he says and he goes to the bookshelf and says, -This is Sombrero
-I don't like it, she says.
-But how can you not like it?
She doesn't know.
-Is it because it's not Big Brother, is that it?
She understands where this is going. What will happen next.
Two days off work, not sick at all. She phoned in for him and when she
left the flat at half eight he was in his dressing gown, a cup of tea
in hand, a joint in the other. He said the jobs would be done and then
he would do his writing. The truth, and she knew this better than he
knew it himself, was that he would switch on his playstation and lose
himself in games for hour upon hour.
When she returned from work he'd pretend he had "just switched it on",
that he'd been writing all day. But that statement was the closest he
had got to fiction. He had that look in his eyes that appeared after
playing games for eight, nine hours.
In a sense, she didn't mind him playing the game.
Still, nothing in the flat was done. Washing up. Clothes washing.
Curtains drawn, let alone repaired.
That was part of it, she thought. Not doing the jobs.
Not doing his share.
-I don't want to hear anymore, she says.
He keeps reading Sombrero Fallout.
She smokes her last cigarette.
It wasn't the days off sick. It wasn't playstation. It wasn't
They had drunk more than enough wine tonight. Whenever they went out
they drank so much the next day was destroyed by a hangover. Saturdays
were okay -in a warped sense- as they drank off the Friday hangover.
Sunday was always rubbish. They never went out to sightsee. They never
went to the cinema or went shopping to buy things for the flat. On
Sundays, they weren't a couple. He would feel sorry for himself.
Drifting around the flat, not wanting to go to the shops. Not wanting
to help her with any of the household tasks. Asking for her to get the
papers. To make him a bacon sandwich. He moaned on Sundays as well.
Moaning about his admin job. His boss, Linda. How she was two faced.
And his colleagues, how the majority of them were pathetic and
According to him, all his colleagues did, when they went out for a
drink, was talk about work.
No one had anything better to talk about.
She wants to phone her mum. Her mum doesn't like it when she phones
drunk. Her mum is not a fan of Pat. She thinks Pat means well but she
can't see them going anywhere because of his attitude. For quite a
while this has caused a rift between Maria and her mum. They keep
talking They talk every other day on the telephone but when he is
mentioned, the conversation is difficult, awkward, strained. She
promises her mum that he will sort himself out. Her mum, she knows,
isn't convinced. He's thirty two and he still seems to, as her mother
said with politeness, "not know his head from his ankles". She explains
to her mum that although he lacks the purpose and direction people of
his age tend to have, this is because he wants something more from life
than the other, ordinary people.
"What," her mum had said, "ordinary people like me and your dad?"
Maria had no answer that. She has no answer, sitting in the flat,
thinking about him as a person.
-Why did you keep butting in? she says.
He glances at her.
She says: -Tonight, in the restaurant, when I talked you kept butting
in and started saying to Suzanne and Pete what you thought I meant.
Like I was some kind of idiot. Why did you keep doing that?
-I don't know what you're talking about, he says.
-You wouldn't, would you? God, you're so wrapped up in yourself.
-No, I just don't know what you're on about, he says.
-I'm not making it up. You do do it. You do it when we go out with your
friends and mine, she says.
-Has Suzanne been stirring again? he says.
-Or have you been talking to your mother?
She sips from the wine. Re-fills her glass.
-This is me asking you a question, she says.
-Is that right?
- I start talking and you jump right in and say what you think I
-It's all in your mind
-You do it so much that you don't realise you're doing it.
-Give an example. Or are you just having a go after you've had a
-You're belittling me. You're always putting me down. I'm not stupid. I
do have an opinion of my own.
-It's so much fun living with you, he says.
-When I'm talking you always talk over me.
-When? he says
- You do it so much. You're so arrogant. God. Okay. We were talking
about that singer and you cut right over me, saying, No, no, that's
wrong. It's not like that. This is what happened and then you talked
and what you said in the end wasn't so much different to what I was
saying myself, she says.
-Yes it was.
-NO, NO IT WASN'T.
-It was, he says.
-You don't listen to me. If you had listened then you would've known
what I was trying to say.
-It's not what you said.
-I was trying, can't you see that? Can't you see what Suzanne and Pete
saw? Don't you see what I'm trying to say? she says.
He fills his glass to the brim with wine and drinks.
-I think you're picking; looking for things that aren't there, he
-It's like you're embarrassed when I open my mouth when we're out. And
you're worse when we're out with your friends. I get so nervous when we
go out. And I'm not a nervous person. I'm never nervous, she
He drinks the wine but it won't go down his throat. He coughs and red
wine spurts out of his mouth, onto his jeans and the carpet. He
mumbles, chokes, catching vomit in his hands. He runs to the bathroom,
knocking from side to side against the walls in the hallway, and he
pukes into the wash basin.
She listens as he gags, coughs, splutters.
My boyfriend, she says to herself.
She drinks her glass of wine. She leans her head back on the chair and
looks up at the white ceiling, its woodchip wallpaper?Music, she
decides. She wants to hear a song. She inspects the many CDs on the
shelves. He earns a pittance and doesn't pay council tax. Occasionally
he might pay a utility bill, making a fuss about it, as if it were some
incredible favour or act of kindness. He can, however, always afford to
buy CDs or "new tunes", as he likes to call them. He must've spent
thousands on them. Most of the music she can't stand. Mainly because he
is so pretentious if she dislikes his latest discovery.
"No," he'd say, "listen to it."
And he might tell her facts about the musician's life that he has read
in one of his music magazines.
For her, it doesn't make the music any better.
She's never heard of the majority of them. When he plays them, she
knows why they found it so difficult to make it
However, she likes his Fred Neil album. She opens the Fred Neil CD and
slots the disc into the player. She takes his pouch of rolling tobacco
and, after taking her coat off, she sits in the chair and makes herself
He's drunk now. In the morning he'll listen to her. She can see it like
she's a prophet, a fortune teller. He'll be considerate, attentive and
they'll have hangover sex. In all probability, he'll apologise and
admit he talks over her "a bit" and he'll try and not do it the next
time they go out. But he will. She knows he will because it's the
person he is and will always be while they are together.
Tomorrow, he'll be sincere.
The thing is, he makes her nervous. He doesn't understand what this
means. It isn't right. She shouldn't feel on edge whenever they go out
It isn't a natural way to be. So she tells herself what it is, what the
point of talking with him this evening has been. Tomorrow she will let
him know it is time to call it a day.
She just hopes she has the courage to do it. She knows that talking and
thinking is one thing, but doing and acting is something else