By Mark Burrow
‘Not tequila. Tequila makes me ill.’
‘No, tequila’s awesome.’
‘I hate aniseed.’
‘A round of sambucas. Kyle, come to the bar and help me carry them.’ Jed yanked Kyle’s arm, who fell on me as he tried to stand.
Samantha laughed nasally. She was to my right. Her friend sat opposite on the sofa. I’d asked her name repeatedly and couldn’t remember it. Thanks to Jed, we’d been talking about breasts and guys who were embarrassed to buy sexy underwear for girlfriends.
‘So you prefer small?’ Samantha raised her double vodka, lemonade and lime. She wore a low cut, yellow, glittery tee-shirt, advertising a canyon of cleavage.
‘Depends. I wouldn’t say I’m anti-large. It’s less of a rule than a guideline.’
‘What about me?’ The friend straightened her shoulders and shimmied her unimpressive A-cups at me.
‘There, see, I’m all for diversity. Here’s to breasts.’ I raised my pint and the three of us chinked glasses.
‘What do you prefer then?’ Samantha addressed her friend.
‘Oh large definitely.’
I was confused for a second. Samantha noticed and wiggled her finger.
‘See, it doesn’t bother me, provided he’s not like ridiculously small. Like that one I was seeing, you know Tom?’
‘The South African?’
‘No, he was…I think he was from Canada or America…I think…Anyway, his was like a lolly stick. No, a cocktail stick or one of those party-sized sausages. You couldn’t feel it. I was like: “Is it in yet?” He said: “Yes.” And I was lying there thinking to myself, This is going to be great.’
I had to switch to shorts. The lager was making me gag. ‘I’m not fussed either.’ They looked at me. ‘I don’t mind how large or small it is. Just stick it in me and pump, that’s my motto.’
Two serious faces looked at me. ‘Oh, I didn’t realise you were.’ Samantha put on a caring expression. Her friend nodded at me.
‘No, no, I’m kidding. It’s a joke.’
‘I don’t… I’m not gay. I’ve never…’
‘It’s alright if you are.’
‘I know it is, I don’t have an issue with it.’
‘Then it’s fine.’
‘Yes, I know it’s fine if I am, it’s not like I’m anti or anything, but it’s that I’m not…like that.’
‘Why would you say that?’
'It was a joke.'
‘I don’t mean to come across uptight.’
The friend got up and went to the Ladies, exchanging a “he’s-a-weirdo” glance with Samantha. I offered a cigarette but she removed one of her own, although we were smoking the same brand.
Awful rock music blared from the other end of the bar. Jed craned over and settled a plastic tray on the table. ‘Hey, you’re back,’ I said.
Samantha hadn‘t spoken.
Jed frowned at me, wondering what I’d done to kill the mood, then said: ‘The bar’s manic. Come on, take a drink everyone and then, Lee, you can go up and get another round.’ Jed rubbed his hands together and sat next to Samantha.
‘I’m not sure I can do this,’ she said.
‘Don’t be a wuss.’ Jed passed a shot glass to her. She held it higher than was natural to show her disapproval. The friend came back, reaching for a glass. ‘Shots, goody,’ she said.
‘That’s the attitude.’
‘I’ll have his shot. Right, come on then.’ Jed clapped his hands. We shifted in our seats, moving closer together, raised our glasses, chinked and then flipped our heads back.
Samantha twisted. ‘Argh, yuck.’
‘Lee, to the optics my man.’ Jed slung back Kyle’s glass.
‘I’m game for another,’ said the friend.
As I squeezed by Samantha, I thought she could’ve moved her chair to let me pass. I ended up brushing against her. She was saying she didn’t want another drink. The pub was a narrow, sweaty basement crowded with Aussies, Kiwis and South Africans. The girls were Australian, friends of some person I never knew whose birthday it was supposed to be.
I couldn’t see Kyle. The queue for the bar was three deep.
My mobile phone was in my pocket, switched off. My ex was playing on my mind. Giving her a call now would be stupid. But that comment she made about me not respecting her feelings the other day, it hurt. She knew how to punch below the belt, especially when I was only trying to talk to her and have a conversation.
Where was Kyle? The dance floor?
The bar staff seemed to have the it’s so-busy-why-should-we-rush? approach.
‘You want a hand?’
It was Samantha.
Someone tried to push-in, an adolescent with facial piercings and tattoos spiralling both forearms. I moved quickly. Samantha did too and we were pushed closer together.
‘You still fighting the inevitable?’
She looked nonplussed.
‘Twist my rubber arm.’
A space opened and we edged forwards. She looked around, then at me, smiling.
‘So, where are you from in Australia?’
‘Yeah: same name as your one here. It’s near Sidney.’
‘Oh. How long are you over here?’
‘I’ve got ancestral visa so I can stay as long as I like. My grandmother’s a Brit.’
‘When did you arrive?’
‘Couple of months ago. I’m engaged.’ She held up the gold ring on her finger.
‘Where’s your fiancée?’
‘Back in Newcastle.’
‘You’ve lost me.’
‘He’s like much older than me. He has two kids. He’s managed to win custody from his hound of a wife and it’s cost him a fortune. I love him and we’re going to get married but I said: “Honey, I gotta do some travelling, I wanna see the world before we settle down and have babies of our own.” He’s like so into me he’ll do whatever I tell him.’
‘Is that a good thing?’
‘He loves me. Of course it is.’
Two girls and a guy pushed-in before me, stealing my place at the bar.
‘It’s okay.’ Samantha touched my arm. ‘We can talk longer.’
‘How does that work, though? You here on your own and him over there. You must spend a fortune on phone calls.’
She cackled. ‘Baby likes what I‘m doing. He’s fine with it, thinks it’s good for me as a person. You have to understand, Lee, he loves me so much. Especially after the years of abuse with that moose he married. Why he married her I’ll never know, she’s poison. Evil. My baby said he owed too much money after the custody thing and he couldn’t come with me and he now has his two boys to care for. He said I could go. I’m younger. It’s right for me to leave home and see other stuff.’
‘What do you plan to see?’
‘Dunno. A few of us are going on a Contiki tour next month.’
‘Isn’t that just one giant European drinking and shagging fest?’
‘Yeah.’ She laughed and pushed me. ‘It’s called fun, Lee. God, you’re so English I love it. If you’re travelling, you gotta do stuff like that when you’re here.’
‘What does your fiancee think about that?’
‘I told you, he’s older than me.’
‘How much older?’
‘Ancient old. He’s like 32 and I’m like 25. And it’s not as if I’m deceiving him. I was totally honest, I said: “You know I’m not going to be able to not see guys when I’m away. You know, I’ve got to root baby, that’s the way I am." If I go too long without I go nuts.’
‘Right, that’s understandable.’
‘You know what I mean?’
We looked at each other. ‘Yeah, you shouldn’t fight what’s natural.’
‘It’s how I am. How I’m made. I don’t believe in trying to be something you’re not because of dumb stuff like religion or God or whatever. I like to root, Lee. That’s just how I’m built. Whereas baby’s different. He can go without but I’m like climbing the walls after a week or so…It doesn’t matter to him…And he isn’t much in the looks department either. I know that sounds nasty. It’s not though, I’m just honest. You’ve probably noticed that about me, right? How honest I am? I’ve told him straight: “I love you because of who you are and not how you look.” You know, he’ll sit in a bar and a woman could be flirting with him and he wouldn’t read the signals and even if he did he’s too shy to do anything about it.’
‘He’s one of those types.’
‘Yeah, he is, which I love, that’s what I love about him.’
I ordered the drinks. Samantha shifted against me, her arm on the bar.
‘Shall we have a cheeky shot?’ I said.
‘Go on then.’
I called the barmaid and told her to add another two shots.
‘It’s not that I’m going to go around and around with whoever…But it’s going to happen. Why should I pretend otherwise? I’m a total realist. He’s fine with it too.’
‘So he can cheat on you too?’
‘It’s not cheating, Lee.’
‘Okay, my mistake. Not cheating.’
‘It‘s natural. It‘s just reality.’
‘You’re quite okay with him being open about these natural urges if he meets a girl?’
‘He won’t though. He’s too shy. He’ll wait for me. He told me that he’s not the same as me and he’s waiting. We do stuff on the phone and the net so it’s not like we’re only talking. But when I come back and we get married, you know, I’m all his. There won’t ever be anyone else for me except for my baby. I’ll let baby root me forever.’
‘But in the meantime,’ I said.
‘Cheers,’ she said.
We knocked the shots back, slammed the glasses on the bar and I leaned forward and we kissed. As soon as we started we were being yelled at by a South African queuing behind us and the barmaid was asking for money.
‘Later,’ said Samantha, winking.
We carried the shots to the table where a couple of others from, I guess, the birthday party, were now sitting. Jed was snogging Samantha’s friend. They broke apart when we sat down. ‘About time,’ said Jed. ‘Hey, let’s go to Soho. There’s a bar we should go to as this awesome DJ friend of mine is playing. Are you up for it?’
We downed the shots and said yes to Soho.