Pooky and The Philanderer
Glad was a bingo fiend, that’s why she was on the coach tour in the first place, but she’d been in Pretty Pigs, Scarborough’s third worst hotel, for two hours now and that bloody bint in a pink fishtail and dirty long velvet gloves was still caterwauling and there was not a sign of any bingo paraphernalia anywhere.
She was not a difficult woman, but two rum and cokes on the house was not going to cut it. Her hackles were rising higher than Pooky’s voice, the bint in pink posing on a plinth that stood for a stage.
Phil was behind the bar with Pedro, the Mancunian bartender who brought a bit of class to this no star dive. Phil could read a room like the Racing News and Pooky was not going down a storm.
He’d been managing her getting on for twenty years now. It suited him, life was easy and he was the consummate networker - at the seedy end of the business. His living was made more at the bookies than by who he had on the books and over the years his clientele had dropped off to leave him only Pooky, which was fine by him - she handled like a dream. He kept her in sausages and fishnets and she didn’t ask for more; she was still hypnotised by the glare of the spotlight after all these years. Still looking for that big break, making every performance count, because who knew who might be in the audience?
The audience were showing each other pictures on their phones, dunking chips into red sauce, a few drifted towards the exit for a smoke and there was a general downing of great glasses of brown liquid. One or two threw a cursory glance towards the ‘stage’. Only one member sat transfixed. The only child on the coach trip. An owl-eyed ten-year-old of indeterminate gender, who had never seen anyone as glamourous as Pooky in the flesh. And indeed, flesh was the word. Pooky had squeezed into her elderly fishtail number with little regard to fit. Her own pink/white flesh bulged cushion-like from each opening. Her Shirley Bassey black gloves served to emphasise the blancmange like upper arms, which wobbled as she warbled. When she grandly swished her tail a daring split, running upwards to finish just below the crotch of her roll-on, revealed fish-net clad legs. In places the holes in her tights had run together releasing billowing pads of Pooky’s very self to the gaze of anyone who could be bothered to look.
Glad couldn’t help herself, ‘Where’s the bleeden’ bingo?’ she screeched.
Phil couldn’t help himself, he’d always been drawn to fiery women.
He slunk over to Glad, who was now waving a glass in the air, the contents spilling and her bangles clanking.
‘My dear lady,’ he breathed in sultry tones into her red ear, ‘might I treat you to a wild and stormy while they set up the bingo?’
Glad was not easily won over but a shiver that started in her ear reached some tiny part of her brain which had a vague recollection of lust. She shook her auburn locks at this aging but attractive man in what felt like an alluring manner.
‘A wild and stormy? I usually drink rum and coke.’
Phil ran his index finger from Glad’s wrist to her elbow.
‘My dear, you are about to experience a whole new vocabulary of pleasure.’
Glad didn’t understand what he was on about but felt a more familiar flush of pleasure as Pedro wheeled out a bingo cage and nudged Pooky in the thigh as an indication that her act had come to an end.
‘Thank you to a wonderful audience,’ she gushed.
A half-hearted smattering of applause was the polite divide between the enforced entertainment and the real fun of the evening.
A child in an oversized sweatshirt and black rimmed glasses was standing and began to clap with great energy.
‘Sit down and drink yer juice,’ a wrinkled claw reached out to grab a handful of the sweatshirt and pulled the child down. A single yellow crayon and the outline of a cartoon figure on white paper was pushed over to the child – eyes still glued to Pooky’s back as she slouched over to the bar, where a pile of bingo tickets had been placed.
‘Do yer colouring and when the bingo’s done we’ll get an early night. It’s Whitby tomorrow and after Dracula it’s The Grand, lovely bit of bingo there.’
An elderly person of indeterminate gender looked mistily into the middle-distance as though something deeply holy was about to happen.
And then it did. Phil’s transformation from mouching lounge lizard to bingo-caller supremo was miraculous.
He took the floor with aplomb. He gently tossed the microphone from hand to hand with a practised air. Winking at the audience he breathed into it to taunt Pooky with a few well-rehearsed barbs.
‘Come on Pooky, get those little trotters moving, the crowd can’t play without their tickets.’
Pooky gave a Marilyn wiggle and simpered, but sped up in the distribution of the cards.
Glad nodded in approval, this man had his priorities right.
‘Look at her go now,’ the audience laughed, ‘and now she’s on the green table, now the red, can she make it to the blue? Come on Pooky, you can do it.’
The mood was changing in the room; the audience passive enablers to the oldest sport, a little low-key bullying.
‘You know when she was born her mother thought she’d had a piglet. Well, you’ve not met the father.’
Roars of laughter.
‘She couldn’t choose between Porky or Pinky for a name, so she went for Pooky.’
More roars as Pooky handed out the last of the tickets, dusted her palms together and performed an elaborate shimmy. The applause was the most she’d received all night, but beggars can’t be choosers and she sauntered over to the bar to drink a lemonade and chat with Pedro. All eyes but theirs, and a certain ten-year-old’s, were glued to the numbers. These were no ordinary bingo players. For them it wasn’t about the venue, the technology not even the value of the prize. It went deeper than that. They were at one in the communion of numbers. Phil respected this and performed the sacred art of number-calling without the interruption of quips and with perfect timing and superb enunciation. Glad thought that this might be love.
‘You off tomorrow?’ Pedro inquired, more to pass the time than out of interest as Pooky had given him every last detail of her itinerary, every evening, for the last three nights.
‘Yes,’ she breathed with faux boredom, ‘we’re bypassing, North Berwick now and going straight to Morecombe. It will be good to have a few days off though.’
Pooky scrutinised the bubbles in her lemonade lit up like golden balls of joy. She did love bubbles. Pedro polished a pint glass with a damp white tea towel and rolled his eyes at her.
‘Day off from what?’ He was tempted to ask, but he wasn’t thought classy for nothing, so hummed instead. ‘Off towards my neck of the woods.’
Pooky looked puzzled.
‘Lancashire. Mind you I’ve not been back in donkey’s.’
Pooky wrinkled her powdered brow, ‘Lancashire? Is it? You know all these places roll into one when you live on the road.’ She gave a world-weary sigh.
Pedro thought it not polite to remind her of her rendition of the unique qualities of Prestatyn or the surprisingly coarse behaviour of a Southend audience, considering that they were Southerners and ought to be that little bit more sophisticated. He recollected Pooky’s sorrowful shake of the head and marvelled at her capacity for disappointment, given that was all she had seemed to have experienced.
To change the subject somewhat Pedro asked what had happened to North Berwick.
‘Some sort off mix-up, Phil says. Mind you, the last time we were at the Jolly Shipwreck the audience wasn’t up to much. It’s very austere, North Berwick. Know what I mean?’
Pedro nodded without a clue what she meant and proceeded to wipe down the bar.
Pooky was not about to reveal that the cover had been blown on Phil’s night of passion with Maeve, landlady of the Jolly Shipwreck while the Jack, landlord of said B&B, lay passed out on the floor for a clean 8 hours after rising to Phil’s old trick – the drinking challenge. The lovely Maeve was not the best at keeping secrets and in a moment of fury, Jack having given a disparaging critique of her derriere, had exposed the liaison. So that put paid to that.
Pooky felt their little world was shrinking as venue after venue pulled out – and what of the future? Phil seemed unconcerned, ever the optimist. There’d be a big win, an inheritance, something always turns up. She heard the words but the most important ones were missing: you’ll be discovered! You’ll get the stage you truly deserve and after that? Well, money worries will be gone forever. She smiled at the imagined reassurance. She might not have much, but she’d always have her talent to keep her warm.
Pooky was so wrapped in her daydream she missed the end of the bingo. This was astonishing given the ferocity of Glad’s screeching as she leapt to her feet with that most sought after of words, ‘House!’
Pedro brought Pooky back into the room by thrusting a dusty six-pack of Babycham towards her.
‘Oh, has someone won?’ She inquired, looked around and noted the familiar glint in Phil’s eyes as he pulled Glad to the stage to receive her dues.
Pooky lugged the bottles past whispers of, ‘fix’, and plastered on her dazzling smile. She actually quite like presenting prizes, felt that she could easily be one of those Tour de France women, presenting the winner with flowers, and champagne and…her thoughts were cut off as Glad snatched the bottles, turned her back on Pooky and her attention to Phil.
Up in the box room under the eaves, Pooky watched shadows pass over the ceiling as a street light blinked on and off as its long-lived bulb stuttered towards its end. She felt rather melancholic so struck up a little song she always thought she did rather well:
‘Walk on, walk on,
with hope in your heart
and you’ll never walk…’
A loud thumping on the wall from the next room interrupted just as she was reaching the crescendo. It was Pedro, and classy as he was, he had to be up at six to get the breakfast on.
‘…alone,’ Pooky whispered to herself, gave a little snivel, and drifted off to sleep.
Pooky was very surprised to be woken by Phil prancing around her tiny room. She hadn’t expected to see him until the coach party set off, and even then, he’d need a few hours to recover from the night’s exertions. Still, here he was, brimming with excitement.
‘Pooky, Pooky, my dear. It’s all change. New directions. So strange how life can take you by the scruff of the neck every now and again and show you what you truly want!’
Pooky sat up and drew her knees towards her. Was this it? The moment? Had someone been in the audience? Her heart skittered and the bright light of day shone into her very soul. This is what she knew it would feel like.
‘Tell me Phil. Tell me everything.’
Phil began an account of his highly successful seduction of Glad.
‘Oh Phil, perhaps not everything, cut to the chase.’
‘I’m joining the bingo circuit. There’s no future in the old singing game, we have to move with the times, and Glad’s got connections. We could make it big.’ Phil paused and held Pooky’s eyes in his so that she would grasp the momentousness of what he was about to say.
‘I’m talking, Blackpool.’
Pooky smiled encouragingly but had noted the, ‘I’m’, not the ‘we’ at the beginning of his grand announcement.
‘But Phil, what about me?’
Phil gave her duvet covered knees a squeeze.
‘You’ll be alright old thing. You’re really very talented, but it’s time we went our own ways.’
‘But, but, what about Morecombe?’
‘Morecombe? Didn’t I tell you? They cancelled.’
Phil took a breath like it was the first he’d had in a long time.
‘Right then, we best get to it. A spot of breakfast and then – well, I’ll be off with Glad on the coach.’
Pooky took a long time to come down to breakfast.
In fact, the only remaining member of the coach party was the child, who had been told to wait there until it was time to go.
Pedro put down the plates he’d been clearing and greeted Pooky with,
‘I’ve saved you sausages, they’re on the warmer.’
Pooky was shaky but smiled in gratitude, one should always be magnanimous.
The child examined Pooky in the cold light of day. She was pinker than last night, even her eyes were pink. A plump white knee had pushed through a pair of fishnets and her skin was powdered, as though she was covered in icing sugar.
The still of the breakfast room was interrupted by a sudden turbulence of movement. People clumping about with bags and suitcases, the child grabbed and chided for dreaming, voices laughing and screeching and above it all Phil, loud and hilarious, the life and soul, where he went the party went with him.
Pooky did hear a muttered,
‘What’s he coming for? I hope he’s paid.’
Then, after the flurry, all was still again.
Pooky crept out onto the pavement to watch the coach and gave a small wave as it drove away.
The child was the only one who saw, and in that moment realised what Pooky looked like, a sugar mouse! It even looked like she had shrunk and scuttled off into the drain. The child smiled and bit the head off a jelly baby that had been turning to glue in its hand.