Here’s an extract from a novel I started writing a while ago… It will be finished one day!
The unnamed narrator, a woman in her late forties, had an unexpected romantic encounter with a Danish singer who was performing in the pub where she worked part-time. She hadn’t expected to see him again…
She didn’t think she had been in the Lark before, or maybe not for a very long time, but she slipped in and pushed through the crowd to get to the bar. There was some sort of announcement being made which meant she had to mouth ‘white wine’ at the girl serving her, and dammit she would have a large one and she indicated large with finger and thumb.
The announcement finished and there was a spatter of applause and then the strum of a guitar. It sounded like Theo! And seconds later, she could hear his deep voice; he sounded nervous but she couldn’t see where he was, she was hemmed in by a group of friends, husbands and wives a similar age to herself but all very tall and the men quite stout.
Coming in from the street, she had noticed an open room to the left and a long area in front with an L-shaped bar to serve both; she couldn’t at first see where he was, as there was a speaker above her head so she could hear him singing a song she remembered which had the word ‘apocalypse’ in it.
She thought he must be at the back of the pub at the end of the long bar, but when she struggled through the crowd of football fans, she realised they were watching a match on the large TV, so she turned and struggled back as Theo finished his song. There was a vague token patter of applause, and after a mumble he sang a second song which was a bit faster and less gloomy. She came back to the front of the pub and by squeezing past a group of very loud women, she was able to find a place at the end of the short bar, by the fruit machine, where she could see him.
He was singing with his eyes shut which didn’t help him connect with the people sitting round with drinks and bar snacks chatting away to each other. He finished and she applauded enthusiastically, which got a few other people clapping. He went onto another faster song, and she thought how much better it would be here in this noisy pub if he at least had a bass player to give a bit more depth. It was a song she didn’t remember, and when she heard the line ‘and there you were, working in the bar,’ she wondered for a little moment if he had written it about her, but she guessed he probably picked up lots of women in bars… he’d told her he worked in a bar but he hadn’t mentioned where.
He finished with a bit more of a flourish and to a little warmer applause. She put two fingers to her mouth and gave a piercing whistle which encouraged more clapping; he glanced round but didn’t see her. He said something but he spoke so indistinctly that no-one would have the least clue what he had said. Something about ‘dancing’ she thought. It was a country-style song, a waltz, and again, the lyrics she caught reminded her of her brief connection with him, ‘walking home in the rain… in my arms dancing again…’
People seemed to like this one and there were a few shouts and whistles, and she whistled again and this time he did see her, and his face split into a delighted grin, and she flushed and clapped more.
“Is he your boyfriend, then, love?” said one of the loud women. “He’s a bit of alright, but his music’s crap.” It was said it in such a friendly way that it was difficult to know how to reply.
Theo sang a few more songs and then finished. He put his guitar in his case and came over to her.
“You came to hear me?” he kissed her cheek.
“A lucky chance, I just came in for a drink and here you were! Let me buy you a drink,” and she bought him a beer.
“You really like my songs?” he asked, and it mattered to him that she did.
“Yes, I really do! I think you are so amazingly talented!”
“Not everyone thinks so like you.”
They stayed squashed together at the bar, having a rather awkward conversation, because really they knew nothing about each other, a one night stand… is that the way people talk about it now? He was the first person who’d made love to her since she split with Gerry… it seemed rather remarkable somehow, she had always enjoyed, and almost needed the intimate side of their life together, but somehow when she was on her own she had gone off the idea. She had dated a couple of not very interesting men and sex really hadn’t been an option… so quite how she had ended up in bed with Theo was still a mystery… but it had been totally fabulous, and she found herself smiling at him as they spoke, smiling at the memory.
The landlord whose name apparently was Bob came and asked Theo if he would do another set, and as he went to sort the mics and unpack his guitar again, Bob confided in her that he’d only asked him to do one set originally in case he wasn’t any good. But folks had liked him, so he could do another forty minutes. Bob hoped he wouldn’t sing too many of the gloomy songs though, it wouldn’t make people drink more, or at least, not in the Lark!
Theo, however looked more confident and definitely more cheerful, and he looked around as he introduced his next song, and spoke more clearly. He tuned his guitar and then with a glance and a wink at her, he launched into a song about rolling in the road… maybe he meant rolling along the road, his English wasn’t always quite right.
The pub was actually packed now, hardly room to move and people had come in front of her and she was trapped by the bar, perched on her stool, hemmed in by the shrieking women. The noise was phenomenal and she couldn’t properly hear him. She waved at the girl behind the bar who brought her a pint and another wine.
“Blimey!” the girl shouted. “Never known it so packed!” and she took the money and hurried away to serve someone else.
The juke-box began to play again, so Theo must have finished but there was no sign of him. She got off the stool by pushing the woman and she forced herself through the crowd towards the end of the bar by the big fireplace where Theo had been… he was gone…
She was stunned. Gone! But of course, why should he not have done? She stood, buffeted by people, and she felt a crushing disappointment. Stupid, what did she expect?
She would finish her wine and go home, and try and think of how she had enjoyed herself… she had left her bag and phone on the bar which was also stupid, anyone could nick her things. She pushed through the crowd as she heard the bell ring for last orders… she wouldn’t bother, she’d had more than enough, she would be staggering home at this rate. The big woman who had been leaning against her was now sitting on the stool, and when she managed to squeeze round her she saw to her horror that her bag and phone had gone and so had her wine and the pint of lager she had bought him.
Damn, damn bloody damn!
She tried to ask the woman on the stool if she had seen anyone take her things… her bag! Her phone! How could she be so stupid! She stared in disbelief at the place on the bar where her things had been, beside the Lifeboat charity box. The girl behind the bar was trying to shout something at her as she pulled a pint. Maybe she had put her bag and phone safely behind the bar.
“Over there!” The girl nodded down the long bar. “Gave them to your boyfriend!”
And suddenly she heard Theo’s huh-huh-huh of a deep laugh, and looking along the bar she could see his big shoulders and the blond hair tied back hanging down his back. She squeezed through the press of people pushing to get to the bar for a last drink – where had they all come from? – and she almost fought her way round to the other bar.
© Lois Elsden 2017
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