The Moon Under Water
Dakin and Irwin get the bus to the pub from one direction and Posner and Scripps from another. The four of them arrive, two by two, at the same time and spot each other across the road. Before they’re in earshot, Irwin grits his teeth and mutters, “Well, this is awkward”; Posner ventures much the same. Scripps and Dakin tell them both to give over, and they exchange a wave.
When they’re on the same side of the road, Irwin nods at Scripps’ hand and asks, “What did you do?” Posner, pushing ahead through the doors without making eye contact, replies on Scripps’s behalf, “He’s developing stigmata”.
“Ha, bloody, ha”, says Scripps and rolls his eyes. “Scalded myself making tea – it's nothing”, and, with that, their tumultuous day is hidden away under the dressing – not to be examined.
Earlier this afternoon, Posner had arrived in Scripps’ kitchen to find him tearful and wounded. Scripps had said nothing, but stood up and pulled him close and held him - leaving him perplexed and damp at the shoulder. Angela was close by, and yet this, and the hot tears and the melting puddle of ice – a conundrum. He’d waited it out, making soothing noises, and was rewarded for his patience with a simple, “I love you, David”.
And he replied, “Oh, thank God, is that all? I thought it was something serious”, which caused snotty, hiccupping laughter. And then, of course, “I love you too” - which didn’t. He took Scripps by the hand outside to where they sat at the garden table and he told him everything about his conversation with his mother. They’d suspected she knew, laughed about it, been even a little thrilled at the possibility. But the reality is a point of no return, the edge of the cliff – no choice but to jump and fall, the rocks mostly hidden and the temperature of the water as yet unknown.
Angela dried her own tears and gave herself a stern talking to. She tried not to intrude, but love and curiosity drew her into Donald’s room, wanting to know what wallowing in nostalgia would provoke – prodding at a bad tooth, to see if it still hurt. But she found it was the idea of a shrine to her lost boy that was most tooth-achingly cloying. She noticed a greasy Blu Tack mark from a sun-bleached, peeling poster and decided it was time to redecorate. He can do it himself, she told herself. Something cheerful… or maybe… or perhaps… No, if it’s to be his room a while yet, he can choose.
She resisted leaning on the sill, but not for long; the grass needed a cut – maybe she’d ask the boys to do it. And there they were - chairs pulled up, almost facing, everything leaning, straining towards each other. But not touching - as though touching were a provocation to the gods not to be risked. First one of them talked earnestly, staring at the ground, regarded soulfully by the other - and then positions reversed. They looked so… grave, she could hardly bear it; they used to run laughing round this garden. “Oh, for goodness sake”, she said, and went to make more tea.
She took a tray into the garden and pulled up a chair while they watched her like nervous cats. Feeling their eyes on her as she poured, she said, “Donald, I think your bedroom could do with a lick of paint and a general overhaul, it looks like a ten-year-old's room. And, as you’ve a bit of time on your hands, you can do it”. Then she paused and, looking straight at Pos said, “Would you be a love and help him, David? Can you imagine what he’ll come up with on his own?” Pos laughed and replied, “I dread to think”.
Scripps told his mother it could take a while, as, “David is very pernickety”, and she said if a job was worth doing, it was worth doing well and, with that, the long summer stretched ahead and Pos had permission to come and go as he pleased and be with Scrippsy - alone, in his room… oh God… maybe in his bed. He curled his toes tightly in his shoes at the thought and to stop the escape of a squeal. Although a paintbrush would have to be wielded at some point.
Tea was drunk and there was chit-chat about paint and new curtains and how are your parents, David - until they were dismissed with, “Don’t you have some practice to do? Leave me in peace”. When Pos turned back to collect the tray, he said, “Thank you, Angela” and she replied, “Be careful”. Just that - be careful. She might have meant be careful with that tray, for all he knew. But there was a smile, of sorts, anyway.
He went into the front room where Scripps was already at the piano. “What did your mum just do, Scrippsy?”, he asked, and Scripps replied that, much like God, his mum had worked out that if he couldn't have David, she couldn’t have him.
“And she really wants you?”
“Yes, she does.”
Pos plonked himself on the piano stool next to Scripps and said, “Me too”. And Scripps kissed him and laughed and played the piano for him - wounded hand or no wounded hand.
And so, here they are, arriving at the pub - to see friends - to talk, to laugh, to sing. As it ever was.
The Red Lion is a world unto itself, caught somewhere between the end of the war and the brave new world of the nineteen eighties. The carpets are a sick-making swirl of reds and greens - no doubt intended to evoke a homely front parlour but adept at hiding the stains of whatever causes that unmistakable sticky underfoot sensation. The ceiling is ornate and yellowed and the air thick with smoke. Regulars keep their own pewter tankard behind the bar but, regular or not, you will never be served beer in a handleless glass.
The clientele is a strangely mixed bag. Elderly men gather in groups of twos and threes - it pains them that women, young women, have begun to feel comfortable enough to arrive alone, or in gaggles, without sign of menfolk. Men of a more progressive persuasion, will occasionally sit with their wives in the saloon bar - their wives drink Port and Lemon or a Cinzano Bianco, if they’re feeling modern; their husbands wish they were in the public bar. In the holidays the students come, drawn by cheap beer and the pool table and dart board; the bar is mostly staffed by them then and the whole place grinds grudgingly into the young decade.
In the public bar, there’s a small, slightly raised, stage corner complete with ineffective microphone and not entirely in-tune piano. It’s seen everything from spoons players to school boys riding the new wave of British heavy metal - that was a night! The old men have no truck with it; they drink pints of Mild and smoke Woodbines - memories and fears of their own generation shared silently and contained within.
Tonight, a young woman will get up to sing and play a Cyndi Lauper cover and become paralysed with nerves. Pos will take pity on her, step up to put on a harmony and realise a small foray into modernity might not be so bad. She will be grateful and gushing and get entirely the wrong idea; Pos will be oblivious.
There will be a middle-aged man who styles himself a comedian but whose entire routine is based on finding anything that is neither male, nor white, nor straight, hilarious. He will take it as read the whole pub feels the same way and he will seriously have misjudged the zeitgeist. He will be heckled by Timms, who will raise considerably more laughs.
Pos will sing and Scripps will play and our boys will jostle for new positions, laugh and argue themselves into the new realities and find them not so very much unlike the old. Plus ca change...