amoral 5 - Any Excuseview galleries
In front of me my beautiful notebook, lined, next to my plain sketchbook - half empty or half full? - a pencil, a beer and, of course, Aesop's fabulous public house. I am earlier than usual so I probably have twenty minutes until Martha arrives, and will use this time to write a description of the pub.
My fifth visit in as many weeks and I am starting to feel quite comfortable on my regulation wooden chair. At the bar counter, two meters from the serving area, a regular. A man in his late sixties or seventies, perhaps, a little overweight but in the drooping way elderly men often have when they are starting to lose their excess weight. His skin folded onto itself. He is friendly, most of the locals exchange a smile and a laugh with him while waiting for their beers, though I haven’t noticed much conversation between him and Aesop. Their lack of conversation is casual, like they are family, but some long since forgotten disagreement requires them to sit together in quiet tolerance, only broken by a jolt when either one or the other is reminded of the grievance. I wonder what happened, it would be easy to say write something clichéd like nocturnal invasions of the wicked uncle for that is approximately their age gap, but that wouldn’t fit the old man’s general demeanour or his relationship with the regulars. Or indeed, it would not fit Aesop either.
Indeed, standing at the bar is the young man normally at the table closest to the door. Getting a round in, no doubt. His usual table is all there, as they have been on my last few visits. Thornton talking at the women, perhaps more than talking to them, one of them, the larger woman, looking at him intently while the other two look across at bar. Perhaps they are concerned their drinks order may get mixed up, or perhaps the story Thornton is telling is about the one at the bar, or perhaps Thornton’s story is not particularly interesting and the one woman looking at him is only doing so because he is so beautiful. Like a fox and....
James entered the pub as I was looking in that direction trying to think of a suitable description for the Thornton gaze and was stuck on fox and fried chicken. I hurriedly closed my journal and slipped it below my sketchbook. James noticed but he didn't say anything, I shall restrain myself to making these notes at home in the future.
James purchased a beer for himself and one for Martha and joined me at the table. I started with the usual small talk, the new normal is the replacement for talking about the weather.
"Good getting out."
"We all need it."
"Everything becomes more intense."
"Doesn't it just. How are your family. Am I correct in thinking they moved away?"
"Yes, they are well though I hardly hear from my boy these days. You know how teenagers are."
"Yeah. Mine has decided I am the devil, or his emissary at least, and that I should be avoided. Open hostility."
"Oh, that's sad."
His eyes filled with tears and I realised my mistake. The correct response would have been to make jovial conversation on the topic of how dreadful teenagers are but I had encouraged his sadness.
"He is not bad, or even a fool. He is just showing solidarity with the wife. Toil, trouble, strife. Our own private cold war in which we… oh god it is just so fucked up."
I tried to work out what to say but could not find the words in my beer. James rotated his glass and took my silence as an invitation to continue.
"It is just the way it has become, but it seems to end things is the only way out now. Silly really. I was always the strict one. She was always the caring one, even although I did more of the actual caring. You know how it is: I am there insisting he finishes his bean casserole and she sweeps in from work, pulls him into a cuddle and watches tele. While I clean the kitchen. Annoyed. But I held it in, kept it to myself and gave the impression of perpetually grumpiness. And teenagers are so definite in their thinking. He really does think I was always out to make his life a misery. I don't think the wife can really do much to change his mind, but because she doesn't a gulf has developed between us. So much of it practical, my avoiding conflict leads to my listening to the house before getting a tea, leads to my resenting my lack of freedom. How churlish. I should not have mentioned it."
"Ending it all seems like a drastic thing to do."
"There is a time and a place for everything but it is always difficult knowing what is the right moment to start anew."
I replied with an anecdote about the strains lockdown had put on being half a country away from my child. I said the right thing, I balanced his revelation with my pain. But it wasn't true. I don't miss him. I didn't even miss him when talking about missing him. It is strange when I think how close I was to him when he was young. Fortunately, Martha arrived and after our hellos I blurted the first thing that came to my mind as James and Martha sipped their beer.
"I spotted James coming in a minute ago because I had been watching the women at the table by the door, one watching Thornton and two watching the other young man like wolves regarding lambs."
"Ha, any excuse for a tyrant."
"Oh, you mean you weren't testing me on Aesop's fables?"
"No. I was just looking about the punters imagining their stories and noticed how intent the one was looking at Thornton while the other two were completely distracted by the other one who was at the bar then. At the time I thought of an urban ms. fox and a bargain bucket, but thought that a bit demeaning so better to go with the wolf and the lamb."
"Well, yeah. Thornton can be very enticing, but my guess is one of the ones not looking at him was Edie, the thin one with the long hair. They have been together for a while, many years, actually. I'll tell you one thing, Edie is very fond of talking about Ant when he is not about. I have often been know to buy her a drink once Ant has left."
"Yes, her and the one with the short hair. And are you suggesting you may have a tale or two to tell?"
"Try saying that after a few."
"That is hardly a tongue twister."
"Well, yes, I might even be able to match a tale to the aforementioned fable, though the link might be tenuous."
"From your collection of firsts?"
"Indeed it is."
"It includes a tyrant?"
James rolled his eyes at me.
"You are not quite on top of your Aesop's fables."
Martha took pity on my confused look.
"The tale is about the wolf looking for an excuse to gobble up the lamb, in the end any excuse will do."
"And Eidi, did you that was her name, will be playing the part of the wolf, and Ant will be playing the lamb?"
"Edie, but no, you have the roles are reversed, actually."
James gave me a withering look and I realised I was being too keen. I shut up an let Martha talk.
"Like many thing, the story Edie told me one warm evening just after the first lockdown was constructed in retrospect, it had to be as she was asleep for parts of it. You must remember how we all felt like we had beaten the demon at the end of the first lockdown? Not quite the carefree like before the pandemic, but nonetheless a time of joy. Almost like first love, in a way, which was why I asked her about first love.
"She answered immediately that Ant was he first love. Sometimes she has declared he will be her only love, sometimes she has been a bit more coy.
"Sorry, I am getting distracted. It was when she and Ant were still in school, you might remember those awkward days of wanting to talk to someone and not quite knowing how. Thinking there must be a clever formula that no one told you because they seem to do it and all you end up doing is pulling their scarf. Edie started the tale at that point: Ant's abortive attempts at seduction that fell flat. He kept trying, and she reminisced about the smile he would wear in her presence. Then came the visits to her house. There was always plenty of opportunity to be alone in friends houses with working parents. Gosh, think how tough that must be on the young these days.
"They did the usual things, listen to music, hold hands, kiss, shoulder rub.
"She remembered once they listened to music and he put out his hand to dance, he gently eased her shirt from her skirt and slowly started undoing her buttons from the bottom but she said wrra, wrra, it's ok, I'm not too hot now.”
"That is the sound a lamb makes when a wolf has made an uncalled-for assumption.”
“And once when holding hands as they sat on the sofa, he stroked her leg a little causing her own fingers to hike her skirt up but she flattened it and said: wrra, wrra, that material is most beautiful when it is smoothed down.
"And once when they were kissing on her bed he pulled her T-shirt but she wiggled her shoulders and said: wrra, wrra, you can't pull my shirt while we are kissing.
"And then one day he offered to rub her shoulders. Edie was always tense, she imagined how relaxing it would be and said yes. Ant rubbed a little while she sat then suggested she lie on her stomach. She agreed, but she gave him a few pointers. Always massage towards the heart. Knead the muscles in a tiny continuous actions. Don't be afraid to try anything. Well, Ant went for it, sensitively and divinely. It was not long before Edie said: wrra, wrra, it would better without my top.”
"Poetic license, Anyway, soon Edie fell asleep, when she woke an hour or two later Ant had gone. She felt refreshed, she felt revived, she felt worshiped. Back rubs settled into a pattern, of an afternoon Ant would come by for a smoke and a chat and he offered a little massage before Ant left. All very idyllic for the time it lasted, as Edie left to live with her mother about a month later, then clearly came back, and they got together but there was a small interlude when he visited her at her mums, you know how it goes, but those are all stories with other wolves and lambs, and bears and tigers and maybe even a unicorn, all stories for another day.
“This story ends with any excuse for the tyrant. I am not quite sure how Edie learned about the truth of what happened on those massage afternoons once she had fallen asleep. It might have been in an argument, I can imagine Anthony shouting: Well, you know when you thought you were getting a loving massage... Or it might have been a deluded attempt at seduction: I have always loved that, you know when I gave you those massages when we were young... Edie revealed to me that Ant took her narcoleptic moments of bliss to expose her and wank away as if she were his personal porn magazine. I was outraged for her when she told me, and I still feel that way but she said she had done underhanded, unkind things herself and she would have preferred something more honest but it has ended up as an anecdote to tell in the pub, a tale with a nice little twist. And, she said, we are all a little twisted sometimes. But I found it difficult to shrug it off which is why it came to mind when talking about Any Excuse for a Tyrant.”
In silence I finished my beer thinking about Ant, masturbation, and if I had been wrong in my fantasy life. I asked if James was going my way but he said he would be having another beer. So I left the pair of them to it.
I caught a final glimpse of the pair of them laughing as I stepped out of the pub and thought perhaps James was right. Perhaps it is time for something new, even in these times that seem so old. And if looking for something new there is no need to look further than Martha. She has just the spirit to lighten any dark day.