a finished piece for my creative writing class.
He looked up from the newly empty whisky glass he clutched in his right hand, and looked his friend in the eye for the first time since he’d joined him ten minutes before. He shook his head, chewing on his lip for a moment.
“I was just trying to do what was best, you know? I didn’t want to let anyone down, and she knows that, when a band asks me to help out I don’t like saying no. I didn’t realise how much it was upsetting her ‘til it was too late.
“The time she got really mad, I mean more than just telling me off and making me feel guilty, was the morning of the Nationals. She’d gone to bed early the night before; one of her kids had been playing up in class, and she took a migraine. I was watching TV, and the phone went, it was one of the Tullis boys, looking for a bass trombonist, ‘cause theirs was sick. I decided if they were phoning me that late they must be desperate, so I said I’d help them. The only thing was I’d promised her we’d go out for dinner on the Saturday night, but I figured I could play in the contest, and still get back in time for us to go out.
“I tried to get ready as quietly as possible the next morning; she was still sleeping when I got up. I knew she’d be awake by the time I left, she always was; thought I’d tell her then what was happening. I must have been a bit noisier than I thought, ‘cause when I turned round she was staring at me from under the duvet. She got all annoyed when she saw it was only 7am, but more upset when I told her where I was going. She accused me of loving the band more than her. Why would she say that?
“I know she misses the band; she had to give it up when she started teaching, just to get some time to herself, so she knows how it goes. I promised I’d be back in time to go out to dinner, that she should be ready for six, but that didn’t seem to wash either. It was to make up for missing our anniversary, typically because of band commitments. She wasn’t talking to me when I left; I went to give her a kiss goodbye, but she moved over the bed out of my reach.”
He nodded to the waitress as she brought him another glass of whisky, and after raising it briefly to his friend, downed half of it in a quick gulp. He placed the glass down with a thump, and closed his eyes briefly, before continuing his story.
“Anyway…I couldn’t concentrate at band, I felt so bad about it. We were sitting backstage and my mind kept wandering back to her. I didn’t know what she was doing, didn’t know if she’d still want to go out when I got back. I had planned to get home as soon as possible after we played. Only, you know what bandsmen are like; we won the section, so they insisted I join them for a pint in the bar…and it became several…”
“I was so angry at him that morning,” she said, looking up over her cup of tea as her friend took a seat opposite her at the table. She looked around the room, then back, a look of frustration on her face. “It’s just, he’s always out with the bloody band. I know what it’s like, I did it myself once upon a time, but James…he’s just that good-natured, he won’t say no to anyone, so nearly every weekend I’m left sitting in the house on my own. And it really hurt this time, he’d missed our anniversary two months before, and had been promising to make it up to me ever since; we’d finally got round to making plans, and he ditched me for that damn band!
“Well, he disappeared that morning, promising he’d be back in time for dinner, and I knew deep down that he meant it, but I was so mad that I wouldn’t let myself believe it. I ended up storming round the house, tidying just to distract myself, it was so stupid. In the end, I decided I just needed to get out of the house, and maybe have a little time to cool down; I didn’t want to fight with him. So I phoned my mum, and asked if it was ok for me to go stay for a couple of days. She said of course it was, so I packed my bag, and went to leave, but I felt bad just up and leaving, so I left him a note, saying where I had gone, and that I’d get in touch when I was ready to speak to him. That’s fair, right?”
She took a gulp of her tea, setting the cup back down on the table, then turning it so the handle was pointing towards her. Satisfied it was, she carried on her monologue.
“My mum thought I had done the right thing, she said getting away instead of fighting was the best thing to do. I was going to give it a few days, then phone him and we could meet up and talk it over. I never wanted to leave him, god you know that, you used to wind me up because I spoke about him all the time. It’s just…he’s still the man I fell in love with, but I never get to see him anymore.”
“I think it was about one in the morning before I go home; I knew I was in for a lecture, but thought she might have been sleeping, so I snuck in as quietly as I could, hung the band jacket in the hall cupboard, and took my shoes off. But as I went in the living room, the kitchen light was on. Either she was just home herself, which was entirely likely; she might have phoned one of her friends to go out and have a good moan, or she was waiting up for me. I figured it would probably be best just to get it over with, so I went in the kitchen…and she wasn’t there. There was no sign of her, just a note lying next to the kettle.”
He reached into his pocket, and pulled out the crumpled-up page from her notebook. He smoothed it out on the table in front of him, and read it aloud.
I’m away to stay with my parents for a few days, I get a bit of attention there at least. I hope the band did ok.
We can’t go on like this, something has to give. I know you love the band, I did too, but it seems to have taken over your life. I’m not asking you to quit, just scale it back a bit. Do you think you could do that for me?
I’ll phone you when I’m ready to talk, I don’t want us to argue about this. I’ve got something else to discuss with you too.
L xx ‘
“What am I supposed to do when I see something like that? I was stunned; it was like my mind had literally gone blank. It was all I could do to grab the whisky bottle and take a swig, then wander off to my bed.
“The next couple of days…I don’t really remember. It’s a blur, I guess I was in shock, and just didn’t want to think about it. I do remember waking up that Sunday morning, and looking over to see the other half of the bed empty, and knowing it wasn’t just because she was up and about in kitchen. That hurt the most; it’s been years since I slept on my own.
“Tuesday morning, I’d considered phoning in sick, but had dragged myself out of bed, and was in the kitchen, tidying a bit while I waited for the kettle, when the phone rang, and it was her. She sounded a bit like I felt, so I knew she wasn’t as mad at me as she had been. She wanted to meet up, so we arranged to go to dinner that night, at the Filling Station on Rose Street. Then she had to go, she had to get her train, since she was staying with her parents over in Fife.
“That day, I couldn’t concentrate on anything; I kept playing imaginary conversations over in my head, and ended up working through my lunch and tea breaks just to get finished. The thing that really got me was her choice of meeting place. Rose Street is closer to my work than to the train station; I thought it might have meant she was planning to come home. The “thing” she wanted to tell me had been bugging me too, and the only answer that I had come up with was that she was pregnant. I mean, we hadn’t been trying or anything, but there was nothing else I could think of.”
“After I phoned him, I started having second thoughts, but it was too late by that point. We were just going to discuss the problem like adults, and just get it all sorted out. I had planned to go home with him that night too, so I had my bag with me. That’s why I said I’d meet him on Rose Street instead of the Royal Mile; if I was serious about it, I’d have to walk past the train station to get there.
“I had a hellish day at work though; scenarios kept running through my head about what was going to happen, and how he’d react to my news. I had been going to tell him on the Saturday, but, well, that never happened. I figured I could use it in my favour too; if we had a kid he’d need to be around more often. A couple of the kids in my class were really playing up that day too; it was all I could do not to lose the head at them. I ended up giving up half my lunch time keeping them in, and I was knackered by the end of the day.”
She took a sip of her tea; it was getting cold now. She blinked rapidly as the lights flared on in the café, she hadn’t realised how late it was getting.
“I made it on time though; well, I had to dash a bit to get there, but he was waiting, sitting at the bar, typically a whisky in hand. He looked hellish; like he hadn’t slept in days, and pale, and I had such a pang of guilt. I went over and said hi, and he seemed genuinely pleased to see me, so downed his whisky and stood up. We waved over a waitress, and she dashed off to find us a table. Being his usual self, James asked if I was alright, because apparently I looked a bit hellish myself. I just couldn’t help it; I fell for him all over again in that moment. I put my arm through his as we stood there, and he took my hand.”
“She looked worn out that night, as we sat down at the table I got a good look at her, and she was awful pale. I asked if she was alright, and she said she was a bit queasy, but more than that, she wouldn’t look me in the eye as she said it. So I just came out and said it, I said ‘You’re pregnant’. She looked a bit shocked that I had worked it out, but didn’t deny it. And you know, I was genuinely over the moon, it was such a wonderful thing to be told. She was two months gone, and that was her point; when this kid came along, she was going to need me to be there. We were about to start discussing it when the waitress came back to take our order, neither of us gave it any thought, just pointed at any random thing on the menu to get her to go away.
“And then she said what I had been waiting for her to say; ‘I need you to promise me you’ll cut back on the band and spend more time at home’. Course, I couldn’t promise that, you never know when I’m going to be needed for a band. I mean, I’d do my best, but I couldn’t promise, and that wasn’t good enough for her.
“I have only ever once seen her lost her temper, and that was nothing compared to what happened that night. She threw her chair back as she stood up, and started shouting at me, about how I loved the band more than her, and how she wanted nothing to do with me. All the people sitting around were watching. Then she made to storm out, and I went to go after her, but one of the waitresses got in the way, time I got past her she was gone.
“You have no idea how that feels; it was like she had literally ripped my heart out. The little waitress came back to see if everything was alright, and all I could think to say was bring me a whisky. She disappeared, but then a shadow appeared on the table, so I looked up, and she was standing there. She pulled off her wedding ring, and went to throw it on the table, but seemed to change her mind.”
“I couldn’t do, I don’t know why, but I couldn’t throw the ring, livid as I was. Instead, I took his hand, put the ring in his palm, then curled his fingers about it and left. It was raining the time I got outside, and I just stood there in the street, crying and letting the rain soak me. I don’t know how long I stood there, but I do know he didn’t try and follow me.
“I don’t remember anything else about that night; I think I was trying to forget it to be honest. I went back to my parents’, I know that because I woke up there the next morning, but what I did between leaving the restaurant and getting there, I have no idea.”
“So, is that it? Are you guys finished?”
She looked at her friend, seemingly trying to find the best way to answer.
“So that’s what the fight was about at the rehearsal the other night? When you walked out?”
James looked up, nodding, before looking at his watch.
“Yeah. She came home the next night, and just threw herself at me, crying. Said she couldn’t leave, but something had to give, it really did. And I told her she was right; I had spent the night before sitting on the sofa, thinking about it all, and I had decided she was right. And that’s how that mess the other night happened. They accused me of abandoning the band, of letting them down.”
“He was raging when he came home that night,” she said, standing up and pulling her jacket on. “I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen him that angry, but he said it was ok, that it was the right thing to do.
“I’m sorry, I’ve got to run, I’m supposed to be meeting him; we’re finally going for that anniversary dinner. I’ll see you on Saturday, yeah?”
“I’m going to have to dash bud, I promised I’d take her to dinner, finally, and I’m going to do it. This is my last chance. I’ll see you on Saturday though, when you and the missus are round for dinner, yeah?”
“Yeah, sure, I’ll see you then.”
James smiled, and waved a hand behind him as he left, looking at his watch and cursing when he realised he had misread it, and was now running ten minutes behind. He pulled his jacket collar up and hunched his shoulders against the cold as he left the pub, and walked slap bang into a woman outside.
“Oh, god, I’m sorry…oh, Laura.”
She grinned up at him, hands thrust in the pockets of her jacket.
“Hello, fancy seeing you here.” She narrowed her eyes at him. “Did you forget?”
“No! No, I was, I was…I forgot the time.”
She giggled. “Have you been drinking?”
“No! Well, a little…”
She laughed properly at him this time, and he felt his cheeks flush as she realised she had been poking fun at him. Taking him by the arm, she started to pull him down the street after her. “Come on you; we have a reservation, and we’re going to have dinner this time!”