by Janet Howson
a lager and a beer
Stacey had always wanted to become an actress as far back as she could remember. She was so proud of her father as a small child because he had played a small role on a soap opera for years before they decided to kill his character off. She remembers boasting about him at her junior school and getting autographs for her classmates. They were wonderful years. He also used to be in productions at the local theatre and the family would go to see the play every night it was on, sometimes with friends of their choice. Until he fell out with the director and wasn’t cast anymore. She was always her father’s favourite. Her sister, Laura, was closer to her mother, she still was, cutting Stacey out of their conversations and plans. That was okay whilst her father still lived with them, but now her parents had separated, she felt isolated.
“Stacey,” a voice interrupted her thoughts. “Earth to Stacey, are you receiving me?”
“Sorry, Dean, what were you saying?” Dean was the office raconteur, always had some news to tell or incident that had happened to him. She liked him but that was as far as it went. He constantly asked her out but she always made an excuse.
“I was saying, Stace, that it was your turn to put the kettle on, mine’s a milky coffee and Jenny and Susan want tea. I’ve brought biscuits.” He waved a packet of biscuits in the air triumphantly. “You can only have one if you will let me take you out for a drink tonight.”
“You never give up do you?”
“Oh, go out with him, Stacey, I can’t cope with him salivating every time you enter the office. It won’t do no harm, there’s a children’s Disney on at the Odeon and you can buy him some popcorn if he is a good boy.” Jenny winks at Susan and they both burst into giggles.
“I’ve had a much better idea, Jenny, you can take Gary out, at your age everyone will think he is your grandson.”
“Oh, bitchy. Sixty is the new forty you know. Plenty of life left in this old bird yet. I am spitting feathers here, get the tea made and then we can have a fag break.”
“Oh, here we go again, you lot get a fag break whilst I have to carry on with the work. I shall start taking a chocolate break and go outside for as long as you lot and eat my Snickers.”
“Get a life, Dean, the only way you are going to ger a break is if you take up smoking. Whar about a pipe? It would suit you. You could puff away outside looking like ‘arold Wilson.” Jenny bursts into giggles accompanied by Susan.
“Who the hell is Harold Wilson?”
Stacey returns with the drinks and hands them round. She retrieves her handbag from under her desk and finds her cigarettes.
“Forget it, Dean, come on you two. I’m getting depressed ‘ere being reminded of my age. Gives us a biscuit Dean and some for the other two.”
“As I said, Stacey can’t have one until she agrees to come to the pub with me tonight.”
“I’ve got to go over my lines for ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ there is a dress rehearsal on Wednesday,” Stacey protested.
“So, it’s only Monday, plenty of time tomorrow night. Or I could help you go through them tonight in the pub. Shouldn’t be too noisy in ‘The Anchor’ on a Monday night. We might be the only ones in there.”
“Put ‘im out of his bleeding misery, Stacey. See yer outside in a minute, I’m losing the will to live ‘ere listening to you two.” Jenny and Susan leave the office.
“So what’s the verdict, Stace?”
“One drink only, then I will have to go. If we go straight from work it means I won’t be too late back. Now I’m going to have my fag. Don’t wreck the place whilst we're outside.”
“The girl sees sense. It will be the night of your lifetime. You can even have two biscuits as just reward.” He hands her the packet and she takes three.
“I’ll take one extra to give me strength to cope with your jokes tonight. ” She gives him back the packet. “And if I hear the one about the marshmallow again I shall not be responsible for my actions.” She leaves the office for her fag break, leaving a triumphant Dean who immediately picks up his smart phone, having no intention of working whilst the others are having a break.
At the end of the day, Susan and Jenny have already got their coats on and are putting on lipstick before leaving for the bus home. Stacey is on the phone with a client and Dean is drumming his fingers impatiently on his desk watching her.
“See you two lovebirds tomorrow. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t,” Jenny shouted out as she leaves the office with Susan.
“That doesn’t leave much then. I will be a gallant and courteous partner for the night. Come on Stace, the cleaners will be arriving in a minute. I want to get that table in the corner, away from the dart board and snooker table. Remember when that dart ricocheted of a wall and nearly pierced Susan? She didn’t stop going on about it for weeks.”
“Okay, okay okay, stop going on I’m finished now. I’ll just nip to the loo and put my coat on. Be with you in a tick.”
The pub was deserted when they arrived as Dean predicted. He bought Stacey a lager and a beer for himself. They sat in the corner and Dean talked non-stop about his photography course, new flat, a holiday he had planned with a ‘few mates’ in February and many other topics. Stacey lost the plot after a while, calculating when she could leave and get home to her dinner and the task of going over her lines. Shirley had not been too pleased at the last rehearsal that she kept on having to prompt her. She was a good director but had seemed very preoccupied that evening.
“And it’s all inclusive. We’ll have a right laugh, you ever been to the Canary Islands, Stace?”
Stacey was jolted back to the moment, “What were you saying, Dean?”
“Oh don’t worry about it, you haven’t heard a word I’ve said. I’m getting another pint. Same again for you?”
“Listen, Dean, I am really panicking about the dress rehearsal. I'll have to go. Sorry, and thank you for the drink.” She got up and started to put her coat on.
“I’ll walk you back to the tube station. You never know who is hanging about at this time of night. I had my wallet nicked out of my back pocket waiting for a tube, only last week.” He gets up.
“No, stay here and have another pint. I'll be fine. I have done it loads of times on my own much later than this.”
“No, I insist. I will never hear the end of it from Jenny and Susan if they found out I'd let you battle the dangers of the night on your own. Come on I don’t fancy being Billy no Friends in here anyway. You never know, I might be swooped on by some desperate woman and lured back to her house for…”
“All right, all right you win.” Stacey interrupted him, not wishing to hear any more. “If we make a move on I could catch the eight o clock from Fenchurch Street, which means I'll be home by nine.”
Sean threw back the last of his beer, wiped his mouth and held out Stacey’s coat for her to put on. “Ready, madam?”
Stacey laughed. “You are an idiot Dean, come on let’s get out of here.”
The two of them made their way to the tube station. It was raining and windy so Stacey put her umbrella up, allowing Dean to share it. It wasn’t far to walk and both of them knew the area very well. The umbrella obliterated their view and they laughed as it kept on blowing inside out, threatening to snap like so many of Stacey’s umbrellas had done so in the past, resulting in having to ditch them in the nearest bin. Finding one of those was a nightmare since they had got rid of most of them after the IRA bombs. She started to feel more of an affinity to this office clown she had always avoided before. Slow down Stacey, she told herself. You don’t want to get hurt, again, she swore she would not let that happen after Ben.
Ben had been the love of Stacey’s life. They had met at Drama School. He was the charismatic, attractive young dance instructor who flirted shamelessly with anyone who was willing to fall for his charms, and Stacey did. She had never met anyone like him before. She had gone to her local comprehensive school where boys played football and rugby. They didn’t dance. She knew of his reputation but convinced herself that their affair was different. She fell back on her studies because she saw him most nights. She drank too much, went to too many parties and generally had the time of her life. She wanted to marry him, have his children and grow old with him, so it came as a tremendous shock when she found out through a well-meaning friend, that he was already married. She felt her life had ended. She left drama school and got a job in the city in an insurance firm. She hated it but here she was now, still raw after the experience but learning to cope and get on with her life.
Suddenly the umbrella decided to give up completely trying to battle against the rain and wind and blew itself inside out violently, cracking the supporting struts.
“Oh, so typical, I will have to dump it. I must have bought a dozen of these over the years and none of them has lasted. They are worse than useless. Come on Dean, we will have to leg it. I hate getting wet.”
“On your marks, get set, go,” Dean spurted on ahead laughing as he got soaked from head to foot.
“Wait, Dean, I can’t run in these shoes.”
However, Dean couldn’t hear her because of the noise of the traffic on The Strand and ran ahead oblivious to Stacey’s calls.
He came from nowhere. Stacey only knew about it when she felt her bag being pulled off her shoulder. She tried to hold on to it but he was too strong, pushing her violently so that she fell onto the concrete pavement hitting her head. Then everything went black.
The voices sounded distant. She opened her eyes aware of a throbbing pain in her head. There was something wrong with her mouth, she couldn’t seem to open it properly. She felt sick and tried to sit up. Arms helped her up into a sitting position, a cardboard kidney bean shaped dish was put on her lap. She vomited, her mouth was so painful her lips and tongue felt enormous. A hand rubbed her back a figure moved about at the end of the bed, there were curtains pulled round, bright orange strip lighting glared and felt uncomfortable to her painful eyes, noises all around. Where was she? What had happened? Her mind was a blank, she felt panic rising in her gut. Why couldn’t she remember anything? A figure in uniform held her arm.
“Stay steady, you will just feel a scratch. I am giving you something to help you rest.”
She couldn’t answer, she couldn’t speak. The voices again became an echo. The room dimmed and became a blank. Her last thought as she sank into a deep sleep was; I’ve got to get to the dress rehearsal.
About the Author
Janet taught Drama and English for 35 years in several Comprehensive schools, directing a lot of plays, some of which she wrote herself. She was spurred to start writing again when she found a folder of forgotten poetry she had written years ago. She is now enjoying writing short stories and is honoured to have been chosen to be published in The Best of CafeLit and also Nativity a Bridge House publication. She is hoping her first book will be published in 2020, fingers crossed.
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