Sunday, 15 February 2015

Last Orders

Ben took a deep draught of his Black Rock, rolling the dark, bitter taste across his tongue. Hmm… just the right hit of roasted barley, singing with vanilla and aniseed in the back of his throat. Well kept, indeed…
Appreciation of the full flavoured smoothness momentarily diverted his attention from the clock over the bar, mercilessly informing him with every glance that his Blind Date was now more than averagely late. Twenty-two minutes and seventeen seconds, to be exact.
Ben wished he had never agreed to it. As if there wasn’t enough humiliation in the world. And sometimes, even worse things happened than being sold a poorly kept pint.
His mate Steve - who had set up the date - said Ben was like Marvin the paranoid android from ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide’. “Except you haven’t got a brain the size of a planet.” He said. “Not if you turn this one down. Jenny’s seriously fit. Likes geeks, too, so you’re well in there.”
In the end, from sheer boredom, he gave in. Just to shut Steve up. And because he liked the sound of being ‘well in there’ after his long, dull - and though he hated to admit it - entirely celibate year of divorced singledom. Not that he had ever had much luck with ‘the fairer sex’. His ex-wife - She whose name must not be taken upon mortal lips - was proof of that.
So he said a pessimistic ‘yes’ to Steve and here he was, waiting for the fabled and ‘fit’ Jenny. At the very least, it was an excuse to come here, the newly resurrected ‘Bell’. Its cosy, intimate rooms, laughter from the bar, the sense of all the years of familiar gatherings, made him feel he’d come home. Every time he stepped inside, he was welcomed by all those forgotten generations and their peaceful evenings around the open fire. And, of course, by the great selection of beers. Finishing his Black Rock and examining the pumps, he thought he’d go for Rebellion brewery’s ‘Hole in one’ next; dark, complex and earthy, to match his mood. He was in no state for light and hoppy…
He glanced back up at the clock. Half an hour late.
He ran through all the rational, non-insulting reasons for Jenny’s tardiness that he could think of:
a) She was so thrilled by the prospect of a date with him - (he hoped that Steve had laid it on thick - even lied a bit about how fabulous he was) - that she had spent the last six hours getting ready and lost track of the time;
b) She had a flat tire and/or some other car-related disaster. (He refrained from thinking any sexist thoughts about her not being able to change wheels, fix fan belts etc.);
c) She’d been abducted by aliens or, alternatively, was herself an alien and had been called back to the Mother-ship, or;
d) He had been stood up.
It was d), wasn’t it.
He had hoped that his tentative forays into the world of women would have moved on, by now. After all, he was officially a grown-up (thirty-four, to be exact), with a job, a car, two kids and a real-life mortgage. He even liked watching ‘Question Time’: proof positive. But all his experiences had remained depressingly reminiscent of his early dating disasters. Women just didn’t seem to ‘get’ him. Least of all his ex-wife.
He had three main passions in life (apart from the obvious): real ale and his membership of CAMRA, Marvel comics (of which he had an enviable collection) and Starbuck (the female one) from ‘Battlestar Galactica’. His ex-wife had joined the ranks of women scornful of all three. She told him regularly that she had married a twelve year old, that he refused to inhabit the real world and that he had never grown out of his pathetic idea of being a super-hero trapped in a mundane life. (That last part was probably true.) Well, if he was a super-hero, his ex-wife must be his
Nemesis. She was the evil She-Cat-Ego-Slayer-Alimony-Demanding-Empress-of-Darkness and from her there was no escape. If only he had a cloaking device.
Ben shuddered at the thought of her, as the hands of the clock ticked inexorably on. Thirty-five minutes late.
But perhaps it was a good thing Jenny wasn’t going to show. Knowing his luck in the amorous department she would probably turn out to be twenty-two stone, with a penchant for humiliation and dismemberment.
He needed another drink. Approaching the bar, he saw that the guest ale was sporting a picture of a merry-looking Carl Jung. He had heard good things about Vale Brewery’s ‘Synchronicity’ and thought he’d give it a try before heading home. Returning to his table with his prize, he supped back deeply. His mouth tingled at the rye malt and playful alpha hop, liquid gold flowing down his throat, teasing all the way. He breathed in, savouring the after-taste: complex and bitter. Not how he liked his women.
Speaking of which… A breath-takingly gorgeous female had just walked into the bar. Male heads turned in unison to follow her high-heeled, tight red-dressed progress. Her long, softly curled golden-brown hair played at her amply rounded breasts, her pale azure eyes roaming the tables with a certain child-like vulnerability, nervous, yet lit with a playful expectation. Her full, tender lips smiled as she spotted him.
“Are you Ben?” She said, her voice lilting and husky. She leaned over to kiss his cheek - he was too stunned to stand up - and he glimpsed a certain dewy moistness in her cleavage. He breathed in her sweet, exotic scent and realized he was staring like a man possessed.
“Er… yes…” He managed at last.
She didn’t wait for his invitation, but sat herself opposite him, smiling into his eyes with astonishing, warm intimacy.
“I’m Jenny.” She told him, as if she were confiding some naughty secret. “Steve said you were handsome.”
“Er… thank you…” He would have to do better than this.
She tossed her teasing, light-flecked hair back over her shoulder, undeterred by his brain-dead responses. Anyone would think he’d had six pints of ‘Death or Glory’.
“Sorry I’m late, by the way. I was all caught up in season four of ‘Battlestar’ and lost track of the time.” She laughed, waves of warmth flooding over his senses. “I’m such a geek. I love my super-hero films, too. Any graphic novel stuff, really.” She reached out an elegant, beautifully-manicured
hand and touched his fingers gently. “This is going to be a good evening.” Reminding himself how to sound out words, he stammered:
“What can I get you to drink… Jenny?”
Her blue eyes sparked at his use of her name. “Oh, let me think.” She was playing with him delightfully, as if he’d just proposed something shocking. “A pint of…” “Yes -?”
You can’t win ‘em all, thought Ben as he headed instead for the loo, remembering that the window was large enough for him to escape out of.

The copyright of this post belongs to Alisha Bailie.

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