Saturday night at the Flying Monk wasn’t like the quiet afternoon when I drank with the Stryker brothers. The pub was crowded, thick with cigarette smoke, music from a jukebox, the room filled with shouting voices. It seemed like half the village was jammed into the low-ceilinged room. Robbie found us room on the bench along one wall, half a dozen little round tables scarred by cigarettes and beer ranged in front of it. Robbie fought his way to the bar, returned with three pints. He leaned forward until his face was only a few inches from my ear.
"Local color, Jack. Put this in your fucking movie!"
Maggie rose and reached out toward me. "Dance, Jack Stone?" At least that’s what I thought she said, her voice barely audible above the hubbub.
"Did you say dance?"
"Yes." She took my hand and pulled me to my feet.
She turned her head toward the far end of the room and towed me through the crowd. I looked back at Robbie and he raised his pint toward me, grinning.
There was a space at the far end of the room with a tiny dance floor and a huge jukebox that looked decidedly American. Although it was crowded around the edge, the space was kept open enough so that three or four couples could dance, and there were people I recognized from the village, a woman who had stared dourly at me from the village store and who was now dancing, her head thrown back, laughing.
Maggie slipped into my arms and we danced to a Frank Sinatra song, Frankie crooning strangers in the night, and it was as if Maggie weren’t there, she moved so gracefully. I’m not that great a dancer. I’m adequate and I’ve always wished I could be a minor Fred Astaire but at that moment I felt I could have out-danced him. She flowed with me, her body touching mine, and I could hear her singing along, her voice buried in my shoulder. The record stopped and she continued to dance, and I felt self-conscious, as if the whole village must be watching us, but nobody was paying any attention and the next record came on, a polka and there were stomping farmer lads all around us and we worked our way back to where Robbie was sitting.
"She’s not half bad, is she?" Robbie said.
"She dances beautifully."
"You play a tango and you watch her and it’s like watching fucking with clothes on. Oh my, my Maggie can dance, right, love?" He leaned across me toward her.
"That you can dance."
"You want to dance, Robbie?"
"Not now, love. Maybe when we get back to the farm we’ll do a bit of dancing." He nudged me in the ribs.
"Don't be too sure of yourself, you cheeky bugger," she said. "Come on, Jack Stone. Dance with me again." The polka was over and the jukebox was playing another Sinatra song.
"Go ahead, Jack," Robbie said, "warm her up for me."
I think, at that moment, I could have killed the bastard. Picked up the little pub table and beat him over the head with it, crushed him down to the floor until he was lifeless and gone off to dance with Maggie. I felt a surge of jealousy, thought, you lucky prick, you don’t have any idea how good you have it. Yes, you do know how lucky you are, and I would give anything if you could, at this moment, disappear, be swallowed up, go out to the loo to take a piss and get beaten to death by the Stryker brothers who mistake you for a feral dog that attacked their sheep or you suddenly remember that you’re already married to a woman in Tasmania.
Maggie and I danced again and when we came back to the table, Robbie raised his glass to us. "If I was a bit more steady, Jack, I’d go out there and show you how it’s really done. Christ, I need to take a piss." He rose, a bit unsteadily, and said, "Come on Jack, time for a bit of relief from all these happy arseholes."
We went to the loo, which required that we go outside the pub and around the corner of the building, a stone shed on the back of the pub where there was a metal trough along one wall, water dribbling through it, and Robbie leaned one hand against the wall as he fumbled with the fly of his trousers with the other and I could tell that he was slightly drunk. Another man came into the shed, stood between us, and as he unzipped his trousers, Robbie said to him, "Your fucking dog was worrying my sheep again. You let him loose one more time and he’ll come back to you one leg at a time."
"For Christ’s sake, Barlow," the man said, "that dog is thirteen years old. He’s not going to worry your sheep."
"You heard what I said."
"Well, piss off, Barlow," and with that Robbie turned, and a steady arc of urine cascaded onto the man’s shoes. Robbie stood there, holding his cock in his hand, aiming it at the man’s feet and the man jumped back. "Jesus Christ, you bloody fucking nutter!" he shouted. "What the hell’s the matter with you?"
Robbie said nothing, just stood there, pissing on the cement floor, the urine spattering at the man’s feet and soaked trouser legs and I thought, Oh shit, someone’s going to get hit but Robbie only stood there with a grin on his face, as if it were all a huge joke, but it wasn’t a joke. His eyes were fixed on the man and they glittered and he didn’t look drunk at all, even though he swayed slightly as he carefully shook his penis and tucked it into his trousers, zipping his fly, his eyes boring into the other man. It was as if a switch had been flicked and the Robbie who called his dog to his heel and talked about Roman hill forts to his son and slapped his wife on the thigh had disappeared, replaced by something that was dark and dangerous and the man knew it because he backed out of the door, muttering "fucking crazy son of a bitch," and Robbie said, "Well, Jack, you fancy another dance with my wife?"
We went out into the misting night and Robbie steadied himself on the stone wall of the pub, sucking at the night air for a moment. A lorry went by, its tires hissing on the wet pavement and then we were back inside the smoky pub. I looked for the man who had been in the loo, but he was nowhere to be seen. And when we sat down again next to Maggie it was as if nothing had happened. We had gone out to take a piss and we were back and here’s to you, Robbie said, glass raised. Nothing had happened and everything had happened. I had, for a brief moment, seen another Robbie Barlow and it was unnerving, the kind of feeling that comes when you’ve accidentally sliced yourself with a kitchen knife and the flesh opens and blood wells up but there’s no pain yet, just the realization of what you’ve done and the anticipation of the pain to come.
The pub was beginning to empty and I danced again with Maggie. Then Mary called out, "Time! Last orders!" and we went out into the drizzle and got into the Land Rover. Maggie sat between us, her thigh touching mine and in the darkness her hand pressed against me, gently massaging my leg, almost absentmindedly, her head on Robbie’s shoulder, half-asleep.
The house was dark and Jack met us silently at the door. Maggie went immediately upstairs and Robbie asked if I wanted a drink.
"Shot of brandy, Jack? Nightcap?"
"No, I think I’ve had enough."
"Well, I think I’ll have one. See you at breakfast?"
"Sure." I went up the stairs, paused at the top and watched the crack of light at the base of their bedroom door. Then I went into my room and undressed in the dark, crawled naked into the bed and thought of Maggie pressing against me on the dance floor, and I wanted her and I grew hard and I imagined her on top of me, her body pressing down against mine, and then I heard Robbie’s footsteps in the hallway and his voice in their room and I buried my head under the pillow, unable to bear the sounds.
Copyright © 2007 by Russell Hill.