HAPPY HOUR

Peter is old and frail and lives alone.
Is there a way out?
He thinks he's found the answer on the internet.
But while he's setting his house in order, he has several interruptions.

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1. PETER AND JAMIE

Some readers may be offended by the themes and the occasional four-letter word in the dialogue in this short story.

 

 

Hello. Whoever you are. This is me, Ray, your narrator. The author. You’re reading what I write. Or wrote. I’m telling the story. So, whenever you see, or read italics, you know it’s not a character, it’s me. And I won’t use them anywhere else. Not even for emphasis. Or even for foreign languages. Which is what they’re usually used for. So, when the characters say something, I’ll use normal, everyday, lowercase. And I’ll only use CAPITALS for a time shift. To make it easier to follow, I hope.

I also hope this style annoys some people.

More importantly, I hope some of you will find the content disconcerting. Or annoying. Or offensive. Or disgusting.

And hopefully you’ll be provoked enough to write abusive stuff to me.

So let’s get things going.

 

This is Peter talking:

 

‘Eighty-five’s not a bad innings, I suppose. But times have changed. So perhaps it’s my time to move on. To take the last metro.

 

Peter is saying stuff out loud as he does from time to time without noticing it, and right now he’s being troubled by an intrusive ringing sound which could be in his head but may not be, so he picks up the phone as he continues to talk on.

 

‘Everything’s in place at last, the die is cast and the end is nigh.’

 

As you can see, Peter likes a bit of melodrama. Jamie, Peter’s son is on the phone, but Peter doesn’t realize this. Not at first anyway.

 

‘For God’s sake dad, why can’t you just answer the phone in the normal manner?’

 

On the table an old-fashioned turntable is playing an even more old-fashioned tune that adds to the garbled noises in his head. Every now and then Peter sings along with Vera, the vocalist.  You know, Vera Lynn from the war, the second war. The Forces’ Sweetheart. But it’s obvious that he only knows some of the words.

 

‘’Allo. Who’s that? “We’ll meet again,” This is Peter Mulligan speaking. “Don’t know where don’t know when,” Oh, is that you Jamie?’

 

‘Jesus dad do we really have to go through all this again? Every time I phone you.’

 

Peter glances at the things he’s gathered together on the table.

 

‘Do you remember, Jamie, who said, “Give us the tools and we’ll get on with the…?” Well, I suppose you do. I’ve told you often enough.’

 

‘Stop it Dad, for Christ sake. I’d just like to talk to you sensibly for a change.’

 

Peter looks at the open box and the crystal glass he’s chosen. He checks and sees that all the ingredients are mixed together. He's already attended to that, he remembers.

 

‘So, just one thing missing. I think I need a pack of paracetamol. You remember, Jamie, that widely available antipyretic commonly used for the relief of minor aches and pains, but in combination with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and opioid analgesics, also used in the management of more severe pain. Just in case, you see, and just as a precaution, I suppose. Because I’d hate there to be any pain. It's the thing I fear most, even though the literature states emphatically that there isn’t any. But how’d they know? No one can ever be too sure. And you can’t exactly claim your money back afterwards can you, not if the stuff’s any good anyway? What do you think, Jamie?’

 

‘What? What’s that? What are you talking about, dad?’

 

He picks up a bottle of wine, Peter that is, not James.

 

‘And, most important of all, a good Beaujolais nouveau, one of my favorites.  On the other hand, Champagne would have been a good idea too, not that this is exactly a celebration, just the opposite, I suppose.’

 

James waits patiently on the phone, while Peter rambles on. He hopes his father will settle down soon and talk coherently. Because James has something important to say. Or to ask.

 

‘But who knows? No one’s ever been there and come back to tell us about it. Lorna believes it though, almost literally. You know, that after life stuff. She loves all that traditional mumbo jumbo she was taught when she was young.’

 

Peter is irritated by his tinnitus, which is toiling away as it does to from time to time and now does all or most of the time. As you all know, this is the perception of sound within the human ear in the absence of corresponding external aural stimulation. So even if you didn't know, now you do.

 

‘OK, so it’s time for me to get comfortable and to do the dirty deed. I’ll just light the fire to make it nice and warm in here. And then the hemlock.’

 

Jamie waits for a chance to speak while Peter quotes Shakespeare to himself, because hemlock is simply, for those of you not old enough to remember, an old fashioned word for something nasty, and quite often used by old-fashioned detective fiction writers. He pours a good few inches of wine and some other liquid into the glass and starts stirring vigorously.

 

‘Dad, can I talk to you please.’

 

‘Of course Jamie, carry on, what did you want to say? Good God what a disgusting colour. You’d think these days they’d be able to concoct something that looked a little more attractive, a bit more appetizing.  For the last round. Something that looks like a banana milkshake, perhaps. Or a pina colada or a tequila, or some other exotic-looking cocktail.’

 

‘Dad, I’m phoning about something important.’

 

‘But now’s not the time for jokes. Jesus, I do so whish Lorna hadn’t left me because I’d feel much more confidant if she was still here and we were doing this together. That would be the way to go, because she’d know exactly what to do “no matter where, no matter when, on this sunny day.”  Why can’t they write songs like that any more? What is it you want, Jamie?’

 

But Jamie, sick of waiting for his father to get through this phase, has rung off. He’ll ring back later and hope that he catches Peter in a more receptive mood. That’s probably him right now.

 

‘Hi Dad. Good morning again. How are things?’

 

It is him. And he’s being very polite.

 

‘Oh, hello Jamie, did you ring a short while ago? Yes, yes, I’m fine, I suppose. How are you? I think I’m OK, if you’re really interested. For the moment, anyway, but, in the end it really depends on what you’ve called for.’

 

‘Come on Dad, you sound perfect. If you just stopped thinking about your age you’d be one hundred percent. And yes I did ring, but I got cut off…eventually, while I was waiting.’

 

He’s telling fibs. We all know he hung up in frustration.

 

‘Well, yes, I suppose so, but time marches on you know, and there’s the inevitable toll to pay, sooner or later you have to pay the…you know, the rower. We all have to…eventually.’

 

He’s Greek, I think. The rower, not James. And more correctly known as, I think, not the rower, but the Ferryman. Or Charon.

 

‘Dad, I’ve got something important to talk to you about.’

 

‘You’ll find out when you grow … I mean get older, now there was an almost Freudian slip Jamie. Did you spot it, I nearly said, “grow up”.  And you wouldn’t have liked that at all, would you?’

 

‘Well you have said it now Dad, as I’m sure you always intended to.’

 

Then James remembers why he’s phoned Peter. He adopts a more conciliatory tone.

 

‘But, don’t you think there are certain benefits related to getting older? Perhaps you should try to focus on them. Like, no mortgage to worry about. Cheap travel. Financial security. Things like that.’

 

‘Oh, Jamie, I’ve heard all this before. Anything positive you read about old age is

written by people with vested interests. You know, like someone in advertising, where the objective is to sell something to old fogies. Holidays for the over whatever. Or health care when it’s too late, or insurance so that your dependants will live happily ever after. When you’re gone, that is. The only benefits I can think of is cheap bus tickets for old codgers, and the fact that you don’t get caries because your teeth stop growing and holes only develop in teeth that are still developing. Which is not much compensation is it?’

 

‘You really do have a penchant for looking on the dark side, don’t you?’

 

This is slowing down a bit and Peter keeps going off on a tangent. The pace needs quickening up, so let’s get Peter to say something mildly risqué.

 

‘Well, perhaps, but let me give you an insight into the brighter side that I was reminiscing about the other day. When I was younger, I used to have really exciting dreams. Freud would have had a field day with them. Was it Freud who did all that stuff on dreams, or was it Jung? Well, no matter, whoever it was, he’d have loved my dreams, because I certainly did have… let’s say… stimulating, dreams. And always in a room full of seductive young people, and me with only my shirt on and nothing else. No underwear, Jamie, is what I mean.’

 

‘Dad! Dad! Stop it. I’m not sure I want to hear about this kind of thing.’

 

‘No, you’re right, Jamie, I don’t suppose you do want to hear my reminiscences do you? But, in answer to your question about age in general, or my advanced years in particular, you should know that it’s about thirty something, I suppose, when it all starts happening, when you realize that you’re getting older. Because you have to get up to urinate in the wee small hours of the morning. And it’s a fucking nuisance.’

 

Well, that’s one.

 

‘Look Dad, if it makes you feel any better, it’s already happening to me and I’m not even half your age. Even I can’t get through many nights without getting up to go to the toilet. But so what?’

 

‘So what? So everything… You seem to have missed my point, because there are unfortunately more difficult to control versions of simple urinary incontinence. Other accidents, and more serious ones, especially when you’ve had too much to drink. But luckily, I must say, it only happened very rarely to me, only once in fact, before Lorna left me, and I’ll leave it to your imagination to work out what she said.’

 

‘I’m sorry, Dad, I still don’t see your point. If this happens to everyone, and it happens gradually, then it’s not the end of the world, is it?

 

‘Well, Jamie, you’re right and wrong. But as you say, the odd bladder failure is hardly a capital offence. Embarrassing, of course, but not much more than that. Trouble is, what happens if, and more importantly, when it gets to the other kind of incontinence.  That’s much less easy to pass off as a simple mishap, because it’s much more… what shall we say? Visible, I suppose, and much more… much more… well, messy too, you’d have to say.’

 

‘Dad, I’m sorry, but I really can’t follow your train of thought. Whatever mishaps you might have in bed is not a really big deal in my book.’

 

‘Well perhaps not at your age, Jamie. And none of this stuff is on your radar yet. But when it becomes a regular occurrence you may change your mind. Although the bad one’s not happened to me yet, I’m planning to make sure it never does.’

 

‘But why Dad? Who cares? It’s not that important in the overall scheme of things.’

 

‘Perhaps not, from your perspective. But you’re not involved in the care. And the cost. And the clearing up. You see, Jamie, I’d never impose myself on you, or your sister, or Lorna. Because that would be a burden no one be condemned to bear. But my age has started to worry me, and anything could happen any time. To put it bluntly, Jamie, I’m determined to avoid the nightmare situation of being totally incapacitated, and trapped between incessant bouts of morphine-induced constipation and geriatric-induced diarrhea.’

 

At last the penny seems to have dropped. Jamie has put two and two together. But he just can’t bring himself to ask Peter outright what he’s planning to do today.

 

‘Just what, exactly, are you getting at Dad? I hope you don’t have something silly in mind. Do you? Is there something you want to tell me?’

 

‘I’ll let you know in good time, Jamie, don’t worry. But not now. Anyway, this is you calling me, and you must obviously have a reason, so what can I do for you?  But please be brief, I’ve got lots to do today.’

 

‘Hang on Dad, what’s the hurry? Don’t you want to talk to me? Busy on other more important things, and no time to talk to your one and only son?’

 

‘It’s not that Jamie, but I do know from experience that you don’t usually phone for a social chat. So here must be an ulterior motive, if you’ll forgive me for saying so, that is.’

 

‘Hell Dad, that’s a bit rich. You complain that I never phone you and then when I do, you tell me you don’t have time to talk. I wonder why I bother?’

 

Peter looks at the phone. All he hears now is an incessant buzzing. He’s forgotten who was on the line. He puts it down on the table. But as he indicated earlier, he is going on eighty-five, and he’s easily confused. Also, he has tinnitus, which I have told you already. This is an ear problem that can result from injury, from loud noises, a build up of viscous secretions, or because of foreign objects in the ear, or even from those nose allergies that prevent fluid drain and cause wax build-up. So there. But Peter’s has it simply because he’s old. He puts the phone back to his ear. He has remembered who he’s talking to.

 

‘OK, OK, I’m sorry, Jamie, my apologies. How are you anyway, and how’s the… well, you know, are you working, because the last time we spoke you were thinking about finding a job, weren’t you?’

 

‘Well, if you must know, I’ve got a few irons in the fire, Dad. So I’m sure I’ll get an interview soon. But nothing as yet. Nothing concrete anyway. But, Dad, I didn’t phone you to talk about my job prospects…’

 

‘I know you didn’t Jamie, I know it’s a subject that never seems to have interested you that much.’

 

‘Look, let’s stop this right here Dad. It’s always the same. My job is my concern. It’s got nothing to do with you.’

 

‘That’s the point, Jamie, it is your concern, but you’re never concerned or not concerned enough, in my opinion. That’s the trouble, if you ask me.’

 

‘Well, no one’s asking you Dad. And I didn’t phone to get into an argument about my personal life philosophies. Or yours for that matter.’

 

There’s a long pause because Peter hears something strangely familiar but can’t immediately work out what it is. He thinks it’s someone saying or singing, “You’ll be happy to know, until you saw me go, I was singing this song…” Then the noise in his head becomes the front door bell ringing. He tries to ignore it, but fails, and gets up to answer same.

 

‘Sorry Jamie, just a moment, hang on, there’s someone at the…’

 

‘No Dad, I can’t hang on… Dad, Dad, for Christ’s sake!’

 

But he’s talking to himself because Peter’s not there. He’s gone to see who’s at the door, which you’d know if you’ve been concentrating on the narrative. But Peter knows from experience he does not always want to see whoever might be calling. And he’s right. It’s the curé. Which means priest in French. And he’s the last person Peter wants to see. So he ignores the ringing and goes back to the phone. Jamie’s voice is coming out of the old-fashioned hand set:

 

‘Jesus, he’ll never change. He just does what he likes. He never thinks about anybody else. Dad! Dad! Pick up the phone please! I can’t hang on all day!’

 

‘Hello Jamie, are you still there?’

 

‘Jesus Dad! You can’t do that! Just leaving me hanging on like this. It’s my call to you, remember. It’s costing me money, not you. And I really can’t afford it.’

 

‘Sorry, Jamie, I am sorry, really but that was the curé, you know, the vicar. He still calls quite often, even since your mother left me.’

 

‘Dad, I really phoned to find out how you are. And I want to say something to you. Well… I’ve got something to ask you really.’

 

‘OK, Jamie, but please make it brief. I’ve got important things to do today. And I’ve prepared all this stuff, you see. That I sent for from Switzerland. So I’ve got to get on with the job.’

 

‘What on earth have you got from Switzerland?’

 

At last Jamie fully understands what Peter has in mind, and in case you don’t, Peter has bought a little something by mail order.

 

‘Ah well, only a little kit thing I found on the Internet, nothing to get concerned about though.’

 

‘Look Dad, let’s not play ducks and drakes with each other. Tell me what you’ve bought and what you have in mind.’

 

‘Nothing to worry about Jamie, just a little set of stuff I read about when I was surfing as you call it. Something that will come in really handy for someone in my position. And I found some great sites on a subject that interests me more and more these days. I suppose at my age, is what I mean.

 

‘Dad, I know all about those sites. I’ve seen some of them myself…’

 

‘Why would you be looking at them Jamie?’

 

‘Well I have, and like you, by chance. And most of them are rubbish. They’ve got the wrong morality. Many of them are run by charlatans or quacks. And lots of the products are suspect. Bogus at best and ineffectual at worst. They’re just moneymaking scams cashing in on a trend. Tell me what you’ve bought Dad.’

 

‘No need to get so het up, Jamie, but it seems to me that at my age I’ve got a legitimate reason to look at these things because I need all the information I can get on the subject.’

 

‘Please cut out this nonsense Dad. My point is that most of those sites are awful.’

 

‘I can’t agree. I found them very…. well, helpful I suppose. I wish I’d found them, before… You know, before Lorna left. Some of them were really quite funny. Even she would have thought so. But I understand that some people find them quite offensive. People like you, Jamie, is seems.’

 

‘ Dad are you losing your marbles? Suicide is nothing to laugh at.’

 

‘Wrong again, Jamie. There’s a very funny one. What’s it called again?  Something like “Hundreds of ways to commit suicide.” And it’s hilarious. Have a look at it sometime.

For example, one of the suggestions is the “Jump off a tall building” method. With the caveat warning that only 9 out of 10 people die, and those that don’t might find the next attempt more difficult. Because when you’re confined to a wheel chair, and paralyzed from the neck down, it’s hard to launch yourself into oblivion a second time. From a high building. In a wheelchair.’

 

‘Dad, I’ve seen that site, and I don’t think it’s funny at all.’

 

‘Anyway, did you see the “Join the army” suggestion? It was about number ten. Or eleven. Because signing up is like a suicide pact. A soldier’s job is to shoot at soldiers and to be shot at. Then you apply for a posting to a war zone. Like Iraq. Or Afghanistan. Just by the way, Jamie, did you know that we’ve had troops in Iraq for over twenty years now? Because you were just a teenager when we first went in and got rid of Saddam Hussein.’

 

‘Look Dad, I’ve never heard of Saddam Whoever. I don’t know who he is, and I really don’t care. Just tell me what your Swiss kit consists of. And what you intend to do with it.’

 

Peter remembers what he was talking about before this digression into Iraq.

 

‘Did you see the “Put two six-inch nails up your nose” example? One in each nostril, and then you bang your head down on the table. Hard. But I’m not sure about this one. It might just be there to tease us. Just for fun, perhaps.’

 

‘That’s not the least bit funny, Dad. I can’t believe you’re reduced to reading this kind of trash. And that you find it amusing. It’s amazing.’

 

‘Easy to say Jamie but what else do you suggest I do? Since Lorna left, my life has changed quite dramatically, as you know. Anyway, it’s research and I’m broadening my mind. And I find it funny, to boot. It’s also a change from dreaming about the days when I used to fuck quite a lot and masturbate when I wasn’t doing that.’

 

Peter likes slipping these dirty barbs in from time to time when he’s talking to his children. He knows it infuriates them. Especially Jamie. But it counts as another one, so, two.

 

‘Shut up Dad. Stop it. I don’t like you when you go on like this.’

 

He’s right. But it’s the only the second time that word has been uttered. Peter is undeterred.

 

‘What about  “Climbing into a man-eater’s cage at the zoo?” That one’s got the “Hot Tip”, as they call it, to make sure to choose a lean, hungry looking animal. One that’s obviously not been fed recently because you can’t take the chance of only getting half eaten can you, Jamie?’

 

‘This is really too much Dad. Please stop this nonsense. And stop reading this rubbish. Please!’

 

‘Hang on, Jamie, stop interrupting. What about “Sleeping with someone who is HIV positive?” All you need to do is find and seduce a partner with AIDS? Which shouldn’t take long. Especially if you live in Botswana or India, or some place like that. But the site does warn that the time frame is somewhat open-ended. So beware, not you personally Jamie, but anyone who’s thinking of trying this method, because it could be several decades before your goal is consummated, if that’s the word. And another thing, a cure could conceivably be discovered in the meantime. And if you’re not careful this could be administered after you’ve gone to all that trouble. You know, finding and fucking someone with HIV?’

 

That’s number three if anyone's still counting.

 

‘Jesus, Dad, what’s come over you?’

 

‘Don’t be such a wet blanket Jamie, and if Lorna was here she wouldn’t like your blaspheming. But she’s not, so I don’t suppose it’s a real concern.’

 

A strange buzzing noise cuts across Peter’s end of the conversation and blanks out Vera’s droning on about meeting one day although she doesn’t seem to know exactly where or when and Peter wonders what she’s going on about.

 

‘Dad, can I please ask if we can forget all this rubbish. I need to speak to you about something really important.’

 

‘As I said, I know you do, but sorry, Jamie, it’s the doorbell again, I think. Hang on for a moment will you, or would you prefer I call you back?’

 

‘There’s no point Dad. You’ll forget. Or you’ll say you couldn’t find the number.’

 

‘No no I will I promise. I’ve found where Lorna hides them and they’re always at hand these days. So I’ll call back shortly OK?’

 

‘Well I don’t have any alternative do I? You’ve obviously made up your mind that whoever’s at your front door is more important than talking to me.’

 

‘I’ll only be a few minutes Jamie. No, on second thoughts, stay on the line. Don’t hang up. You just wait right there.’

 

Peter puts the phone down and goes to the front door where he finds no one. It’s his tinnitus again. He goes back the phone. But there’s no sign of Jamie who appears to have hung up again.

 

‘Damn, I wonder what his new number is? Well, maybe I can call him later. Yes that’s what I’ll do. He won’t mind.’

 

But of course, as you may have guessed, Peter forgets, and only remembers when he hears the phone ringing again. And Jamie does mind.

 

‘Ah, that could be Jamie calling back.’

 

We’ll soon know because he picks it up and says:

 

‘’Allo, oui, bonjour.’

 

It is Jamie, who says:

 

‘I thought you were going to ring me straight back? ‘

 

You can no doubt tell from the language, rather than the tone, which you can’t hear anyway, that he’s annoyed. But Peter doesn’t notice this minor detail.

 

‘Oh, hello Jamie, I am sorry because I really did try…’

 

‘Please Dad, can we not go through all this again, please!’

 

‘OK Jamie, let’s not talk about my problems, what is it you wanted to ask me?’

 

‘Well… you’ve made it very difficult for me now Dad. I feel awful after what we’ve been talking about.’

 

‘OK again Jamie. Let me make it easy for you. You’ve got no money and no job and not much prospect of getting one, have you? Because it’s still all play and no work that has made you a dull boy, Jamie, and now you want more money from me don’t you? Am I right?’

 

‘Well, yes Dad. You are right. But only a few thousand pounds. To study. To last me until the end of the year. It should anyway. Yes, I think it will. And then I’ll try for a job, Dad. Truly, once I’ve got my degree. And then I’ll pay you back. That’s a guarantee, Dad, I promise you. All the money I’ve ever borrowed from you, Dad. Really.’

 

In his head it’s that damn song again. He used to know the words when Lorna was with him. Something like, “But I know we’ll meet again some sunny day…” Where the hell did Lorna go? Where the fuck is she these days? And that’s four if anyone’s counting.

 

‘Please don’t forget Dad.’

 

Why hasn’t Jamie said anything more about Peter’s plan? Well, he’s decided to phone his sister. Maybe she’ll think of something.

 

‘No, don’t worry, Jamie, you’ll be getting something from me quite soon.’

 

For a moment Peter imagines he is being reprimanded by Lorna again. About spoiling the kids. He stops to listen. He’d love to hear from her. Maybe that’s the phone again. But it could be the front door. He thinks about Lorna. He wishes she were around to help him. She’d know what it was.

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