Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Belgium Beer Cafe

[Fiction] Friday Challenge for April 10th, 2009:

A dentist is stabbed while he waits in line at the movies.

Roly’s face paled and his jaw dropped a degree, giving him the hang dog look he was so famous for at university. To Lawrence it just made Roly look brain dead and he’d often imagined a silver line of drool escaping the corner of his fleshy mouth.

“Seriously dude, that’s bad.”

Lawrence wondered if Roly spoke to his clients like that–looking up from an income tax summation which revealed a client owed thousands to the tax department. No matter how hard he probed his imagination Lawrence could never see his chartered accountant speaking or behaving like Roly. Lawrence didn’t joke about impacted wisdom teeth and he expected the same professional courtesy of his accountant.

And that was just it. Roly never took anything seriously – except for bad mouthing Gloria. Lawrence felt like he’d finally caught Roly on the back foot and pressed it to his advantage.

“I can’t listen to any more of your paranoia. Your paranoia is giving me nightmares and I have to sleep at night. I can’t turn up to surgery half wacked from sleep deprivation. I have to have steady hands."Lawrence twisted the platinum wedding band on his finger. "If you think that Gloria is a gold digger, if you think that she’s not trustworthy, if you think that she’d never go for a guy like me, much less marry me, if you think I should hire a PI, if you think I should go through her phone records, her diary, her lingerie drawer… I want you to keep it to yourself. No more …. I’m serious Roly.”

The nightmare had sealed Lawrence’s decision to take Roly to task over the diatribe which accompanied their Friday luncheon’s ever since Roly had first introduced Gloria to Lawrence and they'd fallen head long into what Roly called a shot gun wedding.

How it had taken Lawrence so long have the Roly epiphany he didn’t know - was just be glad at 4:26am this morning, recovering from his nightmare, he realised with friends like Roly he didn’t need to covet enemies. Most people after all were terrified for dentists.

While mild mannered for most part and in no way into metaphysical weird shit, like his twin sister Lorraine, Lawrence could not ignore the obvious meaning of his dream.

Standing in line, with tickets for the three of them, waiting for Roly and Gloria to see “This is Your Life” and the shattering blow from behind – the knife blade penetrating between his shoulder blades as he sank to his knees sobbing, groping behind to pull the knife free of his flesh.

Well he was pulling the knife free now. The back stabbing would stop.

“Sure, sure. I get it. No more stuff about Gloria.” He took a long draught from his black frothy pint. “Hey remember when you ripped your biceps working out to look like the dude on the Oral B add.”

“Yeah only to discover that he wasn’t really a dentist and that’s why they didn’t show his face on TV. I couldn’t write and no doctor would give me a medical certificate to cover my stupidity and I flunked scientific principles of surgery and lost my perfect grade point average. Yeah I remember it. And I remember that it was your idea that I work out. You said it would do me good to no longer be perfect. I had to go back to uni for an extra semester to do the subject again while you were doing the horizontal tango with girls in London.”

“Hey dude. I’m sorry. And for all the other shit that I badgered you with at uni about being a feeb. Look at you – you turned up to be the one who snared the girl huh?” He took a long drink of his Toohey’s Old. “No hard feelings.”

Lawrence had the unsettling feeling that Roly was being genuine – though he couldn’t be sure. There had never been single moment in their friendship when Roly had given any indication he had a sincere bone in his body.

“You’re not off to have open heart surgery of something Roly?” Lawrence looked down at the overnight bag at Roly’s feet, snuggled compactly under the table, wondering at the subdued tone in his best friend.
“Just a boring CPA conference in Canberra. Heart surgery sounds like a blast in comparison – at least they knock you out. You know what I’m saying.”Lawrence nodded and drained the last of the mineral water from his highball. “What you got planned for the weekend?”
“I’m going to take Gloria up to Mooloolabah. One of the other surgeons I know has an apartment up there he’s lending us. It’s a surprise.”
“Sounds like an action packed weekend.” Lawrence didn't need to see the wink to know that the sentence was punctuated with one.

Lawrence looked at his watch and remembered the cheques in the inside pocket of his suit jacket.

“I gotta run. I did mates rates for a friend and have to bank the cheques. The girls refuse to go to the bank since everything is done by electronic transfer now.”
“I'd love to see that Olivia tottering up the Mall on those three inch heels.” The lewd look on Roly’s face made Lawrence cringe – especially considering Olivia was yet to reach her 20th birthday, making Roly almost chronologically challenged enough to be her old man.

Roly rose and extended his hand. Lawrence grasped the bear paw in his long elegant surgeon’s hand, grateful Roly wasn’t taking the opportunity to emphasise his power and strength in a single bone crushing squeeze.

“Take care bud.”

As Lawrence walked off he stopped to look back at Roly, beer in one hand and a client brief in the other, the manila folder destined to soak up either errant grease or beer from the table top. Lawrence kept on, through the swirling menagerie of the raucous Friday lunch time crowd; he felt seven foot tall – viewing all the banality from afar, having finally risen above it. Stepping out onto the pavement at the Mary and Edward Streets Lawrence was relieved for having spoken his mind to Roly, for putting his foot down. For being a man!

For too long he’d allowed Roly to run rough shod over him, belittle him and his relationship with Gloria. Too late, as usual he remembered the joke he’d intended to use at some stage over lunch to attempt to put Roly back in his place, “What do accountants use as a contraceptive …. Their personalities!”

Lawrence smiled to himself and whistled a nameless tune, as he made his way to the ANZ branch in Queens Street, along Eagle Street for a change, flowing with the tide of pedestrians rather than fighting his way through them. There was a moment when the sun peaked out from behind the heavy steel grey clouds that had been crowding the skies for days – doing nothing but threatening rain.

Standing at the Eagle-Elizabeth-Creek Streets intersection Lawrence thrust his hands in his pockets and discovered they were empty except for a few silver coins – he’d left his keys on the table in the reverie of having won against Roly. The cheques would wait until Monday. He rang Roly, but his call diverted to voice mail after three rings. Lawrence stepped up the pace, back tracking to the Beer Café and in through the side door directly into the beer garden.

At first he told himself it wasn’t her laughter, there were plenty of women patrons, wine glasses in hand, designer handbags slung over designer shoulder pads. Gloria was spending the day at the Japanese Bath House in Newstead. As he neared the table he’d recently vacated, leaving Roly to his chips and his half drunk pint of Old, he knew it was her. Her neck, her gym sculptured shoulders and arms in the sleeveless sundress he’d bought her last week. Her platinum blonde hair recently retouched at the roots. His Gloria sitting in his seat with the gorgeous red Manzoni carry on at her ankle.

His legs felt dead, like they had in his dream as the unseen assailant drove the knife between his shoulder blades.

And he understood now, as he saw Roly’s hairy paw clasp her French manicured hand and kiss it, why he’d been left waiting in line in the dream. Gloria and Roly were never coming. The knife wedged between his shoulders twisted and he felt his legs threaten to collapse.

This is your life Lawrence Pehngilly, said a voice none too like Morgan Freeman’s, that swirled in from the ether. If only you had actually listened to what your best mate had been telling you all along.

Author's Note: please feel free to give constructive criticism!!

2 comments:

M. D. Benoit said...

Nice, using the picture of standing in line and getting stabbed as a metaphor.

One expression I didn't understand: "mates rates?" In a way expressions like that situate the story into a geographical context, something maybe you had planned?

Rob said...

Sorry it took me a couple of days to get to this! It was very good. You did a nice job of painting the picture of the scene and the tension between the two men. I also liked that the stabbing was metaphorical as opposed to literal since the metaphorical back-stabbing can hurt "just as much" in some ways.

My most 'critical' comment on this piece is that I had to work pretty hard to truly be certain that the back-stabbing was, in fact, figurative. I don't really know how to recommend making it easier, but I had to read it a couple of times to be certain.

Otherwise, I thought it was very good. Thanks for sharing!