Phone rang. Mark picks it up. “Are you deeeed?
Mark chuckles. “Not dead yet” he answers. “On my way”. ‘But I might as well be‘ he thought, slipping the phone in his pocket. He looks round the living room-dining room, kitchen annexe to the side. Then out through the patio doors to the large conservatory, and the small garden. He had everything he needed except the one thing he needed most. His wife Jan, cruelly taken by cancer six months before. Their children had interrupted their careers abroad to make lightning visits home for the funeral, one from Australia the other the States, then disappeared back to their lives. And he had the house to himself, empty of everything except memories of children, and Jan – all gone. He shook himself. At this rate he would miss the match. But the pub wasn’t the same since it had changed ownership. The new yuppie crowd you could just about stand, but the price of a pint was beyond a joke. But there was no alternative. The other two pubs where he and his mates used to hang out had both closed.
On the way out his eye was caught by the bright floral 3-piece suite that Jan had loved. He had always hated it, but now found he couldn’t get rid of it. It was a momento of Jan. A great big ugly momento that took up too much room.
He sighed and headed out.
Frankie was waiting for him at a corner table, pint lined up. Jim and Col, the slim Jamaican brothers, were standing at the bar and nodded when he came in. Wee Hughie, Bill and Fred were at another table eyes glued to the screen where Man U were being made fools of by a lesser team. A yuppie poked his head round the door then retreated with a look of disdain to his own part of the pub.
“We’re being pushed out” said Frankie nodding in the yuppies direction.
“I don’t mind the company, it’s the price of a pint I don’t like”.
“Then don’t try the water, it’s almost as dear”.
They drank in silence. When half time came Bill and Fred came over. ” ‘Nother pint?” offered Bill.
“At these prices, no” said Mark emphatically. The other two sat down.
“Ai, it’s a bloody joke” Fred added. “That’s why old George hasn’t been in. Can’t afford it”.
“Poor old c**t”, said Bill. “Hardly ever leaves his bed-sit now”.
“Saw him in the laundromat the other week” said Frankie.
“That’s closing down too” says Bill.
“No”, says Frankie. “Hell’s bells, do we have to wash everything in the sink now?”
The others looked bleak. Mark knew they all had the same problem – either living in bed-sits or small accommodation without a washing machine. He thought of his large, family sized washing machine sitting in his kitchen, hardly used.
“I’ve got a machine” he said. “Why don’t you come over Saturday with your laundry and you can use mine”.
“Can’t be Saturday” Bill said. “Grand Prix is on”.
“I’ve got a tv. And cable with sports.” Mark looked round. His friends were looking at each other, smiling.
“We’ll take you up on that” says Bill. “Boys, don’t you think Marky here needs another pint.”
In quick time 7 pints were lined up in front of Mark. “Here, I can’t drink all these” he laughed and redistributed them back to his mates.
They all raised a pint.
“Make sure old George knows he’s invited too.”
Col says, “I’ll see to that”.
And as an afterthought. ” And bring your own grog”.
Come Saturday, Mark had the tv tuned to the Grand Prix, when Col arrived helping old George leaning on a stick, with two bags of laundry and a six-pack under his arm. They loaded the machine, took a can each, eyed Jan’s bright floral suite then retreated to the garden to enjoy the sunshine. Neither were Grand Prix fans.
Bill arrived next in his car and Jim and Frankie piled out. They each carried 6-packs, and Bill had brought a bottle of whisky for variety. They queued their bags of laundry by the washing machine then commandeered the flowery sofa with nary a glance and pulled it round to get the best view of the Grand Prix which was just starting.
Wee Hughie arrived next then joined the others in the garden.
Fred arrived last and joined Mark in the conservatory. He separated a can from the six pack, lifted it to Mark with “Cheers”.
Mark felt a great sense of tranquility gently settle over him. The comforting chugging sound of the washing machine. The Grand Prix roaring from the living room. The quiet conversation of the men outside interspersed with bird song. The house felt warm, lived in, used, appreciated.
Fred looked at him. “You’ve started something you know. You’ll never get rid of us”.
“I don’t want to get rid of you. After Jan’s death, you lot were the only thing holding me together “.
Fred smiled. “All you need is a pool table and a dart board and you would have a complete old boy’s club”.
“Old Boy’s Club. I like that”. Out of the corner of his eye Mark noted Jan’s bright coloured floral suite. Suddenly he knew he could get rid of it. He needed the space for a pool table.
Copyright 2014 Prayerwarriorpsychicnot
(This story is fiction but is based on a true event. My late husband’s friends in London were such a congenial mix of English, Scot and Paddy. The area lived yuppified so that the communities of working class friends (including black) had nowhere to go, priced out of their pubs. While this was going on my husband told me, with much merriment, that one of his friends had done the above. London flats are tiny, often no space for a washing machine. The friend had invited his mates round to his house to use the washing machine on a regular basis, BYOG, recreating a social venue they had lost. And that is the sum total of what I know about the actual event).