‘You can leeeave your hat on; you can le-e-a-ve your hat on, you can … leave your hat on.’ Gary gyrated around the room, pelvis thrusting in every possible direction, vocal chords strained to the max as he went for the big finale. His adoring fans – ninety-three-year-old Agnes who was fortunately completely deaf and barmaid Bertha who wasn’t renowned for her taste in music or men – whooped and cheered. At least, Bertha did while Agnes gave her walking frame an enthusiastic waggle. The rest of the audience clapped in that way that suggested they would much rather be somewhere else. Or be wearing industrial-strength earplugs.
Hattie drained her drink and sighed. Very heavily, like a worn-out old couch when someone sat on it. She’d kill for another but as she had to drive Joe Cocker home, it wasn’t an option. She eyed the stage (a five-foot square platform in the centre of The Nobody Inn) and saw he was revving up for an encore. Fan-bloody-tastic. If he even attempted ‘American Pie’ she’d take him down with a home-made catapult comprising of a twenty-denier stocking and a pork pie purloined from the pre-party buffet.
Luck was on her side. The microphone was snatched from Gary’s hand by a Diana Ross wannabe, sporting a wig that could have provided a hiding place for the other Supremes. As she – or was it a he? – launched into an enthusiastic rendition of ‘Chain Reaction’, sequins flew around, spattering the crowd and landing in a few disgruntled punters’ pints.
‘How’s it going, babe?’ A very sweaty Gary gave Hattie an enormous squeeze from behind. She wriggled free from his damp embrace and jangled her car keys pointedly.
‘It’s fine, but I think it’s time we headed home, don’t you?’ It was already past midnight and Hattie had work in the morning. Gary was currently unemployed, or ‘on a break’, as he liked to put it. He worked as a long-haul lorry driver, but his company had recently implemented a cost-cutting exercise which involved asking employees to consider voluntary redundancy (or wait for the axe to fall). Gary had jumped at the offer (without consulting Hattie, much to her irritation), and now seemed intent on spending the pay-out at lightning speed. Nor did he appear to be in any rush to find another job.
‘Give a man a break, Hats!’ he’d retorted the other morning when she’d asked if there was any chance he might extract himself from under the duvet. She’d already emptied the dishwasher, mopped the kitchen floor, written her grocery list for the coming days and got ready for another fun-filled shift at Espresso Yourself. She’d been working there for just over a year, serving up-market coffees, cakes and light snacks to its well-heeled clientele. A folded copy of The Guardian or The Times was almost de rigueur although rarely read as they glued themselves to their laptops and mobiles. The pay was decent, although not nearly enough to keep them afloat if Gary didn’t get off his arse soon, and she got to bring home the odd mille-feuille or other sweet delight. These were inevitably demolished within seconds by either Gary or their twenty-year-old son, Johnny.
Driving back, with Gary snoring gently in the passenger seat, Hattie wondered if Johnny would be home. Since he’d quit university on the grounds that it was stifling his creativity and was only for the bourgeois elite (Hattie had been momentarily proud of his extensive vocabulary until the realisation of what he’d done kicked in) he’d demonstrated very little on the creative side. Unless you counted building a makeshift stool out of empty pizza boxes. The discarded business management degree had been replaced by the assertion that he was going to write a seminal novel on the topic of today’s stressed-out and financially disadvantaged youth.
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