‘I just thought I’d ring on the off chance that you might be in,’ said John, trying to sound cheery. He was phoning her because he was desperate to talk to her, he knew as much himself. His hands were shaking, with his nerves threatening to topple him. ‘And see how you are.’
He was ashamed of himself. Phoning Amelia, his ex-wife, time and again, using the well worn-out excuse, ‘on the off chance you’d be in.’ His face burned as he was overcome by embarrassment and the indignity of it all. The red was drenching him. Amelia was the only woman who had ever meant anything to him; he had loved her more than life.
‘You only rang yesterday,’ she retorted quietly, irritatedly, emitting a baritone sigh at the end.
John felt the thorn in her words.
‘I know,’ he said, his cheeriness diminishing, ‘but I had a spare few minutes, so I thought I’d ask how it went at the doctors.’
He wondered around his flat without purpose, in a bid to escape his shame. He felt as though if he walked around, and didn’t stand still, he’d feel the impact of his embarrassment much less. He was racing against his disgraced shadow as he entered the kitchen and then exited, without realising he’d even entered it. He entered the small, cramped hallway, picked up an ornament, fiddled with it, before putting it down again. He picked up more things, put them down again. He walked into the living room.
‘How did it go?’ he asked.
‘Oh, that’s good. See, I told you that you had nothing to worry about.’
There was a lull on the phone. It wasn’t quite silence. Something was whirring in the background on Amelia’s end; a collusion of a television set and a microwave in the midst of heating something up. John felt he could detect Michael Barrymore’s voice.
The Price is Right.
He could hear the audience fawning, clapping, cheering. The microwave was whirring away. Not harmonic but challenging, grating.
Bing. The microwave was done.
‘Work is dull as always,’ began John, his previous enthusiasm gone, dampened. ‘I’m gonna ask the Barnes brothers if they’ve got any work going for me at the store later. They probably haven’t, but it’s always worth asking, isn’t it? I know as much about antiques as they do, and they know it.’
‘If you say so,’ remarked Amelia.
‘Well, I best be off then,’ he said after another pause, and with a cheeriness.
Amelia hung up.
John listened to the unforgiving dial tone for a few seconds, though it felt like minutes. He clung to it as though it was a remnant of his former wife, lover, and best friend. It was just ashes. Not even ashes but morsels of dust.
John was a short, bespectacled man. He was one of life’s steady Eddies, a man with few ambitions, lots of inhibitions, and a bundle of Christian morals. His passions in life were Amelia, the dark-haired, soulful maiden he had somehow ensnared, but inevitably lost – and antiques. Amelia had felt herself suppressed by his energy-sapping love of antiques. She had longed to be an actress, an aspiration incompatible with John’s view that all acting is a waste of time. It is nonsense, tomfoolery, he said. ‘Look at those bloody fools. Put some clothes on. Get a proper job.’
‘They’re acting, John,’ she would say, with a sigh. A sad realisation that he didn’t understand her dreams.
‘You don’t really want to be an actress, surely,’ he would tell her. ‘Actors are strange people, films are strange things,’ he would say. ‘Marlon Brando was an actor. It takes a certain kind of weird person to be an actor. Actors don’t care about what really matters. They prance and preen. They get drunk and have affairs. It just isn’t respectable.’
Amelia never knew how she had allowed herself to fall so deeply and irretrievably in love with ‘that funny little man.’
But she had. He had charmed her with his quirks, and his simple love for her. He treated her well; he adored her. She realised that he was too much; that his values and ideals were set in stone and were never going to change. He was never going to loosen up for her, and encourage her to be what she wanted to be. He had too many hang-ups, and he relied too much on his ethics and his one-dimensional thoughts that had been ingrained in his blood since childhood. His mind was a cistern of raw, moral sewage. She was deteriorating for as long as she remained at his side. Her life-force was dying, slaughtered by values. The cruellest thing she could say about her husband, the man who would die for her, was that he was killing her spirit, clipping her wings. Without even realising it. He thought he was doing the right thing for her. He never intended to oppress her. He never behaved like a ruthless schoolteacher, or a brutally controlling husband. He was benign and full of heart; he wanted what was best for her.
He rang her again the next day, and she told him that her oven had broken.
‘I don’t need you to fix it,’ she said dryly.
‘Are you telling me you know how to fix gas ovens now, are you?’ John said jovially. ‘You couldn’t fix a flat tyre,’ he said with a chuckle that turned into a snort. ‘I guess next you’ll be telling me you’ve joined the plumbers union.’
Amelia shuddered at John’s appalling attempts at humour.
‘Jason will fix it,’ she said abruptly, as though the thought had just come to her.
John deadened. He propped up the spectacles on the bridge of his nose.
‘My new lover.’
It was a verbal kick to his balls. It was a linguistic slap to his face.
‘Your new lover? When did you get him?’ he spluttered out with a stammer. His heart started to race.
‘Last month. I’ve been meaning to tell you for a while, but I’ve never known how to break it to you, because you’re so, you know.’
‘I see,’ he said forlornly, looking through the mirror at his doleful, ever-ugly reflection. He was no Jason. Jason, no doubt, was tall, lean, and masculine.
‘Well, if you have nothing else to say?’ asked Amelia.
John could sense her smiling malevolently. Her words were like a tease.
‘No, well, I’ve got to be on my way to Barnes’, you see,’ he said, trying to sound cheery. ‘I’m taking an old chair over there, should be able to get quite a bit of cash for it. I’m entering the antiques game, you see. Should make a bit of money from it, you see.’
John put his arm through his jackets sleeve, fumbling with the phone in his other hand.
‘I’ll talk to you later then,’ he said, but Amelia hung up before he did. In his head could hear her cackling.
He had a new determination and drive about him to get to Barnes’ antiques shop and sell them his chair. Antiques was his domain; it was his first love, and he knew it much better than he knew Amelia, whom he had to concede had always largely been unfathomable to him. He was going to sell the chair and make lots of money; it was to be the start of a new career in sales. He was going to be the best salesman in town. In a hurry, he accidentally slammed the chair against the kitchen door frame as he attempted to carry it into the hallway of his small house, carving a portion of the woodwork out of the wall as though he was butchering a piece of meat with a cleaver. It didn’t upset him, as it usually would. The house was rented, and the landlord would have him for it. But he was angered, and so he banged the valuable chair twice against the wall, as though to teach both it and the doorframe a lesson, almost snapping the chairs legs in two. He launched it into the hallway with as much might as his feeble frame could muster. The chair was strong, and it remained intact. John stood breathing heavily, without remorse.
‘Jason! Who the bloody hell is Jason when he’s at home!’ he screamed, spit flying out of his mouth.
He removed his spectacles and rubbed his eyes. He had cried a little, but as he wiped his cheeks, he knew that he had reacted like a spoiled, sullen, adolescent. He heaved an incredible, prolonged sigh, that was more like a coarse drone. It was amazing to think that such a thunderous noise could escape his tiny body. He fixed his eyes on the limp, battered chair that lay in the hallway on its side, and he was arrested by the realisation of what he’d done. He rushed over to it to inspect the damage, turning it upright, and darting his hands all across it. He knew it was worth a lot of money, and any kind of wounds would diminish its value beyond repair. He ran his hands over its wooden bones, along its legs, and across its seat. It was as smooth, beautiful and nuanced as ever. He loved this chair. He had purchased it over a week ago after seeing it advertised in The Loot, where it was undervalued. It was a bargain, the owner most likely ignorant as to its really worth.
‘You’ll bring me a fair reward,’ he said, as he ran his stubby little digits along its planes. He leaned his head against it and smiled, before cradling it, his cheek caressing its stick-thin leg. He purred and broke into song. Emotion by the Bee Gees. Soft, translucent tears began to fall from his eyes as he moved his cheek up the leg until it curved outwards in the middle, like a woman’s supple thigh.
‘You’ll make me happy,’ he repeated gently.
Outside, he carefully placed the chair in the backseat of his geriatric Vauxhall, before beginning the drive into town. The radio played to him and he tried so hard to dig a hole in his mind, and stick Amelia and Jason in it, before sealing it. He fought back tears as he sang along to Neil Diamond, but Amelia and Jason kept forcing their way into his thoughts. They were performing a lewd, sinful opera in front of his eyes, and his eyes began to water, his nose began to drip. He stopped at a set of red lights and thought about the dimples on Amelia’s cheek, her silky black hair, and her dark eyes that he used to turn to for reassurance. He couldn’t remember the last time they had reassured him. For the last year of their relationship her eyes had stung him, telling him that everything was not fine, but he had ignored it, and had told himself that she was ill. It had been so long since he had peered into her eyes and found the kindness and love which he had sought in vain. He said she must be poorly. The green light blasted down at him, jolting him out of his thoughts. The driver behind blew his horn, demanding that John get a move on. John was crassly shaken out of his reminiscence, and hastily began to drive onwards and upwards. By now tears had begun to fall unstoppably down his cheeks to drown his heart. He wiped them away like they were rain drops, but more of them came, as though he was trapped in a storm. He was driving without thinking, not realising that he had missed a turn and was heading out of town. His error further enhanced his dark and increasingly violent mood, and he made a swift turn down a side street, where he stopped the Vauxhall before banging the steering wheel with the palm of his hand until it began to sting. He wanted to bruise himself and bear a masculine scar. The chair caught his attention as he glanced at it through his mirror. It was nestled behind him on the backseat, looking thoroughly frightened by his behaviour. He sensed that it was casting him a frown to express its displeasure. He shivered at his repugnant, inexcusable behaviour. It was like a small, innocent child, and his petty, vile mood was corrupting it. He looked away.
‘I’m sorry,’ he muttered.
He propped his spectacles back up the bridge of his nose and focused on getting to the antique shop.
‘But it’s just,’ he began, gesticulating with his free hand, before placing it back on the steering wheel. ‘Nothing.’ He smiled softly at the chair, and then extended his free hand in a bid to stroke it, to show it love.
He raced down the long lane that took him into the nearby village, where he was interrupted by a guttural shriek in the road, which caused him to look around swiftly, left, right, up, and left once more. It was all a blur until his eyes momentarily fixed themselves on an old lady, stranded in the middle of the road, holding up her walking stick in a bid to protect herself against the might Vauxhall that thundered towards her like a colossal boxer in a ring who has vowed to win his last fight. John was careering towards her with spite in the Vauxhall’s engine. He was aiming right for her, his car ready to spear her and chop her in half. Somehow he swerved so acutely that he missed her by a millimetre or two, whilst narrowly avoiding an approaching Fiat that blasted its horn at his Vauxhall.
Momentarily he considered stopping to get out of the car to check and see if the old dear was okay. But his heart was beating like it had never beat before, it was beating as though its life depended on it, thudding its way through his chest, his adrenaline dripping, oozing from his soul. He had to go on. He couldn’t stop. He looked back at her through his mirror. She was still stranded in the spot, still slightly bent over, her stick shielding her. She had been turned into stone, condemned to remain in that fixed position. People fled to her aid, people swore at John, and remonstrated for him to pull over and admit his guilt, destroy his reputation, and be imprisoned for dangerous driving. The demons were baying for him. Momentarily he stopped the car. They wanted him; maybe they just wanted to talk. Maybe it was his duty to see if the old dear was okay.
There was a violent thud on his window, and he turned sharply to see an indiscriminately angry ginger man pounding against the Vauxhall, demanding that John get out of the car. The man pointed towards the lady. John locked the doors and started the engine, before bolting away, leaving behind a trail of dust and debris. He wheeled away, he was free. He didn’t look back. He knew what he would see. He wouldn’t look back. She was okay, she was alive. She was okay and that was all that mattered. His feet pounded the pedals, harder, faster, harder. He struggled for breath, perspired. He looked through the mirror and saw the chair sat on the back seat, casting him its reproaches, looking afraid of him, cowering. He was a monster, a callous force of nature, not fit to drive, not fit for anything. And he was taking the poor chair to be flogged at Barnes’. It was flogging day for John, he had to have the heart of a cyclops whenever it came to flogging day, otherwise he would never sell anything. People told him that he didn’t have the head or heart of a salesman. He had vowed to prove everyone wrong.
‘So she tried selling me these photographs, saying they were signed by John Lennon, the dozy cow,’ said David Barnes to his brother, Pete. ‘ “John Lennon?” I asked her. “Since when was there a K in John bloody Lennon?” ’
Pete guffawed, as was his want.
‘You’d think that would have tripped her up, wouldn’t you? You’d think she’d back down at that point, but did she bloody hell. She was trying to convince me that this was Lennon’s signature, and that the ‘K’ was an expression of his artistry and his eye for theatre.’
‘Eye for theatre?’ asked Pete, who was red with mirth. ‘What does that even mean?’
John opened the door, and tried to enter the store with his chair. It was an embarrassing struggle, a tribute to his ineptness, as he had to hold the heavy door open with one hand to allow him to squeeze the chair through the gap with his other. It clattered against the door, but nobody came to help him. David and Pete, frequent mockers of John, remained at an immobile distance and began to smile, both of them feeling an explosion of laughter brewing in their vaults. There were one or two customers in the cramped store, but nobody was prepared to offer their aid. A middle-aged lady in an imitation fur coat, who was examining a vase, glanced over at him and offered an unsubtle expression of morbid disdain. The door slammed shut behind a frustrated and sweat laden John, who had given all that he had to give that morning. He felt as though it had been one of those days, in which the gods are against one.
‘Oi! What have I told you about that door? Never bloody slam it,’ exclaimed David, the older, more authoritative of the two brothers.
‘Sorry,’ repeated David with spite. ‘And what the bloody hell is that abomination anyway?’
‘This?’ He propped his glasses up the bridge of his nose as he looked at his chair.
‘You’re a bigger abomination, but yes, that piece of bonfire wood you’ve dragged in.’
Pete chuckled. John tried to smile in the hope that David was having a little joke with him. He had the stern personality of a head teacher, wrathful when needed, pouncing on ignorance and rotten, stinking furniture whenever permissible. But he would also pounce on John, taking him for a meek, subservient fool, before mauling him gratuitously like a sadist, denouncing all claims that he knew anything about antiques. John, still standing at a distance from the pair, still lingering near the doorway, flitted his gentle gaze between the brothers. Pete, his fat, rosy cheeks puffed up like clouds, folded his arms across his football shirt. David, tall, rugged, and refined, retained a serious look that suggested he wanted to kill John.
‘This chair, I’ve come to sell it,’ said John.
‘Our Pete roasted something that looked like that last year when we had a power cut. Kept us warm for all of ten seconds it did, the piece of shit.’
‘This is an American Renaissance Revival Rosewood chair, genuine,’ affirmed John.
‘Piss off,’ bawled David. ‘Don’t try and pull the wool over these eyes, mate.’
‘No, really,’ continued John, his voice a mere whisper in the desert compared to David’s atomic bomb of a voice.
John picked the chair up and carried it towards the brothers.
‘Steady on, you great fool! Can’t you see where you’re going? You nearly took my shin off.’
Pete, amused, began to cough.
‘The rotten thing’s making our Pete cough. You can always tell a bad piece of furniture when it sets off Pete’s allergies. You sold us a clock once which gave him diabetes. And I wouldn’t be surprised if that shield you sold us was responsible for his cancer. Come on, I mean, what is this? Some sort of game?’
A young man, who was loitering in a corner of the room, examining various pieces of silver, had begun to watch the events unfold with a great curiosity. He was shabbily dressed in a leather jacket with frayed edges, which was too big for his thin, seemingly malnourished frame. He wore messy stubble, with an overgrown moustache that was like a stray, unbecoming thicket in a field. His blonde hair looked dirty, in need of a wash. Yet the earthy savagery of his features betrayed a youthful, enthusiastic and untainted beauty that brimmed with vibrancy and ferocity. His face houses a passionate, volatile glow. He was young, perhaps mid-to-late twenties, and his clear blue eyes shone with all the clarity of the Indian ocean. His cheeks, perfectly formed and sculpted. He looked rough, dangerous, edgy; dirty – beautiful. He had an exterior that appeared as though it had to be extricated to be properly divulged. He turned his head to watch the conversation taking place.
‘I was very sorry to hear about your cancer, Pete, but that shield was a fine piece.’
‘Bollocks,’ said Pete.
Pete was over his cancer, if not his misanthropy.
The young man moved away from the silver and stepped to within two yards of John, folding his arms as he emerged from the shadows, not disguising his disinterest. John caught him through the aperture of the corner of his eyes, and was off put by his bravura. The young man wanted to be seen, but David was absorbed in the chair and in himself. Pete checked the young man, and was encouraged be the spectator.
‘How much will you give me, then?’ asked John. ‘I can guarantee its quality,’ he spluttered out, slicing his sentences with stammers and nervous hesitations, constantly pushing his spectacles back up his nose.
‘Feel that finish, it’s definitely nineteenth century,’ he said as he opened his body up, placing himself at the side of the chair, which was the centrepiece, the centre of the stage, the focus of the attention.
David sighed wearily, and checked his watch. Pete was still amused. He often said that John was like a court jester who popped into the store every now and then to entertain them with his antics, wistfulness, witlessness, and naivety.
‘Feel that texture,’ invited John, spitting as he spoke. ‘This is genuine, I mean it,’ he continued, now sounding more desperate than anything else.
‘Genuine,’ said the brothers together chorally, telepathically. David stepped forward, bent down and with the palm of his hand felt the chair’s seat, before quickly pulling away, repelled.
‘Jesus Christ,’ he exclaimed, as he looked aghast at the palm of his hand. ‘Nearly cut my hand it did. Rough as hell.’
John looked at him in disbelief and puzzlement.
’N-no, it wouldn’t do that.’
‘Damn thing has given me a splinter,’ muttered David as he prodded his hand with his thumb, examining it through irritated eyeballs.
John switched his puzzled gaze between the brothers.
‘Let me see,’ he said.
David allowed him to come near, holding out his hand invitingly for John’s inspection, before slapping him across the face with it.
‘That’s what you get for being an idiot.’
‘Come on now, enough fun and games,’ reasoned Pete, before rubbing debris of salted peanuts off his Brentford FC shirt. ‘How much are you asking for this junk?’
’Seven hundred,’ said John quietly. He looked at his chair, the one he loved and believed in, and for whom he was setting up a life of hardships and beatings at the mercy of the greasy, deceitful Barnes brothers. They laughed maliciously, slapping one another on the back as their laughter became a cacophony, their rosy cheeks becoming a deep scarlet.
John’s increasingly wilting gaze finally died as it flitted with a sinking heart between the maniacal, frosty, diabolical pair. The young man, his arms folded, his face serious, was still being ignored, as though he were a mere usher in a theatre, not invited to enjoy or comment on the show, not even expected to form a thought on the proceedings.
‘What’s so funny?’ asked a disheartened John. He was used to being the butt of their jokes, yet he kept coming back for me, believing that they were waiting for him to prove himself a master of antiques. He thought he had done it this time, he thought the chair would be his masterpiece, the furniture that would finally allow him into their circle of greatness.
David coughed, as did Pete, and he fought to bring himself together. Pete continued to laugh, now silently, his face almost purple and misshapen.
‘We’ll give you fifty quid.’
The young man cried out, and no one could tell whether the sound that evacuated his body was a laugh or a cry of derision. Everyone quickly glanced at him, with Pete’s childish gaze lingering on him the longest. He was trying hard to suppress more laughter.
‘Fifty quid?’ John was bereft. ‘This has been examined, I’ve examined it myself too.’
‘Your examinations aren’t worth anything. Batman knows more about antiques than you.’
‘Come on now chaps.’
‘Fifty quid, take it or leave it.’
‘Fifty quid for a piece of firewood is a bargain for you.’
‘Excuse me, my good fellows,’ began Zach, the dirty blonde young gentleman, in hoarse tones that were a tribute to his rugged appearance, ‘but I’ve been listening to you from over there by the second-rate silver, and you’ll excuse me if I couldn’t help but overhear this nonsensical conversation.’
David and Pete looked at each other with faint concern and apprehension.
Zach took hold of the chair and lifted into the air a little as he studied it with genuine interest. He seemed keen to look underneath the seat and made a grunt of approval.
He ran his dirt-encrusted fingertip along one of the legs, feeling its wooden texture that was as coarse yet somehow, underneath all its earthy misgivings, as beautiful as his own.
’Thought as much,’ he said as he placed it back next to John, almost stubbing his toe. ‘Sorry to intrude fellows, but fifty sobs for this? Either you two don’t know what you’re talking about, or you’re trying to rip this little geezer off.’
His words encouraged the ire of the brothers, particularly of David’s who immediately objected.
‘Now look here, young man, you can’t come into our shop and accuse us of ripping someone off. I’ve never seen you before, yet you’re trying to tarnish our lifelong reputation based on a misunderstanding between old friends.’
‘Fellows,’ protested Zach, smiling, his hands held aloft in a mock gesture of innocence. ‘If you’re not ripping him off, then you don’t know what you’re talking about.’
David was flabbergasted. Pete was indignant.
‘Are you trying to say that after a hundred years in the antiques game between us we don’t know what we’re talking about?’ asked Pete.
Zach shrugged, all the while retaining a mocking grin.
‘My suggestion is that you’re trying to bully this man into accepting a fee that is well below the market value. You’re ganging up on him to immobilise him, and to get him to agree that he doesn’t know as much about as antiques as you two old codgers. You know what this chair is worth, as does he, as do I. Come on, fellows. Let’s stop the pretence.’
David and his brother weren’t done yet.
‘Unbeknown to you, my fine, unkempt friend, but John happens to be a very old, very loyal, and very dear customer and friend of ours,’ said David, and he put his arm around John’s small shoulder, conjoining their bodies, smattering John with kinship. ‘We’ve been trading with him for several years,’ he continued, looking down at John’s stubby face, ‘and have never pulled a fast one on him. Besides, he’s too smart to know when he’s being done. We’re old friends, aren’t we?’
John, his face an ever darkening shade of burning crimson, felt his lips turn to jelly, and he couldn’t get a word out.
Zach shook his head.
‘What do you say, John? Are these old chums or are they a pair of podgy bullies?’
‘Podgy?’ blubbered a furious David, before quickly and slyly feeling the lining of his stomach.
‘They put up a pretence of selling third-rate shit for first-rate prices. My dick’s got more silver in it than those forks over there.’
‘Good heavens.’ David shivered, as though Zach’s crass linguistics sliced open and tore at his deeply held and deeply beloved values of middle-class etiquette. Pete wanted to make a joke about wood and John’s chair, and he silently guffawed to himself, yet, knowing full well that his brother wouldn’t take kindly to it, he kept it to himself.
‘Son, I’m going to have to ask you to leave,’ said David with as much authority as his affronted person could muster.
‘No problem, man. I’ll take John and his chair with me. If you’re not prepared to hand over at least five-hundred fat ones, then he doesn’t want to know. He says, fuck you, instead. Come on John, tell him to fuck himself or give you five hundred fat ones.’
‘Fat ones?’ asked John politely.
‘Fatties. Quids. Pounds.’
David, shocked, was shaking inside. He was trembling with anger.
‘Now just get out of my shop, you crazed, filthy maniac!’
‘Aye, fuck off, pal,’ said Pete, his hands in his pockets, an irrational bravado sweeping over him. In his football shit, he looked like a hooligan. His cowardice was preparing him to run if Zach took a swing at him. For now he remained still and cocky. Zach ignored his outburst, almost as though it never happened.
’Say it. Five hundred mazoola’s or they can fuck themselves. Especially the fat one with the cough.’ He looked at Pete. ‘Fat bastard, go and lose some fucking weight.’
‘He used to have cancer,’ said John.
‘Used to? He looks fucking riddled with cancer from where I’m standing.’
‘Good Lord,’ exclaimed David, now utterly flabbergasted, now mortified and repelled beyond comprehension. ‘If you don’t leave now, young man, myself and Pete will have no bloody option but to physically remove you from the premises.’
Zach laughed at him.
‘Oh my God, did you seriously say that?’
Being met with serious glances, he became unsmiling himself, before suddenly raising his fists in a fighting gesture, and jogging on the spot, ducking and diving, as though he were in a boxing match. He gave the air a right-hook, a swift and powerful one that would have asphyxiated oxygen. David was concerned and looked at Pete, who shrugged, not knowing how to react. They were all bewildered, especially John, who was also a little terrified.
‘Come on, put ‘em up,’ challenged Zach. Nobody could tell if he was serious or not. An old lady, wearing a big hat, walked up to David with a tiny ornament of a ballet dancer.
‘How much is this?’ she asked. ‘There wasn’t a price tag.’
‘Put ‘em up,’ continued Zach as he danced on the spot, slicing the air with his fists, making noises with his mouth as he gave space a blow to its face.
‘Fifteen quid,’ said David out of small crevice of his mouth, his eyes always on Zach and his fists. The old lady frowned and walked away with the ornament, disgusted. Zach launched into the air with all his body, and kicked out with his right leg. He burst out laughing, went into a veritable fit of laughter, doubling over as he clutched his stomach, worn out, breathless.
‘Man, that was fun,’ he said as he straightened himself out. He let out a huge gasp of breath before laughing a little again.
‘Well, that’s it for me. John, if you’ve got any balls inside those tiny pants of yours, I suggest using them now. Yeah?’
‘Yeah, go on John, get out of here and take your cretinous, troublemaking friend of yours with you.’
‘I’ve never met him before in my life,’ said a befuddled John.
‘Just take your friend, take your piece of bonfire, and get the fuck out of here,’ demanded Pete.
John picked up his chair reluctantly, somewhat afraid to be having to leave the shop with the maniacal Zach. He began to trot slowly towards the door.
Zach spread his legs in a gesture of defiance, a Marc Bolan posture of swagger, and flicked the V’s up at the brothers with both his hands, before grabbing an ornament and throwing it over their heads and against the wall behind them. He ran out of the shop screaming, with John slowly following, burdened heavily by the chair, which again was hard to fit through the doorway. He was troubled to find Zach waiting outside for him, perched against the wall, a packet of cigarettes in his hand.
‘You can thank me for everything now,’ said Zach. He lit a cigarette, and then pulled out a hip flask, opened it, and drank for two seconds. He offered it to John.
‘Whiskey and rum. Superb, fucking superb. I got the recipe off my mum.’
John shook his head before walking away.
‘Where are you going?’ called out Zach as John began to waddle off towards his parked car. ‘Are we not off to the pub?’
‘No, I’ve got to get home,’ was the puzzled answer.
‘I was right about the chair, wasn’t I?’ shouted Zach. ‘Worth a fortune that thing. If you’d have sold it to them for what they offered, I’d have ripped your head off and then disembowelled you. You can’t let people like that win. You have to stand up for yourself, dude. You do know what that chair really is, don’t you?’
‘Of course,’ came a faint answer from the distance.