Photo by Jeff Maion, whose work you can find at Maion.com
From my seat in the corner I can see everything that happens in here. I know this pub better than I know my own flat, I've probably more in common with it, too. This pub has nothing to prove and no one it needs to win over. It rejects the modern, shiny, city-centre refinery - the walls lined with leather sofas, contemporary art, or statues of Buddha now required to attract, impress or intimidate its guests. I doubt this pub has changed much in the last fifty years, in fact I'm sure the landlord has the photos to prove it. It's the sort of place where regulars always occupy the same seats. A local.
Take our little group of teachers and teaching assistants from the local comp, for example. Each Friday you'll find us in the corner of this pub, only five minutes from the school gates we've fought a week to leave behind. My colleagues don't interest me much. It's easy to nod along and tune out to the chronicles of their suburban lives, each week the same chat, the same clothes, the same drinks. I'd love it if one of them, reaching across a dozen empty pint glasses for the peanuts, announced, "I killed the wife last night. Twenty years of marriage. I've put her body under the patio. Last time she'll turn off Top Gear."
Don't misunderstand me, I don't dislike any of them. They just bore the shit out of me. It doesn't matter. I don't come here for them, after all.
It's the barman, Sam, who interests me. Small-framed and dark-haired, Sam has the perfect combination of vulnerable geekiness and masculine taut muscle. He is equally at home discussing the finer mysteries of quantum physics, as he is lifting surly drunks from their bar stools and sending them home. Sweet, strong Sam. It's a shame about his wife, Lucy.
Lucy is the same size as Sam (the one thing I can see they have in common). She is small, slim to the point of disappearing and wears more make-up than I thought one face could stand. On disco nights, if the spotlight lands on Lucy she actually glows orange. Her slim hands, covered in gold sovereign rings have nails like mountain peaks at sunset. The first time I saw her at the bar, screaming at Sam for breaking a date when he had to work an extra shift, I couldn't take my eyes off those scarlet nails. I often wonder how she doesn't do a damage to herself when she goes to the loo.
It's a mystery to everyone, beyond the obvious, why Sam married Lucy. I've heard tales from the regulars that she was 'the quiet type' when they met at college, shy, a little nervous. Apparently it all changed when she started training as a beauty therapist. The men tolerate her because she looks good in tight clothes and the women ignore her (as much as any woman can ignore an alpha female) because she ignores them. Lucy is such a straightforward conception of the male psyche, that she sees no need to talk to women. This lack of camraderie may prove her undoing. The thing is, if you don't understand women, you'll never know when one is about to steal your man out from under your nose.
Lucy hasn't noticed me at all. I wear almost no makeup. I don't strut, or preen. I never pose. My nails are short, clipped and unpainted. If she had ever noticed me at all, she probably dismissed me as a hermaphrodite, or some kind of androgyne. So, Lucy has hardly noticed that I almost invariably get the drinks from the bar on Friday's. She didn't see the danger in my early conversations with Sam as we noted the same interests in politics, psychology and science. Because she rarely reads herself, Lucy thinks nothing of the novels we frequently exchange over the bar, or the conversations that stretch longer and longer into the evening, continuing as Sam wanders from pump to pump, serving customers, and calling questions to me over his shoulder.
Most importantly, Lucy has not noticed Sam's gaze linger on me as I sit faking conversation with the others, noting the amount in each of our glasses, measuring the moments until I head back up to the bar for a refill, while he stands quietly, polishing glasses.
No, Lucy has not noticed a thing. She will roll her eyes when Sam tells her of the conference in Scotland next week on Contemporary Psychology, and how he has swapped shifts to attend. She will whine as he tells her it is only for two days, purse her lips when he points out he rarely gets to do this sort of thing since Uni. She will ask only 'Why not?' when Sam states he does not want to run a bar forever. And Sam will begin to think, if he has not already, of the distance between he and Lucy. He will notice the differences between them and he will wonder.
When I meet Sam at the conference next week he will wonder again - after I've explained the terrible mix-up with the rooms, the inability of the hotel to cope with such a large number of guests, and I've offered to sleep on the couch or the floor. Sam will wonder why he has stayed with Lucy so long, and when we've had a little too much to drink and we're sat in the deserted bar in the half-light talking and laughing, he will wonder if it's too late to start again.
I scoop up the glasses, sighing, as the others explode into laughter, recounting scenes from last night's 'Fast Show' and head to the bar, where Sam waits. He catches my eye as I approach and gently smiles. I place myself carefully in Lucy's path as she leaves the loos. She smacks carelessly into my shoulder and tuts loudly, barely glancing at me as I apologize to her retreating wiggle. I watch Sam frown in her direction as Lucy crosses the bar.
I almost feel sorry for Lucy. Almost.