ㅤIt was Friday night at The Mayflower, which meant the peanuts on the bar hadn’t been replaced in days. As the red pool ball sank into the corner pocket, the man with the beard pumped his fist in triumph. The clean-shaven man was pretending not to pay any attention to hide his annoyance at the fact that he was losing, like usual. He placed the blame on the new jeans his girlfriend had bought him, they were too tight around his thighs and plagued him with a constant nagging worry that his arse crack was showing. Avoiding looking down at the table, his eyes came to rest on the clubhouse board of champions. A new name had been added, its gold lettering still shiny.
ㅤ“Hey Pete, when was the last time you saw Johnny Greenwood?”
ㅤ“Johnny Greenwood. You know, big fat guy, used to play here.”
ㅤ“Oh, Johnny, yeah…” said Pete. “Haven’t seen him in years. Heard he left town after his missus found out he’d blown his little girl’s college fund down at the greyhound track.”
ㅤHe was right. Johnny Greenwood hadn’t been seen by anyone at The Mayflower in years. His unpaid bar tab was still a subject of bitterness for the owner, despite the fact there were few members of the club left that would recognise his face. Pete had a good memory, especially considering he owned more speeding tickets than books.
ㅤ“His name’s up on the board here,” said his friend, whose name was Tommy. “Says he played a perfect game here in the tourney this weekend.”
ㅤ“Piss off,” said Pete with a laugh, draining the dregs from his pint glass before lining up his next shot. He hadn’t looked up at the board yet. Tommy frowned.
ㅤThe two men had become friends years ago, being the two youngest members of the club by a fair margin back in ’04, when Tommy joined. Tommy quickly learnt that Pete could get himself thrown out of just about anywhere, usually for squaring up to a big fella who was minding his own business. Tommy stuck around out of a sense of duty to Pete’s teeth. To stop them getting kicked in.
ㅤTommy remembered playing at the table next to Johnny when the former was still a rookie at the club. The fat man had joined just a few years before him. Johnny had got angry at some kid behind the bar for dropping a glass, claiming it made him scuff his shot. This was despite the fact he was already losing considerably, and he had fumbled the shot several seconds before the glass shattered against the tile floor. A suggestion from across the bar that he might calm down only angered Johnny more, and a clumsy kick aimed at a fruit machine earned him a swift exit from the club, to rapturous sarcastic applause.
ㅤTommy wondered how Johnny Greenwood’s name had got onto the board. Playing a perfect game was quite a feat for a man who could barely fit the cue between his chubby fingers. Perhaps he had been practicing at another club all these years, waiting to return and prove himself. Tommy imagined packing his bags and leaving town in the middle of the night, like Johnny did, starting a new life away from his mum and dad and his girlfriend. Ending up at a new club with the same shitty wallpaper and the same wankers to play pool with.
ㅤAs he continued to ponder, looking over the board, he saw Pete out of the corner of his eye pick up the cue ball and move it an inch to the left.
ㅤ“Your shot mate,” said Pete, searching his pockets for change to buy another drink. Tommy steadied his cue and scowled, silently cursing his opponent for being such a cheating bastard.
* * *
ㅤ“He’s a slacker, Tommy, and he’s a bad influence on you.” It was Thursday, almost a week after Tommy had spotted Johnny Greenwood’s name on the clubhouse board. Happy hour had brought them to The Hog and Hare.
ㅤ“I know, Mia, but he hasn’t got anyone else to look out for him.”
ㅤ“Well he hardly looks out for you, does he? Remember that time he legged it and let you get beaten up down on Vic Street?” Tommy was ready to jump to Pete’s defence but realised he had nothing to say. He had ended that night with a couple broken ribs, and a lame excuse from Pete the next morning had done nothing to soothe the pain. “I’m telling you, I’m sick of it. Just once I’d like to go out for the evening and not have to break up a fight or apologise to a bartender cause Pete’s tried to touch her up.” They had argued last night about getting new chairs for the kitchen. Tommy had a feeling she was still angry about it. True or not, Pete was his friend, not hers, and she didn’t have any right to tell him who he could be mates with. Her tone softened, “I know you can do better than him, Tommy.”
ㅤThe door to the Gents banged open and Tommy watched across the room as Pete made his way back to their table, his feet falling in an uneasy rhythm. He scraped his chair across the wooden floor as he took his seat opposite Tommy.
ㅤ“What d’you reckon, Cross Keys for the rugby on Saturday?” Pete asked. Mia took hold of Tommy’s hand as he opened his mouth to speak.
ㅤ“Actually Pete, we were thinking of going away someplace this weekend. It’d be nice to do something just us two, wouldn’t it Tommy?” She smiled sweetly at her boyfriend, her head tilted to one side. Tommy couldn’t help but think how pretty she looked as her fingernails pressed harder into his palm.
ㅤ“Yeah… that’s right,” said Tommy, taking a long drink so Pete’s hard stare was wobbled through foam and glass.
ㅤ“Oh, where are you two headed?”
ㅤMia interjected. “We’ve been talking for ages about heading to the coast. A bit of sea air will be good for Tommy’s bad knee.” The corner of Pete’s mouth twitched. He was trying not to smile. Tommy recognised the subtle movement as a sign that Pete was about to try and start something, usually something that Tommy would have to fix.
ㅤ“Actually, we’d agreed to try and watch every game together this year, it’d be a shame to break the streak so close to the end of the season. Besides, you two already live together. If I was him, I’d want some time away from domestic bliss.” Each word out of his mouth was delivered like a matador pushing in a hundred tiny daggers. Mia was glaring at him across the table.
ㅤ“Being with me is his break. From hanging around shitholes like The Mayflower.” Tommy hated both of them for speaking for him but couldn’t string the words together to stop the arguing. Mia stood up, still holding Tommy’s hand. “Let’s go,” she said, tossing her hair back to clear her scowl. Pete didn’t look up at her, his gaze steady. Tommy looked from one to the other, his wordless mouth hanging open, thinking only about what a waste it would be to walk away from a pint glass that was still half full.