Ice cubes clinked in glasses as toasts were raised to their late friend. There was still a lingering underlying odour of tobacco even though the smoking ban had been in place for over a decade; it had definitely been more than ten years since the upholstery and curtains had last been cleaned. Soft music mingled with hushed conversations, the murmur of other mourners rolled and peeked, occasional flurries of laughter from far corners floating up and evaporating into the ether as the drink loosened up memories and stories were recanted. Occasional, quiet sobs from the biggest table; close family, feeling the sharpness of reality's bite. Black ties and suits were in the majority, even though the invitations had requested bright colours to be worn. This was Paisley after all.
Derek had lectured himself in the mirror in the hotel room that morning, as he dressed for Mickey's funeral. Blue suit, cream shirt and blue tie, same as every gig they had played in their rock and roll band, The Targets, back in the day. A couple of sizes up from his original stage outfit, the hungry years were a long time ago and he had enjoyed a better standard of living with the proper jobs of the past thirty or so years. "You will not greet like a wean. You will not say anything to offend anyone. You will keep your shit together. And when Clem insists on drinking till midnight, you will decline and resist the urge to punch his lights out." He gave his reflection a knowing look and a small, sharp nod that assumed he knew what he meant as he straightened his tightly knotted tie.
After the funeral at the wake, Derek took a moment, composing himself, breathing deeply with his eyes closed so tightly, he thought he might see stars when he opened them again. He heard Clem clear his throat at the table beside him, signalling that the conversation wasn't nearly over.
"Ah know you never saw it Deek, but ahm tellin you, Mickey was infatuated wi' you. He never said nuthin but ah knew. Ah jist... knew." Clem swilled his fourth vodka and coke round in his glass three times before throwing it down his throat then slamming the tumbler back down on the small, brown painted table that tilted each time he lent his elbow on it. "Don't you remember, in France, on the Brittany leg of that tour? He never even so much as looked at all them French girls. Fallin' over themselves fur him, they were. Ooooh Mickeeee!!" Clem squealed just a little too loudly, drawing disapproving looks from the next table along. He gave an apologetic nod, lowered his tone then turned back to continue his recollection of events unperturbed. "But he wisnae interested. He wisnae interested in them coz he was all about you, Deek." Clem breathed the last few words hard then paused for dramatic effect, his chin inches from Derek's face. They stared at each other for a moment before turning back to sit in their respective seats, both men gazing back into space, across the small tables that stood in front of each of them. Clem's table was filled with several more empties than Derek's. Derek was making the Olympic sign on his placemat with the ring marks from the same glass of water. Brothers In Arms played somewhere in the background, the guitar track floating like the ghost of music charts past.
"Ahm gettin another in. What you fur Deek?". Clem's eyes were already starting to wander in divergent directions. Derek closed his again and repeated his morning mantra.
Deep breath. "No, I'm OK Clem, honestly, got a busy day tomorrow so, y'know, I'm alright". Derek gave Clem his most sensible, responsible expression, nodding sombrely.
"Ah c'mon man, it's Mickey's funeral fur Christ sake!" Clem was undeterred. He loosened his blue tie and unbuttoned the straining shirt collar beneath it. He had persuaded his frame into his original blue stage suit but the signs of rebellion at the seams were clear. The slim 90s cut was a tough sell at the time and strangely, this was not a look that had come around again. "He'd be ragin' if he thought you weren't goany huv a drink tae toast his immortal memory!" Clem was shifting in his seat, like there were ants crawling underneath him, his face flushing as he began an odd rocking manoeuvre which was failing to get him to his feet. Derek wondered which would burst first, Clem's trousers at the backside or his face as Derek's fist slammed into it. He concluded that none of the aforementioned was a particularly sensible idea; more drink, standing up or punching his old band mate in the face at one of his best friend's funeral wake. Especially at eleven forty-five on a Tuesday morning.
A voice from across the room announced that the buffet was open. Derek thanked the universe quietly under his breath. Clem roared his appreciation "Yessssss!" then more quietly "About fuckin' time."
The background music had moved up a gear, The Stranglers and Bob Marley joining Dire Straits, rattling through their hits. The volume had crept up on the mornings levels as everyone ate small triangular sandwiches. Clem had polished off two plates of tepid finger food and was now working his way through a third. It was doing a sterling job of sobering up the enthusiastic drinkers and calming the distraught. Obviously, you can't cry and eat quiche at the same time without choking.
Derek picked at the bit of pastry from the mini sausage roll that had become welded to the roof of his mouth. Poking about like a hook looking for a fish, his finger finally caught a corner of it and levering at it, like a limpet on a rock, accidently flicked it right out of his mouth. He sent the pastry ball flying over the table, before sailing across the room and landing on the strip of faded tartan carpet that lay between them and the sticky burgundy vinyl flooring that moted the bar. Clem collapsed in a heap of coughs and laughter, almost choking on his fifth vodka and coke. This time, no-one even batted an eye at the hilarity. Derek looked back at Clem, then realising no one else in the room was remotely bothered by his raucous outburst, he gave in to Clem's infectious chortle. He let a smile to catch one side of his mouth. Shaking his head, thinking how funny Mickey would have thought this was, Derek washed down what was left of the offending purvey on his top palate with a mouthful of the fine single malt that Clem had set down on the table in front of him half an hour ago. "Here's to you, Mickey Target," he pictured his friend, in his mind's eye, winking across the stage at him, in his blue suit with the shirt unbuttoned almost down to his waist. Strutting his stuff, centre stage on the mic.
"It was never Portsmouth; it was Poole we all sailed from. Mind we had to share the cabin with that old wumin that snored all night?" Clem was nibbling at the peanuts that had been dished out to every second table by a teenage girl who had looked bored out of her mind. Clem and the girl had exchanged dirty looks as she deposited the side plate, then mouthed silent profanities at each other as she tossed her head and walked off in disgust.
"Nope. It was Portsmouth. I got the train there and Mickey drove and nearly missed the ferry because he got lost," Derek corrected. Clem remained unconvinced but decided to let this one slide, more interested in the peanuts than this part of the conversation. "You're right about France though," Derek continued, " And you're right about Mickey..."
Clem's fingers stopped fiddling with the peanuts. He set his glass down and straightened in his seat. He cleared his throat as if preparing for important news. Derek had Clem's full attention.
"Mickey was...oh, how can I put it?", Derek stumbled.
"Wiz a gay?" Clem interjected before Derek could finish his thought.
"Was...not fussy about who he went with, you know, guys or girls?" Derek didn't look in Clem's direction, keeping his eyes on his trusty single malt.
"Aaaah, right." Clem nodded. "So how come he never went with any of the fans, guys or girls? And how come he wiz always winkin' at you on stage. He never winked at me." A look of deflation flashed across Clem's face as he recalled their gigs, back in the day. Mickey, adoring himself and the crowds that cheered him on, always laughing and mucking around with Derek.
"He did wink at you, I'm sure he did." Derek realised how ridiculous the conversation was getting and decided to grasp the nettle and wind this up before this went any further.
"Look, Mickey told me, when we were in France, that he had...feelings for me. Y'know, that he liked me more than just as a friend?" A swift downing of the remains of the malt. "But I had a girlfriend and I told him that. And I said that I really liked him and all but just not in that way. And that was that." Derek finally looked Clem square in the eyes. "Nothing. Happened." Derek stated and, without meaning to, held his breath.
Clem took several moments to absorb and compute Derek's version of events. Finally, he spoke, and said very quietly, "If you say so Deek, if you say so. What happened in France, stays in France. Ah've got no issue wi' that. Ah can respect that.” He swilled his drink in his hand, contemplating. The he let out the faintest of sighs. “Just seems a shame though, you know. You two would've made a smashin' couple." Clem was being completely sincere but Derek struggled to read his bandmate's intention. "Another whisky Deek?" Clem asked with a raised eyebrow.
When the sullen teenager cleared Derek's table, after the last of the funeral party had left, she collected six whiskey tumblers, two empty pint glasses and a five-pound note tip, wedged under the side plate. She cracked her bubble-gum as she pocketed the cash.