“Next!” called the girl at the far till with a voice that did not intend being ignored. She was not unattractive in a hard-edged way but her lank hair, pierced lip and bright-blue eye-makeup edged with trowelled-on mascara detracted from any natural good looks she may have once possessed. She took Malcolm’s proffered purchases with an ill-disguised sigh of boredom.
“Anyway,” she continued over her shoulder to an equally lank-haired colleague in a voice that drawled its vowels and trampled its consonants, “I said to him no way was I going to let him carry on like that. I mean like I don’t mind if he wants to go out with his mates – to be honest like I’d rather he did – he’s boring. Is that all?” The aside was to Malcolm as she finished swiping his things and stuffed them gracelessly into a plastic bag. “The thing is he’s so good in bed,” this not to Malcolm, “Or like anywhere really. It was up against the wall in the alley near the fish-shop last night. Put your card in the slot. I said to him – You have to give it a good push – Like going out with your mates is one thing, but if that Gazza is taking his girlfriend then like no way! You know what a slut she is. Did I tell you about that time in the car-wash? Got him in a right lather, she did! I’m not having that! Check the amount, put in your PIN and press ENTER.”
Malcolm had stood open-mouthed throughout this entire exchange, mesmerised by the girl’s monologue and her complete lack of either guile or charm. Dutifully, he pressed the required buttons.
“What I wanna know is what Gazza sees in her. It’s not as if she’s good-looking or nothing, although she has got her nipple pierced.” As she tore his receipt from the machine and dropped it into his bag, with a rare acknowledgement that customers played any part in her day, she flashed a smile in Malcolm’s direction that surprised him with its breadth and warmth – followed by a cheeky wink that completely disarmed him. “Have a nice day!” she taunted him, then turned to holler, “Next!”
Malcolm was not against barbecues per se. Although he far preferred to sit at a proper table to eat his meals, he could see the attraction of eating in the open air. Indeed, Malcolm and Janice had purchased a small, metal, tripod-based barbecue tray from B&Q, and had enjoyed the occasional alfresco meal themselves. However, there was a vast difference between a cosy family meal in the garden when it had looked to Janice as if the weather would hold, and the tribal gatherings that Dean felt compelled to muster whenever there was a break in the cloud cover. Just how many barbecues do you need to organise in a single summer?
What made this excess of culinary extravagance all the harder for Malcolm to tolerate was the number of guests that Dean felt it incumbent upon himself to invite. Not for Dean the intimate gathering of a few close associates. Oh no! Dean did not feel a barbecue was complete until he had invited everybody he had ever met, albeit merely in passing, together with their entire family – including, of course, second-cousins twice-removed. As each new guest arrived, they proffered the obligatory greeting (“Dean-o! Dean-o!”) then pushed into the melee that heaved within the confines of Dean’s garden. There, they thronged in a maelstrom of bodies, pressing against each other like the tormented souls from some Bosch painting.
Whereas some people’s libido drove them towards sex, Dean’s drove him to organise barbecues. Indeed, Malcolm was of the opinion that Dean treated the occasions as a kind of foreplay. He certainly made the most of every opportunity to squeeze and grope his female guests. Almost without exception, they acquiesced in this ritual, as if afraid that refusal might set them apart as misfits.
As for noise, the decibel levels were of Boeing proportions. Bellowing fellows peddled second-hand jokes, the punch-lines of which were delivered with the finesse of a sledgehammer. Bolshy drunks ranted, each assured of the aptness of his point of view by the volume of his argument. Females cackled waveringly as they stumbled towards a state of inebriety, whereupon they lapsed into tearful incoherence. Glasses clinked. Plates crashed. Cutlery clattered.
And above it all, as if anything could rise to such epic volume, the incessant blare of the music. Music?! Music?! It was a hideous concoction of sound with little purpose other than to drown out meaningless conversation. It was a backdrop for the arm-swinging gyrations of the middle-aged, living dead that comprised Dean’s guest list. It was a tuneless vehicle for the conveyance of sex-laden lyrics. It was, unquestionably, enough to send a sane man running for cover.
If Dean’s barbecues were unbearable, then his Bonfire Nights were rehearsals for Hell. Malcolm was certain that they would have been instantly prohibited had they come under the scrutiny of anyone from the Council’s Health and Safety Department. But no-one seemed to care these days. No sooner had September bidden its leafy farewell than gangs of crazed yobs roamed the streets throwing crackers and scaring reasonable people with their explosive shenanigans. Throughout the month of October, the coastguard must have been as busy as the Fire Brigade if they responded to even a proportion of the distress flares that idled red above the nearby council estate. Why were people not satisfied with the displays organised by the local council?
Mind you, the local council would have been hard pressed to match the sheer extravagance of Dean’s pyrotechnical performances. Here was an opportunity Dean could ill afford to miss. A chance to display his largesse on a grand scale; to proclaim his supremacy in lights; to declare his disdain for the ordinary man with a showcase of supersonic proportions. With his garden packed to capacity with the usual crowd of fawning hangers-on, Dean resorted to the only space large enough to stage his spectacle - his garage roof. From thence he unleashed a tirade of whizzes, bangs and whooshes, each louder and more spectacular than its predecessor. He scampered back and forth across the flat roof, loosing off a succession of cannonades that would have elicited immediate surrender from even the most hardened of Middle Eastern dictators. What Dean’s pyrotechnics lacked by way of sophisticated synchronisation, they made up for with their sheer power and volume. Whilst Barbara led the vociferous ooh-ing and aah-ing , stopping only to replenish her glass, Dean himself revelled in the attention as he ducked and dived to present The Deano-Show , an exaggerated over-blown gesture of social defiance. Guy Fawkes had been hanged, drawn and quartered for less!
If you have enjoyed reading these extracts and want to find out how Malcolm plans to be avenged, "A Logical Sequence of Events" is available for Kindle (or other e-readers) from Amazon. Click on the cover to buy from Amazon.
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