by Mike Hickman
The man with the unfortunate shaped beard was there at the head of the table when the family met that day Chris had been offered his first teaching job.
If anyone there was going to approve of his new career – ought to have made out that this was a noble thing for a 22 year old to be doing, rather than heading off on a gap year round the world or getting underway on his internet start-up – it surely ought to have been the man with the unfortunate shaped beard.
But he was silent after Chris explained how the interview he hadn’t thought was an interview was an interview, and how the posh part of town wasn’t as bad as everyone thought. And, no, it wasn’t at all like a public school, but there was a hell of a hush in there when he accompanied the head on the walkabout.
“And he thought I’d be ideal,” Chris told him, thinking that would be worth a laugh.
Worried that it would be worth a laugh.
The man with the unfortunate shaped beard had not laughed.
The silence at the table had washed around them for a moment or two, forced them to hear the other tables across the way in the brown of the pub. Forced them to hear the EastEnders-style “Leave it, Shirl, she’s not worth it!” rows that punctuated the dropped plates and the cheers and the chanting of the bald headed tracksuits watching Sky telly.
Yes, it was possible for his family to have their own silence, even in such surroundings.
And the man with the unfortunate shaped beard had not helped in the slightest.
Not least when Lisa spoke up to say again how she hoped Chris was making the right choice, before telling everyone about her own choices involving new boyfriend, Steve. One of which would only become obvious roughly nine months later.
The man with the unfortunate shaped beard was there the day that Chris told them – those few members of his family who were free – that he was contemplating the move. That the time had come for the move. That Belinda wasn’t entirely convinced yet, but he was pretty sure they were going ahead with the move.
Lisa was good enough not to talk about how his therapy had been going.
Steve was too busy nursing the black eye he’d received after the birth of sprog three and the entirely contemporaneous birth of another sprog number one.
“It does, doesn’t it?” Marlene had observed.
It was long past the point where Chris would use the other m-word for the woman at the other end of the table. She was Marlene now. Especially after the “not being surprised” thing when he’d left the school.
Especially after the other predictions she’d made on the phone that same night. Things she was prepared not to be surprised by.
“Does what?” Lisa asked.
Steve looked at the steak on his plate as if he’d heard about the application of meat on black eyes but had never ever seen it in practice.
“Looks like…you know…” Marlene cupped her hands, juggling them a bit, and nodded at the man with the unfortunate shaped beard’s beard.
It bifurcated at the chin and it bulged at the cheeks. It certainly did look like the objects being mimed.
Enough for not a one of Chris’s family to share any pertinent thoughts whatsoever about his impending move. With or without Belinda.
The man with the unfortunate shaped beard was there the day Chris brought Tobi with him to see the old town. As they were at the “sharing their lives” stage of the relationship.
“I simply don’t know how I keep ending up at the same table,” Chris observed, as the man with the unfortunate shaped beard observed precisely nothing in return.
“’cor, look at him, don’t he look like…?” Tobi giggled. And she grabbed Chris by the crotch and she gave both a squeeze and a wrench. And Chris remembered that he had decided to like this after everything he had pretended to like in life before.
“Yeah, yeah,” he told her. “Bollocks,” he told her. “Absolutely.”
He lost her at the “absolutely”.
He’d lost her some time before that, in truth. Maybe at the third bar when he’d suggested that, yes, he did like Guns ‘N Roses and, yes, he absolutely agreed with her thoughts on politics. Including the ones he knew, between tightly closed eyes, were bound to come his way now he had given her permission to say them.
The man with the unfortunate shaped beard was there the day Chris arrived at the pub with a roller and a pot of white emulsion.
But, funnily enough, not for all that long afterwards.
Mike Hickman (@MikeHicWriter) is from York, England. He has written for Off the Rock Productions (stage and audio), including a 2018 play about Groucho Marx and Erin Fleming. Since 2020 he has been published in Agapanthus (Best of the Net nominated), EllipsisZine, the Bitchin’ Kitsch, the Cabinet of Heed, Sledgehammer, and Red Fez.