Dave was silent for a moment. Tears welled in his eyes, threatening to spill over at any moment, his body convulsing, hands clutching his chest. Leaning his head on the faded leather of the lazy boy, at last the inevitable huge guffaw escaped from him with a violent snort, shaking the tears loose down his cheeks, his mouth an open advertisement for the perils of fizzy drinks and his dentist’s proficiency in amalgam fillings.
“Michael”, he howled between gasps of breath, “that is absolute comedy gold. You are a legend, my friend. If she lets you live to see another day, that is definitely going in my best man’s speech:
‘It is an honour to be here today, sharing in Michael and Sarah’s big day. When Michael barfed in Mina’s ashes, no doubt there were some of you present here today who thought this blissful union would never take place. But Sarah has such a forgiving nature, and despite Michael’s castration I’m sure they’ll go on to have a long and happy marriage together’.”
“Ha, bloody ha”.
Michael rubbed his eyes and frowned, studying the brass urn perched incongruously on top of yesterday’s paper, creasing Chantelle, 20, who enjoys crocheting and flower arranging when she’s not getting her breasts out. He was still feeling queasy; he didn’t know if it was the aftermath of mixing the grape and the grain, or the head-screw of having just flushed his mother-in-law-to-be down Dave’s toilet along with the remains of last night’s Vindaloo. God, that toilet is disgusting as well. Hasn’t Dave ever heard of throwing a bit of bleach around it now and again?
He’d only been asleep a couple of hours when he’d wakened this morning. His mouth was as dry as a dead donkey’s dongle, and his head was thumping.
Sarah was still sleeping, soft snores peppering the rise and fall of her chest. He’d tiptoed out of the bedroom, swearing silently when he toe punted something as he groped his way downstairs in the darkness to the kitchen. He’d filled a glass of water from the tap, and tried to cast his mind back to the events of the evening. He knew he’d been sick – he could smell it on his hands.
The details were sketchy and disjointed. They’d stayed at The Lab until throwing out time. It had been a good night. Some of the comedy acts weren’t bad at all, and the DJ had put on some quality dance anthems afterwards. He remembered Sarah rowing with him about something when they got in and stomping off to bed.
He’d opened another can in front of the tele, and flicked between a re-run of Dallas and some disappointing free porn where the girls gyrated and licked telephone handsets. Across the country, dim-witted suckers were racking up the minutes on premium phone numbers, in reality talking to fat grannies multi-tasking between talking dirty and knitting bootees in a room above a Birmingham mini-cab office. Seriously, he’d seen a TV programme about it once.
JR was having a standoff with Cliff Barnes when his mouth had suddenly filled with saliva and he’d grabbed the nearest vase on the mantelpiece and wretched repeatedly.
Oh Jesus – she’d never forgive him.
Wiping his eyes, Dave readjusted his glasses and studied his best friend. Limbs sprawled over the black leather settee, Michael had hit just about every branch of the good-looking tree, and the bastard knew it. With a physique that wouldn’t be amiss in an Olympic 100m butterfly competition, he’d always been a player. There had been so many women vying for a place on his radar he’d felt it only fair to try to accommodate as many of them as possible in a given week, and needless to say he’d become very adept at spinning a merry web of lies or two, with Dave usually stitched up as an involuntary alibi somewhere along the way.
Most of those women had had the IQ of a pot plant, but Sarah was in a different league. It goes without saying she had legs up to her neck and an arse that would have Kim Kardashian running to the plastic surgeon quicker than you could say ‘cellulite’ if she saw it. But she was also funny and smart. An impassioned project manager for a local homeless charity, she’d met Michael at his sister’s debut exhibition at the Camden Art Gallery, and critically was the only woman in history to have ever turned him down. It had taken eight weeks of volunteering at soup kitchens to get her to agree to a first date, and six months down the line he was making excuses for missing the lads’ annual weekend in Blackpool and booking romantic escapes to the Cotswolds.
All the same, the engagement had come as a bit of a surprise. A leopard doesn’t change its spots, and Michael couldn’t resist occasionally straying to new grasslands when there was the occasional drought in the desert at home.
He’d smooth-talked his way out of a few near misses with Sarah in the past, but even by Michael O’Reilly standards this was a howler of massive proportions. If he was going to get himself out of this one he’d either have to take a massive risk and come clean about Mina’s last resting place being the depths of the London sewage system, or come up with something pretty spectacular in the covering-your-arse department.
Watching him, brow furrowed in consternation, Dave knew all too well which option his cogs were churning through right now. Michael didn’t do confessions. It required humility and an admittance of wrongdoing, and where was the sense in that when he had a first-class degree in storytelling?
“I think I’ve got it, mate." Michael leaned forward in his seat, his excitement at his own cleverness palpable.
"Ordinary ashes will be no good to us -”.
Dave wondered when this had suddenly become an ‘us’ issue, but said nothing. He’d always been the wingman, the Robin to Michael’s batman. Come to think of it, more of a Denis Thatcher to a big, hairy Maggie. He had a fleeting image of Michael in a blue suit with big hair, and suppressed a smile.
Michael was the Alpha amongst their crowd, and much as he hated to admit it, Dave had always been childishly flattered by the sporadic attention Michael bestowed upon him. He’d been as delighted as a teenage girl when Michael had rung his doorbell early this morning.
“We haven’t got time to play Guy Fawkes,” Michael continued, “and there’s some special bollocks they do at the crematorium anyway to grind it all down to dust. So I reckon the best thing is for you to bring the urn down the site with you tomorrow. There’s loads of stuff you could mix together down there, and I’ll swing by in my lunch-hour and pick it up.”
Dave’s brow furrowed – he didn’t like being caught up in Michael’s lies at the best of times, and this was a whole different ballgame. Sarah was a decent girl – she invited him over for the odd Sunday roast, and it seemed wrong to cover up something so heinous.
Michael leaned forward and patted his knee. “Dave mate, she’ll be none the wiser. There were probably a hundred different people squeezed into that jar with her old dear anyway. It’s kinder this way – you know how close she was to her mum.”
He noted the tightening of Dave’s lips, and prepared his best parting shot.
“You’d be doing me a real favour, mate. You know how much Sarah means to me.”
You had to admire his skill, or at the very least his bloody brass neck. Another Michael O’Reilly screw up, another hospital pass to Dave to sort out. And the most galling thing of all was that Dave knew he’d end up doing it.
Dave set the two pints down on the table. It had been a week since Sarah had broken off their engagement, and Michael looked a mess. The normally carefully curated designer stubble had deteriorated into something resembling down-and-out chic, and if he wasn’t wrong those swollen eyelids betrayed the fact that he’d been crying.
He slid into the chair beside him, and nervously played with a beermat. He was glad he’d persuaded him to come out for a few hours, and was more than a little surprised he’d taken up the invitation, given that he’d been ignoring his calls all week. As it turned out, he’d needed a hand picking his belongings off the lawn of his old house, but still – it was a start.
He cleared his throat.
“Michael, listen, I’m sorry about Sarah and all that. I thought the concrete mix looked the part, but I had the Guvnor on my back all morning, and… well, I guess I must have forgotten to put the lid back on.”
Bringing the pint to his lips, Michael stared unblinking at him but said nothing.
“Bloody hell, Michael - I’ve said I’m sorry. I did my best. How was I supposed to know that shower of rain would set it? You can’t lay all the blame at my door. You should have checked it before the family went away for the scattering ceremony.”
Still radio silence.
“C’mon mate… you and I go way back. For Chrissake say something.”
Michael set the glass down, and was quiet for an interminable moment. He sighed. “It’s alright, Dave. To be honest, I don’t think we were that great a match anyway. She was too set in her ways.”
“Just like her old dear?” Dave ventured.
Michael grinned and clinked glasses.
“Your round again, fat boy. Hey - what do you think of the redhead over by the bar with the green top on?”
(Based on this Story Jam)
Fruit from this Jam:
THIS IS IT FOLKS by Rhoda Taylor
Night Of Passion by lisarey1990
Pot Luck by Alison Young
A Cautionary Tail by Vaulte Kamish
Grenade Fishing in the Andaman by Jeff Burns
Guilt by Abby Buttery
Liberté by Payton Huey
The Perfect Lie by Kevin Cagle