“Your screws are tight, Graham,” pronounced Mathew, with that familiar blend of shyness, guilt and panic that is his own. He was fiddling with the swiveling thumbscrew fasteners which hold in place the curved glass front panels of my large confectionery display cabinet. He often does. They are a particular fetish of his. I sometimes wonder if, in the deepest recesses of his dark and mysterious mind, he secretly hopes that one day he will gather the courage to suddenly unscrew one of the fasteners and heave out one or more of the beautifully curved sheets of tempered Swedish glass, then stand briefly with it hefted manfully above his greying, slightly bowed head like an aged Hercules balancing a small fragile satellite aloft before dashing it into a hundred thousand glittering jagged shards down on the mottled earthen tiles. He would stand there, spent and sweaty, surveying the destruction he had freshly wrought before asking if perhaps I could fetch a broom from the back cupboard and let him sweep up the mess. Would I fuck! I’d eject the fucker into the cold winter street and tell him to fuck off down to the Turk’s if he thought he was getting a cup of tea today for he certainly wouldn’t be getting one from me.
“Yes, Mathew,” I agreed. “They’re tight. Tight as…Children like to fiddle with them, so I got my cross head screwdriver out and twisted them home only last night. After I finished the stock-take. But before I put up the tinsel and stuff. Do you like the decorations? As you know, I don’t like to overdo it, and I always say that less is more when it comes to Christmas.” ‘Tis true dear reader of mine, I have put up the decorations in the shop far earlier than I ever have before. Weakness of the soul.
We were possibly about to enter into a deep and meaningless discussion re. the festive season and all that it entrails, tightened screws as a means of affecting the fingertips of inquisitive children or even the effects of hardened floor tiles on hurled sheets of glass. Or vice versa. But James Frederick, a gift of blind providence in the shape of an ageing, slightly disappointed dissolute, entered the shop for his habitual coffee and croissant, and saw Mathew, standing by the cabinet looking shamefaced and not much like Hercules. Mathew that is, not James. James is a shameless poseur.
“Mathew!” He beamed and almost bellowed. He’s obviously been practicing projecting his voice. “I thought you played very well the other week!”
Mathew bent his head even further forward and studied the slightly scuffed tips of his shoes. Or perhaps his multi creased kneecaps.
“Did you? Where? When?” He looked incredibly pale. Beads of sweat appeared on his forehead. It was like watching Gary Glitter in a Saigon orphanage, flanked by a couple of Vietnamese rozzers.
“Poppy day!” projected James. “In church!” He almost pronounces ‘exclamation mark!!’ at the ends of his sentences. You can almost see them suspended in the air, excited and upright, as he exclaims them. And sometimes he mutters, dark and interesting with a slight thespian lithp. You have to be there. Well you don’t, but it would save me sitting here writing it for you if you were. Wouldn’t it.
“Ah, Remembrance Sunday. Were you there?” Asked the Fretful one. He had noticeable relaxed. There was nothing to fear here, obviously. Where else can Mathew possibly play?
“Yes,” said James. “I read a poem. Something with a Latin title. Didn’t you hear me?”
“Pro Patria Mori” I interrupted. “Dulce et Decorum Est…I bet that’s what you read. Obviously left a deep impression on you, didn’t it Jim? I remember that one from English Lit classes. Mostly because it was by Wilfred Owen and my grandad’s second name was Wilfred. And he got gassed at Cambrai. Didn’t die till 1971. Hard fucker, he was. He used to chalk circles on my mum’s carpet for us to play marbles. I bet you just did limericks at school. I bet they didn’t gas you on the hippy trail to fucking Ibiza in 1969…”
“That’s the one, Graham,” said Jim, steadfastly refusing to rise to the bait, such as it was, “and we went round Europe to Stockholm. Not Ibiza.” He had to rise to it. These are the oceans of irrelevance in which we swim.
Mathew interrupted now, still looking down and muttering into his chest. “I didn’t see you there. Sorry. Somebody has taken the mirrors from the organ. I don’t know who. They were very useful. I had rather a good view of the church without turning around when they were there. I don’t know who fitted them in the first place. There were two. One gave whoever is playing the organ a view towards the vestry. The other showed you the front four pews. So you could usually see the entire congregation.” Congregation? You could see the entire population of the fucking ‘hoe in the front four pews.
“They were very useful. One woman who used to come in and play occasionally said that as they were fixed to some of the pipes they’d be very damaging to the organ, but when the church got a professional organ tuner in I asked him about it and he said that the mirrors shouldn’t cause any problem at all. But now they’re gone. I don’t know who took them. I trained to be an organ tuner, but the church always calls in outside help. The man who trained me had a nervous breakdown. You read a poem? I didn’t notice. Sorry, Roger.”
“James Frederick, Mathew.” I chided him. “Roger was in earlier. He wears a bright yellow working man’s jacket, Mathew, don’t you remember. You said hello to him. This is James. He read a poem in church the day you played at the Remembrance service.” And fucking well look up when I’m talking to you! I should perhaps have said.
That was today. Never a day wasted.