The Scunthorpe Wife

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He moved closer, hoping the dwindling light of his fame was still visible enough in the gloomy hall; that it still meant something after all those years. He’d traded on his pudding bowl hair cut in the early days – almost registered it for trademark purposes, wigs, the silhouette on a t-shirt bearing his band’s name – but now he was bald and just prayed people looked at him through the lens of their youth. And some did. He was grateful for it.

The music skipped on. The crowd were all riding the joyous wave of being back in the early 90’s. Driven now not by being part of a zeitgeist, but by white wine and the chance to escape how awful things had turned out for them. Most people were sitting down. Back in the day the only people sitting were too-fucked-up to stand or dance, or were colluding young couples seeking the dark. The lights were worse then. He knew all those little truths. How many clubs like this had he been at over the years? He couldn’t begin to count. The ones he’d played at were just a blur, but they were nothing compared to the monstrous conveyor belt of punters in the places on the Appearance Circuit he was working now. Thousands of photographs, ‘Hello, mate,’ people singing old songs to him spilling beer, and everyone looking older. Sometimes he wondered if this phoney fame would last forever. Would he still be appearing when everybody had white hair and the crowds were reduced by time to ten people in Shackleton high seat chairs in the sunny glow of a retirement home lounge? He shuddered.

At the bar, a beautiful woman was talking with her friend. She was petite, sparky, the kind of face you don’t forget – an imprint of something perfect that maybe even touches deep down into some level of the subconscious: you are meant to take notice of a woman like her, it’s just evolution, baby. He remembered her face from the appearance last year. He was sure of it. They’d chatted, he’d enjoyed it. Of all the women in the town she had stood out. He was glad to see her again. Maybe this time he’d be lucky. He touched her arm. She turned around and laughed. Man, she was so pretty. He adjusted his shirt, made a sweeping motion with his arms to level up the collar, and began the honed charm of somebody who meets industrial numbers of people.

They talked for a while, she was good company, people were taking photos, the Stella tasted sweeter, as it always did, the more he drank. He called her his ‘Scunthorpe Wife’. She thought that was funny, but she knew what he was really getting at. She wasn’t going to let that happen. The music continued, the lights blitzed, people were shouting over the noise, laughing, this was what it was all about. The time was right. He was in the zone. He hugged her. She hugged back, laughing to her friends. Then he turned his head, aiming to kiss her. She let him, puckering up jokily, but he was too far into this and into her. Their lips touched. She felt his tongue try to force its way into her mouth. She drew her head back, looking confused. He laughed, fobbing it off as something people who are drunk and used to be famous do all the time. Like sitting alone in their little flats, sifting through yellowed press clippings and trying to drink in those feelings for the thousandth time. Like a cocaine addict chasing that first buzz. Never truly replicating it, but not ever wanting to admit the terrifying fact that they’d been as high as they’d ever be. No second chance.

At the end of the night he went back to the hotel and took out the few warm cans he’d put in his suitcase. He sipped on one as he thought about failing to snare her. For a moment he wondered about the lucky guy who she’d gone home to. If he was ever famous?

 

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