George immediately ordered a second pint. Before it arrived, the groom and his brother—standing behind George—hemmed and hawed about ordering shots, so George just waved the bartender over and got all three of them tequila. They toasted to the beautiful bride. The drink made the groom’s eyes water. Almost at the moment the second pint arrived, one of the wait-staff showed up at George’s elbow with champagne turned pink with watermelon.
So George sat in front of drinks three and four and watched his mother dance. He imagined blasting that tight silver bun off the back of her head. Moving back home had been hard. The bun had come to represent certain things he disliked about her: general tightness, yes; ability to obey rules, particularly the twelve steps, but even things like her sanctimonious observance of all traffic laws; mostly, though, her previous life as a dancer—a prima ballerina—and the beautiful series of photos of her in a leotard that haunted George from the walls of their home, had haunted George from the time of his earliest wet dreams. When she danced, the bun seemed like severe counterpoint to the organic, troubling beauty of her movements.
The MC asked the DJ to turn down the music. George’s mother looked around as if to find where in the corners of the room the song was hiding. It was time for a toast followed by the first dance. George’s mother looked around for George so that she could stand beside him while she waited for the appropriate moment to return to the dance floor.
One of the groomsmen was looking her up and down. She grabbed and started to roll down George’s sleeve. He pulled his arm away. “Keep it covered,” she said of his tattoo.
“Dragons are auspicious. And a symbol of fertility,” he said, looking at the bride’s generous hips, the groom’s fists resting chastely in the small of her back. What is this song, anyway? It was mushy shit. He started humming Dr. John’s “Such a Night”: “If I don’t do it, you know somebody else will.”
His mother lifted his hand and was buttoning his sleeve. “Oh, come on.”
“It makes you look cheap.”
George shook his head.
“You must need a drink after that beautiful dancing.” The groomsman who’d been eyeing Mom up was standing in front of George, his shoulder inches from George’s chin. George stood up straight and the groomsman turned his head to briefly acknowledge George, then smiled at Mom.
“She doesn’t drink,” George said. He tried to drain his champagne, but was struck by a watermelon ball. Some of the pink drink splashed his cheeks and shirt.
“Oh, Busby,” Mom said, laughing and looking for her clutch so she could fetch a tissue.
George grabbed a napkin off the bar. “I’ve got it, Mom.”
“Nice to meet you Busby,” the groomsman said.
“George,” George said.
“Busby George. He prefers George.”
“I got this, Mom.”
“I’m David,” the groomsman said, holding his hand out.
“Nice to meet you,” George said.
“Likewise, Busby George,” David said. George was dying to knock David’s teeth in.
“And your name?” he asked Mom.
“Natasha,” she said. “Tash.”
“Can I buy you a drink, Natasha?”
“I’d love a soda,” she said, girlish.
“Got it, Tash. Can I get something for you George?”
“Another pint of—” George turned around. He swayed a little in his seat while he tried to steady his pointing finger. Closing one eye helped. “—that one.”
Of course David and “Tash” danced together. George watched from his barstool until he had to find a seat that was sturdier and lower-to-the-ground. At one point, the bride walked by on her way to the washroom and he reached out his hand to touch her. He brushed her dress. She felt it and looked back at him like she was considering being angry about it. He had trouble focusing, but he saw her shake her head. Shit, he thought, how many had he even had? No more than six or seven.
People were leaving when Mom woke him up. David was beside her. George stood and lurched. “Whoa,” David said, catching him.
Like a boxer using his opponent to hold himself off the mat, George wrapped his arms around David.
“Okay, Busby,” Mom said. “David is just going to help you to the car.”
“I don’t need his help,” George breathed into David’s jacket.
“Put your arm around my shoulder,” David said.
Mom lifted George’s arm for him. David wrapped a hand around George’s torso, his fingers digging into a ticklish spot under George’s armpit. George’s body jerked away from David’s touch and right towards David’s body. “Hey, watch it,” George said.
Mom found George’s jacket and draped it over her shoulder.
The walk to the car felt long because George just couldn’t make himself throw up. Of course, he probably could have if he’d stuck his fingers in his mouth, but he decided that when he puked on David it should look like an accident.
As David helped George into Mom’s car he pressed his hand tenderly against George’s crown to keep George from banging his head.
For a few seconds George waved his hand in the vicinity of the seatbelt. David handed George the buckle.
“Are you going to be able to get him into bed?” David asked.
“Yes. Thank you,” Mom said.
“It was a pleasure to meet you,” David said.
“Yes,” Mom said. “We’ll talk soon.”
“I look forward to it.”
“Good night, Tash.”
“Good night, David. Thank you.”
The latch’s curved sides helped George direct the latch plate into the slot. George slapped the side of the seat searching for the lever to help him recline.
“Watch your hand,” David said.
George put his hand in his lap and scowled. David closed the door.
“We’ll talk to you soon,” Mom said before ducking into her seat.
David bent at the waist to stick his head through George’s window and wave goodbye to Tash.
The real reward for George during his drinking days was that the nights were a blackout. Since he’d been on the twelve steps, nightmares of terrifying intensity had again overwhelmed his sleeping life. Despite being drunker than he had been in ages, that night he still dreamed. He was on a beach and in the distance he saw a wall of water moving towards him. Before the tsunami arrived, George had time to dump a sandwich from a Ziplock and put his book into it. As the water struck him, George noticed a blot of mustard on the open page. George panicked that he couldn’t breathe, though he knew that if he could just calm down and read one page he would be brought back to the surface. His book was gone and he was on a beach with something in his throat. George’s tongue lifted a hair to his fingers. He pulled. The grey hair, which must have escaped his mother’s bun, was too long to pull out with one full extension of his arm. He found a grip lower down and pulled again. In the dream, he vomited.
In reality, too. All over his pillow and mattress. Some even dripped onto his bed skirt. It smelled of beer and bile and while he was taking his bundle of heavy, sagging bedclothes to the laundry, he got a whiff of champagne, which already smelled sickening to him. George started hating himself a little bit.
“You’re up early,” Mom said as he passed through the kitchen.
Mom’s hair was down.
The bedclothes landed in the washing machine with a splat. It took George a minute to spot the detergent on top of the dryer.
Back in the kitchen, Mom’s coffee smelled warm and good. George washed his hands at the sink.
“Were you sick?”
“Would you like to hear your horoscope?”
“‘Before you even can make a suggestion, others will come forward with theirs. You might be overwhelmed when weighing the choices that are presented. You will see a personal matter differently from how a loved one sees it. Tonight: Juggle your needs with someone else’s.’”
George looked at the clock. It was seven thirty. There was no need to stay up, but he didn’t have the energy to put the sheets back on his bed.
“Coffee?” Mom asked.
“I’m meeting David tonight at six.”
“We’re going for dinner and to dance afterwards. David says he knows a place.”
“Great,” George said.
(Toronto, July, 2015)
Emoji Sequence: Abbey Jackson, contributor to The West Enders, Vol. 1, Issues 1 and 2
Story: Lee Sheppard