© hazel Munns
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ARE YOU LONESOME TONIGHT
ARE YOU LONESOME TONIGHT
It was usual, a sort of tradition if you like, to have something a bit special booked for Saturday night. More likely than not, it would be a comedian. A proper comedian, not someone with a dirty mind and a grudge to bear. Sarcasm and bad language would be out of order and actually not even funny. After all, Saturday nights were the one occasion when a man would feel obliged to sit, if rather uncomfortably, at a table with his wife. Instead of propping up the bar with a pint talking football, he would sit with a ‘half’ and share a packet of crisps with her.
Once they’d booked a mind reader, just for a change. But what had seemed like a good idea at the time turned sour when someone found out that the mind reader was related to the bar steward, and had no more idea of how to read a mind than the Pope would have known how to read a Salvation Army song sheet. His information was spot on of course, but only because it had been supplied by an insider. And so Emily and Frank would be sitting at the table next to the juke box, she would be wearing a green jacket and would have just buried her uncle. Little Fred had won three thousand pounds on the pools and would be travelling abroad in the near future…simple really, if you could be bothered.
There would be no more so-called mind readers appearing at the Northend Club after that, Saturday night or any other night thank you!
Bobby Christian was a safe bet. He was a folk singer, a humdinger, a guitar-strumming easy-going man of country style. His photograph and credentials were posted on the notice board, next to the fixtures for the dart’s team.
Kathleen Porter had glanced at the photograph the week before as she stood in the foyer, buttoning up her coat and waiting for her husband to emerge from his customary last visit to the urinals before they set off on the short walk home. As they joined the steady stream of regulars spilling out onto the pavement, she remarked to him that it should be a good night next Saturday, a singer for a change. He replied with a grunt that could have, and probably was meant to be, a ‘no comment.’
Her husband was a long-distance lorry driver, and at the end of a week behind the wheel, stuck on some God-forsaken motorway, he was only interested in the state of the Ale and whether the barrel had been changed and stuff like that, he had no musical taste whatsoever. The radio was switched on all the time in his cab, but he never actually listened, one song sounded the same as another to him. In fact he had never understood all the fuss about entertainment. It was a load of old Codswallop as far as he was concerned.
For the last couple of years since their daughter, an only child, had gone to university their marriage had struggled a bit, to say the least.
She was hanging on to her job at the town-hall, while he sat on a cushion in his cab, following the same routine day in, day out.
Saturdays were for shopping, the match and the Northend club, in that order. And because it was Saturday he would grudgingly put on a shirt and tie, and she would spend an extra ten minutes applying make-up.
The photograph of Bobby Christian had given Kathleen the incentive to make more of an effort this week. She had decided to squeeze herself into a black sweater, the sort that she would normally only wear at Christmas. It was fairly low-cut with sequins around the neck, matched up with a tight black skirt with a vent at the back. She wore high heeled shoes and stockings instead of tights.
Her husband barely noticed the difference. It was only when they had to sprint across the road to avoid a motorbike and she almost got one of her heels stuck in the grid at the kerb that he chastised her. Told her off for nearly getting them both knocked down. ‘What’s the big idea? Shoes like that were not made for walking in. Sometimes you don’t think, that’s your trouble - you don’t think.’
The club was no busier than it would have been on any other Saturday night. They followed the same routine. He made for the bar to order the drinks and she hobbled to a table near the front. She placed a small clutch bag on the table and sat side-on for a change, facing the stage, crossing her legs and fussing with the sweater to make sure that it revealed a little of her cleavage. At the same time she noticed a shiny patch where she had sprayed some perfume down the gap created by the parting of her breasts. It didn’t bother her at all. In fact she was pleased about that, she felt quite soft and feminine and even more so when the waft of heavy perfume hit her nostrils as she bent forward.
Her husband arrived with the drinks and placed them carefully on the coasters at the centre of the table. He drew out a chair and sat with his legs wide apart, his face flushed after a good scrubbing. He adjusted the knot in his tie with a fore-finger.
‘Cheers,’ he said, raising his glass towards her.
‘Oh! Is it a double?’ she asked.
‘Two for one before nine,’ he replied, swigging half the contents of his glass in one go.
All the lights apart from those above the bar were dimmed. A few whispers could be heard coming from the same place.
Bobby Christian sauntered onto the stage, nodding his head to acknowledge the hollow clap from random spots in the audience. His face had a flat, tanned appearance, set off by a full set of brilliant white teeth. He was in his late fifties at least, but in a proud sort of way, with a good head of bushy hair curling at his ears and neck before moving round to a full moustache.
Kathleen caught her breath. He was better than she had expected, and he hadn’t even begun to sing yet! She clapped longest, turning to see if anyone else had the same opinion. His first song burst forth from his mouth and filled the room with lusty vibrations. She noticed that he had the knack of putting extra meaning into some of the lyrics, and as he came to the chorus he would smile and wink
perhaps in a knowing sort of way.
Kathleen crossed her legs and fiddled with the rings on her finger. He seemed to be looking straight at her, perhaps even singing just for her.
Bobby Christian was on his fifth song now, and Kathleen was on her third double. Her husband had been sneaking off to the bar at regular intervals to make sure he kept his consumption levels up to scratch.
The mood lighting, the smell of a dozen sickly scents, the drink and the deep throb of a romantic melody had begun to take effect. She could feel her stocking tops losing their grip, and the metal rim of her under-wired bra had begun to dig into the flesh on one side as she struggled to keep her head upright. The palms of her hands were red and clammy from heavy clapping maybe, but it could have been the re-occurrence of a condition that she had been plagued with for some time. She would have to go back to the GP again to get some more cream and tablets, but that would be later, not now, she had only thoughts of Bobby Christian now. Although it had crossed her mind as she took in the full view of him that maybe he had hot sweaty patches too, in secret places, in the folds of his flesh where he would struggle to apply cream…
His eyes were a soft watery blue. There were flecks of grey in his hair, especially at the edge of his sideburns. She strengthened her gaze, trying, hoping to convey her intensity, her passion. She picked her glass up from the table and took it to her lips without wavering, without changing her expression. She fumbled to replace the glass, licking her lips as she did so and finishing the contents just as he announced his final number: 'Are You Lonesome Tonight?'
He sang it not quite as well as the original He was no Elvis, she knew that, but he had his own special style…
And then suddenly an idea came into her head, just as he stood up from the stool to face his audience. First a dignified bow, and then that smile and wink combination again.
She glanced over her shoulder to check on her husband, who was in deep conversation with the young lad behind the bar.
She picked up one of the beer mats from the table where she had been sitting and, clutching it to her tightly she quickly made her way across the room. She dodged between the tables and chairs, her eyes focused on the door with the sign above saying ‘Toilets This Way’. She walked straight past the Ladies and the Gents and the door that led to the caretaker’s room.
She took a sharp turn to the right, pushed through the swing doors and hesitated only slightly outside the door at the far end.
She knew she was on the right track, having once listened to a woman in the Launderette who had worked at the club as a cleaner. The woman had held court that day. There had been a power cut and whilst waiting for the maintenance man to arrive, she had kept Kathleen and a couple of others entertained with stories of back stage goings-on. Of empty gin bottles in the waste-paper basket, of dubious cigarette butts, of funny smells and strange messages left on the mirror.
She paused to check the waistband on her skirt, smoothing down the front with a free hand. The silver star on the door confirmed her destination. She glanced at the beer mat in her hand and tapped on the door, not waiting for a response or invitation but bursting over the threshold, her face beaming with excitement.
The room was barely lit from a single low-watt bulb, and filled with a heavy smell that she assumed was the grease paint. Bobby Christian was sitting at a dressing table facing a chipped mirror.
The first thing to strike her was his state of undress, his bare legs, his pale white chest, his slack underpants and his grubby feet, a glass in one hand and a cigarette in the other.
She was temporarily confused. But of course he would have needed time to get changed. She hadn’t thought of that. She felt stupid now and a bit cheeky. And yet he was not at all flustered, he held the same look of easy confidence that had been there just minutes earlier as he sang to her.
‘I’m sorry, really sorry,’ she blurted out, trying not to focus too much on the bottom half of his body.
‘Well, well, what have we here?’ he replied.
‘I wanted to ask for your autograph that’s all, I just thought…’ She offered him the beer mat. He beckoned her to move closer and she took a few steps towards him, mesmerised, her heart pounding.
He stretched forward and she let him pull her down onto his knee. It just seemed inevitable, like the theme from one of his songs. The next moment he was kissing her passionately, forcing his tongue into her open mouth. She felt the hard, bolt shaped structure pressing up through the slit in her skirt.
But it was too much, this was madness. She came to her senses, hastily pushing him away then staggering towards the door. He came after her, his eyes staring out like a ventriloquist's dummy wild with passion. As she arrived at the door he grabbed at her and turning her round towards him, he pushed her hard onto the door. it snapped shut, he turned the key to lock it, in the very next instant he unzipped her skirt, and as it fell to the floor he forced himself inside her.
It was over in minutes. She replaced her skirt with trembling hands. He heaved his body back towards the chair where he had been sitting. She unlocked the door clumsily and fled with wobbly legs, out through the swing doors, just at the very moment when her husband appeared from the men’s toilet, adjusting his flies. She gulped and stared at him, trying to hide her breathlessness. He was as usual in a state of mild intoxication, squinting from the smoke of a cigarette dangling from his lips.
‘Right, come on. Let’s be off. The bars closed, they’ll be locking us in if we’re not careful.’
She linked arms with him as they walked out onto the street. He noticed the beer mat in her hand.
‘What’s that doing?’
‘I was going to get his autograph.’
‘Don’t be stupid,’ he said. ‘He wasn’t that good.’