Royal Holloway Creative Writing Anthology 2012

The Difficult life of Daniel.H.Mason, by Olivia Pattullo

I lay on top of her making the motions of sex and yet lacking the potency required to see it through. Floundering, I couldn’t help but wistfully glance over my shoulder at Jon; naked, virile, erect-at-the-drop-of-a-hat, Jon.  As if to confirm my overwhelming feeling that he was, in fact, a massive cunt, he stuck two fingers up at me, wiped his cock on my jumper and strutted out the room with one of my cigarettes in his mouth. And to think, I had never understood why all the ladies loved him. I turned my attention back to Vicky. Her eyes, like almost every woman who had ever encountered me, had lost any glimmer of hope and were now mere hollow balls of disappointment. I gave one last unsuccessful thrust.

“It’s OK Dan, let’s just spoon and go to sleep.” The callous laugh with which it was said sent a sad little shiver down my spine. It was a low point in an already shitty week. I had lost my job, the girl I had been seeing and now, apparently, my ability to maintain an erection.

I didn’t sleep particularly well that night. It was partially due to my being consumed by self-pity but mostly because Jon and Vicky proceeded to continue getting busy in the bed next to me. I felt that it was a particularly nice touch that Vicky held my hand throughout. When I stirred in the morning, I was very relieved to find that both Prince Charming and Tits McGee were gone. The room smelt of shame and bodily fluids. Porn had lied to me; I hadn’t had a sexually satisfying and thoroughly jovial time. I got dressed in a hurry, conscious that I was surrounded by discarded reminders of my failings, and I could get enough of them at home. Of course I was livid to find that the smug bastard had hidden my shoes in some poor attempt at humour. I chose to go barefoot rather than spend another minute in this house.

Zara was already there at the open door when I reached the flat. Lovely, porcelain faced Zara. She had probably watched me struggling down the road in dismay. Last night’s clothes were now somewhat dishevelled, I was shoeless and clutching the banana I had snatched from Jon’s fruit bowl as if as some feeble act of revenge. It had been the only thing I had seen worth taking as I made my sheepish exit. She looked me up and down and ushered me into the flat, clearly perplexed at my merely holding up what now seemed far too grotesquely phallic a piece of fruit. As I started to mumble something vague about potassium I became very aware that last night I had seen more of her brother than I had cared to. Girthy bastard. Why couldn’t it have been apples in the bowl?

“You’re not having another funny turn are you? Should I ring your mum? ” Zara and I had broken up nearly three years ago. After a fairly monotonous two years together she had called it a day. I hadn’t argued. We had never really been romantically compatible but through laziness and no desire for aggravation we seemed to both have unconsciously agreed to let it run its course. A couple of weeks later I had gotten more than a little smashed at my good friend ‘Dave-the-rave’s birthday party, taken a shit load of pills and ended up in hospital. Zara vowed to look after me until I was in a better place. I vaguely remembered lying dazed in the sterile bed trying to ejaculate protestations from my charcoal smeared mouth. I obviously hadn’t tried too hard however as three years on I was still living in her flat practically rent-free, with her still pandering to my every whim.  It had all been a ridiculous misunderstanding but the situation was just a little too convenient for me to feel obliged to tell her the truth.

Once I had reassured my doting ex-girlfriend that I was at least relatively mentally stable, I sat down, pulled out the emergency rolling tools from the coffee table drawer and began to make a joint. I hadn’t smoked weed in months but I felt after the week I had had even the Pope would turn to drugs. Zara’s very deliberate and loud sigh of disapproval seemed to be employed as means to summon another set of footsteps to the living-room. I didn’t need to look up to know that it was Douchebag Dale. The worst of it was he wasn’t a douchebag at all, he was a real nice, stand-up guy but he had come along and ruined mine and Zara’s previously harmonious, if somewhat odd, little co-existence. Dale was a vegetarian, a secondary-school teacher who volunteered at Samaritans and still had time to go on bike rides and be an excellent boyfriend. The prick was making me look bad. The only obvious flaw that he had was his clear loathing for me.
After realizing that the sigh-worthy situation was one created by and involving me Dale lost all interest. I could hear him trying to escape to the kitchen and being restrained by a persistent Zara. She placed a familiar hand of concern on my already heavy shoulders.
“Look I know you’ve had a hard week Dan, what with Rosalie and your job, so I think you ought to talk to someone. I mean I really wish I could be there for you but I’ve got this staff team building day thing and I don’t know what time I’ll get away.”
“Oh right.”
I wasn’t particularly bothered by her unavailability but thought it sensible to put on my best kicked-puppy-dog voice just in case I might be about to get something out of it. I could sense the couple trying to silently communicate with each other over my head. A grunt from Dale indicated who had won the battle of the sexes. He should have seen it coming.
“Why don’t you and I go for a couple of drinks tonight ay Dan?” Zara had cleverly palmed me off on him and I instantly decided I was going to make things as difficult as possible.
“In case you had forgotten, Dale, I have just lost my job. In a time of such financial turmoil I think it would be entirely irresponsible to waste my limited funds on such frivolities as ‘a couple of drinks’ don’t you?”
“What I meant to say was, why don’t you let me take you out for a couple of drinks. I couldn’t expect you to pay.” It sounded surprisingly genuine, considering he was saying it through firmly clenched teeth.
“I’ll have to think about it. The re-runs of Lost start tonight.”
“Well. Just let me know,” I ignored his waning patience and admired my joint, “soonish if possible.” It smelt like heaven in a Rizla. Dale was still hovering, irritating in his very presence, “You know, Dan research has shown that there is a strong link between the use of cannabis and mental health problems.” He was such a big parade-pisser.
“Recent research also showed that secondary-school teachers are statistically more likely to kill themselves than other professionals,” I had pulled that ‘fact’ out my arse, “so, have a little think about that, Dale.” Boy-wonder was perplexedly silenced.
Back in my room at last, I put on They Might be Giants, lit that beauty of a joint and thought about how to maximize the number of beers I could sink before blacking out. After all Mr. Perfect was footing the bill.

* * * * * * *

I took Dale to ‘The Prince Albert’. I knew he would be suitably uncomfortable there.  It was one of those sad little dives that smelt like wet dog and vomit: the only fifty pound notes it had seen were forged, there was still blood on the walls from the great fight of ‘98 and it was a general rule that if you were brave enough to venture to the bathrooms that you shouldn’t be surprised to find bodily fluids everywhere but in the toilet. It was seedy, debauched and hadn’t put its beer prices up since Bernard Manning died and that was exactly why I liked it. It was wrong to revel in other people’s misfortunes but it was always comforting to know that whilst drinking at the Albert, it was unlikely that I was the biggest failure in the room.
Our entrance was met with indifference but I had a feeling that had I not been with him, the king of the corduroy and cardigan combo might not have been so welcome. I informed Dale of my beverage and bar snack of choice and swerved away from the bar, giving a ‘he’s with me nod’ to landlord Carl as I instinctively took up my regular booth. I agitatedly ripped corners off beer mats until Dale returned from the bar sloshing beer all over his sleeves as he went. I let him reach the table before extending a fraudulently helpful hand.
“What no shots?” My comment was met with the faintest of groans. Giving him a far too hearty slap on the arm, I got up, “Just kidding mate. I’m going for a slash.”

When I returned from the toilet Carl was being poked, prodded and propositioned by my least favourite barmaid. Michelle was as gobby as she was wide and twice as vulgar.  Her garish, turquoise, three sizes too small top clung to her, getting sucked in under her never ending stomach rolls and she was distastefully adorned with about as much Gold as Spandau Ballet had sung about. As she gripped the beer pump forcefully I couldn’t help but shudder sympathetically in the wake of her lovers past. I considered making some smart remark but thought better of it after a flash of her sovereign rings reminded me of the time she smashed Claire Donovan’s face into the scummy bar floor with such force that Claire wore the putrid paisley pattern on her face for weeks. My attempt to glide past unnoticed was in vain.
“Alright limp dick.”
“Vick’s been in then?” Her disdainful smirk said it all.  “Excellent.” 
It could well have been my post-puffing paranoia but looking around it seemed as if every girl in the pub had the strange mix of amusement and disgust spread across their face that told me that they too were wondering just how flaccid my penis had been.
“Well Vicky’s got a bucket for a vagina.” I strode to the table leaving what little dignity I had left at the bar along with my half-eaten packet of pork scratchings. As I resumed my seat in the booth opposite Dale, the repugnant worm just stared at me. I stared back, confident that he would begin to find it unnerving long before I did. 

I took this opportunity to have a good hard look at Dale’s face; it was the kind of face you just wanted to punch. I was comfortable enough with my own sexuality to be able to appreciate another good looking man when I saw one but Dale just wasn’t one of us. He had the nose of a Rugby player without the build, floppy centrally parted nineties boy-band hair, watery grey eyes and only ever the faintest inkling of a beard. Separately these things could be forgiven but all on one face it was just much too much.  After Zara and Dale had first got together Jon had tried to explain to me in layman’s terms just exactly why he thought Dale was more the type of man for his sister.
“I mean he’s like a Ford Escort and you’re like, well, remember that Citroen DS 19 I was doing up? Yeah. That’s you.”
I was too mashed for his clumsy mechanic metaphors.
“What I mean to say is that your basic Ford might not be the prettiest to look at but it’ll do the job. They’re like, you know, reliable and stuff.” That I understood.
“So I’m aesthetically pleasing but mechanically flawed?”  To this Jon shrugged,
“Don’t get me wrong bro, I’d choose you every time. Now pass me the Rizla.”

I had been right, after a fairly intense three minutes, Dale pulled out of the stare-athon. It was a small victory I was more than happy to take. Dale took a big breath and closed his sad little murky water eyes for a moment, clearly hoping that when he opened them again that I would have evaporated. He was jolted out of his hopeful daydream by an aggressive beep from his pocket. Knowing it was Zara’s personalized text tone I watched Dale’s face as he studied the screen, looked frantically around the pub and then returned his gaze to me. I could tell he was trying to figure out how it was that Zara seemed to know exactly how our evening together was unfolding. The woman had a gift and I had seen it in action more times than I could remember over the years.  Begrudgingly the browbeaten boyfriend finally grabbed the bull by the horns. Regrettably, I was that bull.
“So, Dan. How are you holding up?”
 I swirled the last mouthful of beer round the pint glass before downing it and emphatically placing the empty vessel on the table.
“I’m not sure I’d feel comfortable talking about it before another beer.” I could almost see the cartoon style thought bubble above his head in which he was planning the ways to cause me a slow and painful death. But, through love or perhaps mild fear, he trotted off to the bar without so much as a word.

Though I had never been much of an actor I decided that I ought to really dramatise the effects of the week’s events on my already fragile state of well-being. Another two pints and three tequilas in and I had decided to put on quite a show. There were arm movements, vocal impressions and dramatic pauses but I didn’t even nearly get half way in to my drawn out tales of woe and self-pity before Dale felt it necessary to interject. I was in the middle of suggesting that Rosalie’s decision to break up with me was clearly due to some sort of deep-seated mental health issues when he came in with,
“You did cheat on her Dan.”
“That’s it take her side. Everyone always gives the one with the womb the benefit of the doubt.”
“I’m not taking sides.”
“An accidental hand-job from rapey Rachel really doesn’t count as cheating. I didn’t even know people gave hand-jobs anymore.” 
“She took me by surprise, before I knew what was happening I’d shot my load!”
“That’s just you all over Dan isn’t it.”
“What ejaculating in people’s hands? I take umbrage to that.”
“I mean blaming other people for everything that goes wrong.”
“Woah there Daley-boy. That’s a pretty big sweeping statement to make mate.”
“I’m not your fucking mate and I never will be. I still don’t get what such an intelligent and beautiful woman like Zara ever saw in you or why the fuck she continues to believe you’re worth helping. You’re a lazy reckless sponger who has no consideration for the feelings of others or of the effects your actions have. You need to grow up. Here, have a fucking good night.”
It was the first time I’d ever heard him use expletives. He slid forty quid on the table and stormed out.
“Is this what you do at Samaritans ay Dale?” The un-oiled saloon style doors shut behind him slowly and creakily.  My pathetic words seemed to bounce around the crusty walls. I was suddenly very aware that I was alone in a pub where I was certain that 90% of the occupants thought I had erectile dysfunction and the other 10% was made up of deaf old Pissy-Jimmy and the darts team. I hated Dale. I hated Vicky. I hated darts, and at this moment I was beginning to hate beer; like a rogue agent, though once my comrade, it had turned on me and was now quite obviously the cause of so many of my problems. Only at that point did I consider that perhaps Dale had a point. Smug prick. I wondered how acceptable it was to start a rumour that Dale was a nonce. He had messed with the wrong reckless sponger.
“Excuse me…” As the voice penetrated my plotting of Dale’s downfall something within me snapped.
“I’ll save you the trouble of manners love, YES, I’m the one who can’t get it up. I’m the one who cheated on Rosalie. I’m the one who shat in the urinal last week. I’m also the one with the first class degree in Biochemical Engineering who can’t keep a job for more than a month so go on, do your worst!” It was in expectance of a barrage of abuse or mockery that I had initiated my terrifyingly honest statement of self-loathing but neither arrived or apparently had ever been going to.
“Sorry I was just going to ask if anyone was sitting here?”
I looked up mortified to see the owner of the gentle voice. She was like an angel. I had just confessed to shitting in a urinal to an angel. I felt my face getting warm and was perturbed to find myself blushing for the first time in what could have easily been years. I had always admired those who cared little about what others thought of them but perhaps in recent times my lack of shame had become one of my worst qualities. Someone who felt shame probably would have thought twice about defecating so inappropriately. I began to wonder who she was and why, not looking like she had been spawned as the result of two cousins copulating, she was in the Albert. She raised her eyebrows a millimetre or two, causing her super blue eyes to widen slightly under a swish of glossy fringe. She definitely wasn’t the product of incest. I realised through all my ogling I still hadn’t answered her question.
“No, no-one’s sitting there. I didn’t come alone though, he left. You probably heard him shouting, quite the temper. I’ve been helping him to deal with some unhealthy urges. It’s a tough job but someone’s got to do it.“ Deflecting my crazy on to Dale seemed like an excellent idea. I couldn’t tell whether she had swallowed my version of events but the beauty sat down regardless. She didn’t even flinch as her expensive looking skin rubbed up against the scabby material covering the seats. It seemed to me a clear sign that she wasn’t opposed to a bit of rough. Maybe I could redeem myself yet. I considered buying her a drink by way of apology but clocking what looked like a double vodka orange I decided that letting my charm do the work for me was more economically viable.

As I leant in and began to tell her about my finer qualities she listened intently. I couldn’t feel my own face after pint 8 but I was still pretty sure she wanted me.

* * * * * * *

I woke up alone to what felt like something banging hard against my head.
“ Dan,”
“Go away.”
“There’s a package for you.”
“Is it going to explode if I don’t open it immediately?”
“Well then.” I turned over clamping the pillow to my head. Zara let herself in any way. It was a symptom of the strange ex’s-who-are-now-friends-and-housemates relationship that we had developed and a habit that I hadn’t nipped in the bud early enough.
“I’M NAKED!” She merely laughed. This was clearly becoming the standard reaction to my unclothed body. I scrabbled half-arsedly for some covers.
“If this package isn’t a full-English with a half-pint on the side you and me are going to fall out Zar.”
“It’s not the package that’s important! It was the delivery.”
“Now is not the time to be cryptic.” I needed painkillers and lots of them.
“It was dropped off by a girl.”
“Post ladies aren’t so infrequent in this age of equal opportunity you know.”
“No silly, a very pretty girl hand delivered it! Don’t worry I didn’t talk to her. She left it on the doorstep. ” Zara ruffled my hair. Suddenly I was fifteen again and my mother was encouraging me to go out with ‘that lovely girl, Imogen, the Reverend’s daughter’; little did she know that Immie was far from lovely and that we had in fact already had sex over the bonnet of her father’s car. I humoured my mother though and took Imogen on a date to the all you can eat Chinese buffet, with a trip to the park and a bottle of stolen cognac for desert. As she hopped off the roundabout and pulled down her skirt I found myself being told that she wasn’t looking for anything serious. And to think, I had let her have my spring roll.
Zara brought me out of my reminiscing reverie by waving something excitedly in my face. It took me a few minutes to focus in but I soon realized it was a copy of Roald Dahl’s Danny, Champion of the World and a post-it note, which read:
“Mojo’s at 1. It’s never too late to turn things around.”
Some of the previous evening’s events came back to me in odd little fragments, fuzzy round the edges. I remembered my argument with Dale and I remembered a beautiful girl coming to the table. I began to try and decipher the rest of the blurry mess, like a drunken, less Belgian Hercule Poirot. Clearly we had chatted for a while as my favourite book disclosure normally came at least an hour in to conversation with ladies. I found that normally gave me time to establish myself as masculine enough to get away with still loving Roald Dahl. The greasy white wrappings on the floor told me I had had a kebab; doner with salad and extra chilli sauce, but sadly my surroundings could confirm little else. Fuck it. I had nothing to lose.
“What time is it?”
“ 12.20.”
“Zara! Why have you been jabbering on? I’ve got a date to get to!”
After a well-practiced eye-roll Zara dutifully supplied me with industrial strength painkillers, as I focussed on trying to make myself smell less like a brewery. A glance at my bloodshot eyes made me thankful for the summer season making sunglasses commonplace. I was about to mosey on out the door when Zara pulled me close to her and whispered in my ear,
“Just don’t fuck it up Dan.” A more sensitive soul than I might have thought she was keen to get shot of me.

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