Men’s voices raised in argument, but that this was rhetoric hadn’t occurred to him before. Rhetoric – the word seemed to belong to a bygone age, of voices raised in sharp arguments, and adversarial set-piece speeches, and ornamentations and elegant phrases to divert and entertain, and of being in a court with clerics, men dressed in dark fur-lined robes and hats, who somehow could make claim to some all powerful authority and power, whether of Christendom or antiquity, culture, state religion, or law of the land – and of being on trial and the aim was to win.
Except this place in which these voices were shouting was a different kind of court where, however much the men wanted to, there didn’t seem to be the possibility of any winners. The place was open and smooth and rounded, and under a uniform bright light that erased every shadow, exposing everything as if in an undulating desert. The men’s raised voices blew like a wind, a shimmer of sound that made what was actually being said hard to hear. Hung out to dry the words blurred. The men’s mouths were opening and shutting on either side of the bar. Loud, rough words were jumping out, but they were travelling through the wrong medium, beached, like fish thrown up on some river sandbank after a flood, gasping for air.
The bar of course was public, a pub, and he had come in for a drink. Alcohol is such a wonder, he thought, except he knew he meant the exact opposite. The Cherries. Such is trial by irony. The pub was where the men often came first thing to get warm. From morning opening time until 11.am. there were free refills of tea of coffee, and the serious drinking didn’t start before mid-morning anyway.
It was nearly all men in the place today, scattered about in ones and twos on different tables. Deathly still. It was only the men at the bar whose voices were raised, and he guessed these were the ones who were still drunk from the night before. He took his drink and went to sit at a large round table in a corner as far from the shouting blur of words as possible. Two other men were sitting at the table he chose. Chat, he thought, where to begin.
Trixie always knew what to say. In Alternative Country she’d didn’t even have to sing it, she could just quietly say the words in her natural blue voice, and the way he heard it, the rhetoric, it always seemed to come out just right. So jump right in.
“Talking about a ‘D Word’ here”, she’d say. “That is ‘D’ for depression. Know what I mean?”
One of the two men at the table looked up, the other man kept on staring into his mug of tea.
“Lonesome? I ain’t asking you to tell me but be my guest if you do”.
Some might be of the opinion her Alternative Country belonged to the oldest profession on earth, and he wouldn’t deny her being young, and the way she spoke and looked, helped. And the way she dressed. You could call it provocative, but he kept telling himself that he didn’t think it was meant to be. Her voice was warm and it was gentle. And there was the promise of something wet on the air, so sometimes there were quickly tears.
Then she might laugh, and the men might laugh along with her. And sometimes she teased, but she never touched. She didn’t need to, he thought, because by then the one or the other of the men sat at the table was well into his story.