Thursday, 3 May 2007

Chapter 84

Harry walked into a small bar near the Tribunale metro station, a few blocks from his brother’s flat. Nothing much had changed in the area in the six years since he’d been there, and it felt like he was walking through a movie set, the backdrop to a film he’d seen a thousand times.

Here and there, groups of young people were gathering, chatting animatedly. It was a pale, grey, early evening sky above, and Harry had left his hat and coat back at the flat, but he noticed how the locals were dressed against the cold. He was an oddity, dressed only in his shirt and trousers. As he pushed open the familiar door to the bar, he licked his lips in anticipation of his first anis since his last visit to Spain, relishing the idea of how its sweetness would wipe out the whisky flavour in his mouth. He was early for his meeting with Ana, thought he’d have a drink to relax a little before she came in.

The barman didn’t seem to recognize him, though Harry was pretty sure it was the same guy he remembered from all those years ago, a little older and greyer, maybe - but definitely him. There was no reason at all why he should recall Harry – his visits to the bar, while frequent, had always been low key – and he would have been more worried if he had done. Harry was enjoying the feeling of anonymity that can only come from being a stranger in a foreign city.

The bar was dark and empty, apart from a woman perched on a bar stool in the corner, sipping a cocktail through a straw. He caught her warm, brown eyes as they briefly flicked to look at him as he walked to the bar, but she turned away almost as quickly, and stared down at her drink. She was a beautiful woman, all right. He ordered his drink on ice, and rolled the first, sugary sip of syrup across his tongue, seemed to be lost for a moment, then edged his way along the bar to be closer to the woman.

“Pardon me,” he said. “I feel as though we've met before. Perhaps I’m mistaken…?” The line came naturally to Harry.
She turned to look at him, and her response was quick. Quite unphased by his English, her own accent had just a dash of American about it: “Maybe it's just that I remind you of someone?” she asked. There was the hint of a smile, and Harry saw her eyes sparkling in the dim light. “Someone you used to care about - but that was long ago? Do you think I'd fall for that old line? ” Her intonation was steady, assured. “Besides,” she went on, “I never talk to strangers, anyway.” She turned back to her drink, as if to underline the point.

Harry was relaxing now. “I ain't a bad guy when you get to know me. I just thought there ain't no harm…” She couldn’t help but look up at him again, like it was the first time she had ever seen him, and he smiled the way only Harry could smile (when he was around a woman, that is).

He pulled two cigarettes from his pack on the bar, and smoothly lit them both, before handing her one. She shook her head.
“No, thank you. I gave them up years ago,” she said, with maybe just a hint of triumph in her voice. But she smiled again, even as she went on to ask: “How are you, Harry?”

Harry was smiling, too. He couldn’t think of anyone else who could be tempted so easily into reciting the opening lines of his favourite Tom Waits song. He stubbed out the redundant second cigarette, and dragged on his own.
“Oh, you know. I keep my head above water. What’s happened to you, though? You’re actually early!“ All the time he’d known her, Ana had been late for everything, whether it was a meeting, a liaison or meeting his flight.

“People can change, Harry. We are not leopards - surely you know that!” she replied.
“Well, how are you, Ana? he asked (not quite convinced people couldn’t be leopard-like).
“Things are good, Harry. I’m happy,” she said. It didn’t sound as convincing as she intended but, as she lifted her cocktail glass, Harry’s attention was suddenly diverted by the ring on her left hand. Suddenly - from nowhere - a sharp pain (did he just drag too heavily on his cigarette?) cut across his chest. He took a long intake of breath, and fought against the hurt - did the only thing his mind thought it was programmed to do in such a situation.

“Let me get you another drink,” he said, turning to the barman. She pushed her empty glass across to him, and he ordered the cocktail he knew Ana had always drunk (together with another anis, of course) while his mind desperately tried to process quite how his brother could have failed (somehow) to mention the fact that Ana had got married. He tried to suppress an anger that he felt welling up inside him. How long? Who? What kind of person – what kind of brother – thought it might be insignificant? He could understand – just – why he might have kept the news that he had hooked up with Ana’s sister to himself. But this was different. Did Carrie know? He wondered if everyone knew – everyone, that is, except poor, old Harry McFry. ‘That’s right! Keep Harry in the dark!’ he was thinking.

Ana broke his train of thought, sensed he was angry about something, but couldn’t tell what. Was it a crime to stop smoking, she wondered? Could Harry not accept that she might be happy?
She’d gone to a lot of trouble to be here tonight, had cancelled a meal with friends, made ‘arrangements’ at (very) short notice after Harry had called her just two days earlier. Didn’t he appreciate that? What kind of world was Harry McFry living in to think that time stood still for five years?

Harry tried to shake himself free of the anguish he was feeling … but it wasn’t easy. Better move onto business, he thought – he’d have to deal with his brother later. Just for now, ‘business’ seemed like a safer port for him.
“Ana,” he said, “I need your help. Take a look at this for me, will you?” He reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out Lillian McFry’s paper, unfolded it and handed it to her. Immediately she started reading it, her eyebrows arched.
“It’s a will of some sort. I just need to know what it says,” he said to her, trying to sound casual.
She was nodding her head, and smiling. Oh, that smile – it was like a shining beacon for Harry. Harry, who was all at sea, had been for years now, lost without a pilot.
But then, just as quickly, Ana was shaking her head. Looking altogether more serious.
“Harry – you are a stupid man!” she said. “This is not a will at all!” And she started laughing again and, it felt to Harry, it was as though the whole room had suddenly lit up. Even the barman, who spoke enough English to serve tourists, was chuckling as he polished a glass at the end of the bar, watching their conversation develop.
“Then if it’s not a will, what is it?” Harry asked, infected by her laughter to laugh himself, even if it felt like it might be - was - at his own expense.
Ana waved the paper at him. “Don’t you read the news these days, Harry McFry?” she said, still laughing. “Everyone’s looking for this piece of paper. Absolutely everyone!”

It felt to Harry like someone had just told a joke, but that he’d somehow missed the punch line.


mariacristina said...

I voted for your blog on fuelmyblog, and posted a comment on their forum, but I mistakenly referred to you as Harry McFarry. Sorry! I'm looking forward to reading all the past chapters.

Thomas Hamburger Jnr said...

Thank you so much for your vote - and I take forum comments as Harry, Thomas or (sometimes!) even as Paul!

(I may just have to go and Fuel Your Blog by way of thanks!)

Kind Regards


the domestic minx said...

Oh this is all too much.
I simply must know what the paper is!!!
Just LOVING this, Harry, Thomas or is it Paul...

Fanton said...

The plot thickens...

I've always wanted to say that, and mean it.