‘”I never buy dances,” said Caden. “I don’t see the point. I just go there for a drink. I’ve never paid for anything, me.”‘
Extract taken from Sea State
By Tabitha Lasley
Published by Fourth Estate
I pushed my phone towards the man sitting opposite me.
He unloaded various grievances: the cost of the mail flight back to Teesside; the way oil companies expected contractors to drop everything and travel three hundred miles with a few hours’ notice; the class divide off shore. He was the oldest man at the table, and the best looking, by some margin. His eyes were black, his cheekbones high and slanted. He appeared to be mixed race, though it took me a while to register this. What’s obvious and unremarkable in London becomes shifting and indeterminate somewhere like Aberdeen.
‘There’s over a thousand men out of work now. Lads are applying for jobs and getting their CVs sent back, or replies saying “Sorry, but there’s six hundred looking at the same job”.’
‘When will the price go back up?’
‘They reckon it’ll get better by next month. End of March, everything will be back to normal.’
Tyler’s voice sailed over the collective burr. He was complaining about women. A man from the Tern had gone on Take Me Out. Before he’d even stepped onto the stage, every girl had switched her light off . I thought how nice it was, being around men who watched Take Me Out. Adam didn’t like me watching ITV. He called it the ‘northern channel’.
The afternoon wore on, the sky grew dark. We swapped stories. I offered a brief précis of the past month. The men shook their heads and commiserated.
‘What was your book about?’ said the one sitting to my right. He had a long, lugubrious face under a wedge of grey hair.
‘This, really,’ I said, looking at Tyler. ‘What it does to your relationship, having someone gone half the time. How the women at home cope.’
‘It’s hard,’ he said. ‘You shouldn’t plan things for your first week back. You always end up missing them. There was a lad who got stuck on the Central, missed his own wedding.’
‘That sounds like a punchline to a joke.’
‘Don’t think his lass found it funny.’
The grey-haired man was getting married that summer. He showed me a picture: a delicate blonde, younger than him, dandling a baby on her knee. It was passed around the table to generalised congratulation. Next to me, Caden murmured something.
‘What did you say?’
‘Weddings. They’re a nightmare.’
‘I think weddings are fun.’
It was one of those lies that was, even at the time of telling, inexplicable. I did not think weddings fun at all. An invite to late spring nuptials, in some far-flung rural outpost, could throw me into the sort of temper more often associated with being left off the guest list altogether.
‘Getting married is pointless. It’s a waste of money.’
I was surprised that the thought of wasting money might pain him. His wallet was thick with notes, and every time he got up to buy more drinks, crumpled twenties fell out and floated down towards the floor.
‘Not if you’re a woman. It makes economic sense. You don’t have any claim on your boyfriend’s assets if you break up, even if you’ve got children. People always think they do, but they don’t.’
‘I’ll tell you this, right. No man ever wants to get married. It’s always for they girlfriends.’
I tugged at my necklace. It was a nervous habit; dragging the crucifix back and forth, testing the chain’s tensile strength. The necklace was fi ne, and I knew that if I continued to pull it, one day it would snap. And yet I couldn’t stop.
‘Didn’t you want to get married to your wife?’ I said.
Around us, the noise ebbed and swelled. His gaze drifted over to the bar and back. His phone flickered to life and he picked it up.
‘Third on that. Each way we done. We’ve got back twenty quid.’
Snow was starting to fall. My phone lay on the table, forgotten, recording the crosscurrents of conversation. It would take hours to transcribe. Six different voices, their accents indistinguishably similar, all talking over each other.
‘His lass tracked him to a strip club last night.’
Caden’s lips were close to the whorl of my ear. We were both watching Tyler. He had a handsome, darkly flushed face. More teeth than the average person. He looked like a man who was successful with women, and would pay for it anyway. He was telling a story about his last trip home. He’d been dropped off in Edinburgh too late to find a room, and had struck some sort of deal with a homeless man. The content of the story was boring, but his delivery was pacy and dramatic. People were actually putting their drinks down to listen.
‘You shouldn’t go to strip clubs.’ I said. ‘It’s demeaning. As long as there are strip clubs, there will be men who think women’s bodies are for sale.’
‘I never buy dances,’ said Caden. ‘I don’t see the point. I just go there for a drink. I’ve never paid for anything, me.’
‘No.’ My eyes settled on his face. ‘I don’t suppose you’d have to.’
He glanced down at the table. Colour was building in his cheeks. His freckles glowed, backlit by the blush.
Sea State by Tabitha Lasley is published by Fourth Estate, priced £14.99.
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