I was over at Sam Disher’s place last Friday night. I walk past his house every day after work, and that evening, because of the heat, I’d picked up as many bottles of beer as I could carry. They were clanking around in the bags as I walked, straining the plastic, and he was standing at the front of his house, watching the road. ‘What’s that you got?’ he said, in a playful American accent.
‘Dinner!’ I yelled, and we laughed, and the next thing we were on his veranda drinking the first beers warm, waiting for the others to chill in the freezer. A couple of hours later, it was dark and humid, all the beers were gone, and we were making light work of a bottle of whisky he’d found in the kitchen.
We talked about our mothers. This says a lot about the places whisky can take you; it also confirmed a particular sensibility in Sam which reassured me. He said a few cryptic things about his, which made her sound interesting and alternative. I didn’t ask him too much—not because I didn’t want to know, but I didn’t want to interrupt him in the telling.
Sam is tall and rangy, and the way he talks resembles way he looks, meaning you have to crane your mind a little to understand what he’s saying. And you get the feeling that if he catches you looking too closely at what he’s telling you, taking it too seriously, he might pull it all back in and clam up.
He’s worked, at various times, in a service station, for a radio broadcaster, as an insurance claims clerk, in the stockroom of a London department store that he refuses to name (I assume he’s worried that I might one day be in London, in that store, and might come across some of the people he’s talked about: the alcoholic, the sex maniac, the thief). Now he’s living on the money his mother left when she died. He believes it’ll run out before he’s fifty, and he’s going to be left high and dry.
‘That,’ he said, ‘will end up being her final revenge on me: she’s allowed me a taste of life without work, but I’ll be penniless by middle age.’ I didn’t point out that we’re probably, mathematically, well into our middle age already. Or that he owns his mother’s house now. ‘At least I’m prepared mentally,’ he said. ‘I’ve been waiting for old age since I was a boy.’ He told me about his stubborn resistance to her grand plans: for him to study, become a doctor, lawyer, scientist. ‘Anything requiring a qualification,’ he said. ‘I’ve ended up qualified for nothing, but this.’ He swept a hand around the veranda. I understood his point but would rather he saw the scene on the veranda, which included me, in a more positive light.
© Barry Lee Thompson and ‘Stories, by Barry Lee Thompson’, 2013.