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We go to a pub quiz every Wednesday night, my wife Mel and me. We go with our friends Simon and Ginny. Ginny is Mel’s best friend. They’ve known each other for over twenty-five years. They met while they were both working at a card shop. Mel was just a teenager back then.
I’m not really friends with Simon. I don’t dislike him, but we’ve got nothing in common – we’re just two husbands who are forced to spend time with each other from time to time. We do it for our wives. At least, I do it for Mel. I’m not sure why Simon does it.
I’m the designated driver because I don’t drink. My father was an alcoholic, so I don’t touch the stuff. I never have. Mel drinks, but not a lot – she’ll have the occasional glass of sweet red wine or a pint of fruity cider, but most of the time, she sticks to the wine.
Simon and Ginny, on the other hand, are always drinking. They’re both alcoholics, though I don’t think they’ve admitted it to themselves. But I know the signs when I see them. Simon doesn’t tend to drink as much as Ginny while we’re quizzing because he says that too much alcohol prevents him from focusing on the task at hand. He still drinks a lot, though – more than he should, that’s for sure.
The worst part is they drink and drive. They do it all the time. I’ve offered to pick them up and drive them home on numerous occasions, but they always decline. And when I say ‘they’, I mean Simon. Mel has Ginny text her when they get home just so we know that they’re safe. Ginny forgot to text Mel once, so we had to go over there and see if they were all right. Mel was worried that they might have got themselves into a car accident or something; she was worried that they were both dead in a ditch somewhere. When we got to their house, the car was on the driveway, and they were both fast asleep inside of it. We had to get them in the house and put them to bed. That’s not something I want to have to do again.
I pull into the pub car park. It looks busy tonight. Simon and Ginny are already here – I can see their car parked across two spaces. Simon is a terrible driver when he’s sober, so I don’t even want to think about what he’s like after a few drinks.
I look over at the pub, and I see them through the window. There are a couple of empty glasses on their table.
“They’ve started already,” I say to Mel.
“Maybe it’ll be different this week,” Mel says.
We go inside. The pub has a familiar smell; it smells like the bowling alley I used to bowl at as a child. I think about that every time I come here. Simon and Ginny wave us over. Mel and Ginny hug and kiss each other on the cheek, and I shake hands with Simon. His hands are all sweaty.
I hug Ginny and kiss her on the cheek. I can smell the alcohol on her breath. “Let’s get some more drinks,” Simon says. “Mel, what’re you having?”
“A glass of sweet red wine, please,” Mel says. “Anything will do.”
“Coming right up,” Simon says. Then he says to me he says, “Mark?” “Just a lime and soda, please,” I say to him.
“One glass of sweet red wine for sweet Mel,” he says, “and one lime and soda for Little Miss Markie.”
I knew he was going to make some sort of remark – he always does. I offer to give him some money for the drinks, but Simon refuses to take it. “Put your purse away,” he says. “Your money’s no good here.”
Mel and Ginny catch up while Simon goes off to the bar. I tune them out. Simon always calls them ‘The Hens’. “The Hens are clucking again,” he’ll say. I’ve changed my mind; I don’t like Simon.
After a time, Simon comes back with the drinks and puts them down on the table. “Here we are, then,” he says.
“Cheers,” Ginny says.
We all raise our glasses and clink them together. Then Simon says to me he says, “Oh, I almost forgot. I got you a straw, mate.” He takes the straw out of his shirt pocket and puts it in my drink. It’s a pink straw. I don’t care that it’s pink, but I know he’s given it to me on purpose. He thinks he’s being funny and that it says something about me – that I’m gay or effeminate or something. I can’t believe I ever said that I didn’t dislike the guy.
One of the bartenders comes over with a quiz sheet. His name is Barney. I went to school with him, but he wasn’t my friend. He was kind of a dick, actually. Come to think of it, he and Simon would get along just fine.
I have a quick look at the quiz sheet. There’s a space right at the top for our team name. “What shall we call ourselves?” I say to the others.
“I don’t know,” Mel says.
Simon says, “How about MSG?” “MSG?” Ginny says.
“Yeah,” Simon says. “Mark, Mel, Simon, Ginny. MSG. You know, it’s like the stuff they use in cooking to make the food taste better.”
“Surely we can come up with something better than that,” Ginny says. “Besides, wouldn’t it be MMSG?”
Simon looks upset that Ginny has shot him down in front of us.
We go with MSG in the end because it’s just easier that way. It’s not worth the hassle of getting Simon all worked up. He can be a real diva at times.
I hear a group of people a couple of tables down say their team name out loud.
They’ve gone with ‘Uncles with Benefits’. Simon heard it too. “I wish we could’ve come up with something like that,” he mutters under his breath.
Barney welcomes everyone to the quiz. He walks around the room with a microphone in his hand, like he’s a stand-up comedian or one of those cheap entertainers you get on a cruise ship. He asks us if we’re ready, and even though no one says anything, he goes straight into the first question. Round one is always general knowledge.
“Question one,” Barney says. “What is the world’s largest land mammal?” “It’s a hippo,” Simon says.
Simon is in charge of writing down the answers. It’s always been this way. He says it’s because he has the best handwriting, but it’s really because he’s a massive control freak. Mel has the best handwriting. That’s just a fact.
“Is it?” Mel says. “I thought it was an elephant.” “Yeah, me too,” I say.
Ginny also agrees that the answer is ‘elephant’. “Three against one,” she says to Simon.
Simon crosses out ‘hippo’ and replaces it with ‘elephant’. “Just drink your drink,” he says to Ginny.
“Question two,” Barney says. “Which Middle Eastern city is also the name of a type of artichoke?”
Simon says, “I know this. It’s Jerusalem.”
The rest of us don’t know the answer, so we let Simon have this one. I, for one, can’t be doing with the sulking. I don’t think Mel and Ginny can stand it, either.
Poor Ginny. At least I only have to see Simon once a week. She has to wake up next to him every single morning. She deserves some sort of prize for that – a cake or a medal or a parade or something.
Barney asks us several different general knowledge questions, ranging from the name of the Japanese city the first atomic bomb was dropped on (Hiroshima) to the middle name of Wolfgang Mozart (Amadeus).
At the end of the round, Simon goes to the bar to get us some more drinks. Again I offer to pay, but he refuses to take my money. I don’t know why he always does this. I can afford to buy a couple of drinks, for God’s sake. He’s trying to make me look bad, is what he’s doing. Mel knows how much this upsets me. She puts her hand on top of mine and rubs my knuckles with her thumb. That always seems to work.
Simon comes back a couple of minutes later with a round of drinks, plus a few shots of sambuca.
“Let’s do shots!” he says to us.
“No, thanks,” Mel says. “I’ll stick to the wine.” Simon looks at me. “Mark?” he says.
I shake my head – no. Why does he always do these things? He knows I don’t drink.
I mean, why has he always got to be such an arsehole? “Suit yourselves,” Simon says.
Simon and Ginny do two shots each. Simon’s probably over the limit now. Barney starts the next round – the sports round – with a question about Formula One. Simon says he’s not interested in Formula One, so he passes the pen and paper over to Mel. Ginny’s too drunk to hold a pen. She can barely even sit in her seat.
I want to listen to the questions and contribute to the quiz, but Simon talks over Barney. “Do you dream at night?” Simon says to me. I’m not sure where that came from.
“Sometimes,” I say. “But I can never really remember what happens. I can only remember fragments. You know, bits and pieces here and there.”
“Here’s the thing about dreams,” Simon says. “Once you know that you’re inside a dream, you can actually prolong the dream itself.”
“Really?” I say. I’m not interested in Simon’s bullshit, but I don’t want to upset him.
It’s just easier if you pretend to listen to him and let him talk at you. He never talks to you; he always talks at you.
“Yeah,” Simon says. “It’s quite simple, really. See, the reason we wake up from a dream is that something big will happen, and this big event raises the heart rate, which wakes you up. But if you know that you’re dreaming and you can keep the events within the dream relatively small, you can actually prolong it. See, the brain can’t quite differentiate between what happens in a dream and what happens in reality, so a big event tricks the brain into thinking that what is happening inside the dream is happening in real life, which, like I said, raises the heart rate. So next time you’re dreaming, make sure to keep it relatively small. Then it’ll last longer, and you’ll feel a lot better when you wake up in the morning.”
“Don’t listen to him,” Ginny says. “He’s drunk.”
“You would know,” Simon says. Then he says to Mel and me he says, “Excuse my wife. She’s a bit of a mess tonight.”
Mel and I don’t say a word – we just look at each other and drink our drinks. This is beyond uncomfortable.
“Fuck you!” Ginny says to Simon. Then she gets up and storms off. Mel goes after her. “Gin,” she says.
Then it’s just the two of us – me and Simon, Simon and me. We sit in silence for a minute. Barney asks a question about the world cup. I know the answer, so I write it down.
“Sorry about her,” Simon says to me.
“Don’t worry about it,” I say. “It’s fine.” He should be apologizing for his own behaviour. He’s been incredibly obnoxious ever since we got here.
“She always gets like this when she drinks,” Simon says.
“I know it’s none of my business,” I say to him, “but perhaps you should talk to her about it. I mean, perhaps she might need some help or something.” I want to tell him that he’s the one who needs help, but for one reason or another, I don’t.
“Maybe you’re right,” Simon says. Then he says to me he says, “Listen, mate. Can I tell you a secret?”
“Okay,” I say. I don’t want to hear it, but I have no choice but to sit here and listen. “Ginny and I have an arrangement. See, I only agree to come to this quiz every week if she sucks me off in the car on the way home. But she needs to get drunk enough to do it,” he says.
“Oh, right,” I say to him. God, I just want Mel to come back so we can change the subject and get back to the quiz. I don’t want to have to sit here and listen to Simon’s stories about his sex life.
I can see Mel coming towards the table, thank God. Ginny’s a couple of steps behind her. She has another drink in her hand – a big drink. She’s definitely going to need it. I think I’d be an alcoholic if I had to do that to Simon every week.
Mel and Ginny sit back down at the table. Ginny gives Simon the silent treatment, but he doesn’t seem to care. He’s probably used to it by now.
Barney asks a question about Roger Federer. The four of us get back to the quiz – it goes on and on and on.
We didn’t win – we never do. I think Uncles with Benefits won in the end. Good luck to them.
Mel and I stand in the car park and say goodbye to Simon and Ginny. Ginny can barely stand up. I don’t envy her one bit, knowing what she’s going to have to do on the way home.
“Text me when you get home,” Mel says to Ginny. “I will,” Ginny says.
We watch Simon and Ginny get into their car. Simon beeps the horn a couple of times and drives off.
“I hope they make it home all right,” Mel says to me. “I’m sure they’ll be fine,” I say.
Mel and I drive home. The roads are quiet tonight. “That was fun, wasn’t it?” Mel says. She’s had a couple of glasses of sweet red wine, but she can hold her alcohol pretty well.
“It was,” I say. “Until they both got drunk.”
“I know,” Mel says. “I’m worried about Ginny. Simon shouldn’t do that. He shouldn’t keep buying her drinks all night.”
“He shouldn’t, but he does,” I say.
“Well, I think he should stop doing it,” Mel says. “It’s not healthy.”
“Trust me,” I say, “he won’t.”
“How do you know?” Mel says. “Because…” I say.
“What does that mean?” Mel says.
I try to change the subject, but it doesn’t work. Mel’s not going to let this one go. That’s just one of the many things I love about her. “Come on,” Mel says. “Tell me. What’re you hiding?”
I let out my breath. “Okay,” I say. “The reason he encourages her like that is because she, you know… on the way home.”
“She what?” Mel says. “What does she do?” “Do I really have to say it?”
“What does she do, Mark?”
“She sucks his dick,” I say. “While he’s driving.”
“She does not!” Mel says. “She would’ve told me.” I don’t say a word.
“How do you know?” Mel says. “Simon told me.”
“Earlier,” I say. “When Ginny stormed off.” “He’s lying,” Mel says. “He’s full of shit.”
“I mean, he might be,” I say. “But he told me that the only reason he agrees to come to the quiz is for what happens on the journey home. So I’m not really sure what to believe anymore.”
“What?” I say.
“Nothing,” she says. “I just can’t believe she does that, is all. I mean, why can’t they just wait until they get home? Why does it have to be so organised? Why can’t they just let it happen when it happens?”
“I don’t know,” I say. Then I look at my wife, and my wife looks back at me. Mel lets out her breath. “All right, fine,” she says. “But don’t get used to this.”
I come to a set of traffic lights. The lights change from green to amber to red, so I slow down. Mel unzips my fly and pulls it out. Then she gets to work. I keep my hands on the wheel and my foot just above the pedal. The lights change from red to amber to green, but I don’t move a muscle.