Tangled Lives

(700 words)

I felt embarrassed. “Eavesdropper, moi?”
The girl looked at me accusatorily, but with humour behind her pale grey eyes. She wasn’t pretty, not even attractive really, but she had ‘something.’ Her skin was quite dark, healthy looking, and she wore silver-rimmed glasses. Maybe it was her generous shape. Perhaps it conformed to a subconscious template we males lust after?
“Well, what were you up to then?” She glanced back at her friend, a fat girl with bright blonde hair, presently shovelling spaghetti Bolognese into her face, then looked me square in the eyes, raising her eyebrows.
“OK, perhaps I was … a bit. I’m a writer; it’s a way of getting realistic dialogue … and ideas for stories.”
“What did you hear then?”
I laughed. “Not much really, just that you both sound desperate for a man!”
“Cheeky sod!” She blushed. “Perhaps I am. Have you written many books then?”
“I’m working on a novel.”
“Oh.” She sounded disappointed. She looked around, as if she were thinking to re-join her friend.
“Wait. I’ve written some stories. Look! I hurriedly took out my phone and found my book on Amazon. Look, that’s me, David Bird. Stories from the Undergrowth.” There was a little picture of me.
She looked from me to the picture, and to me again. “Wow. So, you’re a famous author!”
“Sort of!” I thought it prudent not to tell her it was self-published and that sales were currently in single figures.
Her eyes lit up. “Look, it sounds exciting. Maybe I could help?”
“Ah, I dunno.”
“Look, I’ll go around the bar, see if I can hear anything interesting. I’ll pretend to look at my phone, OK?”
I decided to humour her, I could always make my escape. “All right, thanks. What’s your name by the way?”
She smiled. “Leanne, I wondered if you’d ask!”
“Pleased to meet you, Leanne.” I shook her hot, clammy hand.
There was a restaurant area, about half full, and a large bar, separated into three levels, presently quite crowded, where you could also eat food. I’d discovered this was a good place for eavesdropping, and two stories in my book owed their genesis to it.
In a far corner, I could see a middle-aged couple who looked like they were arguing. She was large with long platinum hair, small oval black-rimmed glasses, and a lined, saggy face. He had a short grey moustache and beard, and a skull that would have made a billiard ball envious. I wended my way towards them, aiming for a nearby cigarette machine, simulating a conversation with a talkative partner on my phone, giving time to eavesdrop on a tête-à-tête worthy of a modern-day Rabelais.
“All I’m saying, Jack, is to put your foot down a bit. She’s living in our house and while she’s still at home, she should abide by our rules.”
“I know, darling, but she’s twenty-four, she’s got a life of her own now. It’s not easy communicating with her, you know.”
“Maybe, but she comes back at all hours, drunk usually, crashing and banging about. And then there’s her … well, I hesitate to call them boyfriends.”
“Come on, we were young and randy once!”
“Well, maybe you were. I preferred to keep my knickers on – unless I was having a piss or a shit.”
“Yes, I noticed!”
“Never mind that. Something must be done, Jack, d’you hear me?”
Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Leanne beckoning from across the crowded room. She looked worried. I went over to her. “Did you get anything?”
“Yeah, some men playing pool, ‘round the corner. They were talking about beating someone to a pulp.”
“Oh, my god, did they say why?”
“Yes, apparently some guy is shagging one of their wives.”
“Did they say who?”
“Yes, one David Bird esquire!” She glared at me.
I felt my stomach go queasy. “Look, I think I’d better go. It was great meeting you.”
She looked concerned. “I think you should. Will I see you again?”
Just then, Jack, the man with the billiard-ball head, came over. “Leanne!”
“Oh, hello, Dad. Fancy meeting you here!”
That seemed as good a time as any to take my leave.

Featured in the book and audiobook, To Cut a Short Story Short, vol. II: 88 Little Stories

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