A Question of Semantics

(950 words)

Lighted from above by three bright spotlights, a dartboard was mounted on the yellowing paint of a wall in The Golden Calf. It stood in a corner, housed in a cabinet with blackboards for scoring on the inner side of each cabinet door.
It was only Thomas Scaman’s second visit to The Golden Calf, having moved to the village of Little Muchly with his wife, Judith, just two weeks earlier. Their first visit had been at lunchtime and the pub had been full of jovial families with their kiddies.
Tonight, he’d fancied a pint, and leaving Judith to her writing he’d headed down the lane to the pub, expecting to be met with a friendly greeting and to make new pals over a game of ‘arrows.’ As a former league player, he expected to be met with, well, a kind of hero’s welcome, he told himself. Instead, he opened the door onto an empty, sparsely furnished, and equally sparsely populated bar.
A couple of old men were playing dominos, not troubling to look up from their game as he entered. The only other occupant was a youngish lad with a gormless face, sitting picking his nose and grinning like he’d just won the lottery.
“Good evening,” said Thomas. There came the click of dominos and a high-pitched giggle from the young man, who Thomas now noted had bulging crossed eyes, red cheeks, and large wet lips. Thomas wondered if the boy was recovering from a bad beating, but then decided it was his natural face.
“Can I help you?” A man stood behind the bar, long grey sideburns growing on his sagging jowls, and his stomach sticking out in a prominent beer belly. Above the bar was a faded photograph. A man with a grim wheel-like face and a long silver wig glared through the dirty glass. Underneath was the legend, ‘Theophilus Leake, 1762-1849, Founder of Shadford’s Brewery.’
Thomas hesitated, eying the door regretfully. Then he noticed a beer brewed by Shadford’s. “Er, a pint of Persian Silk, please.”
The barman yanked on a handle, pumping a mass of foam into a glass. “It’ll settle in a moment, it’s a bit lively.”
Just then a couple of young men came in. They stripped off heavy coats to show muscled arms covered in tattoos. One of them had a large anchor tattooed on his wrist. He slapped a set of darts down on the bar. “Pint of Hebrew Hoodoo please, Bill. When you’ve finished serving this … gentleman.” They both laughed.
“Do you play darts then?” Thomas ventured.
“No, that’s why I carry a set of darts around with me,” said anchor-tattoo man. He made a noise like a fart.
“Oh, er, sorry, um, would you, er, like a game?”
“What, maybe later, mate, hey, Bill, you got any pork scratchings?”
Thomas took his beer over to the dartboard and took a few self-conscious throws, hearing the men chuckling at the bar.

“Fancy a game then, mate?” It was anchor-tattoo man.
“Oh, yes, that’d be good,” said Thomas.
“Fred’ll chalk,” said the man, “501 straight start, you throw first.”
Fred stood at the side of a blackboard with a piece of chalk, ready to record the scores.
“Oh, OK, thanks.” Thomas took aim at the treble twenty, the highest score on the board. His first dart just grazed it, his other two landed in the adjacent sectors, five and one, for a score of 26, known to dart players as ‘bed and breakfast.’ He felt his face flush as anchor-tattoo man hurled his first dart straight into the middle of the treble twenty followed by two close by, for a score of a hundred.

“Tony’s brilliant,” said Fred, revealing anchor-tattoo man’s name, after the former had emerged victorious five games in a row. “He can put three darts in the middle of a polo mint.”
There came a high-pitched giggle from the young lad.
Thomas felt the Persian Silk going to his head. “Never!”
“Yeah, he can.” It was the barman.
“I’ll bet you, then,” said Tony, “Do you drive?”
“What, yes.”
“Well, I’ll have one go at putting three darts in the centre of a polo mint. I do it, I take your car. I don’t do it, well, Bill here will give you and your mates free drinks for as long as you’re alive. Ain’t that right, Bill?”
The barman assented with a grunt.
The young man, whose name turned out to be Percy, stood grinning like a Cheshire Cat, holding a small round mint with a hole in it, in front of the dartboard. Tony took aim. Thomas stood, wondering how he could lose, surely this guy wasn’t that accurate? Then, to his disbelief, Tony walked up to the board and poked his three darts into the centre of the mint. He turned, “Car keys please.”
Thomas stood, stunned, “What are you on about, you never threw them!”
The bar was deadly silent. Tony held his hand out. “Don’t you understand the meaning of the word ‘put’?”
“Hold on a minute, you’ve got to be joking.” Thomas felt as if his body had just been placed in a deep freeze.
“No joke,” said Tony, “hand over them keys, or …” He and Fred slipped on large silver knuckle-dusters.
To his horror, Thomas noticed that Bill had disappeared, as had the domino players. Only Percy remained, his mouth wide open and his giggling stalled for once.
Then the door opened, and in came a police constable. He looked around the bar in astonishment. “Come on, Tony, you at it again? Haven’t you won enough cars already!” ” –

Taken from the book, Letters from Reuben and Other Stories: 40 Little Tales of Mirth

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7 thoughts on “A Question of Semantics

  1. Simon – I love this one – never heard the darts joke before, and my stomach tensed when Tony said ‘car keys, please’!!

    1. Yes, you can feel for Thomas at the horrible turn of events, can’t you? It was partly influenced by the story Man from the South by The Master. There, the MFTS bets a young sailor that the sailor’s lighter won’t work first time ten times in a row. ‘Iss very fine car. Cadillac’ against ‘de little finger on your left hand.’ The tension builds up and up and up …. 😲

  2. First, before I write anything else, I have to say the name of the village is fantastic: Little Muchly! It would be great if it’s a real name but utterly brilliant if you made it up! That said, this is a terrific little story. Every character had a distinct personality which came through in a fabulous way; I could visualize each one as I read about them. Truth be told, Tony wasn’t wrong regarding Thomas’ phrasing and as foolish as he felt being bamboozled, I’m sure Thomas was never so happy to see the police. Who knew Tony was an English scholar? LOL! Lesson learned: be very careful what you say, especially dealing with a bunch of ruffians like that lot! It could come back to haunt you! A witty tale written in your typical entertaining and descriptive way. Well done! 🌟 🎯

    1. Hi, Nancy, thank you. I’m glad you enjoyed my little tale. it’s actually quite a well know darts ‘joke’ as far as I know. There is a version where someone says they will put three darts into the treble twenty blindfold. After the bet is accepted someone leads the blindfolded individual up to the board!
      There are some wonderful village names where I live but Little Muchly was totally fictional!

      1. Ah, OK. I did the same in a couple of my stories – building a tale around a joke. Well, kudos to you for Little Muchly; tis a brilliant name – an SJW oxymoron!

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