He looked like Kingsley Amis, that’s what caught my eye. British aristocracy dragged through years of drunkenness and bad politics. He told me he was 78.
Peter. Name that didn’t suit him. Name that seemed too tame for him and his velvet jacket and his hair brushed back. In those three evenings we spent together in a secluded pub outside Whitley Bay, he taught me how to drink ginger beer so that I could feel the taste and not my blazing larynx.
I did not say much about myself, but then he never asked. “Linguistics?” he said, confused but indifferent. He didn’t care about linguistics, and frankly speaking, neither did I. He wanted to talk and I wanted stories. I was ready to be his listener, ready to go two extra miles to reach the pub, ready to put up with his awful teeth (rare, black, sharp) and the fact that he was lying.
Novel published in 1969? With a story like that? I saw those lies in the way his fingers trembled every time he raised his glass or fumbled for coins. But still I listened to the plot of a book he said he had written years ago. The book was about two lesbians falling for one guy. Lots of twists and turns in the story he clearly knew how to tell. The story was strangely fascinating.
For three days straight, I came to the pub at 7 and left just before midnight. On seeing me, Peter approached my table, sat down, and began talking. “Two ginger beers”, he said. “I’m buying”. Then, after another five-hour session was over (three pints each), he asked me to come again tomorrow. And I went home, slightly drunk but mostly intrigued. Here was an old man telling me stories about two lesbians trying to win love of a straight guy. Bizarre. In those days I fell asleep dreaming of him, of the pub, of those two girls.
And then, on day four, when I came to hear the next few chapters of the story, Peter wasn’t there. The place looked deserted except for a couple of teenagers discussing latest Premier League matches. I must have looked so genuinely frustrated that the pub owner asked me if I was not actually waiting for an old man whose name was Peter. “Yes”, I replied. “I am”. He explained to me that Peter went missing again. Like it often happened. “Here for a week, gone for a month”. Well, I didn't have so much time as I was leaving for London in a few days.
“Ginger beer?” the man asked.
“No”, I said, still trying to cope with my disappointment. “Tell me, did he really write that book?”
“What, you mean the novel? Peter? Yes, he sure did. I read it”.
He noticed my confusion.
“Ah I see. That’s what he was telling you about these past three evenings. Well, that’s what he does. That story. He tells it to anyone who cares to listen. You might want to know that the guy in the book was him”.
“No!” I said, trying to come to terms with what I’d just heard.
“You can still find it in some used book shops around Tyne & Wear”.
“How does it end?” I asked.
“Badly”, he said and poured some more Guinness for the teens.
I didn’t look for the book. I meant to do that on my way back home, but I must have skipped the bookshop and refused to retrace my steps. Was it like Kingsley Amis, I wanted to know. But I forgot to ask, and that was that.