She's mustardby Jeremy Clarke / August 20, 1999 / Leave a comment
Published in August 1999 issue of Prospect Magazine
Dog and ferret club monthly meeting at the Pig’s Nose. Light evening. Lounge bar full of tourists, all eating. All you can hear is the clickety-clack of their knives and forks hitting the plates. I’m the first to arrive; then Gerald and Doris come through the door. We chat. Doris tells me that since our last dog and ferret show she’s had a couple of minor strokes. I look horrified. But she tells me it’s OK, she’s “shrugged them off.” She rolls her shoulders to show me how easy it was. When Gerry thinks Doris isn’t looking, he puts his mouth to my ear and says, “I’d like a quiet word with you later on.” Because he’s going deaf, his whisper is much more audible than he thinks it is. Doris shoots him a look. When all the other members have turned up, we go with our drinks into the meeting room. First item on the agenda is the subject of the pit-bull terrier crossbreeds. Local lurchermen are crossing their dogs with pit-bull terriers to make them strong enough to knock over deer. We’ve been seeing a lot of these pit-bull-crossed lurchers at our shows recently. We take a vote on whether to ban them or not. Seven votes for, five against. We decide to ban them. The other main issue is: who lost the measuring stick? We had a special measuring stick for measuring the lurchers, but it got lost. Actually, it was me who lost it. When the subject comes up, I excuse myself and take my glass back to the lounge bar for a refill. While I am waiting to be served, Gerry appears at my elbow. He too has nipped out for a refill-and presumably to have that quiet word he was telling me about. He looks ill at ease, though. “Jerry, I’m shagging this bird,” he says at last. “Tuesday nights. When Doris is at bingo.” He wipes the palm of his hand nervously across the mouth. He’s misjudged the audibility of his whisper again and the whole pub is listening. “She’s mustard, this woman-absolute bloody mustard. She’s a nurse, 41. Mad for it. Jacky, her name is.” Transmission is briefly interrupted while Gerry orders a drink, and takes a big gulp. “She’s quite nice-looking,” he continues, now with a creamy moustache. “Good little figure on her. And she’s clean and everything.” He has another gulp, glancing furtively about him with his nose in the glass. “But I’ve had to lay off because of the light evenings.” I stare at Gerry incredulously. Normally our conversations are restricted to dogs, ferrets, or some other closely related matter. Not personal stuff. And what the light evenings have to do with it, I can’t even begin to guess at. I’m not the only one astounded by his confession, either. Looking over Gerry’s shoulder, I can see knives and forks suspended in mid-air. “I tell you, she’s rampant, man,” Gerry goes on. “Tells me to do whatever I like with her. But I’m 74, don’t forget. I can’t get it up like I used to. So what with the light evenings and everything, I need somebody to take over from me till the nights start drawing in again. What do you reckon?” He takes up his pint again and in mid-sip he looks over the rim of his glass and winks at me like it’s my lucky day. I return to the meeting with mixed feelings. Do I take on the job or not? On the one hand, anybody who tells Gerry to do what he likes with them is probably suffering from a terminal illness. On the other hand, though, I’m pretty desperate at the moment. I’m even thinking of paying for it again. So in a way I suppose I’d be saving myself a few quid. Before the meeting ends I signal to Gerry that I’m up for it, and the following day he rings me at home. Gerry’s plan for my first encounter goes like this. After dropping Doris off at bingo on Tuesday night, he’ll whip round and pick up Jacky in the van, then drive her over to a pub near me. As soon as I arrive, he’ll drive the three of us to this lay-by he knows. Then he’ll get out and go for a walk in the fields while I “give her one” in the back of the van. “Just like that, Gerry?” I say. “We haven’t got time to muck about, Jerry,” he says, sternly. “I’ve got to pick Doris up at the Regal Club at 9:30pm.” Tuesday evening I get to the pub and Gerry’s sitting in the bar with this dark-haired, quite shy, not unattractive woman. Gerry’s introductions are perfunctory, like the referee’s instructions before a big fight. “Jacky, Jerry; Jerry, Jacky,” he says. We are both so embarrassed that we can barely look at each other. “She’s got no knickers on,” Gerry advises me, seriously, “so you can get straight at it.” We go out to the van and Jacky climbs in the back. Then Gerry drives us up a hill to a lay-by which is partially concealed from the road by a heap of road-mender’s chippings. “Right. See you in a half hour,” he says, switching off the engine and getting out of the van with some difficulty. After the door slams we hear his footsteps crunching away across the gravel, then the silence measured by the quiet ticking of the hot engine. The low evening sun is shining through the windscreen directly on to our faces as we sit in the van. Jacky is calm. I don’t look at her at first, but I can feel that she is calm. I am, too. We just sit there, with the hot sun on our faces. “Nice, these light evenings,” I say after a while.