THE HANDSHAKE

Go to the doctor, Greg said,tell him everything.

Shit. I don’t know, Mark said.

What?

Nothing. I don’t know.

No one ever knows anything.

Look, go to the doctor. Tell him everything. Just don’t mention all that other stuff.

Mark raised up off his seat and reached over the table to pick up Greg’s empty beer glass. Greg shook his head.

I’m saying, tell the doctor about everything you just told me, about how you feel, but leave out that other stuff.

I heard you, he said. But, you think a doctor cares?

It doesn’t matter if he cares or not, they’re there to help. He’ll do something.

Like what?

How should I know? I’ve never needed to ask.

No one ever asks.

Last year when you thought you had the clap, or something, you went to that clinic.

This is different.

I know, but you went, didn’t you? You did what you had to do.

What choice did I have?

What choice have you got now?

No one ever has a choice.

My cock looked like the Elephant Man. I had to go.

Think of this as like that. You’re the Elephant Man. All of you, now.

Thanks, Greg. Fucking hell.

I’m not, God, I’m not saying that it’s hopeless, Mark.

Greg picked up his glass and turned it over.

Small drops of beer crawled down the sides, into open mouth.     

I’ll get you another,‘ Mark said.

I’m alright for now.

Mark had known Greg for three years. Had first met him in the same pub in which they now sat. Greg had been the one with problems back then, although he could not now recall what those problems had been. What he remembered, what had stuck in his mind, was Greg’s handshake and how he gripped his hand and squeezed until Mark had felt as though he was going to shout out. His hand had still hurt the next day.

I’ll probably kill her, if I don’t do something.

You won’t.

I think sometimes I want to.

You don’t, Mark. You’re just unhappy. You need to keep away from her.

I’ve done a lot of things recently I wish I hadn’t.

Yeah, but you haven’t killed anyone; that’s something.

The two men briefly looked at eachother, with an almost coquettish shyness.

Listen, I was in here last week. And this guy came in, in a wheelchair. It was busy so he wheeled himself over and asked if he could sit with me and Annie. There were no other tables free. I said ok, because what else can you say, and we started talking a bit, although it pissed off Annie, which is no surprise. But he he was telling me how he was homeless, how he’d lost his home because he’d been fighting, or something. It didn’t make any sense. Anyway, he told me he was living now in the park, in a tent, with a little camping stove to cook on. I thought, I give that guy about two weeks before someone does him in. And then I thought, I‘ve got to remember to tell Mark about this. It’d cheer him right up.

  

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