An unpublished short story….
Most people took to calling them The Odd Couple and they were a real pair of oddballs; Dennis, the lecturer with the pipe and beer bottle specs, his accent pitched halfway between Oxbridge and Eastenders and Johnny, the biker and infrequent mature student, dealing blow as an occupation. All they had in common was the drink. If you nipped in somewhere like The Springhill any Tuesday afternoon, they were there; playing dominoes with the old fellas, getting loaded. Dennis drew the line at anything illegal, for obvious reasons, so whenever Johnny knocked up a spliff because wanted the world to slow down, Dennis would take a seat at the counter and start hitting the whiskey because he wanted his world to end.
Johnny was only passing time; pretending to be a student. Home was out of bounds since he’d bitten off the end of some guy’s nose in an argument in some bar. He wasn’t stupid though; he’d taken a few night classes and read some books over the years, so he applied and was offered a place. He didn’t do lectures really, but he still read a few books now and then; if he failed, so what? He got money for fuck all compared to when he’d been on the tools.
They met half way through Johnny’s first term, when he was still taking things half seriously. He collared Dennis in the Student Bar one night; brought him over a pint of black porter and asked for a free tutorial. He’d been at a lecture Dennis had given on Gulliver’s Travels, but was confused as his text seemed different to the one Dennis had been going on about. The fact Johnny had picked up a Bancroft Children’s Classic edition explained things in the end. Dennis explained the stuff about the Yahoos and Johnny bought him a couple more beers in return. After that, they became mates, meeting up for the odd session.
Around that time Dennis was falling to pieces; he was going on the tear a lot, pissing it up with 18 years olds at student dos. He’s been barred from the Senior Common Room after this incident with some Geography postgrad. Yet, if he’d not started hanging about with Johnny, he could be working still. After all, he’d been good at his job; essays got marked, lecturers delivered and he always turned up for tutorials, but academia went out the window the Saturday morning he woke up on the kitchen floor to find Andrea and the kids had gone back to England for good.
Her note told how sick she was of him being pissed all the time; upsetting the girls, humiliating her. Worst of all the dry sniggering of neighbours at the bin liners full of empties she put out each week. Half an hour later outside The Railway Arms, Dennis ran in to Johnny at just the right time. Johnny was sympathetic; suggested a few pints that turned in to a six month binge.
They went drinking all over the place, searching out every early house and late bar going. Nobody ever saw them eat. Strange thing was they never said much to each other. If a pub was quiet, they’d sit, silently staring at the telly. In a deserted Bertie’s Bar one Thursday afternoon, the only noise was the clock ticking. Of course, if a place got lively, they’d spread themselves about, eyeing up talent. Dennis got a few sympathy shags from older ones, on account of Andrea’s walkout, but Johnny was a looker and did well. Even the way he knocked out twenty deals to nervous kids in catalogue clothes was sexy. Dennis cursed himself for reading so many books when he was young.
Towards the end, things got a bit strained. Andrea filed for divorce and demanded more maintenance. Work got on his back and issued Dennis with a warning for absenteeism. Johnny ran out of money and kept tapping him for bigger loans, which he didn’t pay back; even getting Dennis to stand his bail when he got done one time.
The curtain came down during North West 200 weekend. Every biker in the North wound up in Portrush on the Friday night. Crazy heads who wouldn’t drink in bars, hanging out on the beach, necking gallons of Mundies or Buckfast, lighting farts and joints, doing wheelies.
Dennis was scared and around the margins, but by 2 o’clock he could barely stand. Johnny’s mates left their bikes and went looking for a party to crash and crash out at, but he thought about Dennis; taxis were out of the question, so he dragged the pissed fucker home, dumped him on the sofa then retired with a goodnight spliff.
The room was filled with smoke when Dennis woke up, choking. He made it to the front garden and passed out, coming to in the ambulance with an oxygen mask clamped on his face. Smoke inhalation, but he would live. Forensics said Johnny had passed out before the sheets caught fire. He died where he slept.
A week later they buried Johnny in the same plot as his mother. Dennis didn’t go; the doctors wouldn’t let him. For a while, he played at being sober, joined AA, stayed clean. Eventually the divorce came through and he fell hard off the wagon. A year after Johnny’s death, Dennis took early retirement on medical grounds. Work told him he didn’t have a choice.