You walk into the Club to a chorus of applause, a cacophony of cheers. Da’s right behind and he claps you on the back, mutters something about rite of passage as you make your way across the frayed carpet to the wooden bar on the back wall.
The barmaid, Mel, winks, and says ‘What can I get you, Stevie?’ as your not-a-real-uncle Jim materialises at the other side of you like an apparition.
‘A pint of mild and a Carlsberg please, Mel,’ you say, pleased she’s remembered your name. All the boys want to get close to Mel, with her killer curls and killer curves. You’ve spent many a night in your room with Mel on your mind, with Mel in your hand.
‘And a pint of half-and-half and three whiskey chasers,’ not-a-real-uncle Jim calls across you.
‘Now Jim’ Da starts to say.
‘Lads gotta learn sometime,’ says not-a-real-uncle Jim.
You’re a few pints in now, a few chasers too, sitting at one of the round tables with Da and not-a-real-uncle Jim. You’re feeling a little bit lost, a little removed from the room, from the conversation, as if you’re alone on stage in a spotlight, visible but unable to see anything beyond the edge of the glare.
Da’s mates have been up one-by-one to shake your hand, to say ‘Welcome to manhood, son’. Their permed wives have kissed your cheeks with paper lips; their lily-of-the-valley proximity reminding you of Ma dressed for church, neatly buttoned and behatted.
You wonder why Ma never comes to the Club.
You wonder why Da never goes to church.
Not-a-real-uncle Jim slides a tray onto the table with three more pints, three more whiskeys. You wonder what he’d say if you asked for a bottle of pop, for a break, and decide you couldn’t abide the scorn that would surely follow. You button up, drink up, man up, put up.
You’re in the back alley with the barmaid, Mel, leaning woozily against the bins while she unzips your jeans, pulls it out and slides her lips around it. You’ve fantasised about this, but can’t quite believe you’re here, amongst the stench of decay and empty barrels. It’s not as sexy as you thought it might be.
She stands, wipes her mouth, and kisses you hard on the lips, biting a little and the sting clears your head some. She manoeuvres you between her legs and then you’re inside her, but it’s too quick, too soon and your flaccid dick slides out. She smooths her skirt, lights a cigarette, ‘Mebbe next time it’ll be better,’ she says. You’re not sure you fancy a next time.
When you go back inside the Club you try not to see not-a-real-uncle Jim slide a twenty across the bar to her.
‘Services rendered and all that,’ he says to you with a wink and a finger on his lips.
Your Da and not-a-real-uncle Jim bear you home, arms under your shoulders, yelling rebel songs as they go. Your Da’s no longer the Da you know – he’s someone else, a stranger.
When the door opens Ma’s disapproval seeps out like sea-fog ’Yous were only supposed to go for a couple,’ she says.
‘The lad only turns eighteen once,’ says not-a-real-uncle Jim, and you’re aware from the look that passes across her face – a change in weather that’s there and then gone like clouds on a sunny day – that she loathes not-a-real-uncle Jim.
Da kisses her on the cheek sheepishly, while not-a-real-uncle Jim bustles in and pours three more whiskeys from the decanter on the G-Plan sideboard.
‘Our Stevie’s had enough,’ Ma declares as you slump shakily onto the sofa.
You don’t know how you got to your room, but the walls are advancing and receding like the North Sea. Advancing and receding, advancing and receding.
Ma’s at the foot of your bed, untying your laces, levering your boots off your feet like she used to do when you were a bairn.
‘There’s a plastic bowl and an old towel,’ she says, ‘in case you feel sick,’ and she leans forward and places a cool kiss on the bridge of your nose, at the spot where Da used to rub with his thumb when you couldn’t sleep. She smells of lily-of-the-valley, and Fairy, butter and sunshine.
‘I hope you had a good eighteenth, Stevie, full of special memories,’ she says and sighs, and you’re aware of a rising sensation in the pit of your stomach, that might be vomit, but might be something else entirely.
Biography: Maria Thomas is a middle-aged, apple-shaped mum. Maria recently won Oxford Flash Fiction and named Best Speculative Fiction by Welkin Prize. Maria won Free Flash Fiction’s Competition 13, Retreat West’s April 2022 Micro. She placed in LISP and Propelling Pencil in 2022. She is on Twitter @AppleWriter and Insta @AppleShapedWriter