"God and chips, flurry and fleas. Cuckoo."
The girl serving in the chip shop looked blank for a second, then her expression changed to one of shock as the man in front of her slapped himself across the face.
"Er, pardon?" she asked nervously.
"Bastard, bastard, bastard," said the man.
Louise Porter was seventeen years old and was in only her second week of employment at Park's chippy. She had already experienced the problems of having to try and deal with drunken men when they came out of the pub next door at the end of the night. So far she hadn't done too well in that area of her job description. Lou was cursed with being the epitome of 'the beautiful ideal; she blushed if a man so much as looked at her with bleary eyed, drunken lust. She cried if a customer became irate if she made mistakes with their order. She was keen and wanted to do well in this, her first job, but it was all proving very difficult. Now it seemed she had yet another drunk to contend with. She felt her colour rising and had no idea how to deal with this situation. Luckily she didn't have to. Frank, the owner of the shop, had heard the foul language and anticipating trouble came from the back of the room where he had been mixing batter.
"Now then sir can I help you?" He asked, wiping his hands on a white tea towel as he took instant command of the situation.
"Louise love, could you bring some more haddock from the large freezer please." He smiled warmly at the blushing girl.
"Yes, I'd like Cod and chips with curry and peas, please." Said the man politely.
"Certainly sir." replied Frank. They rarely gave him any trouble. Not many were foolish enough to try their hand with a man who's sixteen stone and often wielding a sharp knife or at the very least a wet, sloppy, battered, but uncooked, fish. He made up the order and thanked the man.
"Twat," the customer shouted from the safety of the door. Frank shook his head and heard him 'cuckooing' to himself as he walked up the street unwrapping his meal.
Jimmy felt safe in the Golden Ball, it was his local and he was well known. Nicknamed The Rusty Knacker to all the regulars, it rarely entertained any passing trade and Jimmy could be himself. He even considered some of the other customers as friends.
Jess had never been on a blind date before. She'd met Gary on the Internet, and it had taken an awful lot of persuading for her to meet him, Jess was shy and although pretty, intelligent and reasonably funny, she still had problems when it came to meeting people. For someone who could hold her own in most conversations with any one she knew well, and felt comfortable with, when confronted with a man in a man-woman dating situation, she clammed up and could never think of a thing to say. She would colour from the base of her neck right up to her hairline and no amount of her mother telling her how attractive it was for a woman to 'bloom' made the slightest difference to her rapidly retreating confidence. She had a feeling somewhere round the region of her solar plexus that the evening was going to be her biggest dating disaster yet.
She walked into the Golden Ball and instantly felt awkward as several men sanding at the bar turned to look at her. He had tried to insist that they meet in the park across the road and walk to the pub for a drink together, but Jess was a sensible girl and she'd heard all the horror stories related to computer dating. It hadn't seemed such a difficult thing to do when she'd suggested meeting inside the pub, but this was a far cry from sitting confidently in her living room and typing the words. This was actually her walking into a pub alone to meet a stranger, and feeling terribly self-conscious.
Five foot eleven, with brown curly hair and green eyes he'd said. They had been talking for months, but had decided not to do the photo swapping thing. They agreed that far too much emphasis was put on physical appearance, they had become friends through personality, not looks. He said he could talk to her about almost anything, something he told her that was very difficult for him in real life situations.
Most of the men slouched the length of the bar top, were middle aged to elderly. Gary was only twenty-two years old. Only one man matched the description that he'd given her but he made no effort to turn and look in her direction, he didn't give the impression of waiting for someone. But the hair was longish, soft curls met his collar and then flipped up and although she couldn't see the colour of his eyes they looked kindly and gentle. This must be him.
"Excuse me, are you Gary?" she asked as she nervously approached him.
His eyes met hers, and her first thought was that she wouldn't have described them as green, they were more hazel, with amber highlights that somehow gave an impression of keen intelligence and curiosity. It was a full five seconds before he spoke and when he did it was slow and deliberate. He seemed to be searching for each syllable before he uttered it and she wondered if this man was in fact not Gary, but someone foreign who thought in his native language and had to translate each sentence before he spoke it. His brow furrowed with concentration as he answered her.
"No, I'm sorry I'm not."
"Oh, right. Well I'm sorry to bother you. Thank-you." As his eyes appraised her she felt the blush beginning to spread from inside her collar, it rose rapidly up over her cheeks and didn't cease in its uprising until it had disappeared into her brown hair. The heat seemed to be coming from her face in a visible burning haze, though of course that was just her thoughts compounding her pathetic anxiety. Relax she told herself, just try to relax. She wanted to turn tail and leave after mistaking the stranger for her date. But she was rooted to the spot and found herself staring at a barmaid who was looking at her with an expression that intimated she had just spoken. Worse, she had asked a question that required an answer, and Jess had no idea what the young woman said to her.
"I'm sorry?" Said Jess.
The lady behind the bar seemed a little irritated at having to repeat herself.
"Can I help you, can I get you something please."
Jess' had a dry throat, yet the thought of actually ordering a drink and standing alone to drink it had not occurred to her, all her thoughts had been concentrated on getting the hell out of there. It didn't matter that Gary may well have been detained at work, or had suddenly taken ill, and couldn't contact her. Or even that he may have been run over by a bus. All Jess was certain of, was the fact that this entire room full of people knew that she had been stood up. And that each and every one of them was thinking what a sad cow she was. Actually no one in the bar was paying the slightest bit of attention to her, nobody was looking at her now, after the initial peering over their beer glasses to see who had caused the draft from the opening door, they had instantly lost interest in the new comer. Strangers didn't come here often, but when they did, they never caused much of a sensation.
"Orange juice please." She managed, stuttering slightly over the J.
Bad move, why the hell hadn't she asked for lemonade?
"Would that be, Britvic orange, Fifty five, or pure fruit?" Oh God, she had no idea, she really didn't want any of the drinks, but felt that she had to choose one.
"Pure fruit please."
"And would you like that as it comes, or with lemonade or soda?"
Jess wanted to scream at the woman that it really didn't matter.
"Er, as it comes please."
"Um, no thank-you."
Jess paid for her drink and then determined to get it down as quickly as possible and then flee for home. She had some chocolate chip cookies in the biscuit tin, them and an evening in front of the TV suddenly seemed very appealing.
She took a sip of her orange and in her haste it went down the wrong way, she began to cough and splutter. Groping in her handbag for a tissue she noticed several curious eyes staring at her.
"'As it got bones in it lass?" Asked a man standing near the one she'd spoken to as she came in.
"Bones. Femurs," said the man next to her. She glanced at him and there seemed no malice to his strange remark, he didn't give the impression of being in any way sarcastic. She felt him looking at her as she coughed into her hankie. He seemed to understand her discomfort, although she was not looking at him somehow she felt that he understood.
She had to have another drink of the orange to stop the coughing from the first one and as she sipped at the drink slowly, her traitorous throat gradually stilled its contractions and she managed to get herself under control.
The man beside her gave a low whistle. It wasn't a wolf whistle exactly, but it seemed that it was intended to get her attention, she turned slightly towards him and knocked her purse on to the floor by their feet. One of the compartments opened and some of the loose change fell out. Jess and the man both crouched to pick up the purse and the spilled money. He met her eyes and smiled as if to say, "I do daft things like that all the time don't worry about it."
"Thank-you," said Jess as they straightened up.
"Would you like to sit down over there?" He asked slowly and deliberately, gesturing to a side table. "You'll find it more comfortable."
Still reeling from her embarrassment with the drink and purse Jess found herself nodding gratefully. He picked up both their drinks and moved towards the table, Jess had little choice but to follow him. She liked this quiet man but had no idea why. He was certainly attractive, very attractive in fact, but there was something about him that made her feel that they were both like fish out of water in social situations. He seemed to be feeling as awkward as she was.
"Would you like another drink?" he asked.
Then he did the most extraordinary thing, he raised his hand and stroked the right side of her cheek very softly. His hand dropped back onto the table and he glared at it as though it had acted independently of his wishes. Jess almost laughed at his expression but he looked sad and embarrassed by what he'd done. She was still wracking her brains for something to say when he did it again, and again, each time his hand dropped into exactly the same position on the table. He was blushing furiously and Jess' heart went out to him.
"Damn," thought Jimmy, as his hand raised to stroke her cheek for the third time. His thoughts were clear and lucid, always had been. He always knew exactly what he was doing, what he was saying, and how people were reacting. This lady didn't seem scared, bemused yes, but not scared. Break the loop, break the loop he willed his brain to obey him. Sometimes the only way to stop it, was to think about something else, focus his thoughts in a different direction or a different time, so that his brain flicked the switch on his actions, and turned the trigger off.
"God and Chips." He said to the lady. He had meant to ask her what her name was.
"Pardon?" she asked him with a slight smile that said she had no idea what he was talking about, but understood that something was wrong and that she wasn't going to run out of the door screaming. He was grateful for that.
"I had Cod and Chips earlier." Bugger that was a stupid thing to say, but at least it was an intentionally stupid statement, the kind of stupid thing that anybody might say.
"Oh right," she said, this time she did give a little laugh, but he didn't feel as though she was mocking him, it was a nice laugh and it made him feel warm. Jimmy couldn't talk to people, Jimmy especially couldn't talk to women. This lady seemed to instinctively understand that.
"Bugger, bugger, bugger," said Jimmy and then he made a noise like an exotic birdcall. He picked up a beer mat from the table in front of him and threw it across the room. "My name's Jimmy."
"Jess." She said smiling warmly and holding out her hand for him to shake. Now she understood. "You have Tourett's Syndrome don't you Jimmy?" She asked softly.
"Yes." He said and added his last 'cuckoo' of the night. He liked her directness; he liked the fact that she didn't seem scared, and he liked the fact that this was the first woman ever, that he felt he might be able to talk to. The more Jimmy relaxed the less bizarre his language and actions became.
"So?" he asked curiosity getting the better of him. "Who's Gary?"
This time when Jess laughed it was warm and full of humour. "I don't know. Who is Gary?"
Jess grinned at him.
"Do you like pizza Jimmy?"