Wrestlemania’s Cocktail

It was an article about the James Webb Space Telescope in a magazine rested upon my knee, held open by a coffee cup pinned against the corner of the page. On the other side of the carriage was a man and a large dog. The man looked like he was down on his luck. The large dog was black and brown and grey around the muzzle. The man stood up and began to fork food from a tincan into a pink plastic bowl, which he set before the dog. The dog sat, looked up, waited for permission, and then, at the tiniest signal, the flick of a finger, began its meal. I looked at the dog and smiled, the man stared back at me angrily. I averted my gaze and pretended to keep reading about the James Webb Space Telescope but really I was looking out the corner of my eye at the man and the large dog, the latter having finished his meal and now sat between the man’s legs. The man leaned down and embraced his friend, arms wrapped around stroking, his own cheek against the dog’s throat, who stared out and around, licking his lips. How passionately the man embraced the dog, as though it were his only companion in the whole world.

Outside of the train station it was quiet summer grey and the wind cold. There was a lone figure leaning against the iron railings with a cigarette dangling from his mouth. I walked over and asked if he accepted card; he did not. When I got in, he began to put his mask on, too; I assured him that he need not; he assured me he was double-jabbed. Double-jabbed is this year’s adjective. I asked him to take the A12. Before we had gone a mile, he asked me what football team I supported. When I told him, he spun in the driver’s seat, taking his eyes off the road and squaring them firmly on me, as though he meant to pull over and kick me out. ‘Why are you looking at me like that?’ I asked—‘Who do you support? Arsenal? Spurs? West Ham?’ He told me he supported Chelsea, too. And we spoke about them. Speeding along, he pulled out his phone and showed me photographs of him and his son at the stadium. We reminisced of games, of moments, of past squads, talking at length. ‘How’s business?’ I asked, and he wept, for it was not good. When I said good-bye, I wished him good luck and to take care. He held his fist towards me; we touched knuckles, the bones of our fingers briefly slotting between the other’s. When I arose from the backseat, somewhat awkwardly into the centre of the road, I was flushed with love for the human race. How it overwhelmed me when an hour before it had been inconceivable. But this man, who had moved to this country with his young family, who showed me photographs of his son beaming with the love of his father in an arm about his shoulder, who supported the same football team as I, who, one Friday afternoon, found himself in a small space with me along the motorway during a global pandemic, truly stirred something in me, something I could not explain nor voice appropriately, but it caused me to swell with love. Before entering the house, I stood in the back garden for a time to contemplate things.

My parents led me to an unassuming Danish kitchenware shop along the dead high street of a nearby seaside town. There was no one else around besides some vagrants on a bench and polo’d men cross-armed outside a fish & chip shop. The front door rang a bell throughout, twice, opening and closing; although nobody appeared, the shop was empty but for its wares. In the back was a tiny courtyard with music playing and hushed activity. There was a bar, a small woodfire in the middle, a sofa (two women), some stools (empty) and chairs (a couple, bottle of wine, half-empty). We sat at the stools. The small woodfire swirled smoke upwards, round and out; above were white birds and a deep blue sky and orange rooftops around. I could not stop thinking about my earlier encounter with the cab driver. My aunt, uncle and cousin from California joined us. I was not in the mood to talk. We ordered a round of large cocktails; by the end of my second, I felt better and certainly more energetic. We were served by a roundfaced ginger man with three-day stubble and a purple streak in his hair. He wore a Wrestlemania jumper and only listened to one cocktail order at a time before darting off to make it, leaving the next person to pause halfway through their request into thin air.

There was a burst of noise and an older lady wearing a bright blue dress entered the little courtyard behind the shop. Her accent led one to understand she was the Dane to whom the shop belonged. Her hair was more blonde than grey, her lipstick red as blood, and the gold about her neck and wrists jangled as she drunkenly gesticulated her friends in behind her towards the sofa. Loudly she danced about the place, between the stools, tables, sofa, chairs. When a man walked in with a baby, she rushed over, took it in her arms and the baby began to scream—‘Oh, oh!’ she cried, soothing its head. Then she plopped the infant back in its pram and started to waltz next to the bar, where Wrestlemania was furiously making cocktails, oblivious and familiar.

The sky was darkening. The drinks kept coming, ashtrays were emptied and set back down, the orange had been licked off the rooftops, the cream-coloured logs in the fire appeared not to diminish but imbued the scene with a most comforting scent. The lady in blue took a seat next to her friends and they laughed, clinking, becoming merrier and merrier. They were all quite attractive.

For a brief moment, once the seabirds stilled and the wind calmed, I felt as though I were back in London, in some docile pub on Columbia Road. I could have stayed there all night.

The lady in blue approached our table and engaged in a conversation with my aunt and mother. One could turn their head, look through the shop of Danish silhouettes and see beyond them the quiet navy of a seaside high street, but so distant. ‘My husband is American. He smokes cigars,’ she said, turning up her nose, waving her glass, miraculously not spilling a drop. ‘I married below me.’ I suggested that surely anyone who marries an American is marrying below them. She nodded. ‘Unless they’re Canadian,’ I added. ‘But I am the heir to Bang & Olufsen!’ she announced as though they were her dying words, and then, noticing someone was eyeing a vase in the shop, she ran away. Wrestlemania returned with another lone mojito, appearing from behind her in a cloud of smoke from the woodfire.