Chapter 6 : A Duck in the Pint
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by shudder @ tda
‘So let me get this straight,’ knitting boy said. ‘Between the two of you, you can,’ he began to list off on his fingers, around which a string of wool was twined. ‘Play an instrument, write, take photos, draw, paint, do moderate DIY work, and design things?’
Scorpius looked quite chuffed about this assessment. ‘Well…yes.’
‘Let me get this straight,’ surly Kevin said, in a most surly manner. ‘What do you two even do for a living?’
‘I’m a photographer and she’s a writer,’ Scorpius said, quickly, ignoring the two ‘pseudo’ prefixes that should have been tacked onto both job titles.
‘And let me get the straight – photographer of what? Writer of what?’ Jean C cut in.
‘Well, I work for Wizarding History magazine and she works for Witch Weekly-’
‘Let me get this straight-’
‘For the love of Merlin’s saggy left earlobe,’ an irate villager near the back of the church started up. ‘Stop saying let me get this straight!’
‘Well,’ knitting boy said. ‘This is perfect, then, isn’t it?’
‘A bit too perfect,’ surly Kevin narrowed his eyes. ‘Too a bit too perfect.’
‘Yeah, it is kind of far-fetched,’ Jean C let out a giggle. ‘But we all know the town motto-’
‘Anything is possible in New New Elgin,’ the room chorused as one.
‘…right,’ I said.
‘So you can help us out!’
‘We’d be delighted to,’ Scorpius babbled, his arms already dangerously close to the flailing stage again. ‘We’d be so stupendously happy to!’
‘Yeah, we’ll help,’ I joined in the flailing and babbling fiesta. ‘We’ll do whatever-’
‘If you’ll let us go!’
And so it was that, within seventy-two hours of moving to New New Elgin, we had somehow joined a band.
It seemed I’d been a little hasty in agreeing to write a book. For starters, I had no idea where to begin.
Monday morning. I should have felt fantastic; I’d had lots of sleep, I’d survived my first proper meeting with the weirdo population of New New Elgin, I had a cup of tea and some toast, and I was quite cosy in the flat. Instead, I had my head on the desk and my fingertips trailing lazily across the keys of the typewriter, the blank parchment loaded in it getting blanker and blanker by the minute.
The parchment, I felt, adequately resembled my thoughts.
Of course, I’d asked Scorpius for a bit of help before he set off with a few cameras in tow for some event in the Midland and, of course, he’d been a tiny bit useless, our conversation at the breakfast table being a case in point.
‘You’re a poet-’
‘Was a poet.’
‘Okay, you were a poet-’
‘You were a pseudo-poet-’
‘Only for a year.’
‘You were a pseudo-poet for a year.’
He looked at me over the top of his glasses. ‘Yeah, and?’
‘Well. How do you start?’
‘Writing, you gooseberry.’
‘Begin with a bang,’ he said. ‘Say something bold and glittery. Your first sentence should be a fishhook that embeds itself in the metaphorical mouth of your reader.’
‘Is that some sort of writing thing?’
‘No, it’s something Lettuce told me when he was drunk.’
‘Right, so, bold and glittery,’ I said.
‘You’ll be fine. Only advice I have is write what you know, but that’s a hackneyed expression and a half and, you know, subvert the norm now and again.’
He’d left ten minutes later in a blur of maroon cardigan and telephoto lens, and I’d settled down in front of the typewriter with my tea and my toast and resolved to have a crack at a chapter or two.
I’d somehow forgotten that I’d never actually written a book before. I’d written little things over the years, whether they were little pieces for the Daily Prophet or epic feats of imagination and fantasy for Divination homework, but I generally lost interest after a couple of sides of parchment. Which I really couldn’t afford to do with this.
I sat up, took a swig of tea, and then typed, resolving to write what I knew.
So I’d just given London the two-finger salute.
Too informal. Sounded like the start of a joke. I wound the parchment on a little bit more, thought again, and then, for the second time, typed.
Leaving London was the best idea I’d had in a while.
No, that wouldn’t do either.
It was the day I moved to Scotland.
Somehow I felt that had been done. And did I really need to narrate this in the first person? It wasn’t like I was meant to be writing my life story. I wound the parchment on again.
There was four hundred and forty miles between her and London, and all she had was a single suitcase.
It sounded like the start of an epic weepy, but I decided to plough on regardless.
She hadn’t been able to resist giving the city the two-fingered salute before she left, but, with the benefit of distance, she realised she had, in fact, developed a certain fondness for the place, and the homesickness was already setting in as she set foot in the small, grey town.
Better. But where did I go from there? Who was she and what was she doing? A thought occurred to me, and I chuckled as I typed out the next paragraph.
Her name was Daisy Beasley, and she was a hopeless nerd with the figure of a teenaged boy, legs that went on for inches, and hips that barely held up a pair of jeans. Behind her walked her spindly boyfriend, Sebastian Malouel, who could barely be seen behind his trendy glasses and overgrown fringe.
I was rambling. The whole thing was futile. I hit a lever on the typewriter and tore the parchment out, crumpling it into a little ball and tossing it over my shoulder. It soared towards the sink and splashed into the washing up bowl, throwing up specks of scummy water on the tiles.
I wound a new page, rubbed my palms into my eyes, took another hearty swig of tea, and started to type again.
She had to leave. Had to go four hundred and forty miles alone, with her life packed into a small suitcase and her life’s savings in her pocket. She had to run, and she decided to run as far as she could.
Maybe not the best start, but it’d do.
I was about to carry on writing when I realised that, actually, I didn’t really know what I was writing. Euphemia Flitter hadn’t exactly been very clear about what she’d wanted, she’d just made it known that she wanted something, been a bit intimidating, then left.
My next act, then, was to send her a letter that went something along the lines of Dear Miss Flitter, I started writing but I don’t know what I’m writing so could you tell me what I’m writing please? Love and hugs and haggis from Lucy. Only the real letter had a much more formal and apologetic tone and there was no love and hugs and haggis, only a yours sincerely and the scribble that passed for my signature.
And, of course, the moment I set off for the Post Office, it started to rain.
Even the rain in New New Elgin was weird. See, in London, I’d become very accustomed to ignoring rain (there’s never much you can do about it when you’re stuck in a busy street and you don’t have an umbrella). But in New New Elgin, it was hard to ignore. It was like being stuck inside a cloud that punched you in the face now and again.
My anorak went to an early grave that day.
I finally arrived at the Post Office after ten minutes of battling through the elements, soaking wet and occasionally sneezing. To the raised eyebrows of the postmaster, I withdrew the letter from where I had tucked it inside my jumper and handed it to him. The edges were slightly soggy.
‘To London,’ I sniffed. ‘First class.’
‘The owls won’t fly until this rain is off,’ he warned, holding the letter at arm’s length. ‘There may be some delay.’
‘Cool,’ I said, tempted to add, but I thought you were above the law? I was too busy shivering inside my sodden jacket to think much about postage times, however. Like the anorak, the hair hadn’t survived the walk. I shook my fringe out of my eyes, scattering droplets of rainwater across the counter. Just as I was picking at the cuff of my jacket and trying to figure out how much it would cost to send the letter, the bell over the door jingled and knitting boy entered, sporting an industrial strength anorak.
‘Oh dear,’ he said, catching sight of my drowned rat impersonation. I gave him a polite nod, the memory of being accused of spying still smarting just a teensy weensy bit.
‘You’re going to need to invest in a better anorak,’ he said, nodding to me and the puddle of rainwater I was standing in.
‘I’m Prentice, by the way,’ he offered me his hand. ‘I don’t think we’ve met…properly.’
Considering we’d met twice, once in a ruined church and once in a pub with a fake wall, then, no, I didn’t think we’d met properly either.
‘I’m Lucy,’ I shook his hand. ‘Er…’
‘It’s alright,’ he released my hand, breaking off what had probably been a remarkably wet handshake. ‘We get the rain up here a lot, you know.’
‘Yeah, so we’ve been told. And I had to swim through it to get here.’
‘Well,’ he said vaguely. ‘I suppose you’ll be wanting to know when the first rehearsal is…’
‘For the talent show,’ he said. ‘I mean, if you’re still going to help us…’
The second part of his statement sounded slightly threatening. I nodded.
‘First of December,’ he turned away to the desk. ‘Seven o’clock in the town hall. Any post for me?’
I stood back and waited while the Post Officer handed over a large parcel.
‘Splendid,’ Prentice said. ‘New wool.’
‘Sorry but – where’s the town hall?’ I asked, envisioning the whole town trying to squeeze into that ruined church on the beach again.
‘Just at the end of the High Street,’ he said. ‘By the war memorial.’
‘Thanks,’ I made to leave. ‘Hope the rain’s off.’
‘Oh, it won’t be off for a while,’ he said. ‘It’s November.’
True to his word, the rain didn’t stop for another five hours, although it definitely got a bit lighter than the celestial fisticuffs I’d had to battle through earlier. Scorpius turned up about the time the rain ended too, sporting a pair of grossly oversized sunglasses.
‘Hello!’ he sounded very cheerful indeed. ‘Beautiful day, isn’t it?’
‘Have you been outside?’
‘Yeah,’ he grinned. ‘Well, in the Midlands anyway, I got tons of good photos and-’
‘It’s been raining all day.’
‘Oh. D’you fancy going to the pub?’
‘Um…sure. But I’m going to need a new anorak.’
We made a slight diversion on our way to the pub; I wanted to check out where the town hall actually was, and so blundered on through the gloom until I saw something vaguely pointy and memorial-shaped sticking out of the darkness. This, I presumed, was the war memorial, and that the dark bulk behind it with the stained-glass windows was the town hall. We drew up at the foot of it, both shivering slightly.
‘Funny,’ Scorpius said. ‘It’s only for the second war.’
I squinted down at a plaque that had been nailed to the floor. There seemed to be an awful lot of names on it.
‘Usually they’re for both wars,’ Scorpius added, sounding a little sombre. ‘There was one near where I grew up, except you had to touch it to see the names…’
We both stood in silence for a moment until Scorpius vocalised exactly what I’d been slightly too afraid to say.
‘That’s a lot of names for one town.’
Another tense, shivering silence passed. I hooked my arm around his.
‘Yeah,’ I said, already turning away. ‘I’m freezing.’
Our diversion up to the war memorial meant that it took us a further twenty minutes to get to the pub. Fortunately, the windows of The Drookit Duck spilled warm light out onto the pavements; it looked delightfully cosy indoors, and there was no sign of a fake wall or, for that matter, any sort of espionage-related shenanigans.
It actually all looked a bit too good to be true.
Scorpius went up to the bar to get two pints while I tried to find an empty table. No sooner had I made a beeline for a free table crammed into the corner, though, than someone called my name from the other side of the room. I looked over to see that Jean C, knitting Prentice and another woman I didn’t recognise were waving me over to their table. Given that I was still a little bit scared of them, I didn’t want to refuse and so sat myself down on one of their free chairs, keeping an eye on Scorpius at the bar.
‘How are you getting on?’ Jean C asked, in the peculiar hybrid of chirp and shriek that was her voice. ‘Settling in alright?’
It was a bit rich of her to ask this, but I nodded.
‘Weather’s a bit naff, though.’
‘Must be hard, though, moving from a city,’ she said.
‘I’ve never been to one,’ she looked a little wistful. ‘Furthest away I’ve been is Peterhead.’
‘I went to Glasgow once,’ knitting Prentice said. ‘It was…big. But I imagine London’s huge.’
‘Yeah,’ I nodded. ‘Massive. Expensive.’
‘You picked a very quiet corner of Scotland to move to,’ Jean C smiled. ‘Not much happens round here.’
This statement was so at odds with what I’d seen so far that I nearly burst out laughing. But, then again, I hadn’t visited much of the rest of Scotland. For all I knew, blackmailing the English for the sake of a talent show was pretty normal round these parts.
Scorpius turned up with the pints at this point. Surly Kevin the barman was obviously of the generous kind, because each glass was precariously full; Scorpius had to do a sort of crab impersonation to get them safely onto the table without beer slopping everywhere. When he managed this without a single drop spilled and managed to sit down without knocking anything over, I felt like applauding him. Evidently I’d trained him well.
They weren’t just ordinary pints, however. Before one rushes to assumptions about what a pint from New New Elgin might look like, I should point out that the pints themselves were alright and it probably was just regular old beer. What was special about them was the garnish, which was a tiny model duck on a cocktail stick.
‘When you come for a pint in the duck, you get a duck in your pint,’ knitting Prentice said, sagely, as I contemplated the duck. If it was a real duck, it probably would have been in a lot of pain; whoever had made it had stuck the cocktail stick right in its backside.
‘Cool,’ Scorpius extracted the duck from his glass and propped it up against the salt shaker.
‘Yeah,’ I placed my duck next to Scorpius’. ‘Neat.’
‘And you get to keep them,’ knitting Prentice said.
‘I have a whole jar full of them at home,’ Jean C said. ‘They just look so…cheerful!’
I instantly resolved to acquire more ducks so that I could package them up and send them on to Tarquin and Gwen.
‘Have you met Jean, by the way?’ Jean C suddenly asked.
The third occupant of the table spoke up for the first time. ‘Hello,’ she said. ‘Nice to meet you.’
‘This is Jean Paisley, but we all call her Jeanie-’
‘It’s a popular name around these parts,’ Jean P/Jeanie explained, sounding a little weary.
‘She’s Jock’s fiancée,’ Jean C added. ‘He’s at training the noo.’
My mind, which was still firmly tuned into London, heard this as he’s out training the noo and before I could stop myself, I’d asked exactly what a noo was and how one went about training it.
I only realised my mistake when the three New New Elginers at the table burst out laughing.
‘No,’ Jean C smiled. ‘No – it’s like-’
‘Now,’ Scorpius cut in. ‘What they meant was-’
‘He’s at training at this present moment,’ knitting Prentice said, in a passable imitation of a cut-glass English accent. I felt my face going an interesting shade of red and sank back in my chair, sipping at my pint.
‘What sort of training, by the way?’ Scorpius asked.
‘He’s out training the bairns,’ Jean P/Jeanie said. ‘The Elgin Egrets – it’s the Quidditch team for the wee ones.’
‘And he plays keeper for the Elgin Eagles,’ Jean C added, sounding quite proud. ‘Beat the Inverness Ibises four tournaments running.’
Ah, so it was Elgin Egrets after all, and not Elgin Regrets as I’d suspected – well, that made me feel a lot more comfortable about the move to New New Elgin.
‘You’re not really fans of Inverness, are you?’ I said.
‘Not in the slightest,’ knitting Prentice said. ‘They’re our oldest rivals.’
‘We’d do anything to beat them,’ Jean C said, looking remarkably serious for someone so cheerful. ‘Youse still want to help out, right?’
‘Yeah, sure,’ I said, aware of how very uncertain I’d sounded.
But after that brief flicker of uncertainty, the conversation ran pretty smoothly after that and, for a while, I forgot how weird the place was – it simply felt like five people having a pint together, it felt like the first time we were welcome.
When we left, though…well, I suppose the only way I can describe it is the feeling of being acutely anxious, yet acutely curious at the same time. This was a town so paranoid about losing a talent show that it spied on newcomers, a town verging on the ridiculous – yet, at the same time, a town with a war memorial with a very long list of names indeed. Something had happened in New New Elgin in the past, and I got the feeling that it wasn’t going to come under the ‘ridiculous’ category.
It left me wondering one thing: what sort of place was New New Elgin?
And how could I exploit it for fiction? A girl’s got to eat.
a/n: so. much. exposition. and. filler.
This...this is a little bit more serious than I'd anticipated but, hey ho, of the twenty or so chapter outlines I've scribbled down in my big yellow notebook of organised doom, at least eighty percent are set to contain bona fide artsy crack in some shape or form. If I truly stick to my plan, one can expect to expect one-armed DIY antics, sequins, Scorpius and the Comic Book Saga, an abundance of tartan, Mr Andrew Socks (and, no, I'm not telling you who he is, you'll have to speculate), a Burns supper and troo lurve. I hope some of that tickles your fancy ;D
thank you for reading! ♥
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