The house shakes as I slam the front door. God, she makes me so mad. How was I supposed to know we had no milk? Is that my job? And why must I put the damn loo seat down every time? I’m only going to need it back up next time. Haven’t I got enough to be dealing with? And I’ll fix the kitchen sink tap when I’m good and ready.

I stomp purposefully down the street towards the corner shop and search my pockets for the correct money to buy the Observer newspaper. I ignore Hilda, the over-polite shopkeeper, who asks me how I am, toss the change on the counter, fold the paper, and clasp it in my armpit and leave. And no, I didn’t buy any milk. I’m off to the pub. At least there, I will get some peace.

It’s smoky as usual, but I don’t care today… smoke away. The White Hart is full of the usual Sunday lunchtime drinkers… men. It’s buzzing with different conversations, I overhear snippets of these as I order and wait for my pint of bitter…

“So, I told her, stop spending or I’ll take a pair of scissors to the plastic…”

“Geoff was arrested again last night, I don’t know what we are gonna do about him…”

“Come off it! There’s no way that was a penalty Steve! The referee’s a wan…”

I search around, and find an empty table in the corner to read my paper and calm down. I don’t want conversation. I’m not in the mood. I pull my mobile from my coat pocket and switch if off. She can apologise later.

I’m halfway through my pint when he approaches the table.

“Ith anyone thitting here?”

I look up. It’s an anorak. He’s pointing at the empty seat opposite me. I close my eyes for a few seconds. “Feel free..” I nod at the empty seat.

The anorak places his glass, which looks like orange juice, but maybe there is a vodka or a spirit of some kind in it… I doubt it though. I watch him as he removes his anorak and meaningfully folds it into a neat square before placing it on his lap. He sniffs. I turn to page four.

It’s quiet for a few minutes.

‘Ith that the Obtherver?’

‘Pardon?’ I frown at him.

‘The paper. Ith it the Obtherver?’

I frown, again. ‘Yes.’

“Good paper. Tabloidth are thimply dire, aren’t they? Full of topleth women and gothip.”

I study this man for a few moments. I put him at thirty-odd years of age. The severe middle-parting in his jet-black greasy hair, does him no favours. The thick-rimmed glasses he peers over, are not flattering. He has chronic acne. He’s cut himself shaving, several times I see. The checked collar of his shirt appears neatly at the neck of a home-knitted jumper. I think he may start to talk about trains shortly. I turn to page six.

“I’m waiting for my wife. Thuthanne. The’th in Waitrothe. Thopping.”

“I’m sorry?” And I was.

“Thuthanne. Waitrothe. The thupermarket?”

“Oh, Suzanne. Waitrose supermarket. Yes, I see. Good. Nice.” Shut up, please.

“My name is Rodney.”

I should have known. I sigh; I’m not going to be able to ignore Rodney.

“I’m Gary. Pleased to meet you, Rodney. I’m reading the paper, so if you don’t mind…”

“Oh, yeth, yeth, you get on and read your paper. Thorry.”

I smile. “It’s okay.” I continue reading page six.

Rodney does not utter another word until I return with my second pint.

“Thorry, I couldn’t help but notithe you reading about the trouble in Iraq. Terrible, ithn’t it? I blame Blair and Buth, mythelf.”

“Yes, awful state of affairs.”

“All thith fighting and thtuff. Life ith far too thort.”

“Indeed it is, Rodney.” I turn the page.

The headline glares up at me: Sinister Suicide Bid of Sisters Shocks Shrewsbury. I quickly turn the page again.

Rodney sniffs. A lot.

“Nice of you to thpeak to me, Gary. I don’t feel comfortable in platheth like thith. But I hate thopping even more.” He laughs as he takes a sip of his drink.

“Don’t mention it, Rodders.”

“Pardon?” He raises his thick eyebrows.

“Nothing.” I can’t help but smile at him. “How long have you been married, Rodney?” Intrigue has now set in.

“Oh, Thuthanne and I are in our thixth year. You?” He looks at the gold band on my wedding finger.

“Four. Four years.”

“I like being married. I like having thomeone to care for. And of courthe, thomeone to care for me.” He pats his anorak.

I like Rodney.

“Oh talk of the devil…” Rodney is excited as he stands to greet the tiny woman heading for our table. “Thopping done, thweetheart?” He bends down and plants a peck of a kiss on her cheek.

“Yes, Wodney. Is that alcohol?” She glares at the glass.

“No. No, orange juice, thweetie.”

“Good. Wight, well, we weally must be making twacks now. So dwink up.”

Suddenly, I want them to stay a while longer. Rodney carefully pulls on his anorak, takes another sip of his juice and relieves Suzanne of two of the shopping bags.

“Bye, Gary. Pleathure to meet you. Enjoy the retht of your paper. Mutht dath.”

Suzanne smiles at me and off they go. I sit for a few moments staring at the door which Rodney and his wife have just closed behind them.

I grab my mobile, and switch it on. I punch in the number and wait…

“Yes, I’m in the pub, but I’m just about to leave. I’ll grab some milk on my way and stop off at Focus and get the washer for the tap. Okay? Oh, and I love you.”

Raine writes in Leicestershire, UK.

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  • A bit tricky to comment on, this one. The PC part of me was saying no, no, no, yet I was also recalling films like ‘Life of Brian’ and ‘A Fish Called Wanda’, where stutterers were and integral part of the plot – especially the latter film.

    The bottom line for me is that the MC changes for the better through meeting Rodney and Suzanne, so there’s a complete story arc.

    Some of the British-isms in this piece may have those from the other side of the pond a bit flummoxed, too.

    All in all, though I felt the stuttering was a bit overdone, I enjoyed the simple message behind this story.

  • Meredith Eugene Hunt

    For me the speech defects were integral to the story and the characters. (There was no stuttering.)

    ‘”Yes, Wodney. Is that alcohol?”’ This moment was a turning point and I laughed and cried at “Wodney.” My wife and son in the kitchen where I was reading thought I had lost my mind. Five stars.

  • Meredith Eugene Hunt

    “Sinister Suicide Bid of Sisters Shocks Shrewsbury.”

    I just got it. Brilliant story.

  • Yeah, sorry #2, I must have got too engrossed with my memories of A Fish Called Wanda.

  • Roberta SchulbergGoro

    A story reminiscent of the old novel SEVENTEENTH SUMMER. There’s quite a bit I don’t understand in this story (the parka was easy) but it is smoothly, and expertly written. I wish I understood it better.

  • Michael Robertson

    I loved this. Read it. Smiled. Felt a warm glow afterwards. Great story.

  • Very funny, loved every line. Wodney and Thuthanne…I will never forget them and their torrid love.

  • I’m really not sure there is sufficient payoff to justify the heavy reliance on stereotyped characters who seem to be there just for us to snigger at. Ok, they’re the happy ones, it turns out, but amazingly people a little outside the curve often are so we shouldn’t be surprised. I was also thrown by the smoky pub & the mobile phone although I suppose they must have overlapped before smoking was banned in public places. All in all, I’m feeling a little gripey about this.

  • Zeborah

    (Reading the comments to try and figure the story out.)

    Oh! Were we supposed to be laughing at the couple he met? I thought I must have just missed some Wise Words that inspired him to stop being a selfish jerk and pick up the damned milk; but apparently it was merely their existence (or rather, their tremendous courage in not being silent in public for the rest of their lives).

    Wow. I mean, imagine if he ever met someone with real problems: he could found a food bank or something.

  • Meredith Eugene Hunt

    I wasn’t laughing or sniggering at the characters, who in my view weren’t stereotyped. They were given depth and treated with great respect.

  • Well, Meredith, I can only say that while I have met a great number of people with speech and language difficulties, I have never once met a couple that fit each other so exactly with complementary articulation problems (and names that make these unavoidable) and even the behavioural stereotype of centre-parted geeky anorak. The point, however, is whether their role is justified and I think not. Others clearly disagree, and that’s art.

  • Meredith Eugene Hunt

    A stereotypical improbable anomaly, though I’m unaware of the hair part/anorak pattern. Maybe it’s only in the UK. I know a few odd couples, and love them dearly.

  • I read this the other day and wanted to get back here to comment. Delightful story. I was completely entertained. The opening drew me in immediately. Agree with Paul Freeman about the simple message. Quite refreshing.