I get the first round in. Pints of Skull Attack for me and Jerry, diet coke for Dave. Not that he’s watching his weight, or anything. Nearly six foot, and I doubt if he’s much over ten stone. No middle-aged paunch on him. No, Dave just doesn’t do alcohol. Hates to lose control, even for an evening. Even for our annual get-together every November, for Trotsky’s birthday.
Me and Jerry get the niceties over with. How’s Janice, how old are the two boys now? Jesus, not kids for long, are they. See the rugby on Saturday, did you? Need to sharpen up the kicking out of hand, that’s for sure. You’re right there, and as for the lineout, don’t bloody talk.
Dave smiles all through this. Never was interested in sport, as I remember. Most of the others in the party branch pretended to some kind of interest, at least. Well, we reasoned, you could hardly aspire to lead the workers towards the revolution and stand completely aloof from their culture. But Dave was never part of all that.
I know we’ll get down to it sooner or later, so I decide to throw myself in at the deep end. Interesting article in the Guardian the other day about the miners’ strike, I say. Yeah, I saw that one, says Jerry. Not bad. At least there’s some willingness to question Thatcherism now, what with the credit crunch and all that. Perhaps we were right all along. Maybe the future will be ours after all. We both laugh a little.
What do you think, Dave?
He tightens his fingers round his glass before speaking.
The struggle is long and hard, he says, starting off quietly, as he always used to in branch meetings. It doesn’t proceed in a straight line. There are many who fall by the wayside when things seem not to go according to plan.
Jerry and I look at each other, shift a little in our seats.
But sometimes the tide turns, Dave says, his voice rising, and we can say with renewed certainty that the human heart tends towards the left, as a natural inclination. We are approaching such a juncture at the present time.
Dave is in full flow now. He starts jabbing his fingers on the table as he speaks. I take a long gulp of my beer. I wonder if I’ll still be in a job after the end of the financial year. What we’ll do if I’m made redundant, I haven’t got a clue. And I hope for Christ’s sake Jonathan, my son, will pull his bloody finger out before his GCSEs start.
Dave’s voice is rising to a crescendo. Without interrupting him, Jerry picks up our two pint glasses and goes for another round. Dave carries on regardless. I’m not listening to his words, but I can see us clearly, those winter mornings a quarter of a century ago, up at four o’clock to drive up to Markham or Celynen or wherever and stand on the picket line. How I’d hang on his every word as he talked in the car, about the history of the labour movement, the role of the trades councils in 1926, a hundred other topics on which he could hold forth at a moment’s notice with unmatched authority.
Jerry brings our pints back. We both take a long slug, look at each other and raise our eyebrows. Dave carries on talking.
Part of me would like to reach across, locate some switch and turn his voice off. Dave, I want to say, the world’s changed. We can’t go on fighting the old battles, pretending we could win if only this leader or that leader saw the light and adopted our programme. There aren’t any legions ready to march to that old tune.
But another bit of me knows I’ll never do that. I’ll nod, and pretend to listen, throw back some more beer, look at my watch and say, Jesus, is that the time already? Have to get going. See you again soon, guys, mustn’t leave it another year before we catch up.
Dave is still talking. His words spin in the air like motes of dust.
I wonder if he’ll ever stop.
Brian George lives in south Wales, UK. His fiction and poetry have appeared in a variety of print and online journals, including New Welsh Review, Poetry Wales, Prick of the Spindle, Every Day Fiction, Cadenza, Birmingham Arts Journal and Tears in the Fence. His first collection of short fiction, Walking the Labyrinth, was published by Stonebridge Books in 2005.
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