Two Beatings

Author: Damien Muldoon

A bad week for a guy who was just trying to get his life back in order.

LIBRARY: JUN 9 14:15hrs
He was just going in to browse. Phil May was always at a loose end on Thursdays. The A.A. meeting finished at one-thirty and there was still two and a half hours until his counselling session. Only now did he miss work. There was still three weeks left of his paid suspension before they would consider allowing him back. They had suspended him back in April when he was discovered drunk in one of the stockrooms. For months, his employers had wondered why Phil liked to do a couple of hour’s stock taking after he returned from lunch. If a particularly awkward customer hadn’t demanded a certain style of necktie one Wednesday afternoon the week after Easter, Phil May would have continued to sleep off his lunchtime beverages until his retirement. But a particularly awkward customer did demand the Paisley patterned silk necktie and Mr. Simpson Snr. was obliged to go to the stockroom and find it. Phil was actually dozing on top of a pile of reject overcoats with a noggin bottle of whiskey in his hand when Mr. Simpson discovered him. Simpson’s & Sons Gents Outfitters didn’t want it getting about that one of their longest serving employees had an alcohol problem. So the whole issue was dealt with very civilly in Mr. Simpson’s office. Phil was given a three-month suspension, with pay, provided he attended A.A. meetings and saw a counsellor twice a week. Phil did cut down on his drinking. He made it a rule not to have a drink before three o clock in the afternoon. Then he raised the bar to four. Lately, he was only drinking in the evenings.
More recently, he had come to enjoy reading and listening to books on tape. The talking books in particular, kept him company while he did odd jobs around his flat. Also, you could only follow the story if you stayed sober.
Behind the desk at the library today, was one middle-aged man, bald and slightly pompous looking. A young girl assisted him. She couldn’t have been any more than eighteen. The bald man was mumbling stuff to her. Phil took no real notice of them as he ran his eyes over the talking books section. Somewhere, in the periphery of his awareness, he imagined that the teenager was probably receiving training from the older man. That reminded Phil of when he was a teenager serving his apprenticeship in the men’s fashion industry and learning the trade from Mr. Smartt. Phil would have been about seventeen when he started his first job at Smartts. It was a tiny little boutique where middle-aged and elderly men of a certain girth came to be flattered by outsize suits, slacks and blazers. Mr. Smartt performed alterations as well as selling the garments. The old man had a trick of talking a customer into buying a jacket that was actually a size too small. The vain customer would be only too happy to believe that he could still fit into that size. However, a week or two later, the customer’s wife would return to the store with the jacket and ask Mr. Smartt to let it out, a service he charged half the price of the jacket to carry out. Phil wondered how that kind of shrewdness could be transferred to a non-profit making institution like the library.
After about twenty minutes, Phil picked out a detective story on tape and brought it to the desk. The young girl disentangled herself from her boss’s instructions and came to checkout Phil’s book. She gave Phil quick furtive glances as she examined the contents of the plastic case. The girl looked nervous. It wasn’t first day on the job nerves. Nor was it I want to impress my boss nerves. This girl was uneasy for some other reason and when she was handing Phil back his library card, she whispered, “Is he watching me?”
Phil looked over the girls shoulder and noticed that the librarian was indeed running his eyes over the teenager. “Yes”, said Phil, firmly.
“Do me a favour,” requested the girl. “Pretend to be my boyfriend!”
Phil made a sort of choking noise and then said, “What!”
“Just let on that you are my boyfriend.”
“But you’re about twenty years younger than me. I’m old enough to be your�”
“He knows my boyfriend is older than me. Lots older,” continued the girl flicking her head to indicate her boss.
“Look just step outside with me a minute and I’ll explain.” Phil walked to the library’s exit while the girl got her boss’s permission to take a five-minute break.
The sun had just broken through to warm up the afternoon as Phil and the girl stood outside the library’s main door. Before them, there were glints of silvery white as the ever-strengthening sunlight bounced off the chrome of the vehicles in the library’s car park. The girl, who had straight blonde hair and was slightly built, lit a cigarette. She blew out a sigh of relief with that first billow of blue smoke. Phil looked at her uneasily, wondering if he was being set up for something. Any minute now, T.V. cameras would emerge from the bushes and some annoying game show host would walk up to him holding a microphone. “Hey Mr. May, your employers have decided to get their revenge for your drunkenness by humiliating you, live, on national television. This girl is going to say you made a drunken pass at her while she was working and there’s shag all you can do to deny it�” “I appreciate this,” said the girl suddenly.
“Pardon,” answered Phil, coming out of his daydream about game shows.
“I just want to say thanks, for pretending to be my boyfriend�Phillip, is it?
“Yeah, Phil, how did you know my name?”
“Your library card”
“Oh right. And your name is?”
“Grace� I know, awful name. Blame my folks for that.”
Phil sniffed a little laugh and said, “So why are we pretending I’m your boyfriend, Grace?”
“Him, in there. Mr. O Dowd. Ever since I started working here last month, he’s been�you know�acting�kind of�”
“Dirty old man, is he?”
“Oh he doesn’t touch. But last Friday he actually asked me out, on a date!”
“Are you serious? I mean he must be fifty odd. What did he think you’d say?”
“He’s fifty eight,” informed Grace. “And I had to invent a boyfriend to deter him. Only it didn’t deter him. But maybe�now that he has seen the boyfriend in the flesh�”
Phil nodded and was now genuinely pleased to have been of assistance. It wasn’t often he got to play the knight in shining armour. He looked towards the porch of the library where Mr. O Dowd was now standing. The two men caught each others eye and the librarian strutted back inside again.
“Perhaps you should go back in,” advised Phil. “He was in the porch watching us just now.” Grace stubbed out her cigarette, then turned to Phil awkwardly and said, “I better make this convincing. Just let me peck you, on the cheek.”
“Peck away,” said Phil. Her damp lips had just scrapped against his stubble when a black car screeched into the car park. The driver’s door opened and a man jumped out. He was a big man, in his late forties with a craggy face and tightly shorn hair. Phil had barely enough time to register these details before the stranger confronted him and began slamming huge fists into Phil’s head. Half a dozen successive pounding punches to the head and face eventually grounded Phil. He received a kick in the belly and another harder one to the chest before he could make out what the angry and violent man was saying. “Stay the fuck away from my fucking child ya filthy old mongrel.” The man’s foot was drawn back to land another kick when a scream from Grace halted the foot in mid air.
“That’s not him! Stop it Dad!”
“Well who the hell is this then?” demanded the violent man.
“Who told you about O Dowd? It was Mam wasn’t it? I should never have opened my mouth.” Grace was physically shoving her father away as she spoke. Phil would have thought the image of the huge man being challenged by the tiny girl quite comical, if he hadn’t been in so much pain. Instead, he just lay on the library steps trying to decide whether his head or chest hurt more. A few patrons had wandered out of the library. One elderly woman kept asking Phil if he was all right. Somebody else said something about an ambulance. Grace approached him but was pulled away by her father and led towards the black car. The violent man just kept muttering, “shut up�just shut up and get home.”
Grace was manhandled into the back of the car before it sped away. After several minutes, Phil got to his feet. He thanked the people who were offering to call for an ambulance and said he’d rather go to the hospital himself and not bother the overworked paramedics. Helped by two people, Phil managed to walk out of the library car park before hailing a taxi to take him home.
When the area in front of the library was clear again, Mr. O Dowd emerged and gathered up the tapes Phil had dropped while being attacked. The librarian placed them carefully in their case and returned them back to the shelf.

All sorts of things went through Phil’s mind as he examined the bruises on his face later that evening. One eye was black, his lip was busted and there were a few scrapes running down the other side of his face. But it was his chest that really hurt. Phil wondered if he shouldn’t have gone to the hospital to have an x-ray. That mad man might have fractured his sternum. What had happened to the girl�Grace, when her father got her home? She was a nice enough girl. As much a victim of her mad Dad as Phil was. Maybe I should have called the police; thought Phil. Who needed that hassle though. A proper cure for his pain and shock sat, half-full, in his sideboard. It was seven o clock now. Phil told himself he could wait an hour until he took that medicine. But at half past seven, his phone rang. Answering it, Phil was mildly pleased to discover it was his boss, Mr. Simpson. Phil was being invited to a “chat” next Tuesday to see how he was coming along. They might even consider letting him back to work. The call cheered Phil up. He worried a little about what Mr. Simpson might think when he saw the black eye. Tuesday was four whole days away. Maybe by then, the eye wouldn’t look so bad. One thing Phil was determined to do though. Was not have a drink before then. Taking two aspirins for the pain, Phil went tea total for the weekend and never touched the half full bottle in the sideboard.
SUPERMARKET: JUN 17 16:30 Hrs.
Today, Phil was in the supermarket buying ingredients for a Spaghetti Bolognese. It was Saturday and Mr. Simpson had let him finish work at four o clock. That’s right! Phil had been invited to return to work at that meeting with Mr. Simpson last Tuesday. At nine on Wednesday morning, Phil had started back officially. Simpson still insisted that he see the councillor one evening a week and his working hours were arranged so that he could still attend the occasional AA meeting. By now, it was over a week since he’d had a drink. What was even more promising – was that he hadn’t wanted a drink. Not since the attack on him at the library last week anyway. Simpson had asked him about the marks on his face. Phil told him the truth. Simpson asked why Phil hadn’t informed the Police. “Violent men like that need to be put in their place” Simpson had lectured. ” He probably beat the daylights out of the girl when he got her home too.” Phil was going to say that wasn’t his problem, but just nodded in agreement with his boss instead. Being back at work was a good feeling. Those last three or four days had gone well. Phil was tired by Saturday afternoon. Simpson noticed this and told him to go home and enjoy the weekend.
The cheap wine the supermarket sold was tempting Phil. He told himself it would just be a glass with his meal. Another voice, probably Mr. Simpson’s, told him, “don’t dare!” So he just grabbed a bottle of Cola and stuck it in his basket. Ahead of Phil at the checkout, there were about four other people. Luckily, none of them had trolley loads of groceries. The first person moved on and now a woman of indistinguishable age was approaching the Asian looking young man on the till. Phil rummaged through his basket paying no real attention to the scene that was developing up ahead. His attention was distracted by the sudden lack of movement in the queue ahead of him. Looking towards the till, Phil could see that there was some kind of altercation taking place between the woman of indistinguishable age and the Asian looking guy on the till. Except, well, there wasn’t really an altercation and the woman’s age was no longer all that much of a mystery. She was in her late twenties or possibly early thirties. Even from where Phil was standing, he could see a slight blush on her face. She was examining the contents of her purse earnestly. At first, Phil thought she had checked out more goods that she could pay for. Yet there was something about the awkwardness of the other customers in the queue, which suggested, that wasn’t the problem. Eventually, the woman just shrugged her shoulders and said, in a small voice, “No�I don’t have any.” Then the Asian looking guy removed a bottle of wine from her basket, placed it on the counter and simply shook his head. The woman laughed with a mixture of embarrassment and irony and said, in a more confident voice, “I don’t mind. I’m thirty-one and I haven’t been asked for I.D. for years. I suppose I should be flattered.” The redness on her cheeks belied her blas� sentiments though. Phil admired her show of bravado. In a similar situation, he would have probably just bolted out of the shop. Getting a proper look at her now, Phil also admired her features. She was obviously over eighteen. There was no saying what the guy on the till had been thinking of. Phil would have put her between twenty-seven and thirty but was not surprised to discover that she was only seven years younger than himself. Suddenly, an idea occurred to him. As he was approaching the till to pay for his goods, Phil picked up the bottle of wine and put it in his basket. The Asian guy checked it through without giving Phil a second glance.
By now, the woman was sorting out her other groceries on the counter that ran along the back wall of the supermarket. Phil placed the bottle of wine in the middle of her other stuff and said, “Compliments of a sympathetic fellow customer.” The woman spun around and gave Phil a look of bemusement, which after a second or two, melted into a smile. “I’ve never seen anything as ridiculous as that in my life”, continued Phil.
“Yes I know,” said the woman. “I mean, I really am thirty-one”
“Well I’d have said twenty-one”, flattered Phil, teasingly.
The woman dropped her eyes, said “Stop!” good-humouredly, and then took out her purse. “How much was it?” she asked.
“It’s on me,” Phil answered.
“No really, come on now.”
“Okay look. Agree to share it with me over a meal and we’ll call it quits.” The woman gave him and entirely different look now. Phil really thought he had clicked. Then her eyes darted to the side and a look of alarm came into them.
This time, Phil never saw the first punch that struck him. Only the counter stopped him from flying into the supermarket’s back wall. When he did compose himself, Phil saw a youngish, slightly built man standing over him. His assailant was younger than Phil. If he could just stand up straight, Phil felt he could take this bloke. The wine woman was pulling out of him saying, “Give over Tom. He wasn’t doing any harm.”
“Getting fresh with my bleeding bird. I call that doing plenty of harm.” Then he kicked Phil hard in the balls. While Phil was on the ground getting his breath back, Tom attempted another kick. However, Phil caught his foot and upended the indignant boyfriend. Now Phil was staggering to his feet, and, for the first time in his second fight in eight days, felt he had the advantage. Just as Phil was about to pounce, a gigantic security guard checked his motion. The security guard bear-hugged Phil to the floor. He was held there just long enough for Tom and his girlfriend to make their exit. When the security guard did release him, Phil just dashed from the supermarket and kept dashing till he was home. Now, he dived at the sideboard, got that half-empty bottle and tipped it down his throat. Mr. Simpson, the AA and his councillor could go and jump off a very steep cliff, as far as Phil was concerned.
At about the same time that Phil May was swallowing half a litre of whiskey, the young Asian Supermarket worker was ordered by his boss to clean up the mess of wine, spaghetti and Bolognese Sauce that had splattered across the polished floor during the fight.