This is a serialisation of the novel ‘Marcello: Love in the City’. After a string of flailed dates, Marcello (City worker and obscure dating blogger) meets his suave, older brother Dan for drinks.
I bought two pints of Peroni and we took up a table in the corner. The Greyhound used to be a notoriously rough boozer, full of off-duty drug dealers and track-suited roughnecks – it was now a dimly lit gastropub and home to Sydenham’s determined professionals. I looked at the array of delicately dressed women and rugby-shirted men. It was the place I always visited when in the area.
“Why do we always come here?” Dan said.
“I like it. Look, just relax. I wanted to have a catch up, that’s the main thing. Focus on that.”
He smiled. “I am relaxed. So, tell me, what’s going on in the world of HR? Sacked anyone recently?”
“No. Why do you ask that? It’s fine, just the usual. I am in and out of love with it all.”
“Still, in love with the money though.”
I took a long sip of my pint. “Yeah, and I suppose that’s one of the problems. How’s things with you?”
“Work wise? Good, mate. I’ve got loads on. But, you know, it’s only work at the end of the day.”
A typically bland answer. But then work was never something we could discuss in any meaningful sense. Dan had bought a flat at twenty-five. That told me everything I needed to know about his approach to work. Despite my intrusion into the white-collar world, and affected bourgeois ways, he was more successful than me in the material sense – in every sense.
He leaned in. “Mate, there are some fit women here, I’ll give you that. Look.”
Two women sat down at the table next to us – both dark-haired beauties. As they unravelled their coats and scarfs one placed a battered copy of ‘The Picture of Dorian Grey’ on the table.
Dan lifted his pint. “Alright, girls?”
They politely acknowledged him.
“Come on,” I said. “Can’t you give it a rest, just for one night?”
He shrugged and pulled an expression of mock innocence.
“Don’t you want to talk to some nice girls?”
Dan presented every situation as a ‘win win’. That was his skill. His smile made you feel complicit – made you feel a part of his success. The gene pool had favoured him over me: his jaw was more chiseled, his eyes more intense. My particular gift was a supposed way with words – an alleged skill that only brought me chaos. Unsurprisingly, I had always yearned for a little of my brother’s easy bravery and quixotic patter. It was a long held feeling that hadn’t diminished over the years; some form of primeval mechanism, perhaps. He was the Tribal Elder leading the hunt. I was the guy who minded the spears (not even the guy who sharpened them).
We chatted awhile about our week before my phone vibrated on the table. It was Jess.
“I’m so sorry,” I said. “I’ve got to get this.”
The ensuing call lasted around ten minutes. I decided to take it outside and, having forgotten my coat, stamped my feet against the chill while Jess told me – in great detail – about Rita’s dissatisfaction with my report. After promising to ‘take care of it’ I headed back in.
At the bar I signalled to Dan with the drinking-hand motion. He gave me the thumbs-up and I ordered two more Peronis. “This time,” I said, “can we have normal shaped glasses?”
Anything in the least unusual was a source of irritation for Dan – long pint glasses in particular were a lightning rod for his rage. When I next looked over he was in conversation with the women on the next table.
“Here you go, mate.” I slammed the pint down with unintended force. “Ladies.”
The woman closest to me smiled. “So, you’re the brother,” she said.
“I am the brother, yes.”
Dan urged me to sit with his eyes. He said, “I was just telling them about the volunteering you did that time. Marisa here works for Oxfam.”
The volunteering to which Dan referred was last year’s company team building day. On a gloomy September morn, thirty of us were mandated to hack away at some unwanted foliage in a Lewisham cemetery. It was a dreadful experience. The day commenced with a photoshoot. The senior managers were snapped, smiling, rakes in hand. After a group shot they departed, leaving us peons to toil in the undergrowth for a further seven hours.
“That’s right,” I said. “It’s good to give something back.” I looked at each of them in turn. “That’s what I say…giving back is a good thing to do.”
Dan used a discreet wave to still me. The woman closest to him said, “But you work with your hands all of the time, Dan. That must be so rewarding.”
He gave us a generous smile. “I have to admit,” he said. “It really is. I couldn’t imagine being cooped up in an office all day.”
“I hear you,” said Oxfam Lady.
“Honestly, there’s nothing I love more than being out in the fresh air, building homes for people. In my own way, I feel as though I’m helping.”
They both nodded. Oxfam Lady said, “Absolutely. There’s something noble about your work.” She turned to her friend. “I’ve always said that, haven’t I?”
Her friend agreed. Dan winked at me. They must have noticed. However – when I think about it – I don’t suppose it made any difference. My brother’s audacity was always perceived as charming. It was kind of annoying but I got it. If I were him, I would be exactly the same.
Next time: Marcello asks out a work colleague.
You can read more of Marcello’s book on WATC here.
You can purchase his book here.