I hate golf, usually.
I’m here with my dad. He’s the golfer. Despite his very best efforts, I don’t play. Dad insists that I was a child protégé, that given the time and, if I weren’t such an idle twit, he’d have had me on the pro-circuit by 16. Hell to that, I say. Mum said I didn’t have to go, so I didn’t have to go. That tends to be how custody works.
So anyway, I’m here with my dad and a few of his mates. Chums, he calls them, and I cringe every time. Dads have that special ability to find the worst possible words for things; he calls hot girls “babes,” kissing “snogging,” and my boxer-shorts “knickers”—though the last one feels intentional.
I haven’t been keeping score, nor it would seem has anyone else. We don’t care—the 16 cans of Fosters haven’t remained particularly cold, but they go down well enough between the 5 of us. To his credit, the old man’s on his best form out here, with all his chums. After a few beers, that is. Whatever anyone—even my mum—thinks about my old man, nobody could say he isn’t an entertaining guy in this type of setting. He’s full of epic yarns from his youth about fights with the biggest guy in the pub or finishing the top-shelf challenge and asking to do it again or picking up those babes in Vegas who turned out to be hookers! This last one elicits a blush from me, and I curse inwardly for giving him the reaction he wanted. Diverting, I ask if we can get food at the clubhouse when we finish. The men laugh heartily.
We sit on a roof-terrace style bar after the game. My dad orders us 2 pints each. I wonder if we’re getting a taxi home. At some point he throws a big, hairy arm around me, and I surprise myself by not immediately escaping it. Dad’s friend Alan says we should head back to the White Hart. The men all agree. We finish our drinks and stagger down steep stone steps. Dad’s still holding his pint—a fresh pint? Must have been to the bar on the way out. He takes a big gulp, and we get into the car. The beer goes in the cupholder between us: a perfect fit.
He drives us back to the pub with the stereo blasting Sex Pistols and the windows down. There’s this bit where the sun’s just resting on the edge of the horizon, we’re driving right into it, music so loud, and he’s telling me that he was there back in ‘76 at the first-ever Sex Pistols show. When something’s a lie, but you know it’s a lie that’s designed for your benefit, it’s easy enough and nicer to pretend that it’s not a lie, if just outwardly.
I finish off what remains in Dad’s pint glass, and he laughs loudly. If I cared to think about it, I suppose I’d admit I was enjoying myself.
The White Hart is a quiet-ish country pub, usually chock-full with bloated old farmers and occasionally, their sour-looking wives. I’ve been here maybe 15 times in the last few years, and every time it’s a different barmaid. This is the first time I’ve been allowed to drink in The White Hart, the first time I’ve drank with Dad at all.
I prop myself up, one-hand on the brass handrail and the other placed nonchalantly (I hope) on the bartop. It must be six pints now, plus the cans. Dad is holding court in the next room, surrounded by an adoring public. He’s a huge man, so the beer doesn’t show on him—he’ll finish another nine or ten pints before going home. I think I hear him repeating the hooker story, but it might be my imagination.
The barmaid eyes me suspiciously when I ask for another lager, so begrudgingly, I stake my claim.
“I’m Arthur’s son,” I slur.
She obliges and pours another lager, and I watch, disappointed.
I head outside for some air, then immediately regret it. The cold night acts like a multiplier on all the booze in me, and I’m almost bowled over by an intense wave of nausea. I scrape together a modicum of composure to walk back through the pub to the toilets where I aggressively re-acquaint with the day’s beer.
I retch until the muscles in my stomach quiver. I’m trying desperately to suffer in silence, but before each fresh heave of sick comes a loud precursory belch. My head rests, cheek-down on the toilet seat, and I wonder if Dad has noticed I’m missing. My eyes close for a moment.
I’m vaguely aware of big hands scooping me up and propping me against the cubicle door.
“Few too many?” Dad growls.
I wouldn’t reply even if I could.
He sits me down on a bench, just outside the pub. He’s a blurry mass, obstructing the light that escapes through the pub’s open door. I spit on the floor, long tendrils of slobber failing to dislodge from my mouth. I try pawing them away. Dad’s about to go back inside, but he stops for a moment, turning back to me.
“You really are pathetic,” he says.
“Look at the state of you,” he says.
“Like a fucking woman,” he says.
He turns back toward the door, and I hear him shout for another beer just as it closes behind him. I lay with my back on the floor, counting stars, wishing I were dead.
In the morning, we don’t speak. I battle a splitting headache and a constant about-to-be-sick feeling all the way, as he hurdles along the motorway with Radio 5 Live on unnecessarily loud. I exit the car and I don’t say a word. He drives off without breaking the silence.
It’s my last day of high school and my first hangover.