“Sorry motherfucker.” Barry says, by way of greeting.
He sits down opposite me, putting his pint down in front of him, and does the middle-aged grunt as he settles in place.
“You didn’t get me one, then?” I say.
“Well, it seemed rude to assume, as it was on your tab.”
“Perfect.” I reply, and stare back down into my almost dead drink.
It’s hard to stay depressed with Barry around, but I manage it fine for a while. He has this way of acting like he hasn’t noticed or doesn’t care that your life is shit. He acts that way because he doesn’t care or notice that your life is shit.
“Things are bad, but they aren’t worse, mate.” He says, after getting a few more rounds in, on my tab. It’s not something I want to hear from him. “You need to snap out of it.” He rubs his left thumb and index finger together, back and forth. “Only the tiniest violin in the world plays for the dumped boyfriend.”
“I’ve seen that film.” I reply, dismissive. “And I wasn’t her boyfriend, I was her husband.” I glare at him. “And I wasn’t dumped. She fucked somebody else for the whole time we were together, and then chucked me out of my own house when she got bored of lying about it.”
He slumps back in his chair, and shrugs.
“Well, yeah. But I mean, it’s not like you have cancer.” He says. And then plays the world’s smallest violin for me again, hand held over his drink.
“Jesus.” I say, rolling my eyes. His indifference to my pain has the odd effect of making it seem like too much work to feel the pain in the first place. I watch him for a moment, as he rubs his fingers together absent-mindedly.
“You need to better manage your expectations. Adjust your perspective.” Barry says. “Like, to a little kid, the world’s smallest violin is just the right size. And to a midget, it’s like a cello.”
“A little person.”
“Yeah, a little person.”
“No, I mean, I don’t think you’re supposed to call them ‘midgets’.”
“Whatever.” A muffled chirp has him squirming in his seat, trying to get at his jeans pocket. “Or a baby!” He blurts, distracted.
“What are you on about?”
“To a baby. To a baby, the world’s smallest violin looks like a cello, or a double bass.”
We sit in silence for a minute, as he fishes out his phone and checks his texts.
“Ah, bollocks. I need to go, mate. You know how it is with girlfriends.” He starts getting up, collecting himself.
“Wives. How it is with wives.” I correct him.
“Hah! That’s a perspective thing, though, innit?” He says, laughing, and it makes me want to punch him, but at the same time it makes my anger and dismay seem like a waste of everyone’s time. “Anyway, better get back before she loses her rag. You know what she’s like.”
“Why would a baby have anything to do with a fucking violin?” I blurt to his swiftly diminishing back, and then into my pint I mutter a goodbye.
And I stay in the pub and drink some more, but the mixture of scattered laughter and emotional neglect that Barry visited on me stays, and I’m no longer sad, or angry. At the very most I’m numb, and bored of ennui.
I have to wonder, because there’s nothing else to do when you’re left to your own company, if everyone doesn’t have a mate like Barry. The sort of mate who it doesn’t matter how shit you feel, they always leave you feeling less bad, if not actually better. The sort of mate who can sleep in your bed, and steal your wife, and never get a round in with his own money, and feel so little shame about it that your own self-righteous anger seems absurd, and all you’re left with is a huge bar tab and a big empty.