The NF, I said finally. What do you think about holding a party for the National Front?
It’s an honor, she said, now clearly understanding. It’s an honor and a privilege.
This surprised me.
So she explained. The Green Man, she said, prided itself on being the most racialist pub in England. That was her word: racialist. There were other racialist pubs, she said. In fact, there were two more in Bury. But none was as consistently racialist as the Green Man. The Green Man, she continued, had never served a colored person. No black or Paki had ever had a drink at the Green Man. And everyone who worked at the Green Man was proud of its record. It was also why everyone regarded it as a privilege to hold a party here for the National Front. They felt they had earned it.
No wogs, her partner behind the bar added, perhaps for clarification.
That’s right, she said. No colored people of any description.
I was surprised. I had not expected to hear racism expressed so explicitly by people working behind the bar of a pub—one owned by a brewery that was itself a public company. The fact was I hadn’t expected to hear racism expressed so explicitly by people I had only just met, regardless of where they worked.
"It’s not so funny," he said. "It was a narrow escape. I’ll show you pictures of it sometime. The humdrum glum carried to its sub-human level. Sunday night in the Methodist church. You won’t feel like laughing. You’ll cry your eyes out."
He tried to flip a cigarette nonchalantly into his mouth like what’s-his-name in the movies, but he missed. I didn’t feel like laughing. A shadow had fallen across us, like suddenly coming upon a hunchback in a hopefully colored tie or an unsuccessful actor with dyed bright hair in the middle of a sunny day.
"I feel like crying now," I said.
"Do you? Do you? Oh my darling!” He took my hand and kissed it. We looked at each other for a long, long time. “I know what,” he said. “I’ll give you two dollars if you can cry now. Two dollars if you can cry in one minute flat.”
"Fifteen seconds," he said, looking at his watch fifteen seconds later. "Not bad."
'Have a great one!' said Pete, a heavy-jawed blond beast in an apron, sliding the coffee across the counter.
Old enough to remember the arrival of ‘Have a nice day,’ Patrick could only look with alarm on the hyperinflation of ‘Have a great one.’ Where would this Weimar of bullying cheerfulness end? ‘You have a profound and meaningful day now,’ he simpered under his breath as he tottered across the room with his giant mug. ‘Have a blissful one,’ he snapped as he sat at a table. ‘You all make sure you have an all-body orgasm,’ he whispered in a Southern accent, ‘and make it last.’ Because you deserve it. Because you owe it to yourself. Because you’re a unique and special person. In the end, there was only so much you could expect from a cup of coffee and an uneatable muffin. If only Pete had confined himself to realistic achievements. ‘Have a cold shower,’ or ‘Try not to crash your car.’
Then my mother and daddy were gone and I was left alone with Ruby for a couple of hours. I sat and played checkers with my Uncle Nathan who had cerebral palsy. I went back into my Grandma’s bedroom and I looked at her pictures of people in their coffins she took at the funeral home.
I asked her, “Why do you have all these pictures of people in their coffins?”
She said, “I wouldn’t ever get a picture of my kin folk all dressed up and with their teeth in if I didn’t take one at the funeral home.”
When the cut had stopped bleeding Laurel made another one parallel to it. The pain was less focused now. The first cut still throbbed some. The reason she thought cutting wasn’t working was that she didn’t really believe in it anymore. Even as she did it she wondered whether she really had a good enough reason to be cutting herself. The other girls all had such strange, awful stories about why they were the way they were. But Laurel didn’t have much wrong with her. She pressed the toilet paper against the second cut and left it there while she absently rocked the blade back and forth against her shin, making tiny diagonal slashes. When she thought of what made her do it, nothing much came to mind. She thought of the sickly color of the thick wall-to-wall carpeting they had at home. It was gray with a touch of purple to it. Their dinner table had a glass top that her dad’s watch knocked against every time he forked something off his plate, over and over again, all through dinner.