On a roll, I wrote another scene for the piece I mentioned in my last post. I’m calling the overall piece Cousin Percy. After reading this scene, you will have met all the cousins except for Peter, the one who’s still in college. I intend for quiet, self-effacing Peter to be the one who unexpectedly breaks through to the frustratingly uncommunicative Percy, but I haven’t quite developed that idea yet. In this scene, you’ll see just how frustratingly uncommunicative Percy is. You need to know that Percy doesn’t yet know that Harry was once married and has a rather sad back story. He thinks he’s got Harry all figured out. This scene is shorter and, I think, funnier than the last one I posted, but you should still be able to feel the underlying tension. By the way, I promise that my next post will be on another topic.
Three nights before Christmas, Harry Sinclair sat in a dim, deeply-recessed booth in the corner of the pub nearest the door, nursing a bottle of cream soda and watching the acoustic band intently. During a particularly loud moment in one of the American folk songs the band was valiantly plowing through, his cousin Percy, whom Harry had known for exactly four days, approached the booth, carrying a pint and wearing the leather jacket that, Harry had already decided, made him look like a Liverpool dockworker circa 1959.
“This is the only empty seat in the place,” said Percy by way of explanation.
“Well, sit down!” said Harry in an unnecessarily expansive voice that sounded, to both men, a bit false. “What brings you here on this cold evening?”
“Why does anybody come to a pub?” Percy replied flatly as he sat. “Having an ale. What are you doing here?”
“Why does anybody come to a pub?” Harry paused before continuing, “I’m spying on my employee.”
Percy grunted into his pint, possibly indicating interest.
Harry took the indication and ran with it. “He’s the one on the stool at the front of the band, playing the guitar.”
“The fat kid?”
Harry rolled his eyes. “Totally unnecessary, but yes. He’s the portly chap who’s singing right now. That’s Sam. He helps me out at the shop.” Harry made a slight confidential lean toward his cousin; Percy made no response of any kind. “So I’ll say to him at the end of the day, ‘What are you doing tonight, Sam?’ Just making conversation. And he’ll always say something like, ‘Oh, I guess I’ll just go home and watch TV.'” Harry said this in an exaggeratedly glum voice. “Only he’s a Scotsman, but I can’t do his accent right.”
Percy cleared his throat, which Harry took as another sign of engagement. “So the other night, I’m leaving the shop, and I see him sneaking in here with a guitar case like he’s about to do a drug deal. So I said to myself, I can be sneaky too, and the past few nights I’ve been hiding in this booth, thinking, hey, this kid has got some talent. But the next day, not a word about it from either of us. So tell me, why do you think he’s trying to hide this from me?”
Percy took a swig of ale and said nothing. Harry sighed. “Did you hear anything I just said?”
The cousins stared at the band for a few minutes before Percy looked down and asked, incredulously, “What are you, having a cream soda?”
“Yes, I’m having a cream soda,” Harry replied, glad his cousin was making an effort at conversation.
“Don’t you drink, or what?”
“No, I don’t drink anymore.”
“What were you, a wino or something?”
“I wasn’t a wino,” Harry retorted, beginning to think the uncomfortable silence was preferable. “I just don’t like myself when I drink. I’m sarcastic–and obnoxious.”
Percy snorted. “Only when you drink.”
Harry turned in his seat, trying to force his cousin to make eye contact. “Well, I think that’s a pretty rude thing to say considering you hardly know me.”
“Oh, I know you,” Percy said into his glass, not looking at Harry.
Harry clenched his hands under the table, determined to remain civil. “Well, I’m afraid I can’t say the same about you. Why don’t you ever tell us anything about yourself? We’re family and all.”
Percy shrugged. “There’s nothing to tell.”
Harry gave a short, humorless laugh. “I know you know that I know that that’s bullshit.”
Percy made no sign that this assessment fazed him. The cousins lapsed back into silence. The band was playing a twangy song about Raleigh, North Carolina. Harry tried again. “I don’t get the fascination these lads have with playing all this American local color stuff. I mean, half the people in this town have never been more than two hours away. What do they know about Raleigh?”
“How do you know where they’ve been?” Percy asked, still looking straight ahead.
Harry shrugged. “I fix their cars; they talk to me.”
The band had moved on to a plaintive song about the Blue Ridge Mountains. “Have you ever been to the States?” Harry asked.
“Yeah. Lived there for a while.”
“Oh!” exclaimed Harry, pleasantly taken aback by this rush of self-disclosure. “Where did you live, exactly?”
“New York City.” Percy was not equally excited by the conversation.
“Ah, indeed,” said Harry, like someone who knew. “Where else?”
Percy paused in lifting his pint and gave his cousin a sidelong glance. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Harry didn’t actually know what he had meant. “I just thought…New York City was a sort of melting pot,” he replied lamely.
Percy sniffed–laughed, possibly–and finished taking that drink.
“So, was it a nice place to live?” Harry asked, determined to press on.
Harry nodded, hoping for but not really expecting more. “And…are you going to tell me about it?”
“No.” Percy put his empty glass down hard on the table and slid out of the the booth.
“I didn’t think so,” said Harry to his cream soda.