Kaptain's Blog

The writings and musings of The Kaptain

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Number One Under Heaven (15)

Situated in the heart of Guilin, the Goldfish Hotel consisted of a low-rise building arranged in a horseshoe shape, around a central courtyard. For the annual school trip, Sunny Cape International School had reserved all the rooms on the ground floor, while most of the others remained vacant. The hotel’s two wings were occupied by red and blue group respectively, with the pupils in white group housed in rooms within the central building. Each of the three groups had been assigned a teacher to oversee its eight young members. The overall tour leader – Deputy Principal Gavin Hewitt – sat above this structure, providing additional resource as required. The most experienced among the four teachers, he would also be the ultimate arbiter in the event that important decisions had to be made.

The school party’s first evening at the Goldfish was largely uneventful – the kids’ enthusiasm for the organised party games fading quickly because of fatigue. Inevitably, their energy had dipped after the earlier peak in their excitement, when first arriving at the hotel. By nine, they were all safely under their bedsheets, sleeping the deep slumber only the young, bereft of worry, can experience. In the three-star establishment’s lobby the teachers now sat around a rudimentary bar, discussing the events that were planned for the following day. “Now then. Tomorrow, as you know, we’ll have a boat trip along the river Li. It’s a good way to start things off, as there’s plenty for the kiddies to see along the way,” began Hewitt. “Some of them might get a wee dose of the boak, though, if the turtle soup man shows up,” he then remarked in his thick, Glaswegian accent. “What?” asked Abigail Newton. “They might be a bit squeamish, I mean,” replied the Deputy Principal. “Why’s that?” quizzed Sally Henderson, Sophie’s teacher at Sunny Cape and the leader of white group, to which the ringleted girl belonged. “Well, it’s not like yer Ma’s broth, if you know what I mean. Basically they appear to smash the poor creatures to pieces. The soup contains everything – broken bones, bits of shell, tiny feet and even miniature toenails: you name it. It’s pure boggin, mun. Can be quite upsetting to some of the more sensitive ones.” “Yuk!” remarked Brad Taylor, screwing up his nose. A little naïve for someone of his age, Brad was nevertheless a physically fit Kiwi, and red group leader. “Typical Chinese. Eat everything, they do. Chickens’ feet, pigs’ intestines…” “Yes, thank you Brad. But actually you’re right, son. Trouble is, there’s so many of them that we’re now the ones in the wrong.” Hewitt was whispering as he stressed this last point, lest the hotel bar staff overhear him. “We’re now the minority that only eats proper meat, not ducks’ tongues, sparrows’ gizzards and stuff,” he continued. “Speak for yourself,” corrected Abigail Newton, the last of the four teachers and leader of blue group. “Och, I’m sorry love. Forgot you only eat veggies,” Hewitt apologised. “Now, where’s that so-called bartender? I need another drink. And why do they never stock Grouse in these places. Why do the bloody Chinese love Black Label so much, the beggars?” “Not only vegetables. Bean curd, pulses, fruits, nuts. There’s more to vegetarianism than vegetables, you know,” said Abigail Newton, to no-one who was listening…

Blake poured himself off the ferry, staggering down the ramp on to the dock and almost tripping over in the process. The back of his head was now smarting where it made contact with Bar George’s – fortunately – wooden floor. He bumped into an old Chinese woman, who scowled as he engulfed her in beer breath. Startled, she snorted an insult – something about his mother – in Cantonese. But Blake was already gone and would not have understood, anyway. Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck. I’m go… in’ t’be in tr… trouble a… again… he thought, hurriedly making his way towards Hemingway’s. There was no sign of Kate as he arrived, his having managed along the way to crash into just three tables at the neighbouring restaurants that fringed the waterside – a recent personal best for a man whose descent into alcoholism was becoming evident to all who knew him. He was relieved that she was not yet there, for this meant he could knock down a couple of Martinis, restoring him to the plane on which he was floating a few hours earlier. It was big Jack who served him, dripping the angostura bitters into the wide-brimmed glass before carefully stirring the heady mixture with a harpooned olive. The jovial manager had a fetish for workbench tools, and was already enthusing about the recent purchase of some grinder or other, as Blake grimaced after gulping a large mouthful of what was virtually neat gin.

“Morrre… than th… thisss… n… nnothing,” he sang, screwing up his eyes and clenching his teeth. “What?” Jack quizzed, puzzled by the song routine. “Bryan Fe… erry mo… mment. Jus’ ’ad a Br… ryan F… Ferry mom… ent,” Blake explained. “Mar… tini,” he added, pointing to his glass, his eyes now crossed. “Oh, I see. Anyway, you wouldn’t believe what this thing can do…” Jack continued to relate the virtues of his latest gadget, but Blake had drifted off. He was now staring at the in-and-out-of-focus image of the athletic torso of Tommy, as the tennis pro walked past the restaurant, a multiple racquet holdall hanging from his shoulder. Just then, Kate emerged from around a corner and made directly for the tanned sportsman. As they met, the couple – cou… ple, Blake once again seethed, inwardly – stopped for a peck on the cheek, and what appeared to him a far too intimate chat. He was just about to try and get down from his stool when they parted, but not before sharing a moment’s hand holding, something that lingered way too long for Blake’s liking. Kate was smiling as she finally approached him, but her face quickly soured on spying her husband propped up at the bar, recognising at once the all-too-familiar signs of his drunken disorder.

“Hell… lo D… Darlinnn,” he just about managed to slur. “Adam,” she replied, crossly. “You’re pissed again, aren’t you? What have I got to do to make you stop doing this?” she pleaded. “What’s the point of us going out to dinner when you probably won’t eat anything and you’re so drunk that we won’t even be able to have a half-decent conversation?” “Dar… lin… Shhh… Shhh… Do… n’ be like… that. C’me… onnn… S’phie’s… away… fe… ew days… ‘We c’n do… some thing romm… manic… Yeah… Roman… nic. Ma… Mac… Macau…? Wha… wha… d’ya thing?” “Adam: there’s no point in doing anything at all, if you’re going to be drunk all the time.” Kate was exasperated. “No point at all.” She shook her head, her face an expression of sadness, confusion, anger. Her arms were folded around the pink cardigan she was carrying as she then stormed off, a single tear rolling down her cheek. Blake lowered his forehead to the bar, still clutching his Martini, before rising up again and downing the remainder of the drink. Abruptly he shook his head, eyes screwed up, as the hit of the gin rocked him. “Whass’er n… ame? Vi… ginia Pl… ain!” he suddenly exclaimed. “What?” asked Jack, puzzled again. “A… An… other… other one, pl… ease,” he hiccoughed.

posted by Kirk at 3:57 am  

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