“I can’t believe you didn’t even make it past Day Two,” Bea muttered.
“It’s a beautiful day,” Kai said, squeezing her hand. “Don’t ruin it. You know what Jamie’s like.”
It was Sunday, and they were holding hands, walking to Leigh Woods. The city centre was busy, but the streets grew quieter as they left the shops behind. Kai didn’t like to talk much on walks, and Bea didn’t like to be quiet. Being quiet left too much time for worrying. Sun made the grass sparkle but she couldn’t enjoy it. What was bothering her?
They approached the woods, walked through hazel and oak trees, out into the high open fields of the estate; deer and dog walkers, separated by a fence, then the great house in the distance. Mud and snowdrops, and a great, dripping grey sky.
Kai pulled her along with him, until they were running down down the grassy hill. At the bottom he started talking about the book they were hoping to make. She felt herself perk up.
“Perhaps it would be a coffee table book…” he said. She loved hearing him talk about them making something together.
“It’s a kind of document of the month, impressions,” he said. “Maybe there’s a narrative, maybe there isn’t.”
“The sort of thing you could read in any order,” she agreed. At least they were on the same page about this. He would take the pictures and she would write.
The talk calmed her for a while, but as they crossed the complex of roads running in and out of the city she felt the stirring in her gut ramp up again. What was this anxiety? Why was it starting now? Would she ever be able to relax? Terraced houses, the river, cars heading in and out of town. The Pipe and Slippers, a friendly looking pub.
They decided to go in for a roast. It was Sunday, after all, and it was on her list of things they never did. Things she hoped to do now she wasn’t drinking for the month. They walked into the bar, into the chatter and warmth, orange light reflecting off maroon painted walls. Tealights flickered on tables, people poured each other wine. Bottles shone behind the glossy, dark wooden bar.
“I don’t want to drink,” she said and Kai rolled his eyes, no doubt sick of her telling him.
Her therapist was right. She needed to focus on how much she drank. If she wanted to drink less, then she simply had to drink less. How could she blame it on him? She was a thirty-year-old woman. She could see that when Kai blamed Jamie it was an excuse, that he must have wanted to drink, but with herself it felt different.
The smell of beef and duck fat. Glasses clinking. Cutlery scraping. Kai needed cigarettes from the garage, so Bea went to order at the bar. Lime and soda, that was the plan. Continue Dry January, in spite of his Day-Two-slip. Sober and making the book, that was the plan. Not drinking, in order to be more productive. Behind the bar, a young attractive woman with a slim waist and messy ponytail poured wine into a silver measuring cup.
“With you in a minute,” she said, smiling at Bea as she began pouring the first of four pints.
Condensation decorated the Estrella tap which gushed gold, and Bea pulled her eyes away.
Lime and soda, lime and soda, lime and soda.
It had been a long walk, and she was thirsty. If only they would hurry up and serve her. She could feel her resolve leaking, as though she were the one with a tap being opened somewhere. The barmaid checked a ticket overhead, frowning, as the beer rushed to the lip of the glass. That lovely thin glass that curled so perfect into the corners of your top lip as cold fizzy bitter liquid slammed into the sensitive, hot, soft part of your throat. The black writing that seemed to float. Yeasty bubbles popping cold against your nostrils as you gulped.
She remembered pulling pints. Her first job. How grown up she’d felt, perfecting the art of pint froth, mastering the shamrock on Guinness. It was a stage, the bar, all eyes on you. The barmaid grabbed another pint glass, caught the amber flow the moment it looked set to spill over the lip. Leaving the Estrella glass hooked under the tap she span to grab tonic from the fridge. Bea knew how she felt, relishing the showmanship of multitasking, timing, handling the seductive bottles smoothly and with ease.
Two pints of lime and soda, that’s what she would say when asked. Lime and soda was basically the same thing as beer. Cold fizz hitting the back of your throat, a sour taste. That was what she wanted. Beer would be nicer, sure, but she wasn’t drinking. It was her decision. Dry January. After all the disappointment she’d expressed to Kai for failing she couldn’t fail too. She’d insisted she was still doing it. That she wanted to do it. That it was easy. She wanted to show him it could be done.
The barmaid flicked up the beer tap with the casual gesture of an expert, glancing Bea’s way to show she wasn’t forgotten. Two portions of roast beef, two lime and sodas, that was Bea’s order. She could have beer next month. It was just thirst, it would be quenched by soda.
“Sorry for the wait, what can I get you?”
“Two roast beefs and two pints of lime and soda, please,” Bea said, heart sinking. Lime and soda. Ugh. What was the point in having a drink at all? And on a Sunday! Why was she punishing herself this way? Ruining her own day. Why?
The barmaid put the food order through the till, reached for the plain pint glasses, not the lovely thin ones, and Bea felt so flat suddenly. She hated Kai. A smiling couple opposite clinked wine glasses, and Bea felt her face tighten in fury.
The barmaid chucked lime in the stubby, boring glasses, without elegant spidery black writing, without thin glass that curled against the top corners of your mouth, and she suddenly had no comprehension of why she was depriving herself.
“Ice?” the barmaid said, her hand hovering over the bucket with the scoop.
“No thanks - actually I’ve changed my mind… Two pints of Estrella, please.” Bea laughed sheepishly, because who could resist a pint on a Sunday, after a big walk? Who would want to?
The barmaid grinned and tipped out the lime slices. “So much for Dry Jan, eh?”
Bea laughed again, wondering why she let herself get so worked up about these things. The amber fizzed and lolled in a glass meant for her now, and she watched the froth race up to the lip of the glass, heart beating in anticipation of pleasure. Why shouldn’t she have a beer? Kai had already drunk anyway; she didn’t have to prove anything to him. Besides, they could do Dry January next year if it was so important.
The cold bitter fizzed on the spot at the back of her throat and relief was like being swept off her feet for a second.
Had she been holding her breath?
What a lot of work over a drink! Whoof! How silly she felt now, struggling like that, and for what?
A thought tried to form. Poof! Gone.
It was Sunday. Everyone was drinking. So what? Don’t we all deserve a treat on a Sunday lunchtime?
Kai returned, smelling of smoke and looking amused. “I thought we weren’t drinking.”
She shrugged and smiled. They tapped glasses.
“To Dry January!”