Flossie walked across the room like she was in a trance. She seemed to know where she was going, though. We all watched her, curious to see what had possessed her to walk away from the security of our little group.
She made a beeline for the young man playing the lute. She stopped in front of him, her head bobbing along to the terrible ‘hey nonny nonny’ tune he was plucking.
The guy smiled at her and carried on.
He threw a couple of curious looks her way as she continued to stand right in front of him.
He hit a couple of bum notes, starting to get nervous about the weird girl eyeballing him from two feet away. He’d probably never had a groupie before.
But it turned out Flossie had something other than getting his autograph in mind. When he finally came to the end of his jaunty little ditty, she moved in closer and started speaking with him. Or at him. She was very animated; he was very frightened.
He looked confused at first, but after a bit he began nodding. And then he shrugged a reluctant acquiescence.
Flossie turned around and faced the room. Most of the men were more interested in what was in their mugs to be too concerned with what was going on in the corner. Flossie cleared her throat and began singing ‘True Colours’ by Cyndi Lauper.
It was acapella at first, and then the lute guy joined in. He was trying to copy the refrain and struggling a bit, but he eventually locked into the melody, or a simplified version of it, and his accompaniment became more confident.
Flossie’s soft, clear voice found its way through the noise and the men in the room slowly transformed from a disparate group of drinkers into an audience. The noise subsided and then died out altogether so only Flossie’s voice and the pling-pling-pling of the lute could be heard.
The end of the song was met with silence. Not in a negative way, just slightly confused. A few people started clapping, but Flossie didn’t take a bow or say thanks, she started stamping her foot, and clapping herself.
Stamp, stamp, clap. Stamp, stamp, clap.
It was such a catchy beat, the men joined in. And Flossie began singing over the top.
Buddy you’re a boy
Make a big noise
Playin’ in the street
Gonna be a big man some day
You got mud on your face
You big disgrace
Kicking your can all over the place
She soon had them singing along. And she didn’t stop there. She went from Queen to Abba to Oasis. The men got up from their seats and formed a little mosh pit in front of her and her lead guitarist. It seemed her moment in the spotlight with the trolls had given Flossie a taste for show business. The shy little pixie was a born performer.
We all watched this transformation somewhat stunned. Claire and Jenny got up and squeezed their way to the front row. The crowd opened up to let them pass, probably because no one wanted to stand in front of penis-stabby girl.
Maurice and I exchanged a WTF look, but remained where we were. The small crowd was fairly raucous but Flossie seemed to be in control. At the end of each song, she calmed them down with a few words before launching into the next one.
The person most baffled by the whole thing, though, was Dudley. He went from mildly bemused to delighted to somewhat downcast. While Flossie became the centre of attention, he became the forgotten man.
“You alright there, Dud?” I said over the thunderous applause for Flossie’s version of ‘Living On A Prayer’.
“Absolutely. She’s, er, really popular, isn’t she?”
That was certainly true. Every man in the place had his eyes on her. Despite Dudley’s attempt to be the supportive boyfriend, he was clearly feeling a bit insecure.
Over the past couple of months, Flossie had lost a bit of weight, found a little confidence, and discovered a talent that brought her plenty of attention. And she was loving it.
Not that there was anything wrong with that, but Dudley was seeing his dream girl slipping away from him and had no idea what to do about it.
People were steadily filling up the pub, either because they’d heard the commotion and wanted to see what was going on, or maybe word was going around. A couple of hours into the show with no sign of Flossie tiring, Dudley suddenly stood up.
“Think I’ll head back. Feeling a bit peaky, might take a nap.” He was doing his best to sound casual about it, but he was more than a little distressed about Flossies sudden popularity and her obvious desire for more.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” I said. He definitely was not okay.
“Yes, yes, of course. You’ll make sure she gets back okay, won’t you?”
I nodded and Dudley quickly left. I was the only one who noticed.
It was getting dark outside before Flossie decided to take a break. The crowd voiced their disappointment, but she promised to be back after a short interval. She returned to the table flanked by Claire and Jenny.
“That were pretty bostin’, weren’t it?” She was sweaty and red-faced, but still buzzing.
“Yeah,” I said. “Are you planning a new career?”
“Where’s Dudley?” asked Claire.
“He went back to the inn.”
“Oh, is he alright?” said Jenny. Flossie was drinking some juice, tapping her feet and looking around the crowd.
“Yeah. I think he just didn’t want to be in the way.”
Flossie waved at a group of young men hovering around. They probably would have come closer if Claire hadn’t thrown the occasional scowl in their direction.
“In the way of what?” asked Jenny.
“Well, you see, you probably don’t know this about guys, but some of us have this primal need to look after the people we care about. Not me, obviously, but other guys. And sometimes, when you put your whole heart into lifting someone up, they fly away, leaving you behind. And since your entire reason for living is to make them happy, you can’t really do much about it but wish them the best.”
“What the fook are you talking about?” said Flossie. She looked around at us, confused. “Where’s Dudley gone?”
“He didn’t go anywhere,” I said. “And if you ask him, I’m sure he’ll say there’s no problem. If the girl you like is too busy to notice you, it isn’t her fault is it? Why should she be expected to do anything differently.”
Flossie pursed her lips and furrowed her brow. “Ah don’t know what you’re saying. Ah’ve done nothing wrong.”
“I agree. If Dudley’s feeling scared and abandoned, I’m sure it’s all in his own mind. He’s a fool, don’t worry about it. His whole life he’s been told he isn’t worth much, so he’s probably convinced himself you’re better off without him. It’s not like he’d ever expect you to put him first. No one else ever has. I mean, only an idiot would give up what they wanted just to make someone else happy, and there’s no way he thinks you’re an idiot. Just leave him to wallow in his self-inflicted misery, he’ll get over it. It’s what he deserves for being such a big girl’s blouse. It’ll probably help him toughen up.”
Flossie stood up, her face getting redder by the second. She looked like she wanted to say something but all she could get out were loud, laboured breaths. The sight of her getting up started the crowd slow clapping in anticipation of her return.
“That’s not fair. Ah’m allowed to think of mahself sometimes. Everyone is.”
“I agree. Fuck him for being so unreasonable. He’s terrified of losing you, terrified of not making you happy, and terrified because he knows he’s going to help you in every way he can to give you what you want, even if it means giving you up. He’s scared shitless of everything and none of it’s your fault. So why should you do anything about it? I wouldn’t.”
Flossie’s resolute exterior began to crumble. She turned around and stormed off. There was a cheer and the crowd parted to let her back to the impromptu stage, but she ignored them. She wasn’t going back to perform, she was headed for the door.
A couple of her more ardent fans tried to get in front of her, but she took out a dagger and slashed wildly at the air in front of her, sending them scurrying out of her way.
Claire jumped to her feet and started to go after her but she stopped and turned to me. “Was that really necessary?”
“Yes,” I said. “Better now than when she’s gotten too big for her boots.”
“I hope someone’s there to do the same for you one day.” Claire turned and ran off, the men in her way scattering much quicker than they did for Flossie.
“I hope so too,” I said. And I meant it.
Maurice stood up. “I better…” and he headed off after Claire.
I remained seated.
“You not going to go, too?” asked Jenny.
“Might give it a few minutes,” I said.
We sat there in silence. I didn’t fancy going back to the inn any time soon. Either there’d be shouting and crying, or shouting and shagging. Either way, it would be hard to get any sleep.
“I’ll do it,” said Jenny.
“Do what?” I asked.
“If you get too big for your boots, I’ll bring you back down to earth.”
“Okay. Thanks.” I wasn’t sure how she thought she’d do it, but I appreciated the thought.
The crowd had started to thin out and people were returning to their seats.
“Maybe we should—” I started to say. Jenny put a hand on my arm and leaned in closer.
“See that army guy over there?” She pointed her chin at the recruiter who had earned Claire’s anger earlier.
“Yeah?” He was going around to different tables, laughing and joking.
“Every time he talks to someone, he takes that small pouch on his belt and pours something into their beer.”
I watched him and she was right. He was subtle about it and careful to distract the victim, but he was definitely putting something in their drinks. And it wasn’t just one or two people, he was doing it to everyone.
“If it’s some kind of date-rape drug,” I said, “he must have a hell of a sexual appetite.”
“I think it’s more likely a way to pressgang them into the army,” said Jenny. “Easier to grab them if they leave here totally out of it.”
She had a point. There was a good chance they’d wake up with a terrible headache and a nice, new uniform.
We continued to watch him as he made sure to socialise with everyone. The pub was still quite packed thanks to Flossie’s performance. Corporal Ween eventually finished his rounds and left. He received a warm send off from his many drinking buddies. If only they knew the truth.
“We should say something,” whispered Jenny.
“No, we shouldn’t. It’s got nothing to do with us. Let’s just leave them to it.”
Jenny nodded. Then she stood up, climbed onto the table and said “Hey, everyone, over here. I have something to tell you.”
“What are you doing?” I had a horrible feeling the whole time I’d been checking for trouble over my shoulder, doing everything I could to stay out of its reach, it had been sitting next to me all along.