Barry’s pants were wet, and he didn’t mean it in the American sense. The puddle had soaked right through his trousers and wet his underwear. Did American’s called it underwear? He wasn’t sure.
It didn’t matter. He’d never been to American and had no intention of doing so. It annoyed him that American culture had invaded Coventry enough that even he was bilingual. It was all the American films he watched.
If this was a film there’d be a beautiful woman walking along the sidewalk who would help him up and become the love of his life.
Only in films.
In real life there was nobody around to help. Not that Barry wanted help. He’d be too embarrassed. He was glad no one had witnessed his downfall. It must have looked ridiculous. A grown man tripping on his own shoelace, overbalancing, arms flapping wildly, slipping on the edge of a water-filled pothole and somehow twisting in such a way that his bottom landed precisely in the deepest section of the hole.
If a young person had been around they could have filmed him and got hundred of pounds from that programme on telly that pays for pratfalls. Most of them are not real. Nine times out of ten Barry finds himself screaming at the telly asking why on earth anyone would have their phone on video and pointing in the right direction at the right moment.
Barry checked to see if there were any young people nearby. He could do a deal with them and repeat his fall. His backside wasn’t going to get any wetter.
No young people, but there was a bloke sitting on a park bench furiously scribbling away in a notebook. He was concentrating so much on writing that he couldn’t have noticed Barry’s performance.
Cold water dribbled down Barry’s leg.
He gave up on his trip to the post office. The application to the fan club would have to wait until tomorrow. By the time he got home and changed the post would have gone. There was a time when letters from post boxes were collected five times a day. Not anymore. Once if you’re lucky.
It’s all this email. Makes everything instant, as if that’s a good thing. Type away without thinking and ding… it’s delivered. Sally says there’s a way to stop the ding but he hasn’t found it yet.
What’s wrong with pen and paper? People appreciate it. They can tell that you care about what you have written and haven’t just cut and pasted someone else’s words. Can you get done for plagiarism in emails? That’d be funny. Everybody under the age of thirty would be guilty.
You wouldn’t catch Tony cutting and pasting. Barry had seen a documentary about him. He always wrote his novels with a proper pen in a proper notebook. One notebook for each novel. What impressed Barry most was that Tony would be writing three, or even more, novels at the same time. He’d carry around at least three notebooks so that inspiration could strike into heart of the right story.
He should have put that in his fan club application. There was a section on the form for other comments. He could have added it in there. He hadn’t liked leaving it blank. It was like admitting he didn’t have anything to say.
He could always steam the envelope open when he got home. He’d like to write something to catch Tony’s attention.
Barry heard someone behind him. It was the man from the bench, in a hurry. Barry turned his bottom away from the path so the man wouldn’t see the wet patch. The man smiled at Barry and nodded. He looked familiar, but Barry couldn’t think who he was. He didn’t look close familiar. More like someone who lived at the end of the lane, or someone who often used the same bus into town.
Maybe it was a smirk. Maybe Barry had never seen the man before but the man had seen Barry’s escapade and was smirking at him. It could have been a smirk.
Barry watched the man run to the Rugby Road entrance and twist to squeeze through the anti-motorbike gate. Something dropped from the man’s bag and just missed a puddle.
“Oy,” shouted Barry.
The man either didn’t hear or didn’t care. He was obviously in a hurry. Barry started to jog over to the entrance in the hope of catching him. But then he noticed his shoe lace was still untied. He bent to tie it and heard some young people talking and laughing behind him. He quickly stood and didn’t dare look back. They must have seen the wet patch.
He walked across to the entrance and picked up what the man had dropped. It was the notebook that the man had been so furiously writing in. Barry let the young people pass. They were in there own world, or worlds. Each one talking and gesticulating to the friends on their phones while ignoring the friends they were actually with. They didn’t notice Barry. Not even a single glance. It seemed likely that their earlier laughter had been nothing to do with him.
Barry flipped the pages checking for a name or address. There was nothing like that. The book was full of page after page of scruffy notes. Barry flipped to the end of the writing, which was about a third of the way through the book.
His name. It was his name. There in black and white. He held the book slightly further away so he could read it better and couldn’t believe what he was seeing.
The man on the bench had written all about him. About the loose shoe lace, about the trip and swivel and splash. It sounded even funnier in writing.
Barry laughed. He’d been right American’s did call pants underwear.
Barry became aware that someone was watching him. He looked up to see the man. He looked and saw the man. Really saw him. It wasn’t just any man. It was Tony. Tony. There. In Coventry. In front of him. Tony. It was. Oh cripes. What should he say to him? It would have to be something momentous.
“How did you know my name was Barry?”
“In the story. Look. You’ve written all about my fall. But how did you know my name?”
“Is your name Barry? Well that’s a coincidence. I didn’t know.”
“I like the way you’ve written it. You really captured it. If anything you made it funnier than it was. I guess it was funnier if you weren’t the one actually falling.”
“Sorry Barry. I don’t follow.”
“Here,” said Barry pointing to the page. “The way you’ve got the splash and the noise you’ve described as I land. Did I really make that noise?”
“It’s all made up.”
“Made up from true life. Does that happen a lot, where you see something and put it in your book?”
“It’s all from my head. As I said, just a coincidence that my character is called Barry.”
“Look,” said Barry and turned his back to show Tony his wet bottom.
It took Barry quite some time to convince Tony that what he’d written had really happened. Tony hadn’t seen it. He’d been looking down, concentrating on the words. Maybe subconsciously he’d heard Barry falling and that’s why he’d had the idea.
“And another coincidence,” said Barry. “Here. You can save me going to the post.”
“Yeah, no problem,” said Tony. “I am sure I will pass a mail box I can stick this letter in. I’d better rush. I’ve got to get back to the bookshop. I’ve already been away longer than I was supposed to.”
“No look at it,” said Barry. “Look where it’s going.”
Tony looked at the envelope and then stared intensely at Barry as if assessing him for a job or auditioning him for a role in a film.
“Are you coming to the book signing?”
Barry hadn’t known anything about a book signing but thought quickly and showed his wet patch again. “I can’t now. Not like this?”
“Exactly like that,” said Tony. “I’m giving a talk before signing and I’d love to tell this story. Having you there to provide the evidence would be perfect.”
Barry agreed to be Tony’s sidekick and revelled in the reflected glory. When he got home he decided not to wash the stained trousers. He kept them safely in a drawer for almost a year until one day he took them out and framed them along with a signed first edition of Tony’s new book sent from Tony’s home in America with a hand written letter.
Barry bought another edition of the book so that he could read and re-read about his exploits that day. It seemed funnier and funnier each time he read it.