No Time To Stand And Stare – Draft Chapter 22

Chapter 22 – Butchery Supplies

‘I’m not going,’ said Mac, folding his arms and pulling an obstinate face, that would have looked rather childish were it not for the beard. ‘I look ridiculous!’

Sebastian opened his mouth to argue, but closed it again, when he couldn’t think of anything to say that wasn’t an agreement. Mac did look ridiculous. But there was nothing they could do about that now, not unless there was a decent tailor nearby.

‘There aren’t any tailors around here, are there?’ he asked. Mac glared at him. ‘Well, what’s the problem? What do think looks so ridiculous?’

In response, Mac raised his arms, flapping the cuffs of his shirt, which clearly dated from an era when men in lace was all the rage. The Victorian era, perhaps. Or during the Civil War.

‘Where’s your wardrobe?’ asked Sebastian and Mac led him upstairs to a small bedroom above the shop. It was surprisingly neat and clean, but also on the Spartan side, the only furniture being a single bed, a bedside table and the wardrobe. Sebastian turned the key and swung the doors open to find the hangers almost entirely occupied by white trousers, white shirts and white jackets, Mac’s butchering attire. On the left, however, huddled together for company, was a handful of normal clothes. Or normal-ish, anyway. ‘You don’t go out much, do you?’ said Sebastian as he leafed through them, like the pages of the most unfashionable magazine in the world, before pulling out a shirt and holding it up as distasteful exhibit A. It was brown. Or mostly brown, anyway. ‘Paisley? I didn’t even know they still made paisley shirts.’

Mac shrugged. ‘Wouldn’t know. I bought that in nineteen seventy-four.’

‘I see,’ said Sebastian, hanging the shirt back up and considering the rest of the wardrobe’s contents. ‘And did you happen to buy anything else in the decades since?’

‘Few aprons, I guess. And my butchering whites. Got six sets of them in all.’ He puffed out his chest with pride and Sebastian was sure he heard the sound of tearing fabric.

‘You aren’t thinking of wearing them on your date, though, are you?’ Sebastian gave him a “don’t even answer that” look and, with a sigh of resignation, lifted out a brown suit that looked like it was about a new as the paisley shirt. ‘Does this still fit you?’

Five minutes later, after a fair bit of effort but a surprising lack of ripping, Mac had it on. He had refused to let Sebastian snip lace off the dress shirt, so he was now wearing one of the normal, plain white shirts. The one with the fewest blood stains.

Mac looked at himself in the wardrobe mirror. ‘Needs a tie, wouldn’t you say?’ he asked.

‘That depends if you’re thinking of wearing one of these ties.’ Sebastian gestured to the cluster of ties hanging on the inside of the wardrobe door. They were decorated with identical blue and gold diagonal stripes, which reminded Sebastian of his old school tie. ‘They’re not your old school ties, are they?’

Mac snatched one off the rack and began threading it round his broad neck. ‘Don’t be ridiculous,’ he said. ‘I get them direct from the Butchery suppliers. What about my hat?’

‘Your butcher’s hat?’

Mac nodded. ‘Course.’

‘The straw boater?’

Mac nodded again.

Sebastian tried not to smirk. ‘Depends if you’re thinking of taking Mrs Standfield punting on the river.’

‘Stop smirking!’ said Mac, glaring at him as he slipped the knot up his tie and tucked it into his jacket. ‘What about the beard? Should I do something with it?’

Sebastian took a step back to consider the huge mass of hair that clung to the butcher’s chin as though he’d been shot in the face with a black sheep. He ran a hand across his own, baby’s-bottom-smooth chin and wondered what it would be like to have such a magnificent growth himself. Unfortunately, the sparse tufts of stubble that he shaved off each morning were unlikely to produce anything more than a collection of straggly wisps, and showed few signs of improving the further he got from puberty.

‘It looks fine,’ he said. ‘Your eyebrows, however, could do with threading.’

‘Threading?’ Mac frowned at him. ‘Onto a needle? Are you trying to say my eyebrows’re long, like cotton?’

‘Not… exactly,’ said Sebastian, and leant forwards to present his own, immaculate eyebrows to Mac. ‘Threading will help to tidy up the stray hairs and add a clear edge. To give definition.’

Mac bunched his bushy, undefined eyebrows into a frown. ‘I reckon I’ll pass. Anything else? Sensible things, I mean.’

Sebastian turned back to the wardrobe, but there was little there to give him inspiration. ‘Dunno,’ he said, backing it up with a shrug. ‘Like what?’

Mac rolled his eyes and headed through the door and back down to the shop. ‘How would I know? I haven’t been on a date in years. Decades, even.’ He paused on the staircase. ‘What sort of things do you young lot wear when you go on a date?’

‘No idea. I’ve not been on a date ever!’

The pause on the staircase continued and Sebastian was slightly gratified by the look of genuine surprise on Mac’s face. Then the butcher turned and continued downstairs. As Sebastian followed him into the shop, a splash of red from a cluster of flowers caught his eye and, though he didn’t know anything about flowers and certainly couldn’t identify the make and model, he sneaked over and pulled on of the heads free.

‘Here you go,’ he said, and swiftly slipped it into the button hole of Mac’s suit as he turned. ‘This might draw attention away from your tie.’ He patted the jacket front and stepped back to consider the whole picture and saw a huge man stuffed into a small suit, like a side of ham crammed into a fingerless glove. Mac’s bald head was glistening with sweat and the flower was only slightly redder than the portions of his face that was visible between the beard. ‘Talking about the tie,’ said Sebastian, stepping forwards and reaching for it, ‘it might be an idea to loosen it, just a little, and undo that top button.’

Mac slapped his hands away. ‘It’s fine,’ he growled, though the growl may have been more the product of his restricted windpipe than any actual crossness.

‘You ready?’ asked Sebastian, checking his watch. ‘Don’t want to keep the lady waiting.’

Mac ran a finger around his tight collar, looking suddenly nervous. ‘I’m not sure this is such a good idea,’ he said. ‘What if-?’

‘What if it all goes fine?’ Sebastian interrupted. ‘Which it will. What’s not to like?’ He stepped back again to gesture to Mac with both hands, as if presenting him to himself, and tried not to think about that image of the gloved ham. A bead of sweat trickled down Mac’s face. ‘Let’s get you out in fresh air,’ said Sebastian, ‘before you catch fire.’

They parted at the crossroads and Sebastian watched as Mac walked with a stiff gait, that was probably a combination of tight trousers and mild panic, towards the Green Man.

‘How the hell did you get him into that suit?’ said Emma, slipping out of the shadows by the village shop.

Sebastian gave her a cocky smile. ‘It’s amazing what you can do with butchery supplies,’ he said, which earned his a look from Emma. ‘Your mum at the pub already?’

‘She sure is. Dressed up in all her finery.’

‘Like a Victorian duchess, no doubt.’ He glanced back across the road to Mac standing at the door to the pub, clearly trying to pluck up the courage to open it. ‘I can’t help but feel a bit sorry for him.’

Emma skipped over to punch him on the arm. ‘Why? What’s so bad about a date with my mum?’

‘Shut your face,’ said Sebastian and headed across the road. ‘Come on. I’m starving.’