Lawrence stood barefoot in front of the full-length mirror in the hallway; his face was still a little puffed from too many hours horizontal. The glary overhead lights exaggerated the bags under his hazel eyes. Baggy face the ex-girlfriend called it. Nice. He kept his hair closely cropped and sculpted his beard to match. The longer his hair was the more prominent the balding patch around his crown became, it reminded him of Zinedine Zidane or a Gregorian monk. With both hands he smoothed down the front of his pale pink shirt, tucking the tails into his black suit trousers.
The last remnants of the university cultivated beer belly sat on top of his trousers, he looked better but he still had to remind himself not to stoop, straight back, chest out, at one meter sixty-five he felt he had to do whatever he could to maximise his stature.
He couldn’t bear the first Thursday of the month especially in the winter. The early morning ‘breakfast meetings’ were tedious, unproductive and set an indolent tone for the rest of the day. Breakfast meetings might work at the head office in the San Diego sunshine but not in Sheffield, not in February. Lawrence resented the fact that he was forced to attend, resentment on top of a surly disposition wasn’t a good combination and his colleagues were mindful of it.
At least at this ungodly hour the bus was empty. He pulled out his Kerrang magazine from his briefcase. Guns N’ Roses were reforming with the original line-up. Lawrence wasn’t even sure if they were all still alive. They could debate the merits of various members of Guns N’ Roses when his band got together that evening. Subconsciously he tapped a drum beat on his thigh, the beginnings of a smile crept onto his face.
A little after 7am Lawrence found himself outside a stark 80’s concrete construction. A two-storey building made on the cheap, devoid of architectural ambition, characterless and worst of all, spirit sapping. Thatcherite planning at it’s basest. The company’s famed green thunderbolt symbol hung above the main entrance, an unintentional caution to all those who passed underneath.
A generation ago a man’s profession identified him, allowing him a place in society, giving him standing no matter what his calling. Coal mines and ship yards built around them solid identities and almost impenetrable communities. Proud people shared the good and the bad, this camaraderie sometimes literally the bond of life. Now multinational companies stripped people of individuality in garish open plan offices, a disjointed workforce received instructions and was asked to be productive, innovative even. The paradox of expectation whilst limiting inspiration.
Eleven hours later Lawrence was beaming, glad to be escaping the entrenchment of the office, the air now seemed lighter. The early evening was as dark as it had been when he entered that morning, but his gait was that of a different man. Usually after work he headed home but with rumours of a gig in Leeds the band were meeting more. They practiced a few covers, popular rock anthems to liven up the crowd, refined their own mainly Bowie inspired songs fused with heavy guitars and primal drums in an homage to Ziggy Stardust. They took turns at lead vocals, none of them showing any particular talent.
He called his mother as he made his way to the bus stop, checking in on her as he did every day. He chose this time to call because he knew she would be busy watching one of her mind numbing programmes, the conversation would be short. Satisfied she was her usual self, Lawrence sent a message to the others, they would meet in the pub as arranged.
As he jumped onto the bus he picked up a child’s shoe, quickly locating its presumed owner in the only visible pushchair.
“Oh god, thank you.” The mother blurted, a bit noisier than Lawrence had expected. “She’s always kicking ‘em off. We’ve lost loads of ‘em.” The blonde curls that escaped the woman’s red woolly hat bounced as she giggled. “Look what this nice man found. Say thank you Sarah.” Sarah looked up at Lawrence; she had her mother’s blue eyes but not their warmth.
“You might have to put her in odd shoes soon.” Lawrence’s banter made the mother cackle loudly. Sarah quickly turned her head, looking quizzically at her mother, also a little surprised by the outburst. The deep pitch of the laugh from such a slight woman fascinated Lawrence. He wondered if that same voice could hold a note, maybe it was what his band needed.
Forty minutes later Lawrence excitedly hurried into the Moor’s Way pub. Three women sat quietly in the corner watching the wood fire. The two men who stood gossiping at the bar were the only other patrons; it was fairly desolate for a Thursday night.
“Your usual Larry?” Lawrence waved back at Angela, she was always very attentive to him, maybe there was something there. When she wasn’t bitching at people she was quite attractive.
“Leave it there, I’ll be back in a minute.” He bounced up the stairs to the old Lounge Bar, a spacious musty room where the band practised.
“Hi Jack.” Lead guitarist Jack sat on a stool by the dusty bar. “How’s it goin? It’s great to be here. Work’s been a real shitter all day.” Lawrence talked without paying attention to the already familiar surroundings. He set down his briefcase, throwing his jacket on top, eager to get started. “I’ve been working on some lyrics on the bus. Where’s Mikey & Paul?”
“Well they were supposed to be here.” His reply hung there as if missing a conclusion. Jack had a bottle of beer in his hand but hadn’t taken off his leather jacket. “ Em, Larry.”
Now Lawrence stopped, and faced Jack again. “What’s up?”
“Listen Larry. We don’t think this is working out.” Jack toyed with the top of the bottle avoiding eye contact, trying to force out previously rehearsed words.
“What’s not working out? Angie’s cool with us being here, she’s not bothered.”
“Its not Angie or the bar, it’s just that…” and again Jack’s answer was left hanging, waiting this time for someone else to finish it.
Lawrence took a step closer. “Where’s you’re Fender?” Noticing for the first time Jack hadn’t brought his guitar.
“That’s what ah’m saying Larry. We’re going to go our own way. Me and the others, we’re.” But Lawrence cut him off midsentence.
“Jack, look at me. What’s going on?”
“Are you no fucking listening Larry? It’s just that, well we just think it might be best if we go our own way.”
“We? What do you mean we? Have you fuckers been plotting this? Where are those two?” Lawrence took a step back again.
“That’s a good question.”
“Whose idea was this? Is this you’re doing?” Lawrence shrank back a bit more.
“Listen Larry you’re a good man but we need a decent singer and Paul’s cousin sang with some other guys in Manchester and he plays bass as well. We’re going to try him out. we have to think of …..” Jack’s voice continued but Lawrence was oblivious to it. It was just noise. He thought about the woman from the bus, her wide mouth and imposing laugh, but now she was laughing at him.