I carried our drinks to the table where I’d left Brown and found he’d gained a neighbour: David. Three piece suit, floppy, salt and pepper hair, dark-rimmed glasses. I’d noticed him before, a few inches taller than everyone else as we made our way from bookshop to pub. Closer up, there was something wrong in the way he talked with Brown that I couldn’t place at first.
As I settled into my chair and Brown spoke I noticed David’s eyes flick up and down, taking him in. For what? What was he hoping to gain from this? It was uncomfortable and David either didn’t notice it or chose to transcend it – or exploit it.
Brown: “How do you know the author?”
David: “We went to college together.”
Brown introduced us. As we traded hellos I noticed his posture – his arms spread, leaning back, or peering over the rim of his glasses, with a conspiratorial look. He moved between these poses fluidly and often, and showed complete ease in conversation. Then:
“What do you do, Emma?” (Leaning back)
“I work with artists on their projects.”
(Conspiratorial, eyebrows arched) “An artist’s assistant?”
Brown: “She’s a curator.”
“Sounds very… fulfilling.”
This guy’s an arsehole, I thought. “It has its moments. And you?”
(Slight flicker of the eyes) “I’m a lawyer.”
He doesn’t like admitting that, but he’s proud too. “A specialism?”
“Yes, I’m very good with technical detail, so I chose the most difficult type of law. I’m a tax lawyer.” (Leaning back, more at ease now)
“The most difficult? What’s easy law?”
“Family, corporate…criminal. Too easy. So I went for the hardest thing – I love the detail. The only problem is, you’re dealing with motherfuckers all the time.”
“Rich people avoiding tax.”
There was a pause. I traded looks with Brown.
David spoke very fluently about his dissatisfaction with tax law and something built up inside me.
“It sounds like you need to change your career…” A pause. A word forced its way out of my mouth before I had the chance to consider it.
Brown laughed. David blinked, then recovered quickly.
“Actually,” (Sincerely, eyes down at the table) “I’ve got experience in that. I’ve delivered two babies and I’m really good at it, I just understood what needed to be done. I absorb technical detail. Most people take in 30% of speech, but I absorb 99%, it’s what I do. So in antenatal classes I just took it all in, understood the mechanics of it. Because the baby’s one shape and a woman’s pelvis is another. There’s only one way they fit – it’s obvious. So the mother of my children was giving birth and I was with the midwives, and I just stepped in and said, ‘This is what we need to do.’” He gestured with his hands, rotating an imaginary baby in the air. “They looked at me after and asked me, ‘Have you done this before?’” A pause. “So it is something I’ve thought about.”