“What do they know about, the ones who know …”

“No, it’s what do they know of something – not sure what the something is. Yeah, what do they know of something who only know, ah, something. Something or other.”

“That’s no quite it either, clearly.”

“Closer than you though.”


“What do they know about, um … um, something, who only, ah …”

“Something know?”

“Something know! That’s it. What do they know about something who only something know?”

“What does it mean?

“Not sure. Depends what the something is, doesn’t it?”

“Suppose so. Yeah. Let’s have another drink.”

And so they poured two more glasses, poured them high and looked at them with a kind of respect, in front of them, on the table, before they took their first sips. And they weren’t sips. They were less tidy than that. Less neat.

The older one took a deeper draft and his eyes seemed to glow and glaze as the wine took effect.

“Oh, hasn’t that one got an interesting nose on it, Jeff?” he said.

Jeff was younger, his white hair a shade of dirty yellow, a thick growth emanating from the reddened skin around his ears, and he wore a scarf, even when he was inside. He was the sophisticated one of the pair. “Yes it does Matt. That’s right.”

“Big red, isn’t it? It’s another Shiraz, isn’t it Jeff?”

“They’re all Shirazes, Matt.”


They drank once again.

Matt wore a cardigan which sagged around the pockets, where he kept his pipe and a couple of odds and ends. It was a tired garment which had seen better days, well overdue for a wash, but no-one could ever get it off Matt in order to quickly launder it. His daughter wanted to give it a good wash, or to bin it, but she never got the chance. He wouldn’t let her. Daisy had knitted it for him and he had so few things of hers it seemed precious to him.

Jeff thought Matt’s cardigan was a bit smelly. He thought Matt was a smelly man in general. Jeff liked it when Matt lit his pipe because the smoke would mask the smell and replace it with the smell of tobacco, and tobacco reminded Jeff of his dad. Jeff’s dad used to appear at odd moments, then go away again for months, but whenever we was around you would smell his Capstan Navy Cut first. Jeff’s dad would tell stories of his adventures, which Jeff learned were all lies after the old man’s funeral and going through his papers and all of that stuff, and he realised that his mum was right and the bloke had been a no good liar and a no hoper and all the other things she had said about him. But the memory of the smell remained. It was like a magical announcement that one of Santa’s elves was here to visit.

They sat on stools in the kitchen. The rest of the house was dark. It was not late.

The pipe stayed in Matt’s cardigan pocket. The pair of men were drinking together and so their minds weren’t really on smells. Jeff wasn’t sure if Matt actually had a sense of smell any more. The man was certainly struggling with seeing and hearing in recent times. Jeff wondered if he was also struggling with his own senses, and he wondered which ones were faring the worst, and he decided that someone from the art gallery would have said something if they had noticed something. They were good people, the other volunteers at the gallery, and he had become quite close in some ways to some of them, but not close enough to drink with. Drinking with someone was a special kind of friendship and Matt was a special kind of friend. Although Jeff wished Matt had more interesting things to talk about sometimes. The sorts of conversation he had with the other volunteers, especially the women, and Jeff didn’t know too many women, were always interesting. They would talk about art, of course, but these were people who had things to say.

Matt drank. Jeff drank too.

“England!” said Matt.

“What about England?”

“What do they know of England who only England know?” said Matt.

It was the answer. The answer to the question Jeff had forgotten about but which had been occupying Matt’s sluggish mind for the last ten minutes. Jeff wasn’t sure if he could have reached that conclusion on his own, even if he hadn’t been thinking about something else and had actually tried.

They had another drink.

Published in: on May 23, 2013 at 8:33 pm  Leave a Comment  

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