A couple of days later, we all met in The Sub-Pope’s Flock to attempt to start off where we were before The Interloper’s tale of nationalism and racism. It was a Monday around two o’clock, and the only one of us who had had a seminar was The Writer. As such, most of us were in the pub for a while before he arrived with the most exasperated look I believe I had ever seen on a man’s face. He walked to the bar, leaned forward on it, and said, “Whiskey. I don’t care what kind, I just need a whiskey to restore my faith in humanity.” He got a Jameson and sat down at our table.
“What’s wrong?” asked The Traveler.
The Writer knocked back his whiskey and said, “The professor actually asked what a story is.”
The Stalker jotted something down in a brown leather-bound notebook. The Traveler cocked an eyebrow. The Student did the same. The Drunkard tilted his head to the side. “What?” he asked.
The Writer leaned forward on the table, took off his brown flatcap and wriggled out of his corduroy jacket. “I’ll tell you what she said. This is verbatim, mind you, ‘If I were to ask you what a story is, what would you say?’ So, this being a Master’s class, I answered that it is a tool to change the world, that the word ‘story’ is indeed a condescending term that should only be applied to filth like Anne Rice and Dean Koontz; I was about to go on further with this train of thought, for the moment had taken me to heights in which I had not dwelled since my time of being an editor, but she cut me short.
“‘Yes,’ she said, ‘that’s all well and good, but what is a story?’ I blinked. I answered the question, or so I thought. But no, she then proceeded to define plot, character, and action. Gentlemen,” said the Writer, “I am in Creative Writing 101. And that is why I was in desperate need of whiskey.”
We nodded, unspoken went the sentiment that truly, his life was in shambles.
“I’ve got a journalism class tomorrow,” said The Drunkard. “I wonder if they’ll ask us what an editorial is.”
“More likely,” said The Traveler, “they’ll ask you, flask in hand, how to stave off the impending demise of the newspaper industry. How was London?”
“Oh,” said The Stalker, slurping his cider again, “I’m sure they found some, ah, oddities that one would not find in any guidebook. Broccoli soup, for example?”
The Drunkard leapt up from his chair, pointed at The Stalker, and shouted, “You stop whatever the fuck it is you’re doing, kid. You hear me? I don’t know how the fuck you keep finding out what’s going on in—”
“I have my ways.”
The Drunkard sat back down, pale.
The Student cleared his throat. “Um, I’m sure you’ll find out one way or another fairly soon. So,” he said, putting his hands on the table, “shall we continue in our contest, or leave it festering in the shadow of The Interloper?”
“Rightly said,” said The Traveler. “Drunkard, I believe it was your turn to tell us a story.”
The Drunkard, though, did not hear The Traveler. He was still pale, locked in a death stare with The Stalker’s black [contact-covered] eyes. The Writer poked him in the shoulder, causing The Drunkard to react by reflex and shove The Writer out of his chair. The poke did the job, though, as The Drunkard shook his head and said, “What? My story time?”
“Yep,” said the Traveler.
“Okay. Well, as you may know, I was once a reporter for the liberal arts college known as Cumberland Rift University. My being the only person on the staff with even a hint of talent, I was given certain privileges that, to be completely honest, they shouldn’t have given me.”
“Freedom of speech, for example,” said The Writer.
I snickered, low enough so that he could not hear me: the worst thing in the world is letting a jerk know that they can get away with being funny.
The Drunkard, for his part, pushed The Writer off of his chair again.
“Anyway,” he continued, “as I mentioned the other day, towards the end of election season and the beginning of the year, Cumberland Rift University’s newspaper, The Independent Times of the Nation—we called it ITN for short—sent me to cover the Republican candidate for governor. They also gave me an allowance of two thousand—”
“You said one thousand,” said The Writer.
“Are you fucking serious?” asked The Drunkard.
The Writer took a small black notebook from the inside of his jacket, licked his thumb, and flipped through some pages. “Yep, ‘they gave me one thousand dollars.’”
A small vein throbbed in The Drunkard’s forehead.
“What?” asked The Writer. “I just want you to be as accurate as possible. Don’t want to lose points because someone’s being pedantic, do you?”
The vein throbbed harder. In fact, it was on the verge of bursting out of his forehead.
“Let it go,” I said.
“Right,” The Drunkard responded.