a reluctant dinner guest

Denzil groaned when he heard knocking on the front door of his flat.  He’d hoped his mad but essentially well intentioned landlady wouldn’t try and remind him that he was invited out to dinner with her family and a small assortment of other people.  Almost exactly a week ago she’d invited him and he’d nodded and agreed without really knowing what he was nodding and agreeing to, just wanting to be gone.  “It’s Uncle Frank’s birthday and we always go out as a family for Uncle Frank’s birthday,” she’d said.  Who the hell’s Uncle Frank and why should I care? Denzil wondered, bemused.  He suspected he was considered sympathetic by his landlord and landlady, both of whom lived in the same building.  Her profound deafness gave the impression that it didn’t matter what you said to her in conversation; she had her own views and perceptions, and was happily sticking to them thank you very much – not just because she couldn’t hear anything else, also because she didn’t care.  One of these perceptions was that Denzil was a sad lonely man who didn’t get out that much.  While that perception wasn’t entirely untrue, he did get out a bit, every now and then.  She was just entirely deaf to his comings and goings, so mostly suspected he was always in his flat being sad and lonely, even if her husband had seen and heard Denzil leave, and told his wife so.

Still she knocked at his door.  He was in two minds, but his music playing suggested his presence, was audible to her husband perhaps, if not to her.  He to really, he supposed.
“You’d forgotten, hadn’t you!?” she chirruped.
“Erm, yes,” he lied, immediately feeling bad.
“Well, we’re going to the pub first and we’d love for you to come along too.  Our Phillip’s coming as well.”
Their Phillip was their son, Denzil’s age, who Denzil had only said hello to in passing.  He seemed pleasant, if vacant, which could have been a prejudgement based on a droney voice.

Denzil sat back down on the sofa in front of the television, knowing he had to go, really not wanting to.

Tentatively peering into the pub corner, he saw their table.  Six people: his landlord and landlady, their son, one fragile looking old man (potentially Uncle Frank), and another couple around the age of his landlord and lady, perhaps a smidge younger.  He said hello to everyone, was introduced and politely shook their hands.

“Ooh, I’m so glad you’ve come, it is good of you!” his landlady blared over everyone from the opposite end of the table.
Denzil nodded and shrugged, sitting between his landlord and the other man whose name he’d instantly forgotten, a cheerful overweight man who wore his fat in a smug way Denzil had noticed men of that age sometimes do, as if shirking the sheer folly of not being so wisely rotund.  They often think themselves in possession of seriously acute wit too.  He kept trying to make jokes which Denzil wasn’t sure were jokes until he laughed, cueing Denzil to laugh with him.  Denzil was rubbish at fake laughing.  The man was annoying and boring.  Denzil hoped he wouldn’t have to sit near him at dinner.

He didn’t.  A short walk further down the street led them to the restaurant, where his landlady belligerently barked down the elegant looking Maitre D’s claim that she’d only booked for six people.
“No, Seven!”
“You said six.”
“Seven!”
Denzil wondered quietly if it was his place that she hadn’t countered for, if she hadn’t expected him to attend.  Although she acted like she had.
He sat next to the son, Phillip, who was a reasonable bloke.  They spoke of work and football and his family, the eccentric mother and emigrated sister who had been in Australia almost two years.
“Oh my Katrin!” Denzil’s landlady cooed, upon hearing her daughter’s name.  She always raved about her daughter, unashamedly saying she was her favourite and her son was a tyke, giving the impression that their bond was as tight as can be.
“Nah mate,” Phillip told him, “my sister’s WAY less tolerant of Mum than me.  Right Daddy’s Girl, she is.”
Only then Denzil realised he had only his landlady’s narrow take on the mother-daughter relationship, one which he’d accepted and believed to be the tightest mother-daughter pact imaginable, because that was how she’d forcefully portrayed it.
Peculiar how one person’s incessant, rambling, but all the same convincing description can draw you in so deep you forget there’s alternative takes, Denzil thought.
Old Uncle Frank sat opposite Denzil throughout, carefully and slowly eating, mostly mute, despite occasionally being barked at by Denzil’s landlady.  He looked like he was full of stories, but they would remain locked.  The restaurant was noisy, cutlery chinked, Phillip’s mother yapped away, effortlessly misinterpreting questions and striding confidently off down conversational avenues which left everyone else perplexed.
But thanks to Phillip, the evening wasn’t as arduous as Denzil had feared.  And the meal was good, paid for by his landlord.  He hadn’t drunk, given his motorcycle training early following morning.  An awkward moment when the bill arrived and he reached for a pocket, unsure, checked with Phillip, who waved him away.  “Dad wouldn’t accept anything.”  They eventually raised to leave, Denzil newly feeling a tightened hamstring and flowering bruise on his left foot after that afternoon’s football.  He hugged his mad landlady outside the restaurant, thanked his landlord for dinner, shook Phillip’s hand and waved vaguely at the rest. Some were returning to the pub, others were driving home.  Denzil was safely back in his flat in time for Match Of The Day.

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