Chapter no 14

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

THE MUSICIAN MUST HAVE been experiencing a maelstrom of emotions at this moment. A shy, modest, self-effacing man, a man who is forced to perform because of his talent, to share it with the world, not because he wants to, but because he simply has to. He sings in the way that a bird sings; his music is a sweet, natural thing that comes like rain, like sunlight, something that, perfectly, just is. I thought about this as I ate my impromptu dinner. I was in a fast-food restaurant for the first time in my adult life, an enormous and garish place just around the corner from the music venue. It was mystifyingly, inexplicably busy. I wondered why humans would willingly queue at a counter to request processed food, then carry it to a table which was not even set, and then eat it from the paper? Afterwards, despite having paid for it, the customers themselves are responsible for clearing away the detritus. Very strange.

After some contemplation, I had opted for a square of indeterminate white fish, which was coated in breadcrumbs and deep fried and then inserted between an overly sweet bread bun, accompanied, bizarrely, by a processed cheese slice, a limp lettuce leaf, and some salty, tangy white slime which bordered on obscenity. Despite Mummy’s best efforts, I am no epicure; however, surely it is a culinary truth universally acknowledged that fish and cheese do not go together? Someone really ought to tell Mr McDonald. There was nothing to tempt me from the choice of desserts, so I opted instead for a coffee, which was bitter and lukewarm. Naturally, I had been about to pour it all over myself but, just in time, had read the warning printed on the paper cup, alerting me to the fact that hot liquids can cause injury. A lucky escape, Eleanor! I said to myself, laughing quietly. I began to suspect that Mr McDonald was a very foolish man indeed, although, judging from the undiminished queue, a wealthy one.

I checked my watch, then picked up my shopper and put on my jerkin. I left the remains of my dinner where it was – what, after all, is the point

of eating out if you have to clear up yourself? You might as well have stayed at home.

It was time.

The flaw in my plan, the hamartia, was this: there were no tickets available. The man at the box office actually laughed at me.

‘It’s been sold out for a couple of days now,’ he said. I explained, patiently and slowly, that I only wanted to watch the first half, the support act, and suggested that they’d surely be able to admit one additional person, but it was impossible, apparently – fire regulations. For the second time in days, I felt tears come. The man laughed again.

‘Don’t cry, love,’ he said. ‘Honestly, they’re not even that good.’ He leaned over confidentially. ‘I helped the singer bring his gear in from his car this afternoon. Bit of an arsehole, to be honest with you. You shouldn’t let a wee bit of success go to your head, that’s all I’m saying. Nice to be nice, eh?’

I nodded, wondering which singer he was talking about, and moved to the bar area to gather my thoughts. I wouldn’t gain entry without a ticket, that much was clear. And there were no tickets available. I ordered a Magners drink, remembering from last time that I’d be required to pour it myself. The barman was well over six feet tall and had created strange, enormous holes in his earlobes by inserting little black plastic circles in order to push back the skin. For some reason, I was reminded of my shower curtain.

This comforting thought of home gave me the courage to examine his tattoos, which snaked across his neck and down both arms. The colours were very beautiful, and the images were dense and complex. How marvellous to be able to read someone’s skin, to explore the story of his life across his chest, his arms, the softness at the back of his neck. The barman had roses and a treble clef, a cross, a woman’s face … so much detail, so little unadorned flesh. He saw me looking, smiled.

‘Got any yourself?’

I shook my head, smiled back, and hurried off to a table with my drink. His words resonated in my head. Why didn’t I have any tattoos? I had never given it a moment’s thought, and I’d never consciously decided either to have or not have one. The more I thought about it, the more I was drawn to the idea. Perhaps I could have one on my face, something complex and intricate which incorporated my scar, making it

a feature? Or, better still, I could have one done somewhere secret. I liked that idea. The inside of my thigh, the back of my knee, the sole of my foot, perhaps.

I finished the Magners and the barman came over to remove my glass. ‘Same again?’ he asked.

‘No thank you,’ I said. ‘Can I ask you something?’ I stopped picking off the remains of the nail polish. ‘Two things, actually. One: does it hurt, and two, how much does a tattoo cost?’ He nodded, as if he’d been expecting my questions.

‘Hurts like fuck, I’m not gonna lie,’ he said. ‘In terms of cost, it depends on what you’re having done – there’s a big difference between Mum on your bicep and a massive tiger across your back, you know?’

I nodded; this made perfect sense.

‘Lot of cowboys around, though,’ he said, warming to his theme. ‘You want to go to Barry, in Thornton Street, if you’re getting one. Barry’s sound.’

‘Thank you very much,’ I said. I hadn’t expected this outcome from the evening, but then life has a way of surprising you sometimes.

Outside, I realized there was no point in waiting around. The musician would doubtless be going on to a glamorous after-party, somewhere that glittered and pulsed, to celebrate. As of tonight, I was only familiar with two venues, McDonald’s and the unpleasant bar I’d visited with Raymond, and it was hardly likely to be held in either of those.

Come on, Eleanor, I told myself. Tonight was simply not meant to be. The card would remain undelivered in my shopper for the time being. I assuaged my disappointment with the consoling thought that, when it did finally happen, the encounter would be perfect, and not some short notice, ad hoc meeting in a music club. Also, I’d have broken in my new boots by then, and so would be able to walk normally. I was already tired of the glances my semi-hobbled gait had been attracting.


Wondering if my stuff is a wee bit too challenging for some people yeah? Dont go to gigs if you can’t handle new sounds. #misunderstood #truth


Happens to all the greats when they first start out, tho #Dylan #Springsteen #amgigging

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