“You stink, mate.” Said Neil.
“Yup.” Dom agreed. “I’ll quit eventually.” He placed his cigarettes down onto the table next to his pint as he sat back down. “Can barely afford it anymore anyway.”
“What’s the pay like at your place?” Asked Neil, before raising the pint glass back into its default state.
“About as bad as it is legally allowed to be.” Dom replied, before following suit. There was a short silence while they drank, before he continued: “But it’s OK. I have a backup plan. A secondary income.” Neil lowered his pint, clearly intrigued, then raised it again as Dom pulled the £1 scratcher out of his back pocket. “I’m about to be a hundred-thousand-aire, mate. Got a coin?” Neil once again raised his fist and showed him a thumbs down.
Dom had forgotten just how often Neil gave this kind of response. If he had a pint in front of him, which he did more often than not, conversation was very much a secondary priority. Thumbs down was his most frequently used signal, then thumbs up. Then of course there was the middle finger. A classic. Those three tended to cover the bases.
Then Neil did lower his pint. “Ask one of them”, he grinned, gesturing towards a group of girls sat at the next table. Dom grinned too. As if.
“You ask them.” He replied, sounding slightly too casual.
“Last to finish their pint asks them.” Said Neil.
“Well that is clearly not a fair contest.” Dom laughed. “You’ve got a massive head-start on me.” It was true. Neil had basically inhaled most of his beer while Dom had only drunk about a third of his pint. Neil thought for a moment, then replied.
“You start supping, then I’ll join in once we’re level.” He reasoned. Shit, that did sound fair. Neil would definitely still win though.
Dom started to down the two thirds of a pint he had left, with Neil watching on carefully. Then, when the amounts of beer left looked pretty much identical, Neil lifted his glass once more and downed his. He downed it very quickly indeed. Much, much quicker than Dom.
Dom swallowed the last of his beer and disappointedly banged his glass back down onto the mat. “Fine.” He muttered, as Neil beamed. He turned to look at the group of girls. There were four of them sat around the table: The blonde on the left sat holding what he assumed was a gin and tonic. On the far side was a girl with red hair, who’d barely touched her coke, or rum and coke or whatever it was. This was in contrast to a second blonde on the right side of the table, who had almost finished her… Probably rum and coke too. Dom wasn’t sure. The fourth girl was sat closest to him facing the other way, so he couldn’t see what she looked like. He could just see her long, wavy brown hair that flowed down the back or her head and disappeared behind the back of the chair.
Dom mustered all of his courage. He hated this type of situation. He braced himself to be laughed out of the pub or humiliated in some other way. “Excuse me”, he ventured, voice trembling. The three girls that he’d already clocked looked abruptly towards him, their faces impossible to read. He’d interrupted a conversation. He momentarily wondered whether they’d be annoyed. But then she turned around.
Dom knew instantly that he was in trouble. The fourth girl was impossibly beautiful, with her deep brown eyes that perfectly matched the shade of her long, flowing hair, her delicate nose, her soft pink lips. He was painfully and almost certainly irreversibly infected by her. He’d already forgotten that he was supposed to ask for a coin for the scratcher. But then she delivered the finishing blow. She smiled.
Dom knew then that he was done for. That smile. That smile that seemed to bring the entire room into sharper focus. That smile that seemed to make the colours around her become brighter and more saturated. She didn’t so much have a face that would launch a thousand ships, but a face that could and should start a global nuclear conflict. A face that given the chance, Dom himself would start a global nuclear conflict for without hesitation.
Dom suddenly made a number of realisations. He realised that his jaw was hanging open and had been for a number of seconds. He realised that he was supposed to ask her something. Something to do with words. He realised that he had forgotten what words were.
Dom realised that the best he could do at this moment, his best chance of not messing this up was to smile back and hope for the best.
So that’s what he did.
I could probably say that Dom and the girl ended up together. That he said something funny and she threw her head back and laughed. That they dated, fell in love, got married and moved to that small rural cottage somewhere far away. That they cooked together, started a family together, were happy together and spammed all of their Facebook friends with pictures of their many healthy children.
I could say that Dom quit smoking and then his job, throwing it in Mary Jane’s face as dramatically as he’d always dreamed and that Sabrina had stood and applauded, tears streaming down her face as he walked out of the “Computer Guys!” building for the final time. That Dom and Homeless John won big on their scratchers, or that Neil got himself a job, whether with Dom’s former employers or not and was then the best man at the wedding, floppy blonde mop reinstated and hanging lazily over his eyes as he handed them the rings.
But does it matter?
None of that is the point. The point is that none of this, not Dom and the girl meeting, not he and Neil reconnecting, not one part of the story so far and not one of those possible future outcomes would have happened or for the most part even been possible were it not for that fire alarm. Those drunken arse holes that set off the fire alarm and in doing so set in motion a chain of events that lead us here and beyond. At three in the morning. As a prank. A funny, funny, hilarious, funny one at that.
And who’s to say that it was even them? Maybe I set off the fire alarm. Maybe you did. Maybe it was Johnny Bravo or a hawk that swooped in through an open window. None of it matters. We all set off fire alarms every day. We all do things that spiral off in different directions through the people around us, setting off chains of consequences that are perfectly and gloriously impossible to predict.
That’s the beauty of chaos.
And that’s the chaos of Dom.