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by Stephen Regan

Rob stomps out of his workplace and over to the crap hotel at the end of the lane. Janet behind the bar pours him red wine, flashes her sad smile. He likes Janet. She reminds him of Our Lady in that picture which hung in his grandma’s parlour in Wigan back in the ’60s. Except for the tight blonde perm — Our Lady didn’t have one of those.

Rob heads out to the garden to smoke and to “reflect on life” — which is what he’s come to call his drinking. Ha! Nice and ironic. Everything is nice and fucking ironic these days. A man is sat on his customary bench so Rob settles on the one opposite.

The man, a stranger, is intrigued by Rob’s liquorice rolling papers, and comes and sits by him. The two start talking — about arthritis, high blood pressure, failed love, property worries, how Lancashire’s changed, and what men can and can’t do in their late ’50s.

Rob’s new friend is Phil, and he’s about to get divorced. Phil then hopes for a new life in Canada with his first love. But Phil’s heard that Canada can be boring.

“Oh, yeah,” says Rob, “even the word ‘Canada’ is boring.”

Rob tells Phil all about Juney and how they plan to live together in Corralejo one day. Rob also explains how he’s determined to drive 250 miles to Norwich the next morning to attend a party for a former workmate who’s close to death. It’ll be a kind of wake for the (just about) still alive.

All this is said as Cilla Black’s funeral Mass takes place in Liverpool. The two men don’t talk about that; they just do mildly sad faces. Well, Rob was always a Dusty Springfield man and Phil preferred Kathy Kirby.

The time comes for Rob to walk back to his desk in his boring office nearby — designed by Canadians, he’s sure — but instead he drinks deep of more wine and buys Phil a large whiskey.

Rob looks at Phil. Phil looks at Rob. They kill two wasps. They swap mobile numbers.

Soon enough, they’ll meet again — for a pub lunch. They’ll kill more wasps and consider what it means, what it really means, to be human.

Stephen Regan is the founder of the Liver Bards poetry group in Liverpool. His poems have been published in Envoi, Best of Manchester Poets Vol. 2, Reach Poetry, Killing the Angel, The Provo Canyon Review and DoveTales. His poem Unhappy Valley Sunday won the runner-up prize in the Sefton Writing Competition in 2011, and his poem Red-bricked is part of a permanent art display at Wallgate rail station in his home town of Wigan, Lancashire. His flash fiction has been published by Flash Fiction Magazine and National Flash Fiction Day.

Stephen is also a journalist. He used to write a daily satirical fiction serial called “Partners” for Today, the former UK national newspaper. For many years he also wrote a cult national column for ITV Oracle and Teletext services as “Sam Brady: The Man They Can’t Gag!”