He felt just a little more intoxicated than he’d planned. Bob looked at his half a pint of bitter and thought, “better ease up a bit.” He flicked through his dog-eared book and confirmed his post-it notes were still in place. His new dog, Duke, put his head on Bob’s feet and the unfamiliar weight of him was reassuring.
Alfred Bloom joined him at the table, slurped at his gin and tonic, and performed an exaggerated lip smack of pleasure. Bob bristled with irritation.
“Evening Alfred. How did you enjoy the book?”
“Bob, what’s the first rule of book club?” He tapped his nose confidentially.
Bob wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of answering this, but just then, Edith arrived and replied on his behalf.
“Don’t talk about the book club.” Edith giggled, and the sound was so infectious that Bob laughed even though he hated this old joke. She looked lovely, and sometimes Bob forgot that she was an old-timer just like him. Her hair was white, but her short style was elegant and fashionable. Her skin wasn’t smooth, but her smile was full of mischief, and she made him laugh like did when he was a teenager. He wished they’d never split up.
“Well, Alfie. I suppose at our age you have to believe that the old ones are the best ones.” Bob stopped laughing when he heard her use a pet name for the odious Alfred. He knew they’d been dating, but he’d hoped that a couple of visits to the silver screenings at the local cinema wouldn’t be enough to woo a woman like Edith.
Her dog, Rocky, found Duke below the table, and they sniffed at each other. Bob looked at Rocky and wondered how he could have been so scared of such a sweet little collie that he’d made Edith choose between them. What a plonker. She’d been right to choose the dog.
Edith didn’t notice Duke, but she let Rocky’s lead go as she said, “Alfie, Did you like the book?”
“You’ll find out soon enough,” said Alfred holding up his copy of Pet Sematary by Stephen King. The book was pristine and appeared to have no notes other than a rather angry looking spelling correction of the title.
Edith clutched her battered copy.
“I was glad of an excuse to reread this. Thanks for picking it, Bob.”
He was grateful that she’d introduced him to this author. The book club tended to be more literary in their selections, but he’d learned from Edith to be more open-minded and now he, like her, expected people to judge books on their merits. However, he was relying on his suspicion that Alfred would disappoint in this regard.
Each member commented, and the opinions on the novel were varied and thoughtful. Although some were repelled by the horror at the heart of the story, most readers agreed it was an insightful exploration of grief. Then it was Alfred’s turn.
“Juvenile twaddle,” he said. “I gave up when the first pet came back to life. Only an idiot would care enough about a dead dog or cat to haul them up to an Indian burial ground.”
“Oh, Alfie,” thought Bob with a smile.
“Really,” said Edith and reached below the table to clutch Rocky around the neck.
This was the start of the biggest argument since Joyce Green had chosen Fifty Shades of Grey (a choice which had resulted in the controversial, and hard to enforce, no erotica rule). Bob enjoyed the debate and periodically went to the bar and refreshed his bitter and Edith’s prosecco. He raised a glass when Edith said, “Alfred, you’re nothing but a small-minded snob.” She wasn’t calling him Alfie now. Alfred put on his scarf with a flourish before donning his trench coat and fedora.
“This club is a disgrace. Pulp horror is not, and never will be, literature.” He flounced out of the room. Edith looked shocked, and perhaps she felt she’d gone too far. Just then, however, Duke stood up from below the table, licked her hand and gazed at her with his beautiful, mournful spaniel eyes. Bob knew that she loved spaniels.
“Oh hello.” She cheered up considerably. “Who are you?” She ruffled Duke’s ears.
“This is Duke. My new dog,“ said Bob with pride. Edith looked up, and he saw that her eyes were wide with surprise. She smiled, and he knew that the expensive and initially terrifying, exposure therapy had been worth it.