The Stephen King Connection by Hannah Harris
Katie and I went to a play at the Harold Pinter theatre tonight. Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons by Sam Steiner. There were beautiful moments and we love the Harold Pinter, a 140-year-old theatre in Piccadilly. But to be totally frank, at the pub we talked a lot about the play’s imperfections.
We all bloody love a good moan, don’t we?
The play was about an alternative universe in which people are restricted to speaking only 140 words everyday. It was a two hander: boy meets girl. Katie and I waxed lyrical about how we would have refined our new language in order to say as much to each other as possible in the fewest words. One word questions. Mimed answers. Sign language. We would have been cunning and succinct about it. We have known each other for a long time and have developed a deep mutual understanding for many things, including literature, theatre, music, and indeed, language.
In the play, in this brave new dystopian world of speech restriction, there were lots of wasted words and very little signing, and it just did not seem to breathe the truth.
So we were chatting away in our cosy corner of our favourite theatre pub, and an older couple asked if they could join us at the table. Of course, we said. They sat their overflowing pint and peachy glass of rosé next to our drinks, laid their smart thick winter coats alongside ours, and we all got talking. It was awkward at first: they felt guilty for intruding on our evening, but we tried to put them at ease – we are a talkative pair, and they soon settled in; it is a tiny pub after all, with only a handful of tables.
Their broad geordie accents betrayed their Newcastle roots, and we found out they were down in London for five days because it is Vanessa’s 60th birthday tomorrow and they fancied a romantic getaway to the south. They are staying in a plush hotel round the corner. Between them they have five children and eight grandchildren. They struggled to enjoy To Kill A Mockingbird at the theatre last night. They love Stephen King - books and movies - in fact they’ve been to Bangor, Maine where Stephen grew up, and in which he has invested loads of money to build up the town so that the residents are enormously proud now to live there in his midst. There were photos of them both beaming alongside severed hands and headless ghouls. Their favourite SK movie is Pet Sematary. Did we know Shawshank Redemption was one of his short stories? They thought we were a couple. Katie talked to Vanessa about her own online dating trepidations. I talked to Paul about his cabling company.
When I overheard Katie and Vanessa talking passionately about Pet Sematary, I pulled a dog-eared paperback out of my bag: On Writing by Stephen King.* His memoir come writer’s inspirational guidebook that I’ve been reading sporadically - and going on about - for the last couple of months. Not that I’m especially a Stephen King super fan like the others were, having never read one of his books and only watched a couple of the movies. But this book has made me fall in love with the man. I urged them all to get it and read it.
Conversation flowed, so did wine and beer until I got the fear about my huge packed day at work tomorrow and had to get up to leave. We all hugged like old friends and wished Vanessa a million happy birthdays for the next day. In fact, we were exactly two hours away from the moment she had been born 60 years ago.
We waved them off and ran down the street towards the tube. Then I realised there was no bag on my shoulder and I had left it back in the pub. “Sorryyyy.” I ran back while Katie waited on a corner rolling her eyes - this was definitely not the first time this has happened.
I careered back into the pub, breathlessly telling Vanessa and Paul about my bag. They joked about how they had been about to steal my cash. And as I grabbed my art gallery tote bag, out of it was peeking the book, and at that point the idea came to me. I said, “Hey Vanessa, it’s your birthday! And I can give you this book. I know how much you’ll love it.”
“No no, you can’t,” she replied. “Yes. Yes I can, here you go, I want you to have it. Happy birthday,” and I raced out into the cold and back to my friend.
*I must credit the wonderful Bonnie Garvin of Storytelling Lab LA for this book recommendation. Her storytelling course has really brought a lot of colour into my life in the last year, and this book is just one hue on that spectrum.