A cracking sound. A crack and a jolt. He opened an eye. It must have been his head off the step. Marble. There was no pain. How did he get here? He’d climbed three flights and he was outside his gaff. He leaned over and dug the key out of his pocket. It was buried under a wad of coins and banknotes.
The place, in darkness, stank of old shoes. He managed to open the balcony door. He staggered to the mattress and collapsed. Old shoes and newsprint. Joss sticks.
The Weeping Song.
He reached over and pulled the phone out of the wall.
Shards of light through the shutters. Fuck. The daily interior. This would have to stop. He was aware of the problem. It was simple. Whatever money he made, he drank. That was it. In a nutshell. He liked getting pissed. Is that so bad? It was a stage and it was almost at an end. It couldn’t go on much longer. Not this. Not living like this in a flat where the only furniture was a mattress on the floor and a kitchen like a bombsite. The Single Man left to his own devices. He was clean, though. He wasn’t a tramp.
What was the alternative?
He felt better after three Paracodol and a shave. He did some reps with the dumbbell. No point getting fat. He felt strong. Arms of iron. He knew how to look after himself. In this life, no one else did it for you. He rinsed the glass under the tap and added gin. Up to the brim with lime juice, that diluting stuff. Neat.
It was too cold to sit outside. He parked himself next to the stove and fished a couple of coins out of the tangle of notes. It was better to pay like this. It was easy to lose track. He wasn’t a daytime drinker, not in the real sense. Maybe it was a matter of time. He pulled an old Guardian off the shelf. Yanni threw him a pen. Araucaria. Fuck that. He turned to the quick crossword. Alan’s writing; he insisted on using small letters. Matt finished it in a matter of minutes.
Then the fidgeting started. He asked Yanni what day it was. Saturday. He had enough cash for another week. Plus he was due dole money. He was trying not to touch it, though, save it up till the end of the year then go in and collect it in a oner. ‘Husbanding the cash flow’ some idiot had called it. He’d see how things went. Someone had phoned during the week asking about privates. They were getting desperate. The results were out and they needed to take resits. He could hike the price, that would be an idea. Not too much, though. He didn’t want to price himself out of the market. He couldn’t remember which genius had come out with that line, but he supposed it made sense.
There was plenty of work. He just couldn’t be arsed doing it.
Alan pretended to be annoyed about the crossword. He brought over the tavli. It gave you something to do other than talk. ‘Fancy making it interesting?’ said Matt, and promptly took him for a fiver. They sat over the board, smoking, contemplating the mess of red and white counters. Alan suddenly jerked upright and pressed his face to the window. ‘Fucking hell,’ he said. Matt looked outside. Nick Cave walked past, a girl on his arm. They were both laughing. ‘Did you see that?’ said Alan.
Matt waved at Yanni. 2 beers. ‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘Lanky, eh?
Matt waved at Yanni. 2 beers. ‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘Lanky, eh?
He got a toasted sandwich and went back to the flat. He could feel that thing descending on him, as it always did at this time of day, just as the sun was going down. It had nothing to do with the beer. He’d been hoping the beer might stave it off. Analysis. Examination. The maudlin exploration of the self. Garbage. The facts didn’t need much working on. She came over here. You followed her. It didn’t work out. She left. You’re still here. What’s the point? There’s no point. What are you going to do? Stay here. You can’t go back there because you’ve been here too long. You’re a stranger here and a stranger there. In Limbo. You sleep most of the day and go out barring it every night. You drink. You drink. It’s got nothing to do with forgetting. Memories are sacred, no one can take them away from you. If they tried you’d kill them. You drink because you like it. You like that feeling. You like that lack of feeling. You like that numbness.
The bar. 4am. Alan’s there. Yeah, you. Good looking. Looking good. Lanky. Not Nick Cave. That singer, what’s his name, Suede. Cocky bastard. A hit with the ladies, that’s what they say, but you aren’t someone who brags. I like your style. You know how to keep your mouth shut. There’s no side with you. No bullshit, no trying to be something you aren’t.
‘An Amstel,’ you shout. ‘And a Gimlet for Matt.’
I open my eyes. The place is heaving. Dancing all over the place. Someone bangs into me, but it’s the way things are, I’m used to it. There’s none of that macho stuff. If you want to be macho you ask something if she’s interested and if she is she is. Like Alan. Like me. I’m fit. I’ve got arms of iron. That’s it. Everything is here and now. There’s no. What’s it called? It’s something that happens. No strings. No stories. You do it, it’s over, move on.
The Weeping Song. The last song of the night. Time to go somewhere. Where? Time to go. The record spins on the deck. Focus. The only light is the light on the needle, searing the vinyl. The vinyl bobs. Focus on the light, but it’s moving. This is the Weeping Song. I raise my glass. I look at it closely. I examine it. Maybe it holds some kind of secret; the answer to a question I haven’t thought of. The contents are emerald, precious, glinting in that tiny light, the only light in the bar, the only light in the world.
Your voice is in my ear. ‘We’re all avoiding something,’ you say. A kiss on the side of my head – I give myself up to it. I tap the rim of your bottle with the bottom of my glass. It’s a gesture I’m comfortable with. It’s a gesture I like. It feels good, like something shared, like something I’m looking for. It feels like love.
* * *
This story was first published in Spilling Ink Review.