Friday, 3 January 2014

'Can you give me a good time?'

Good times around the corner
Good times around the corner

The same words circulated like stale air through tepid beer – the obligatory anaesthesia she raised to her lips at intervals. Cold glass broke the beads of sweat beneath her fingers and muffled lights danced over the greasy interior. There were no suitable adjectives. No, she concluded, watching the reflection of her hands in the bar – as if serpentine and struggling in amber – nothing but insignificance. Poetry came automatic and meaningless. Even the tutor noticed –

‘What you need Leah, is to install a bit of fight in you. Get out, get some experience, have a good time…’
She remembered looking into those supposed academic eyes which seemed to glint as if the stare was fixed with something vindictive, the lacquered mouth mulching over the familial phrase. Miss Mariah Davy, master-of-the-arts, automatically-efficient, surely did not have to worry about having a ‘good time’ herself. No, it was just an oft-described antidote to the floating undergraduate, in the hope that something productive would arrive of it.

Leah cast a cautionary stare over the bar.

Nothing but the usual – sunken eyes sometimes staring back through a film of sweat, or hastily pressed powder. A group of girls forced laughter from a darkened corner to try and conceal the rolling of cigarettes. Leah’s hands itched with inaction and she opened and closed them – the ink-marks on skin splitting and distorting in the mimicry of a crumpled manuscript.

‘Hurry up please…’

The landlord retained his ambiguity behind the smell of beer and empty statements. It hit Leah’s face with the cold coagulated lingering of saliva. She raised her head as if transferring the sipping of beer to the sipping of air – yet it was speech that surged in a horrible convulsive motion of the mouth:

‘You might not give me time, no, but what I want to know is, seriously – can you give me a good time?’

The syllables seemed large and fleshy against her tongue, strange – but then again, what wasn’t strange? 

What about the revelry of the Christmas revellers on the cobbled streets with their decorous masks and equally decorous mouths? They stammered upon stone like miniature dolls, the click, click, click of limbs, the click, click click of lighters and fireworks and all else that illuminated…

The click, click, click of a chastening tongue behind the bar shutters –

 ‘Will someone mind showing this young lady to the door?’

Leah wondered at the acidity easing especially over the expulsion of ‘young lady’ – cold and creeping. A certain nameless cold like that which pervades hospital waiting rooms when one is a child and yet the nurse insists that all that in prospect is a ‘good time’, a cold that coagulated against her neck from the inevitable young man who gripped her waist and asked through an empty plastic face whether she wanted ‘a good time’… Memories, stirring and rising like glass in a wound.

‘Come on love... Let’s be going…’

A thick masculine voice stressed the imperative and she felt the customary hand clamped in the indent just above her hip. Cold, so cold. She felt herself being guided towards the door, her movements mimicked by the tapering flames of greasy candles stoppered in bottles and gloating in the lingered spread of seeping wax. The man escorting her  smelled of sweat and superfluous beer.

He paused just at the threshold of the doorway, where Leah felt the nights knife slide over her like a cloak. The streetlights seemed to fix their shuttered stare upon the ground below, glowering red, casting the uneven cobbles gross and carbuncular – a perfect mask of a private town. An accordion wailed on the street corner in which his voice was caught and mingled…

‘I’ll tell you want you want for a good time, love.’
His palm seemed to thicken in front of her face , quivering like a cut meat on the butchers slab. It was a physical effort to focus her eyes, a physical effort to notice that his too were red raw.

He gave no response to his declaration other than to indicate the plethora of pills that filled his palm, almost like spider eyes, and to muse in a voice strange and drawn-out as if swept through a seashell –
‘A good time, eh? Yeah, you don’t even remember the first couple of hours, and then the colours, the colours! And you know, I heard my mother once, dressed  to the nines she was, like a masquerade..’

It did not sound like a good time to her.

She felt herself disengaged from his grasp seemingly before making the conscious decision to make movement,  a slow-motion staggering on the slimed surface of the street. A momentary stab of consciousness told her that the accordion was no good either. The weeping instrument moving in sync with a rough assemblage of female body as if one great lung from which the flesh had been scraped away. There was something horribly human about its output, horribly so that Leah felt a flush of relief as her thrown coin clattered in the steel can at the woman’s feet. The woman flashed her shattered mask, old and bloody under artificial light –

‘A good night to you, a good night.’

The awful indeterminacy of the words struck like steel pins in the spine – confirming a structure that sought only to agonize. Leah continued down the street, watched only by crude assemblages of mannequins adorning shop fronts, defiant and almost dreadful as if in some genderless conspiracy with the night. Watching, forever faceless, watching. Watching those who trawled the streets beneath the bruised remains of the day. Somehow, people seemed to perceive that the lack of light made things not quite the same. A very exhibition of the case appeared to exhibit itself at the street corner, where a young woman leaned and suspended her image readily in the expectant frame of a car window. Although Leah could only observe the girl from the back, she noticed her hand moving with an evident agitation through fabricated hair – a hand once blue with ink and cold, now diffused with the blue of vulnerable young veins. She was cast almost as marble, chilled and resolute, murmuring through the car window  into the ear of her audience, the ear of the audience which  –

‘I’ll give you a good time… just…’

Then she named a price.

A good time always came with a price. Leah had learned that. The history undergraduate who defended his idea of a good time as the needle jarred in the vein, the young woman across the corridor who woke up to the human manifestation of a good time in the form of a lost young man with a wandering stare and staining hands. He went on his way too, just as the all did, indeterminate, unrecognised, the self-confirmed failures, the shifters, and stirrers. Caught under streetlights, headlights, flickering vaguely like leaf litter.

Leah remembered her face refracted into a million spiracles in the car wing-mirror, the stare from the rear window of the woman stood on the kerb moments before. Everything moving.


And yet there, beneath the inevitable stream of artificial light, the lingering illumination of those searching for the promise of a good time.