In the club Ian had some blonde straddling him. On the black leather bench seat that ran the full length of the wall each side of him couples’ were either fucking with theatrical revelry or in various stages of reckless foreplay. As the blonde rode Ian he saw over her shoulder that through the murk of hazy spotlights Erin was navigating a route towards him. Ian eased the blonde off his lap, “Sorry,” he made a gesture at Erin, whose petite frame stood there completely naked apart from her high red stilettos. “Girlfriend problems,” he joked. The blonde smiled and moved on to a couple nearby, forming a writhing threesome on the floor, their limbs entwining like a knot of snakes.
Erin moved onto Ian’s lap, placing her knees either side of him, and ran her hands through his hair roughly.
“I had sex with you the other day, didn’t I?” Ian asked, feeling utterly stupid as soon as the words had clumsily tripped from his dim-witted tongue. He hated his penchant for stating the obvious.
“Yes, you did.” She fixed him with her big, brown eyes, reached down and made him gasp as she slid his cock inside her perfect little body.
Erin and Ian took their bottles of beer and settled into a quiet dark corner where a very dim red table-lamp bathed their faces in a warm hue. They stayed huddled together without interference from anyone else for the rest of the evening and walked out of the club hand in hand at around 1am. It had started raining and it was beautiful seeing the raindrops glittering in the orange street lights. The pavements were glistening and reflective; everything slipping and melding, dreamlike as a Dali painting. The cold drizzle felt so invigorating on his face Ian wondered why on earth everyone else on the street started running like pussies for their cars or the cover of doorways and shop canopies. Ian had always imagined he could happily live an uncomplicated life alone on an island to do as he pleased; free to swim in the sea, walk around naked in the sun or the rain.
They weaved their way down the road in the downpour to where Ian’s car was parked around the corner outside the police station in Steelhouse Lane. The uniform greyness of the night was punctured by an eruption of colour in the spectacular window display of a florist’s shop. “Doesn’t that look lovely?” Erin stopped for a second, pointing.
Happiness was to be found in the simple things. The sex clubs. Rain on the skin. We should commit ourselves without guilt only to carnal, sensory pleasures. There is nothing beyond the physical. The people who never find happiness in life are the ones searching for its meaning in some ethereal realm, some spiritual explanation. There is no meaning to any of it. We are as a random as the stars. Yet even when you look up at them you’re really looking at light from thousands of years ago travelling across the empty void of space. Ian had heard somewhere that in some cases a star doesn’t even exist, it died aeons ago and the event just hasn’t reached us yet. But like us all, they eventually burn out leaving only an essence of their magnificence behind.
Life could, in fact, be quite simple when you devote yourself only to physical sensation. Ian had conditioned himself to cut out all the internal pondering, to eliminate asking himself all those philosophical questions. You can savour the taste of fruits without being a botanist. Intellectualism gets in the way of life, of that he was sure. There had come a time when, realising he’d left his life behind at every angle, burned all his bridges, Ian began revisiting all his old haunts, despondently living in the past. He took to drifting through life searching for long lost love affairs and moments in time that had long ago slipped from his grip. But he’d given up all the ruminating and pondering these days. Burning your bridges was fine providing there were more bridges left to cross in front of you. Heartbreak was just a part of life, there’s no permanent immunity from it. That’s why you just have to keep moving on.
They were both soaking wet and Erin’s chic dark bob haircut was sticking to her face by the time they reached Ian’s Porsche. They listened to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs as he drove them back to his swish apartment at the Water’s Edge on Sherborne Wharf.
They sat at Ian’s coffee table drinking hot chocolate as they dried off by the fire. “So what gives?” Erin shrugged with a playful yet unmistakeably knowing smile. Her short skirt was riding high up her legs. She slipped off her shoes, revealing cute little painted red toe-nails as she stretched out and rested her feet up on Ian’s lap.
“I don’t feel,” Ian said, placing his cup down on the table, “that we only just met a few days ago in the club.” He put his hand on her bare thigh. “There’s a kind of easiness between us, even just sitting in silence next to you it seems like I have known you for years. I dunno… just some connection between us, I suppose.”
“Yes,” Erin made a little walking gesture with her fingers. “Like… if we two strangers passed each other in the street we couldn’t help but smile at each other. And afterwards, you know, I wouldn’t be able to get you out of my mind. After only that brief passing I’d search the city, looking to find you again.”
“Like we’d been lovers in a past life or something, yep; that’s how it seems to me, too.”
Erin leaned over and kissed Ian on the mouth and said, “now that I’ve found you, I don’t think I want to be without you.”
Erin stayed the night at Ian’s. In the morning he sat on the side of the bath watching her put on her make-up in the mirror before they went out for coffee at the 6/8 Kafé. “So…you’re something of a voyeur, too?” Erin laughed, pausing from applying her red lipstick. The 6/8 is a coffee shop on Temple Row, mostly frequented by students from Aston University. It is situated just a little further along from the beautiful flower shop they’d passed the night before. It was a bright morning and they sat at one of the little metal tables outside where Erin could smoke. Along the way they could see the florist had opened up for the day and had conscientiously constructed another colourful arrangement of flowers out front of the shop. On the opposite side of the paved thoroughfare a skinny bearded man in a long black overcoat with a guitar performed Neil Diamond songs for loose change outside a shuttered bankrupt business. Depeche Mode on the stereo drifted out of the 6/8 Kafé’s open door.
“I was thinking, you know, you don’t ever have to be without me if you don’t want to be,” Ian told Erin. “If I’ve got the choice, I’ll never let you go.”
Erin took a last drag on her stub of a cigarette and dabbed it out in the ashtray. She beamed a huge smile at him and they held hands across the table and sat in quiet reflection, enjoying the simplicity of each others’ presence. The morning sun glinted on Erin’s silver ear-rings. Her brown eyes were big dark beautiful orbs, so pretty catching the sunlight. Although there was an undeniable sense of belonging between them, Erin was an absorbing enigma to Ian. He had no desire to unravel the mystery; he was simply content to have her beside him, he could sit and watch her for hours.
It was at that moment the bomb exploded. It had been left in one of the public waste bins near the flower shop and detonated remotely. At first there was the sheer heart-stopping brutality of the blast, a searing flash of blinding white light accompanied by an ear-splitting sharp crack that sounded as though the sky had been ripped open. For a split second everything froze in mid-air, time itself seemed to be momentarily paralysed as the universe paused to assess what had happened. The very foundations of the city itself shuddered beneath Ian’s feet. A strange silence then prevailed as shop windows in the vicinity around the source of the explosion shattered and jagged shards of glass and splintered debris was sent spinning through the air in slow motion, thrust from the epicentre. Half a dozen bodies were left writhing on the floor before one by one slowly managing to struggle unsteadily to their feet.
The busker was lying across the pavement unmoving, a pool of blood forming around his broken body that was strewn at an unnatural, disconcerting angle. Everything after the initial blast occurred in such indescribable silence; it felt like an age before the bloodied victims eventually regained a fraction of their senses and began to panic, whimpering and running indiscriminately away from the scene of devastation; many of them made it as far as the lawns around St. Philips Cathedral and collapsed in relief on the grass. Staff and customers spilled out of the 6/8 Kafé and stood looking about with darting horror-stricken eyes and ashen complexions. “What the fuck happened?” somebody somewhere said. The voice seemed somewhat stark, disembodied in the unnatural quiet.
Ian sat there feeling kind of disconnected, numb; watching events unfold with what must have looked to everyone else like nonchalance. Erin threw her left hand up to her mouth and reached concernedly for Ian with her right but otherwise she didn’t react much either. You don’t really, you think in terms of the theatrics you see on TV in such events. But in reality, barely anybody shows much reaction. Ian later recalled feeling like Captain Obvious; some docile fucker sitting there quite passively and stupidly thinking something along the lines of ‘oh… so that’s what it’s like when a bomb goes off.’
In the aftermath a choking mixture of smoke and dust breezed over Erin and Ian; carrying with it thousands of petals that had been blown into the air. A multitude of torn red, white and yellow petals came fluttering serenely down on them like confetti and gently stuck to their hair and clothes. As the dust finally cleared there was an uneasy air of tense expectancy, everyone fearing a second blast. Traffic on Bull Street had ground to a halt, the birds had all flown and there wasn’t even the slightest sound of bird song coming from the trees. Suddenly a cacophonous symphony of siren wail began approaching from all over the city in all directions, shattering the illusion, restoring a sense of reality.
“Doesn’t really matter, you know?” Erin said as they walked away together. “If you think of the history of mankind, the sheer millions upon millions of people – an incalculable amount – and any of us; just one little speck amongst them. What makes us any more important than an ant?”
Ian placed his arm around her shoulder as they walked. “None, I suppose,” he shook his head gently. “But maybe taking revenge for a perceived wrong feels better than doing nothing.”
“It’s too unpalatable for most people to accept that their lives amount to jack-shit. But it’s true.”
“Well,” Ian kicked a stone off the pavement into a drain. “I gave up thinking about it all. You wanna go and see a film tonight?”
“Sure. They’re showing À bout de Souffle at the Electric.”
On their way back to Ian’s apartment they stopped and sat on the steps outside the town hall for a while overlooking the Floozie in the Jacuzzi fountain on Victoria Square. Of the people that wandered around the square, none of them had an ounce of life in their colourless faces. Life was simple for them because they chose not to think. It was true that in the grand scheme of things it didn’t matter whether any of us lived or died.
Ian looked down and saw that one of the paving slabs had a large crack across it, through which a single, bright yellow buttercup had grown. Right in the middle of this city, this whole sprawling morass of grey concrete nothingness, syphilitic in every alley, a tiny, fragile emblem of life had managed to thrive; to rebel against the onslaught and fight its way into existence, as if it had refused to be denied. It was the flower that had slain the dragon. For those few moments that delicate flower seemed like the centre of the universe. As transient as everything is, Ian and Erin were here right now, and nothing else mattered. Nothing else at all.
Death To The Literary Establishment.