I’m sitting at home waiting to get picked up and Ed is late so I’m on my fifth whisky & ginger and then the phone rings and it’s Ed and he says we’re fucked because Charlie Potatoes got stabbed to death outside Quinto’s Wine Lodge last night and then he hangs up.
Later that night we’re in Ed’s car and we’re going along the Aston Expressway at a hundred miles an hour and the sun is setting over the city ahead of us as red as blood but it looks more beautiful than all the gold in the world. Ed is driving like a maniac swerving in and out of the lines of traffic. I laugh because the little brown hairs sprouting out of Ed’s ears are longer than the hair on his bald head. He’s gripping the gear-stick of the Ford Capri so hard his knuckles have turned white and he’s grinding his teeth like crazy, his face mad at the wheel. Ed also has this awful red beard that is unruly and sparse, it looks as if he’s been eating out his fat wife and her pussy hairs have stuck to his sweating greasy face. He works as a door-to-door fish salesman and I wonder how the fuck that works but anyway there’s also always an indelible faint smell of fish about him to add to his plethora of other undesirable attributes and what makes it even funnier to me is that he has a body shaped like a tuna fish.
I’m standing having a piss at the urinals and I’m half bent over with my shoulder leaning against the wet porcelain because I’m out of my face and can’t feel my own body weight. All the doors have been smashed off the shitters — it’s that kind of place — so I turn around and I see some skinny blonde kid who’s as white as a ghost kneeling on the floor snorting a line off the toilet seat and I think about how I’ve seen life and I’ve seen death and how it’s all perfectly signed and sealed and every fucker acts like they’re on some television show or in the middle of a video game or something.
It’s getting towards eleven o clock and we decide maybe we’ll have one more beer before we head off to the Hummingbird. Ed and me are in the back room at the Black Horse and we don’t know what to do because Charlie Potatoes was our dealer and it is Saturday night and we’ve just bombed the last of our speed. Ed’s in his black Ozric Tentacles t-shirt and he weaves his way through the crowd coming back from the bar with two bottles of Becks and leans against the pool table and says why the fuck was he called Charlie Potatoes anyway and I grab my beer and take a swig and tell him that I’m fucked if I know. I only know that Charlie Potatoes is dead and we are each alive in a particular fragment of time and nothing can lend meaning to any of this shit and that one day we all have to face the abyss. Ed just looks at me like he has no clue what I’m talking about and maybe I don’t so I just shrug and shove a 50p coin in the slot and the balls clatter down and I tell Ed to wrack em up.
After I whip Ed at pool we make our way over to the Hummingbird not saying much to each other because we’re both silently depressed that the effects of the speed might be wearing off and the night has barely begun and I’m kicking an empty beer can along as we walk despondently through the unlit underpass beneath the James Watt Queensway. And then on the corner as we’re about to walk up the ramp back up to the street Ed pukes up and now he’s worried in case the speed hasn’t yet fully digested and he bends down and studies the puke and then he shakes his head and says he thinks it’s okay because he can’t see any sign of the Rizla paper we wrapped it in to bomb it down.
Then I shrug and suggest that, well…There are other dealers in town. Ed nods and agrees yeah… but the stuff’s not as good as Charlie’s.
Fuck, I say, I bet Charlie’s gaff is crawling with coppers now otherwise we could go and break in the place and grab for ourselves whatever he’s got stashed in there. Christ, I grit my teeth, there must be a mountain of gear in there and I know where he stashes it. He keeps it all in a hollowed out sofa with the back cut out of it. Forget it, Ed waves his hand, the rozzers’ll have it all bagged up by now, they’ll be getting right down to the nitty gritty details of who Charlie Potatoes was and by the end of it they’ll know more than we do.
We walk where the road dips down at Dale End and some young indie-kid wearing white jeans who’s got hair like Jim Morrison has got a girl who looks about fifteen up on a trash can with her thighs spread wide and he’s standing between her legs fucking her and Ed says like a bitch loud enough for them to hear: Jesus Christ, he’s hardly the Lizard King is he? Ed and me both choke with laughter so loud it echoes around the tower blocks and so the girl shoves the kid away and runs off in the direction of the Plastic Factory and the kid is left zipping up his tight white gayboy jeans and standing there like a cunt. I look at him and he looks at us and I can tell he’s not even straight he’s just some faggot on a speed-freak hetero trip. He walks silently alongside us into the Hummingbird and as we stop at the thing just inside the door where you pay your £5 in the kid nods at the huge black bouncer and walks straight through and subsequently vanishes into the crowd from where he must’ve originated.
Ed has disappeared somewhere and I’m standing at the downstairs bar clutching a shot of whisky and I’m looking over at the food bar and thinking I might get some southern fried chicken and suddenly I see glimpses of Claudine fragmented by strobe lights sitting at a table like a film-star captured in a flurry of camera flash. In this moment I realise this is a clockwork universe where everything just keeps coming around and around and around. I haven’t seen Claudine for six years, she hasn’t spotted me yet, the DJ is playing Perfume by the Paris Angles and the dancefloor has gone ferocious and I make my way over to where Claudine is sitting trying not to fall over the swathe of bombed out people sprawled all over the floor and I plonk myself down next to her and she looks at me surprised and says well well well if it isn’t my old flame Mark Karzoso.
Claudine is two years younger than me which makes her 25 and I haven’t seen her since I was 21 and she was 19 and she looks completely and as utterly beautiful as she did then with her bright blonde bob and in her short suede skirt and black stockings and red stilettos. And she studies me for a while and then she frowns and says my god what happened to you? You were so handsome, so handsome… You were beautiful, in fact. And now you look like a drug addict. Rock n Roll is dead I tell her, avoiding the question. Can you believe there’s some people in here drinking carrot juice and shit like that? I’m trying to sound like I’m not speeding out of my brains and failing madly. But she doesn’t respond anyway. Instead she lifts her Martini glass to her lips but doesn’t drink from it she just kind of looks coolly away to the right with her big brown eyes. I look at her and say you know you’re kind of looking sideways at me with loathing. Well you know what they say it means, she says rolling her eyes upwards, when a woman finds a man infuriating. And I’m sitting there and I really must have some sort of dumb-ass look wiped across my face because she takes a sip of her drink and sounds pissed off as she adds that in her time she’s met some men that don’t understand the workings of a woman’s mind but that I really take the trophy. But it’s bullshit that women can read men’s minds. They read the signals men telegraph in their one track simplicity. But here’s a thing, I laugh and place my hand gently on the inside of her bare thigh and she momentarily shivers in pleasure like she hasn’t been touched by a man in months or even years or whatever and maybe she even hasn’t but anyway she puts her face against mine and tells me: I was so in love with you, you know? I stroke my hand up her thigh almost to her panties and she closes her legs on my hand and holds it tight between her thighs. I tell her how often I still think about her and how when I am with her I feel vulnerable like a tiny bird held in the cool palms of her china-doll hands and I tell her that she has no idea how much I want her to come home with me tonight.
Everybody has eyes Claudine says but some people are blind. I don’t at first recognise the feelings simmering inside me and then it strikes me – it is a sense of happiness in simply being next to her and I wonder if this alien sensation is what happiness feels like to other people. And the awareness is all the more intense like a single point of light reaching to infinity because I know it cannot last, not in the same way that nothing in this world lasts anyway because it all eventually turns to human dust but because I know I’ll go and fuck this thing with Claudine up pure and simple and years later I will remember her with regret because the fact remains that she is right that I have eyes but I am blind – I do not understand the nature of a woman’s mind and even worse the elements that have engineered my life exclude me from experiencing what love truly is. I am disconnected viewing myself as a series of staccato images frozen in time on a reel of photographic film.
Just then Claudine’s friend appears and she’s some tall, pallid looking chick with long black hair and I raise my hands in the form of a cross and make a hissssssing sound through my teeth and say Jesus H. Christ the Devil take us all it’s old Dracula’s daughter and the skinny chick replies rather cleverly I think Clau’ where did you pick this vacuous imbecile up from? Claudine tells her well you have to know him, trust me he was beautiful once and he can be beautiful again with some help. Hang on, I protest, I don’t need help. Yes you do, Claudine insists, straightening up my hair with her fingers, look at the state of you, you need a woman, Mark… And a hair cut. Claudine cups my face in her hands and says darling, you shouldn’t insult my friends it’s not very nice. Dracula’s daughter picks up her hand bag from the chair and throws it over her shoulder and stands waiting to leave like right now looking angrily away from us out across the dancefloor with her arms folded.
Claudine reaches into her little leather hand bag thing that’s not much bigger than a purse and writes her telephone number on a piece of paper with a very feminine small golden fountain pen and she fans the paper in the air before folding it in half and slipping it into the breast pocket of my Paisley pattern shirt and she tells me she knows exactly how I’d love her to come home with me tonight, she knows in a way I’ll probably never understand but there’s no way she’s going to when I’m as smashed as I am. Then she kisses me on the lips and tastes just like strawberries and says there will be no fleeting entanglements between us tonight and if I think anything of her at all I’ll give her a ring another time. Then she puts on these little cute red leather gloves that match her stilettos and she smiles at me and suddenly she is gone just like a butterfly in a hurricane.
I stay for I don’t know how long sitting disconsolately at the table on my own knowing that scissors cut paper, stone blunts scissors and that love breaks stone. And suddenly I think I can smell fish and I look over at the food bar thinking it must be something wafting from over there and what the fuck are they cooking fish for surely just chicken and chips will do but then sure enough I should have known better Ed reappears out of the dark gloom with his bald head glowing blue under the spot lights and he slumps down in the chair next to me, he’s shaking his head and grinning from ear to ear and he rams his bottle down so hard on the table it’s a wonder the thing doesn’t shatter in his hand and he says you’re not gonna believe what’s just happened… I mean you’re just not gonna believe it. He gulps his beer down ecstatically and punches me on the arm and says we’re back in fuckin business, my son. He’s got a name and some address scrawled on a piece of torn off cigarette packet and he stands up saying what the fuck am I waiting for let’s go.
u.v.ray is an internationally published writer. His work has been skirting the fringes of the underground literary scene for a period spanning three decades.
His novels are available at Murder Slim Press : http://www.murderslim.com/
His website is here: http://www.uvray.moonfruit.com/
Death To The Literary Establishment.