Tuesday, November 8

Part I: The destructive power of holding hands

THE BAR is set on the first floor and you have to climb some steps to get into it and the steps run parallel to the road. The road had just been dusted by light London drizzle. It made the cars whisper down the street. You could see for miles down the street if you stood on the stairs into the bar.
Just late enough, they start to play good music that you can dance to and it doesn’t take long to get served a drink. We went there at about nine. We were all good & drunk. There were about twenty of us. We made a rabble as we walked down the street to the bar. It filled me with a charge walking along like that.
My friend’s last day.
He had quit the office and was moving elsewhere, a few miles away. I would miss him.
Beers were ordered by the bucketful. We necked shots. We grabbed another beer. I did my best to stay positive. I had been up late the night before, drinking and writing and it had weakened me. I must stay positive, I thought, like a shark must keep swimming. There was something beneath the surface, so to speak, and I was desperate to keep it down there.
Then there was her. I did not talk to her because I was worried that people would think I was flirting. I was—well, I wanted to—but I did not want them to notice. I did not want the inevitable decline, the turndown. Sometimes when I looked at her she was looking at me. She asked me to roll her a cigarette. I watched her smoke the cigarette. She was going to go home but I told her to stay. The other young men with us were better looking than me. I had got nowhere with her in months. Really, I had nothing. It played on my mind.
Most of all I just liked to look at her longness; legs, arms, fingers.
The music got better. I talked to my bosses who laid out bucket after bucket of beer. We laughed and danced and took the piss out of one another. It is good to dance and to be drunk enough to dance and to not care. Pretty soon I forgot about her.
A scuffle kicked off. Members of our group were involved, squaring up against another. Shouting. Pushing. Faces pressed nose-to-nose. People diving across. Everyone got involved.
Fighting has never interested me. I carried on dancing.
Security came and broke it up. It was nothing; a load of drunks showing their chins off. They were getting kicked out.
I waited on the outside steps with a cigarette and spoke to my friend as he was leaving.
“You leave too!” said security.
I told him I had nothing to do with it—“I wasn’t even involved.”
“Move up the steps then.”
I moved up a couple of steps. They were all being pushed out of the bar.
I turned and that is when I saw her walking down the very steps that I was stood on, holding hands with one of those from the scuffle.
It would be melodramatic to say it was like being shot in the gut, but I did stumble a little and I felt my breath go. A plug had been pulled from the bottom of my lungs. She walked past me. They got off the steps, holding hands, and the whole group stood together at the bottom. I did not want to see. I turned away. What if they kissed or something? I did not want to see, so I turned away and listened to the cars whisper down the street.
My friend, who had been excluded from the bar, came to beside the steps, just below from me and called up—“You comin’?”
“You gonn’ stay here?”
“Come on.”
I sat down on the steps and coughed. Security watched me closely. I coughed a lot, choking up whatever. The image flashed in my mind, a movie camera stuck on one frame, bright, very bright. I coughed some more. I knew that none of my friends were in the bar anymore so I slowly stood up. The bottom of the steps, not covered by a canopy, were wet.
The next day I stayed in bed until four, then I showered, bought some tobacco and started drinking again, and didn’t feel so bad.

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