Monday, May 6

A Camel & a White Russian Walk Into a Bar

MANY NIGHTS WERE spent in the poolside bar, finishing off the day with a drink, sitting in the warm, no wind nor a breeze even though it was without walls and open to everything as the hotel went to sleep and the staff changed shifts. Condensation collected quickly up the side of my plastic cup and when I brought it to my lips it ran and dripped on to my crotch.
Very often we would return to the pool in the afternoons. You had to watch where you walked to avoid the sunbathing lizards; they, like me, preferred the quieter areas; trying not to step on them made me look even more of a drunk. One scampered across my bare foot; I flinched and dropped half my drink, cursing the bush the little thing had just run into. The floor was hot so one had to step quickly. I drank my beer and smoked my cigarettes and worshipped the sun. When I was covered in sweat from not moving an inch, I’d jump in the pool. Sometimes I looked at the women. On one occasion I had a perfect view, between some sunbeds, of a girl’s stomach: the way the hips dipped then reached up to her navel was very interesting to me, all the little hairs, the shine of suncream, the divine of her flesh; it didn’t seem very human to me, more of a hallucination or an ice cream sundae.
Ducks slapped round the pool, pestering people for scraps. Their feathers shone. I tried to stroke them but they didn’t want that.
My family went to the bar at night and we had a nightcap. We played pool and there was no telling, over dusted thumbs & joints, who would win.
In the end, there was only me left.
Just me and a whole load of black night & hotel room stars.
I spoke to the barman for a little bit, then, when he shut up, I took my drink upstairs to another of the hotel bars. I sat on the balcony and looked at the scene; the tops of palm trees and the thin crisp skyline that spiked above them, the languid crickets singing terrible love songs, groups of people talking quietly. I was perfectly at ease, no need for company, just my own, a Camel, a white Russian, some memories of the day settling down in my head.
Getting up to leave, feeling comfortably drunk, a young man nearby catches my eye and says hello. He is with his friends and I had been intermittently listening to their conversation, but because it made me sad, I tuned out.
‘Hello.’
‘How are you?’
‘I’m all right, man, you?’
And so we got talking. He came over. A girl came over. Another guy came over. And we got to talking. They sat down at my table as I offered them a cigarette. ‘I’s just about to get another drink, you want one?’ Some of them did, some of them didn’t. They barman, a skinny guy with no eyes and a cocky manner, a poor sense of humour served us – ‘I’m gonna need to see everyone’s IDs.’ So, there, on the balcony, we sat and we talked. The guy, Charlie, was from Illinois; long hair, a band t-shirt, all these guts stuffed into him and leaking out his eyes so that he looked like he could go mad at any moment; he neither smiled nor frowned; his gaze fell on me very furiously, so I shot mine back at him. He told me his story, because he had a story to tell a complete stranger in a bar on a Tuesday night – ‘We brought my sister down here from Chicago. My sister, man, she’s got this thing, this disease. She was born and the doctors said she had hours to live, then it became days, then weeks, then months, then years, and now she’s thirty. She’s in a wheelchair. She can’t do anything. I mean, her brain’s all there, she can think, she’s sharp as a whip, but her body’s fucked, man. I dunno when she’s gonna die or anything. She needs a new wheelchair and everything. She’s fucked, man, she really is. It breaks my heart. So at Christmas we have this fundraiser to take her on the E.T. ride down at Disney because she loves E.T. and she loves the ride, so we thought it’d be good for her, you know, a send-off or whatever. So we did all this fundraising and shit and we bring her down here and today we went to Disney, we got to the front of the queue and the man said that she can’t go on it. So we freak out and we explain the situation and everything and he still ain’t letting us on. So we ask for the manager, you know, and the manager comes along and he says that it ain’t happening; they changed the rules and she can’t ride on it in her condition. And he asks us if she wants to watch from the viewing room – which is where they have all the C.C.T.V. and shit – so I pick her out the wheelchair and carry her up the stairs and she watches the people go on the ride from up there. And she loves it, man, she does but… but it broke my heart. I’m going crazy and my mum’s crying and everything, but she’s sitting there and watching the monitors of the people going on the ride and she’s loving it, but still…’
He trails off.
He gets his phone out and puts on some punk music loudly for us all to hear.
The man on the opposite side of the table to me is a stranger, a fellow tourist from Illinois, who they’d just met. The girl is Charlie’s girlfriend and her name is Valerie.
Valerie.
‘You can call me me “Val”.’
I didn’t want to call her ‘Val’.
Valerie was adorable and she knew how to stare at me when she talked to me. When I talked to Valerie it was as if there was no one else around because her eyes didn’t move from me. She complimented my accent and swooned as if she were a cobra and all I thought of was kissing her because her lips made the shape of the twenty-seventh letter of the alphabet. Valerie looked at me with lash-laden eyes and her lips moved and all I wanted was her and her awkward smile, but her boyfriend was next to me, so I stopped talking to Valerie and when she asked me questions I kept it short and sharp. Soon Valerie passed out on the table.
The other man from Illinois went.
Charlie and I kept talking. He wasn’t drinking any longer and the bar was closing, so I went to get some drinks to keep me going. Valerie was still facedown on the table. Charlie played some Dylan on his phone and we spoke about ‘Bring It All Back Home’. Beyond us was the humid state creeping along in darkness. The sound of insects still peeped out; my glass perspired; the bar closed; the palm leaves swayed like a choir in the light from the moon.
Valerie’s head was still down. I wished to put my hands into her hair. Charlie eased her up and they went to bed. We all said good-night. I went through the hotel quiet and out into the entrance, where the valet attendants ruled twenty-four hours a day. They regarded my drunkenness as I wobbled across the drive. I tried to stand still but I couldn’t. I smoked my cigarette and I went to bed.

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