Thursday, April 13

Notes on Thirteen & ½ Hours

The boat did not rock, not wobbling on the water, but maintaining a faint bob so that one occasionally remembered they were not on land but upon the waves. Above, over our heads, were bridges spanning the width of the river and hot beneath the sun. Lazily we drank. They were strangers to me but six hours in we were quite familiar and, if at times it suited us, we did not speak at all but drank and drank and smoked cigarettes and enjoyed the summer’s day that April had offered us. A quiet chatter amongst the crowd. Men and women in sunglasses reclined with their heads tilted back, grinning. The men had picked scabs on their knees that bled and shone in the sun. Women hitched up their dresses, revealing thick delicious cellulite that dimpled and tanned. Seagulls cawed and water slurped against port. My mouth tasted stale but I drank, and when someone bought nuts I ate them and tasted salt.
Beneath Oxford St. I sat upon a wooden stool and gazed at the TV. We had been out for eight hours. The burger had sobered me up, and in doing so, taken the lustre off my mood. I could not but stare at the football match on the television and smell the rotten piss from the toilets. If only I could find the will to stand up and move away from the toilet, but the bar was so small, where would I move? I must admit: every other time I had visited the bar the smell of piss and bleach charmed me in a strange way, but on this occasion I found it overwhelming and noxious. Outside: the stolen smoke and conversation of nearby strangers. In lush clouds of cold night air I made my peace with the pound coin streetlights and sighed heavily. It seems they were all quite happy, and I distilled some happiness from theirs; their reminiscing about the old country, catching up, shots, rounds & rounds; a terrific carousel circling my barstool.
Some have raised eyebrows at my aimless walks around the city but on such a day my knowledge of the streets afforded me some minor fame; the position of navigator and leader. A voice would call out the venue and the road and I would say back—‘Follow me.’ I felt no fear. Any other time I was sure to be nervous in the darkness away from popular roads, but with ten Irishmen at my heels I felt no fear and was able to smile along my travels. It was refreshing.
The doorman looked into my backpack, which I held open for him—
‘A box of tissues, ‘baccy, my ‘baccy tin, a comicbook, house keys, painkillers, more ‘baccy—’
‘What’s that?’ he asked.
‘Coffee.’ I opened up the bag to show him that it was indeed coffee, and high quality coffee at that.
‘You can’t bring that in here.’
‘Why not?’
‘Throw it in that bin over there.’
‘Ah mate, can’t he bring his coffee in?’ said a friend.
Another doorman—‘Let him take the coffee in.’
It would have been a shame to discard all that high quality coffee, especially as it made my backpack smell so pleasant.
The venue was a bar with a small dancefloor and a bowling alley. We bowled but everyone was quite drunk and half-heartedly flinging the ball into the air so that it landed with an almighty thud upon the polished wood. Between my turns I sat down and looked around me. There was little of interest apart from over there, on a nearby lane, a group of young women bowling too and in better shape than us. I was interested in one of them who danced a little after she had rolled twice. She danced in a manner that I found attractive to observe, as though, prior to this night, it had only been observed by a bedroom mirror.
As the night lengthened, I became withdrawn. I could find no enjoyment in the goings-on nor the dancing and music. My friends were all quite drunk now and lingering at the pool table. If someone else came to play – their change stacked neatly on the table’s edge – they would make the game impossible for them until they left. I laughed and got another drink. In the pursuit of drunkenness, I drank and drank. The alcohol was not touching my limbs, was not impairing my judgement or clarity. The music was loud but it was terrible and as all moved about the dancefloor I found only disgust with them. I tried to dance with my friend and a girl tried to dance with me, but I declined, apologised profusely and left to order another drink.
The smoking area was cordoned off at one side of the entrance and, at its longest edge, was bordered by people queuing to enter. I took a spot below the floodlight, against the cool discomfort of a metal fence. Everyone else was stood in groups chatting and getting along, but when they disappeared back inside a couple came out and the girl addressed me. She had glitter on her face—‘We came out to nick a cigarette but you’re the only one out here. Can we have one, please? … I’m sorry.’ I told her—‘Here you go, just take it.’ She asked me my name—‘Just take it!’ I said and went inside.
My friend had disappeared. I searched everywhere and asked all around but none had seen him. They were all stumbling about and slurring but they were kind to me, telling me how decent I was and shaking my hand. I replied that they were good people. After an hour I gave up searching for my friend and just continued to drink, until a thought struck me—‘Why shouldn’t I just leave?’ I said good-by to all and collected my backpack and coffee from the cloakroom with the ticket (I had clutched so tightly in my pocket for the duration of the night).
To be in the half-one chill felt tremendous! I put my headphones in and turned up loud my own music. Ah! how I had missed good music! As I walked down the street I danced with an uncharacteristic joy! I shuffled along the pavement and sung and I spun around lampposts and snapped my fingers.
An oval orange light growing larger; its shape pierced with something blurred but becoming clearer. Four letters and the last beautiful message of the night. I raised my hand in the air and gave the driver my address. I wiped the condensation off the rear window and looked out at all of the buildings that glowed on by. Then I was home and away from it all; back to the smell of my plants and the rattle of falling blinds.

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