9th post: A short story: A Night Out at Tunes

Holy shit 4k words. Dayum i didn’t expect it to be that much. Anyhoo:

A night out at Tunes

Jamal pronounced: “No offence buddy, but you look like a fucking duck wearing all that yellow.”

To hide my embarrassment i retorted weakly: “Ducks are yellow bro?”

“Duck, chicken, whatever, you know what i mean.”

I really didn’t.

I took a look in the mirror and tried to. The mirror in my bathroom framed only the top half of my body. Clothed in my yellow shirt, i guess i could understand, theoretically, what Jamal meant. It was like when i got teased for being fat in school- I remember looking at the mirror, one hand smoothing my pot belly like a pregnant woman, wondering how far out the curve has to be to count as fat. I took off the shirt though, went for black. “Always wear black man, when you haven’t got anything else” Jamal said. He said that a lot. Not that i’m complaining. Jamal has a lot of sex. I don’t. He’s the expert here. If we were talking about security, or more specifically cameras, or even lip reading- then i could talk to Jamal like he’s talking to me. I could talk to him like i know things.

“You sure you don’t want to know man? I’m telling you it’s kind of awesome.” Says Jamal.

I turn to face the big black man with the huge white grin. “No please man, wait till we’re on the train.”

Later we were on the train. I still didn’t know where we were going, but it was easy to see we were heading to Cypress Street. I remember reading in some bullshit tourist brochure, “Party like it’s the end of the world at the famous Cypress Street. Rub shoulders with movers and shakers whilst downing exotic cocktails in the city that doesn’t sleep!” And technically that was true if you could pay entrance fees posing as the question: ‘do you give a fuck about money?’ Otherwise you were relegated to looking for deals designed to boost the slower weekday nights, where you’ll rub shoulders with thirteen year old girls who dream of breast implants.

“Ok man, it’s time.” says Jamal.

I turn around, hanging onto the pole in the MMR train, trying to look suave. Jamal’s covered in bracelets, shirt unbuttoned farther than i would ever dare. I should be guilty about feeling kind of cool around him. I don’t. I listen to Jamal, and as soon as he launches into his explanation of what we’re doing tonight, the fear starts to hit me. One of my hands goes cold and clammy in a too tight jeans pocket. I withdraw and try to wipe it on my jeans without drawing anyone’s attention. I nod in time to Jamal’s frantic gesturing, throwing up a grin that’s got to seem fake. Apparently tonight is the new lady’s night. Some club called Tunes just opened last week, and it’s throwing some new event up, trying to supplant the old norm. Only young girls and guys connected to the “scene” (Jamal always calls it that) know, so we’ll get in easy, and we’ll be outnumbered ten to one. Can’t fail. Jamal once told me about some economics thing. Where if you have a society where there are more girls than guys, the guys go way up in value, and even the uglier ones get laid. I mean married. Jamal studied economics when he was younger. Suddenly my other hand starts to get moist, and i screw it up into a ball, wondering how long it will be before i can feel the little drops. We’re still two stops a way and i smile and listen to Jamal talk about all the stuff he knows, but my heart is hammering.

Then she gets on.

We’re still two stops away, but every male eye focuses on her. She’s wearing a short skirt, leather shining in the underground light. High heels, painted nails, a top that’s sheer in enough places. I look too, drawn like a magnet but she doesn’t seem to care. If she looks at me, i’m going to smile. I’m going to give a grin, and then look away. It’s not that hard. Suddenly she turns, and she’s looking at us, and our eyes lock and I look away, past her, then turn, and look out the window at the black walls of the concrete tunnel. I can finally feel that first globule of sweat. So i wipe my hands again.

Then we’re walking up the hill on our way to the club.

Jamal is still talking, about clothes now. Occasionally he pauses, to point out some incredible girl, dressed for the night. He makes this weird noise. Like an animal. He’s like a fucking wolf, no faking, no thinking, he just goes for it. I can’t help but get a little bit caught up in it. At the same time I’m trying to focus on counting, slowly, the labored breaths i take as we ascend the hill. I feel a little bit happier. All the music blaring from all the pretty pictures, framed with names like “Zeke” and “Volar” and “Magraw”, names that don’t mean anything in a vacuum- they’re just settings for all the incredible stories my friends tell me, about all their awesome nights.

Inside the canvas the girls sway like a perfect dream.

Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck. I need to calm down.

“Alright man, here’s the plan. This time, you don’t have to do shit. You’re just my friend, and you follow me. I’ll introduce to someone.”

“Who?”

“I don’t know yet, we’ll find them.”

What the fuck. Oh please no. I want to look, i just want to look and look, and maybe pretend to have a conversation with Jamal.

“What do i say to them?”

“Just talk man, talk about anything.”

“Like work?”

“YEAH! Talk about being a security expert man.”

Talk about watching people? We walk up the hill, and i stare at the pavement. Not with my head, just my eyes, tilted downwards, so I still look confident like Jamal described. Last week i saw the most beautiful girl. I was doing part time, for an old friend, theater stuff. This guy is paranoid, has CCTV everywhere, even the changing room. “Don’t the actors mind?” I asked him.

He corrected me: “actresses”- most of characters in his musical were women, and i got a little bit excited. If Jamal had told me they were actresses would have followed it up, winked or something, conspiratorially, but my musical directing friend just kept going, didn’t miss a beat. Maybe actors and actresses really don’t care about that sort of thing. I guess that made sense.

On the job I tried to watch the entrance but it was hard seeing so many well dressed people, the black and white of the screen matching with all the suits and jackets, perfect shirts in different shades, the occasional cuff link glinting. They looked like they were my age, and that was depressing. I didn’t expect anything would go wrong, so i concentrated on my meal, the burger exploding deliciously in my mouth. He provided three monitors and i had one on the entrance, one on the auditorium, one in the changing rooms. They were spread out equally, so i could switch to cameras in each zone. Zone, that’s what it’s called in the business, zone one, zone two, zone three and there she was, putting on her make up in the changing room.

An honest to goodness silk gown with one sleeve so low i can see her shoulder shaded a perfect grey. Her face started clean, virginal in a way that reminded me of the time I did work at a psychologist’s practice. Those girls went in with no makeup, and sometimes they came out, with this awesome, i don’t know, glow on their faces. Like they’d just been born, but twenty years later. I couldn’t see the actresses front, though i thought if i could i’d get a bit of nipple, but that shit isn’t that interesting. The faces are the way to go, the way people look when no one is around, when they think they aren’t being watched.

So honest.

I play this game, to pass the time. I love what i do, and people always wonder why. They think the people that watch the screens must be fat (i am i guess), lazy (not really), and always kind of asleep- but not me because i play this game. I like to imagine what the people say on my silent silver screens. I make up stories and i sometimes even tell them to people, except i claim to be able to lip read.

So the girl with the exposed shoulder let me tell you a bit about her.

Another girl comes whilst the one in front of the mirror starts to put on makeup. The new girl taps the original and starts talking. The girl in the chair with beautiful eyes and the exposed shoulder turns and says “MARIE! NO! I can’t go on! I can’t! I’m just a chorus girl Marie, are you really telling me that Lucy is sick?”

The other girl, Marie, is tall but in a super model sort of way, and has to arch forward to speak quietly to the girl in the chair. “You can do this Belle. This is your chance to be a star!”

Belle is scared though, so scared. I see her nod, nodding so many times. She’s so brave. I feel a small lump rising in my throat and my burger is getting cold and that’s ok. “Alright Marie, I’ll do it. But i don’t know the lines! Oh Marie i don’t know the lines!” Belle takes Marie’s face in her hands, rises till i’m secretly hoping her gown falls off. It kind of does and I see now she’s wearing a bra, black of course. Marie gives her a hug.

Belle says to her “I’ll make them up Marie! Never mind the lines! I can do this!”

“I know you can.” Says Marie.

I watch Marie leave, and Belle sit down. She stares at herself in the mirror, willing the fear away, drinking it in till it makes her stronger. She knows what she’s going to say, she’s going to go out on that stage and tell the truth. Tell the audience all about being a scared girl and that’s ok.

Jamal grabs my arm abruptly and starts pulling me towards a club with a blue exterior and all sorts of weird shit hanging from the roof. I try to say something to him but the roaring music and people swallow up my question till like innocent mutes we smile and signal our way to the line. From behind i see so much fantastic hair, blonde and brown and even some red. Suddenly Jamal’s in front of me, looking at my face and the fear hits me like a punch. What is he looking at, is it my hair? I start thinking i could pat it down maybe, but my hand’s beat me to it, it’s already there straightening and stroking uselessly.

“Stop it, you look nervous.” Jamal says.”Just smile.” Jamal says.

I try to as the line shuffles and i drift down a stream of perfume and even I can feel something resembling excitement now. I take an impromptu tour through the vague flowery scents, the luscious fruity flavors, the newly applied shampoos. Suddenly i smell something resembling apple, and my mind wheels backwards.

I’m back at my old job, the one i hated. It’s summer and that’s a blessing and a curse. So much traffic, so little clothing.

Patches of exposed skin, awaiting the sun in the airport lines. Sunglasses that obscure their personalities. Tight shorts, and couples. Couples everywhere. I’m with the other guys, watching my screen, when i catch a whiff of apple. It reminds me of a girl from a boyhood i try not to remember. I look at her, and see some pretty young thing (so much younger than me), with a mother, a father, maybe a little brother too. Their off to see the sun somewhere outside the city and my voice cracks pathetically as i say “please step forward” and I try not to grip my night stick too hard. I go behind the screen, the new one where i’m supposed to see through it all- the one where you’re kind of naked. Usually only girl’s are supposed to look at girl’s but their was a problem at the last minute and my supervisor said to improvise. I’m excited, so excited, but she’s just a blue mush, naked in a boring way, and the only thing i can see is a crumpled piece of paper, somewhere in her pocket. I get back from the screen and tell her she can go through and I notice how she’s got this sad, sad look in her eyes.

Later I see her again, before she boards.

I’m on another desk now, and i’m looking down at a boarding area, scanning the people for the suspicious ones. In this sea of individuals it’s fucking impossible, but i try anyway. Then i see her, i recognise those legs, that ass, and she’s talking to her little brother, kind of looking away.

“Jeremy, never fall in love.” She says, absently scanning the ceiling.

Jeremy doesn’t respond.

“Love is a lie they tell you in movies and books and all the fiction you’ll ever see. Everyone just wants to fuck.”

Jeremy is silent, drinking in the wisdom of her older sibling.

“When we get to the beach i’m going to walk in Jeremy, and i’m not coming out. Tell Nathan i did it because of him. Tell him that he was all there ever was, and nothing better would ever come along. Tell him that i proved it to him, that he was my first and last and now he’s going to have to deal with that till he dies too.”

Jeremy looks up, and stops holding his sisters hand. He fishes in his pocket, probably for something, some kind of answer to all this mess. He takes out a gameboy. Jeremy has accepted his sister’s going to die. He thinks: goodbye Isobelle, it was nice.

“Dude do you have five hundred.?” asks Jamal.

I take out the brown colored note, place it on the table. The girl at the desk looks frumpy, and I pretend it means she’s got a great personality. She accepts it, looking only at Jamal. Jamal smiles and says something to her and she laughs and i laugh too so everyone nearby knows Jamal’s with me. As we walk through corridor crowded with great smells and beautiful people I notice the cameras on the ceiling and i wonder who is watching.

“This is it.” Says Jamal, and he whisks back the curtain, unveling all that noise, and I want to throw up. Multicolored lights and rainbow hands, a sea of arms and hands that butterfly up in the air, like one massive lake composed of people.

“This is my heaven.” Says Jamal, spreading his own arms to gather up all that energy.

“YEAH MAN!” I shout, and Jamal recoils, but i smile anyway, trying to transform my fear into frenzy.

We thread our way through the warm bodies and I stare at the bar like it’s a fucking island in a storm. I look up at the balcony’s, at the second floor where different music is apparently playing, i try to focus on a group, a girl, to understand what they are thinking but we’re moving too quickly. Thank god for the darkness. I finally understand why they make it so hard to see in these places.

Is that why the fire? The cover of night a million years ago where unshod feet would stamp to the sound of drums. The new humans that couples on the dirt and grass as the fire raged in the middle casting mimic shadows, no one seeing clearly. Were out ancestors dreaming of this?

Jamal is ordering, he always orders, and then without any fucking warning he turns to talk to some girl i haven’t seen yet, just her hat and the curly blonde entrails around it. I’m no longer part of Jamal’s circle and i feel it in my cold balls, and i turn away, what a mistake, to see two girls giggling and talking to each other, so close i could reach out and touch them. Then one of them see’s me, and her eyebrows form some kind of disapointed V, and my face fucking burns man. Why did i come here, i mutter to the table. Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.

It’s too noisy to imagine what anyone is saying, and i can’t watch anyone without being seen. The time between Jamal’s order and when the drinks actually arrives reminds me of waiting outside the principals office, a hundred years ago. I feel my back hunched, but Jamal doesn’t correct it, he’s too busy making the girl in the hat laugh. Not anymore, now the hat’s on Jamal, and i see her face. My god she’s so beautiful. I spot a mirror at the back of the bar, and i watch the blonde’s reflection. What does Jamal say? I try to imagine it but i fucking can’t.

Maybe:

“Hey there beautiful.” Jamal says to her.

She laughs and grabs his arm.

“Feels like a man doesn’t it?” Jamal says.

I want to puke, and i down my drink which tastes like shit, and i down Jamal’s too. It’s time for me to find the toilet, and i do. I look forward to asking the bouncer’s where one is. Then i realise, i’ll have to go through all of that. That ocean of happy people, that ancient fucking rite that i’ve never felt a part of. I just need to get drunk, that’s it. I pat Jamal on the shoulder, lean in and say “BEE ARR BEE TOILET!” Without looking back he pats my shoulder too. I feel some of the fear recoil at this touch. I make my way through the crowd, hands held up like some boxer, smelling sweat and mostly perfume, wanting to just take a long good drag of that stuff, and suddenly i stumble forward, FUCK, and my hands push on a bare back, perfect shoulder blades, dark hair, she turns and I look at her with wide eyes, a clumsy stupid fish, and I say “SORRY!”

And suddenly she’s speaking to me. “It’s ok darling.” and her hand snakes out like an angel’s and barely brushes my face. I don’t know what to do.

“Just dance.” she says, as if reading my mind.

I don’t know how to fucking dance, but my hands are already there like some stupid boxer’s so i kind of uppercut the air, nodding approval, struggling for rhythm and she spins slowly her hips a blur, then the crowd closes around her. FUCK! NO! Where did she? She’s gone. She’s already gone. I can’t find her. She’s just another story now, I have no right to touch. I freeze, an awkward whale with movement all around, the lights still dancing indifferently on my face in their fucked up multicolored splendor.

To the walls, to the fucking walls i go, and i don’t look at anyone because they wouldn’t compare to her, the mind reader, she was fucking beautiful i know it. A big black mass attached to the wall points me in the direction of the toilet, and i walk towards it the dubstep following me, following me, receding a little, till here people aren’t dancing, but standing, talking, stumbling, walking, into and out of a set of two doors with a pair of fucked up sigils that are meant to be a man and woman. I can’t tell which one’s which so i wait till i see someone walk out. Oh i get it now, one of them’s wearing a skirt.

Inside the bass is muffled, and my heart beat staggers back into hearing.

“SHE IS FIT MAN!” says one pissing guy to another.

The other guffaws, his back turned to me, his legs so wide apart it’s like he’s riding some invisible horse. I wash my face three times. I stare at the mirror at the reflection of the wall behind me.

Then i go back out.

On some whim i make my way up the stairs, moving between the huge mass of dancing people and those that obscure the wall, talking like newly found couples, boy/girl, boy/girl. Past a guy with his mouth attached to a girl, and i feel some kind of tendril that might be jealousy creep up and slap my face. I’m high on fear and alcohol and misery and i’m stumbling up the stairs pulling on the rails with two hands like it’s a fucking rope. I’m such a lightweight. I shouldn’t be such a lightweight. It’s not fair to be this big and not be able to at least drink.

Upstairs it’s no longer dubstep it’s trance. I know the difference. One of the few lessons learnt from all those clubs with Jamal, with all their similar stories. Not a fucking sitcom even, just a series of obituaries, unreadable accept to remind yourself that you can do better. I find a railing and gaze out at the dance floor below, hanging my head out far enough so my periphery vision isn’t haunted by the gyrating people on either side.

Upon the distant dance floor below i spot two girls, right in the middle, an impromptu space created for them by the unknown chaos-theory and quantum mechanics of such places. I watch them as they hold hands, rubbing against each other. Suddenly one opens her mouth.

She says “My parent’s will never approve.”

The taller one, the one whose eyes are half shut whispers something into her ear.

The first one, with the white dress (now red, now blue), says “NO! I can’t run away with you. I have a life here. I have a life!”

The taller one doesn’t care, she’s lifting up her friends hands till their joined up above and then the space around them is closed up and i lose sight of their faces. The fear recedes a little. I tap my foot on the floor in time to the music and even move my head. I like watching. I really like watching. It’s what i do. For a moment i look up, and i see more floors, more railings, more heads and faces, till they blur. Different music on each floor, that’s this places gimmick. It’s fucking packed. Good business. Good for them. I wonder what it’s like to own a nightclub. Maybe right now there is some overweight guy but with an expensive shirt, sitting in front of a monitor, telling stories.

I’m done tonight. I’ve had enough.

I fail to find Jamal on my way out. That’s ok. It’s a welcome relief, walking to the taxi stand. It seems more honest out here. Or something. Everyone looks a bit tired, the ones on the way down the hill at least. I start smoothing my shirt after a girl with big black spectacles glances at me. I pull on my shirt tails till it strains against my belly then i let go and shove my hands into my pocket. She said to me “Ew.”

Later, as i wait in line a group of girls way too young to be out this late are laughing and they are laughing at me.

Tomorrow, i wake up, i go to work. I work in a huge skyscraper. I watch this one girl, she always comes to work on the dot, and she once smiled and nodded at me. I see her whispering to herself in the lift. She’s saying “save me.” Over and over again, some days.

I’m wondering which man will. Maybe i’ll get to see.