It was B’s birthday.
He was forty two today and he was late, as usual. The people around him told him that he would be late for his own funeral, one day. William Hopkins, or B for Bill to his friends, got off the bus and wandered down the street, a lonely newspaper sticking to his shoes. The headlines read “Iraq Crisis Deepens”.
He was walking towards Filthy McNasty’s, the designated port of celebration, a watering hole for serious drunks and supposedly worthwhile musicians everywhere. He didn’t particularly feel like celebrating the start of his forty third year on this planet. It had been a shite year for everyone all in all and he had just heard that Sam had been chucked by his missus. It looked like he was going to go through the same.
“Jesus”, thought B, “…we call them girlfriends but I sometimes wonder why we use the word “friends” at all”.
He thought the nonsense was finished when she had left him the day after he got fired from his job of eight years, for being stoned and then came back a couple of days later, red and pointed tail between her legs.
How many times was it now?
He had forgotten, as their relationship was up and down more times than a stripper’s knickers.
He didn’t even know if she was going to turn up tonight. A small part of him didn’t care. The part that did care, that part cared a lot. That part loved the way she moved across a room, the way she seemed to glide through and around objects, loved watching her dance and dancing with her. She danced well, really well. She was probably one of sexiest dancers he had ever seen. The Samba, the Lambada, she could do them all, and the way she moved her hips could turn a man blind. But her morality could drive him wild with irritation.
Don’t drink, it’s evil.
Don’t smoke, it clouds your mind.
I don’t want to see you killing yourself, blah blah blah…
“They ’ave us all” said B to no-one in particular, while passing a group of well groomed young revellers at the exit of Angel tube station. The men conventionally handsome with their cultivated designer stubbles and scarves, the women all looking like an advert for shampoo, flirting and joking. All around him were the beautiful people with their fake smiles and cocaine attitudes, using and being used by themselves or by others. These media types, ruled by fashionable thought, advertisers thinking themselves to be artists.
Well, it was Angel, what did he expect?
Everywhere had changed in the last ten years, and it was always for the worst. That place over there used to be a good honest pub now ruined with shiny flashing lights and polished evil floors and that one and the next.
B felt a resentment boiling up inside him then remembered himself as a young man coming from Manchester to London those twenty four years ago, walking into the most famous Indie record label in England and getting a job on the spot. Sitting and chatting with an Icelandic banshee and an Australian red shirted poet before the awards and fame, going to industry parties with the best drugs and the infamous.
He could not really complain as he had been blessed with friends, a lot of friends and experiences. Good or bad didn’t bother him, it was whether they were interesting or not that mattered. And he had had a lot of different women, some nice, some evil, some good crazy, some bad crazy, even the odd advertiser. He was lucky, women liked him.
“By the balls”
He passed underneath a street light and something caught his attention; a tiny dot of light, flying awkwardly. It was a moth. He stood still for a second and watched it appear and disappear, from darkness to light, banging its head against the clear plastic light cover. Looking around the night’s sky for the moon he decided he would tell the moth that its best bet was to aim for that huge white globe. You never knew, perhaps you could make it; life was indeed strange, he told the hairy flying suicide machine.
The first moth on the moon.
He smiled and thought of Emma, an old flame. She loved insects. An old memory came to him of her with a butterfly cupped in her hands, she was talking to it. It kept him warm as he lurched on his way; creatures of all kinds were a wonder to him. Humans, animals and insects. He found them all to be beautiful and necessary. He understood that if that moth wasn’t there, he would not be there either.
He remembered a night a month or so past.
He was returning home to his flat in Kilburn, or The People’s Republic as he dubbed it. It had been a night of revelry and drink and being half cut he got off the bus and walked the way home. All of sudden a thin dark shape caught his attention across the road. It looked like a big cat. He blinked to find that it was in fact a fox, an urban fox. It was looking straight at him, straight in the eyes. They stared at each other for a good minute, B not daring to breathe. Then suddenly noise from the distance jump started the beautiful creature’s prowl and off it went, turning around only once as if to say goodbye. “Good luck, little brother” thought B and he smiled as he did in remembering.
Pulling his black coat tighter over his shoulders against the early winter breeze he saw the red exterior and white outside lights of the pub down the road as the faint humming of the jukebox and pub chatter drew his thoughts in.
Sat outside on the benches, a small group of well wishers had already gathered. As B approached the pub he heard someone say “’Ere ’e is!” and an impromptu chorus of “Happy Birthday” broke out. B stood there soaking up the adulation for a second, the king of the castle. Looking to all the world like a gangly John Lennon on a black and white photocopied cover of Sgt. Peppers. No wonder women were drawn to him, his boyish good looks never failed to get a reaction from the fairer sex. That was the problem, the female of the species were indeed more deadly than the male, especially if you were a nice guy.
Once sitting in The Halfway House in Camden with Sam and Wolfgang they noticed this young blonde thing in tears next to them. Gently, they enquired as to what the problem was. She was drunk, very drunk and burbled something into a tissue about her boyfriend being a motherfucker. Then taking a really good bleary look at B, she leapt at him. John Lennon, she kept repeating over and over again, John Lennon, John Lennon, John Lennon, and her hands were everywhere, his stomach, knees, chest, crotch. No matter how hard B protested or tried to turn her attention to Wolfgang, who was eternally single, she just became more and more frenzied in her molestation. B even showed her a photo of Susan in a plea for her to stop, but to no avail, the photo was thrown on the floor in a puddle of lager top and the attack continued. Calmly, B talked her down and struck up a conversation with her, much to the amusement of his drinking companions.
He found out that she was Swedish and a student of Law and that she felt lonely in London. It was now a waiting game, waiting for that perfect moment to run. The only chance of escape came when she went to the toilet to empty the contents of her stomach and it was taken. They flew out of the pub, leaving the Swede to her tissues, tears and tactile tediousness.
Especially if you were a nice guy.
Sitting down on a bench next to Sam, he surveyed his gathered comrades. There was also a smattering of old friends, acquaintances and hangers on scattered in and around the outside of the pub.
A skinny man with glasses leant forward and offered his hand as a greeting. He had a big grin on his face and Chelsea tattoos on his arm. His name was Freddie. B grinned back and pulled Freddie in for a hug. It had been a while. B had worked together with Freddie and Wolfgang at Rough Trade in the warehouse. He hadn’t seen Freddie for a long time as he was now a resident of Portugal. Sam and Freddie had lived together in the Spanish enclave of Melilla off the north coast of Morocco a couple of years earlier. It was through Freddie that B had met Sam.
Samuel, the rolling stone.
B sat there chatting as people bought him drinks and gave him presents and he became light headed and had soon accumulated a good swag bag of old cassettes, comics, books, underwear with Charles Manson’s face on the front and an eighth of Moroccan smuggled into the country in Freddie’s underpants.
B found that he was finally beginning to really unwind and enjoy himself, to feel the warmth of human friendship, to smile and joke. He sat quietly and listened to the conversations buzzing around him, cushioned by feelings of affection for those gathered there. He took in everything around him; the light gleaming off his whisky glass, the gargoyle-like expression of Wolfgang uncharacteristically sticking his tongue out at Alice, Sam and Freddie’s spontaneous rendition of Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades” (air guitar, drums and Lemmy impersonation).
It was all good.
“So, where’s Sue?” asked Sam with a conspiratorial bluntness.
B’s only response was a sideways glance into Sam’s eyes that told all.
“I take it she ain’t coming tonight”
“Who knows, brother?” he said in a soft Manc brogue.
On cue a glass smashed at the end of the table, jolting everyone into the moment, heads turned and Susan suddenly appeared out of the fluorescent night’s shadows. She was surrounded by a gaggle of clucking friends; a black laughing mama with crazy big hair, a huge body and a tiny skirt almost disappearing up her arse crack with a young blonde gentleman on her arm, an arrogant spoilt sneer slapped over his face and a thirty something Anglo-German gay couple. They were Bertie and Herman, all tight T-shirts and shiny foreheads.
Smiling, Susan floated as if on air towards B, sat on Sam’s knee to his irritation. She began to kiss B passionately on the lips.
“I’m sorry, darlin’” she spoke lovingly.
“Yeah, well, what you said ’urt…”
“Sorry” she said pouting apologetically kissing him again and again as Sam squirmed his way awkwardly and embarrassed out from under her firm dancers arse and stood up half jokingly irritated saying “Get a fuckin’ room!”. Sam squeezed himself in next to Joy and Alice glancing at the two made up lovebirds, giving Freddie a sly smile that he understood instantly as one of justified mockery of the state of male emotional weakness. Freddie answered by glancing at the heavens. He had not met Susan before but on the basis of the past treatment of his friend he found that did not like her very much. He had heard about her manipulations and tantrums and had found her to be a tiresome trial to hera about and tried to think of some mischief that could cheer him up. He resolved to talk to her only because B was his friend. He was pissed off enough at being back in London and its thin veneer of coolness without having to suffer this fag hag. Freddie had grown up in London and had had enough of its pretension. He began to tell Sam that all he needed was a hut, a piece of land to grow vegetables and his daft Portuguese dog, Gypsy.
And a gun.
He needed a gun to defend his land.
That was all he needed.
Sam knew that Freddie was goading a reaction from those around him and joined in saying that he thought Kalashnikovs were probably the best for that sort of thing. Sturdy and well made with a wooden body, they wouldn’t break so easy. He caught the ruffling of feathers out of the corner of his eye and added that they probably needed to test fire them on some innocents before buying just to check that they worked. You never could trust arms dealers, they were like drug dealers, always ready to prolong their usefulness to their market.
Freddie nodded in agreement, a sly smile appearing on his face. he knew that ears were twitching and soon that tongues would not be able start wagging.
Freddie told Sam was that he was of course invited to live out his days there, writing, helping plant potatoes and guarding the perimeters. Sam nodded thoughtfully, saying that he would consider the offer. To buy a piece of land and defend with our lives, now that would be a worthwhile life, he surmised.
Alice joined in the conversation by suggesting that they did not need weapons to live a decent life, her comments were treated seriously by Freddie, who explained that to be truly natural one must be a warrior as well as a gatherer or hunter. The argument flowed back and forth and Sam knew it was nothing but hot air. Enjoyable banter but it was a big hot fart of an idea. The dream of self sufficiency was only for the rich, the middle class ex-hippies, who had sold their ideals down the river with Thatcherite rhetoric. It ended with Freddie extolling the virtues of the Unabomber, Alice tutting and Joy buying more drinks, deliberately cutting the conversation dead.
Sam enjoyed seeing his friend baiting people. They always fell for it hook, line and sinker. It was Freddie’s seriousness and seemingly lack of humour that entangled his victims every single time.
The sarcasm dripped along with the beer down Freddie’s chin.
It was suddenly closing time and the peripheral people began to disappear, a house of cards falling with just the core standing up.
The party moved on to a bar, The Buzz Bar, a couple of hundred metres up the road. The place was hideous, but it was free to get in and closed late. The music was that of generic seventies disco and seemed to breed a generic type of person, those without any type of musical discernment. So of course, it was heaving.
B entered the bar, turned to find his friends faces behind him and shrugged. Freddie and Sam pushed their way in amongst the dancing fools looking like fish out of water, running straight for the bar to order double whiskies and drown their disgust at being there, while Joy and Alice stood around waiting for somebody to buy them a drink and Wolfgang walked to the toilet with a purposeful unbalanced stride.
The only people who seemed to be enjoying themselves were the group of queens, princesses and little Lord Faulteroy. Things shifted up a gear. The dancing became frenetic, especially between Janice, the mama and Susan. Janice seemed to focus all her energy on Susan, who keeping eye contact lapped it up, they were fucking without body contact and it seemed to last forever. Every time Susan pulled away from her, towards B, Janice laughing deep and manically grabbed at her pulling her back into her huge bosom and ran her hands over her rhythmic snaking body.
Sam began to feel his head pound with rhythmic pain. He blinked and saw all the smoke in the club rising up and becoming one gigantic smoky serpent twisting and curling above all the dancers and drinkers heads.
Its mighty tail swimming in the air, its jaws clamped around all, protecting.
The beauty of its translucent scales forming into parts of people, joining all with its lack of form.
With its emptiness.
It was smiling and happy and benign.
Sam felt a tremor through his body.
Something was being shown to him.
Every eye in the club was on them.
Sam felt a shiver engulf him and as he blinked a pagan orgy appeared in front of him, everyone naked and writhing.
Men and women, women and women, men and men entwined, rubbing each other, one huge gasp of pleasure.
Satyrs poked their tongues out of and into.
Fire spurted from holes in the ground, serpents slithered over stomachs and between legs with smells of salt, sweat, semen and secretions.
The serpent became form and solidity itself for a single moment before exploding into sea of impermanence.
Knives slashed indiscriminately at young virgin’s hearts.
Marquis de Sade.
Submission and domination.
The last days of Rome.
The grand death fuck of a fat and satisfied empire.
Sam felt the shiver down his spine with such a force that it made him drop his drink and fall to his knees.
No one seemed to care.
It was over in a second.
Sam picked himself up and felt stupid at having dropped his glass, not least because the whisky was so expensive. He leant down to pick his broken glass and for a second felt an extreme unease flow through his mind and into his body. It wasn’t the what had just been shown to him that made him feel this way. He was used to that. It was something else.
He looked around himself, past his friends, past the dancers. Amongst the crowd there were three men and they were staring at him. Staring right into his eyes. It wasn’t just an aggressive drunken “’Re you looking at my bird?” kind of look. This one had pure spite in it. The three men seemed hidden in the shadows of a booth in dingy corner of the club. They had all turned around and were leaning over the edge of the booth’s chair. It was a purposeful gesture. One of them pointed at Sam. Sam felt the electric onslaught of terror building up but continued to stare back at them. They were locked in the moment together.
A moth and a lightbulb.
He felt something touch his shoulder and spun around violently. It was Freddie.
Sam glanced over his shoulder to where the three men had stood. They were gone.
“’Re you okay?” asked his friend, and Sam nodded and smiled back.
Normality returned, people’s attention went back to themselves, to their insecurities, their drug addled brains, their lusts and fragile alliances. And still the two ladies carried on dancing.
It was time to move on.
Spilling onto the road, the birthday party made its way along the streets of London. Past cold winter windows with frozen hearts and embarrassed naked trees. It was late but like every good party it did not know when to stop. The leaders of the party entered into a well to do block of flats, the lagging majority followed them into the lifts with a blind drunk acceptance.
Sam didn’t know whose flat it was yet opening the front door, he instantly knew it was a gay house.
It was clean for a start but the authentic Andy Warhol Marilyn print gave the game well and truly away. Scientists said that every straight person was a little bit gay in their psychological make up and maybe they were right. He had once heard a friend refer to himself as having a homosexual love for his friends. He had been in the military and had had to trust his fellow Marine Commandos with his life. Sam could see how that trust could create a love. Just look at the Greek heroes.
The rest of the flat was the same thread of fashionable kitsch; one white plastic moulded chair shaped like an open hand and another scooped out ball straight out of A Clockwork Orange, a huge painting over a white leather sofa that seemed to show a giant hairy visceral vagina and a large evil phallic cactus in the corner of the room. It was interesting to say the least. Freud would certainly have something to say about that. The obligatory bookcase was full of Art picture books, Sam loved to browse through other people’s bookcases. It was a habit of his. You can tell a lot about a person by their books, or lack of.
Art books, visuals, authentic Warhol, advertising, marketing, post modern thought, superficiality, show, sex objects, monster tactile cunts, to be seen, to be touched.
Or maybe not.
He was no psychologist.
Eastern European gypsy music burst sadly through the excited chatter, wine bottles were popped open, there was the rustle of cigarette papers as joints were rolled and everyone relaxed. The girls began dancing again as the tunes became more lively. Even Alice and Joy joined in, which Sam knew was a recipe for disaster. True to form, Joy began throwing herself around the room with an almost suicidal abandon.
“Just watch ’er go, Fred. A reincarnation of Shiva, goddess of destruction, she is, mate” chuckled Sam with mischievous glee.
“Yeah, I can see”
“Something’s gonna get broken…” he sang.
Joy’s dishevelled head and feet appeared from the back of the sofa, impaled on the fallen cactus. The room burst into uproar. Shouts of concern and laughter blasted the air. Bertie and Herman the German stood still, horrified. Sam took a toke on a joint and shook his head, smirking. He got up and stood by the open window staring out over the view of his adopted home. London. He could see Saint Paul’s from there in the far distance, standing up through plagues and wars, blitzkriegs and bombings.
For how much longer?
Who was out there, still awake?
How many people were fucking, murdering, raping, laughing, dying, shitting, kissing?
What did London dream of when it was asleep?
He stood there, stoned, breathing in the polluted snores of the city. Minutes passed absorbed in thoughts until a head on his shoulder snapped him back to the party reality. He stared at Joy and she pecked him on his cheek.
“I love you ’cos you’ve heard of Jonathan Richman and ’cos you never told no-one” she whispered, she then went up to B.
“I love you ’cos you’re pretty” she told him. There was no sleaziness in her, just drunken honesty. B smiled. Then Alice and Joy left and Bertie and Herman smiled at them with a shiny politeness, truly happy to see them go.
The party was on its last legs, but business was unfinished.
Janice was getting more and more raucous and had started her lesbian shenanigans once more. It was all becoming very tiresome. Susan protested, then succumbed, then protested again. The little blonde toff was sat on the sofa trying to act like a young Oscar Wilde and Wolfgang had fallen off the opened palm chair, and then stumbled across the room almost pulling down the picture of the vagina.
“Why am I so… its always me, I just can’t seem to control… why does everything I touch catch fire? What is wrong with me, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck…” he paced in circles, smoking, self flagellating as usual.
Then Wolfie turned to Freddie and Sam.
“FLYING VAGINAS ON FIRE!” he shouted.
Enough was enough.
It was time to go.
The uncaring morning sun would be coming up soon and Sundays were for recovering without having idiots around playing stupid fucking games. B turned to Susan and bluntly stated that they were leaving and that if she wanted a wonderful lesbian experience she could stay, but they were leaving.
Janice had her arms around her, clasping her to her overwhelming breast, Faulteroy was holding her hand, still sneering and it took all of B’s strength not to smash his nose across his face. Little rich turd. The child began talking and B told him to fuck off, giving him a look that told him not to say a word. The boy gave him a “How dare you” pout, but said nothing. It was the working class versus the spoilt rich. No contest, if only they’d realise it. Jokingly B told the fat woman that she could have her for a camel.
“What should I do, B?” pleaded Susan.
B started laughing, the irony lost on her.
“Come on” he spoke gently and pulling herself free they all left together.
Shuffling into the lift, nobody noticed the flat’s door swing open until it was too late. B felt something pulling on his arm, heard Susan scream, saw the black and blonde, gripping tightly, seeing Susan stretched between them; it was two against one in a game of tug of war as the lift doors were shutting on her. Their unexpected attack had given them the advantage; B felt his grip sliding, felt Susan buckle and fearing that she was hurting eased his hold enough for the couple to pull her away dragging B across the tiled corridor floor until he finally let go, the lift door slamming against his legs.
“WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT!?” B screamed from the floor, a look of utter wide-eyed disbelief slapped across his face. “She’s been kidnapped!”
Sam saw him lying there, comedic. His body twisted and contorted with the struggle. He saw another body, its head covered in blood and grey matter. Its skull caved in from a sharp object. There was so much blood he couldn’t see who it was. The figure reminded him of his past, of a friend in a far away place or was it a flash of the future? An image. The image was fuzzy and he couldn’t quite see who it was. He exhaled smoke and felt the tickling of a serpent around him.
Then there was B.
Freddie and Wolfgang didn’t know whether laugh or start tearing the place to shreds. They were poised ready with lighters in hand and fists clenched, unconsciously realising together that it was all up to B, who was picking himself up off the floor. Brushing himself off and looking at the door, it was a moment of decision.
“Fuck it, boys, let’s get a taxi”
The lift went down.
It stopped three times at the wrong floor with four men stuck in it. Everyone was silent except B who was trying to understand what had just happened. What had just happened? Why wouldn’t the lift go where it was supposed to? Fuck! You couldn’t write this shit. It was still dark when they got to street level and loitering around the street, they waited for a taxi to show up. Within a minute or so an unmarked cab appeared and they all piled in. The driver smiled and asked where they were off to, His perfect white teeth showing up against his dark skin, lighting up the taxi and putting everyone at ease. There was a classical music station on the car radio; its melodies, pauses and crescendos were the perfect soundtrack to the four and their wandering thoughts.
“This is Mahler’s Fifth” said Sam.
“D’you know classical music?” retorted B, “I need t’get educated about this stuff. I love it, but know nothin’ about it, except what’s on adverts or films. There’s more t’you than meets the eye, Sam, young fellow me lad.”
Sam smirked, proud at a compliment at this time of the morning in the middle of London. The taxi driver began to ask them where they had been. B began to explain the night’s events and the driver’s eyes opened with surprise. When he had finished explaining the driver exclaimed that he was a Bedouin and that they should all go back and rescue Susan as her honour was at stake.
How could a man be with a woman that had been ravaged by a lesbian?
It was a matter of pride for a man, and they were all men, weren’t they?
Well, weren’t they?
B thought about it for a second then giggled. He thanked the driver profusely but declined his offer saying that he didn’t feel much of a man at the moment; he was tired and just wished to go home. Mahler’s Fifth’s Adagietto played on into the night, past blue ambulance sirens, traffic lights on green, frazzled clubbers desperately trying to remember how to get home, policemen asleep with their vilified spouses and cemeteries full of forgotten once people.
After one last joint, the three interlopers tried to sleep for about four hours on the living room floor of B’s ground floor flat. Wolfgang and Freddie were snoring like children, yet Sam couldn’t stop the internal dialogue because of the weed, drifting in and out of consciousness fitfully. Something in his head started barking so he really couldn’t sleep, the harsh sounds echoing around his skull.
He wondered about the three men.
He had seen them, hadn’t he?
He wasn’t sure about anything anymore.
They all awoke later that morning to find the small back garden full of spider’s webs. They were everywhere. They were taking over the world. No, the small creatures already owned the world; humans were just renting it for a couple of millennium. Guzzling down their morning tea and coffee, the three men wandered from web to web cooing at the wonder of nature. Somewhere over the many garden fences Elvis’ “Suspicious Minds” wafted, blown with the smell of Sunday cooking and drains.
“Caught in a trap, I can’t walk out, because I love you too much baby…”
Leaning in close to study one of the beautifully fragile patterns, remembering that if the webs were life size they would be stronger than a steel girder, Sam saw a small shape already wrapped up neatly into a meal. It was a moth. Or all that was left of one. Its tiny killer was curled up motionless at the edge of its deadly creation, staring blankly ahead. Sam felt a movement in his stomach and the ghost moth fluttering past his ears, off to the moon, the place where moths go to die.
One day we shall be dead and it will all have been meaningless and incomprehensible.