Image by Pixomar, courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net
I almost didn’t notice him.
It was late, and I had had my share of wine and beer. The street was dead and alive; at that time of night everybody on the street is half gone, even the sober ones are frayed and worn, their eyes half open, tired, thinking of home and bed. I sat in the van and stared and stared at everything, at the darkened shop fronts, the way the pavement shone in the rain.
People drifted in and out of my sight like holograms under the neon signs. Half real, half drunken illusion. But then I looked up and saw him. He was standing in the window, just a man in a white shirt. He didn’t move, his arms hung limp by his sides. I jumped when I noticed him, because I was half asleep, gazing out blankly, and because his gaze had intent and that frightened me, when everything else about the night seemed so soft and out of focus.
The nightclub was emptying out now. The girls with the short skirts tripped out into the gutter, streaks of sweat and dribbles of rain from the club awning drawing lines down their fake-tan legs. The boys came with them, they laughed at the wobbling high-heeled dance the girls made, they fell about too and clutched at each other, they were too loud and play fighting. I got up and poked my head out of the open side door of the van. Nothing was going on in the street, nothing. Just those drunk kids and the bouncers with stoney faces watching them with a mix of boredom and contempt.
“Are you nearly done yet?” I shouted out. They were loading the gear into the back, everyone had that dead eyed stare that you get when the gig is over and you’re just waiting for the man to come with the money so you can piss off home and not think about it anymore.
“Just a few more things, sit tight sure.”
I went back to my seat, pushing the old sushi cartons out of the way, I didn’t want to look up at the window again so I cast my eyes around the street. Nothing going on, nothing. Thing about working like this is, that at some point, people stop mattering.
They lose meaning to you, they just become a load of faces in the crowd staring at you, not staring at you, fighting, spilling their drinks, dancing badly, mouthing the wrong words like a fish drowning without water. Even when they come up and try to talk you don’t really hear them. They say:
“Do you know this song right, it’s well good, my brother does a wicked version on guitar yeah, you should hear it, it goes something like this–“
They sing the song at you and they lean in so close that you can smell every single drink they’ve had that night. Suddenly their spittle is all over you, and you have their hair in your mouth as they grab you round the shoulders, coming in closer…
“Yeah you know the one? Goes like that. The one that was in that car advert, yeah that’s the one!”
They say, as you nod, smile and hum the tune right back to them. But when you tell them you don’t know the words they get angry, and pissy. They complain, even though they’ve danced to every song, all night.
“Why can’t you just play something decent?” They say, their eyes not even focusing on you, but on something in the mirror behind your head.
The boys were ready now. They had loaded in all the heavy stuff, the stuff I can’t carry because I’m only a girl. When you start out you want to take on the world, you want show you’re not a light-weight so you go for the amps and the PA system and everything, Then all of a sudden there’s ten years gone and your back’s going and it’s raining and you let the boys carry the heavy stuff because you’re just a girl. Only you’re not a girl anymore, and you don’t bother to re-apply your make up in the break like you used to. Everybody starts off keen don’t they? But we all end up the same, mostly.
It’s alright for the lads though. When the grey hairs peek through and the lines draw their faces a little gaunter than before, they look like rock stars still. They look like Mick Jagger to the teenagers at the back, the ones doing sticky shots at the bar, getting Sambucca all down themselves and laughing about it. But when I catch a glance in the bathroom mirror, I don’t see Debbie Harry in between the cracks of glass anymore, you’re just yourself only older. The life goes harder on girls, I don’t care what anyone says. And people say things to you like:
“I bet you were a looker back in the day!” No one says that to Mick Jagger, no one.
Back in the van I can hear them shutting the back door. I hear the happy sound of the jingle of keys that means it’s nearly home time.
“Did you get hold of him?” Someone says.
“Yeah no hassle, it’s all there, they seemed happy enough.”
The sound of money in an envelope rustling as it get shoved into a back pocket.
“Shall we hit the road?”
I get out of the van to stretch my legs as the others get in. I don’t say anything because by that stage of the night you’ve said everything there is to say anyway.
Across the street I see a woman coming. She’s not stumbling along like the others. She’s wearing the big-girl heels but she’s walking without effort, she’s got the dead eyes too. I can spot them even from here. I watch her approach the strip of shops over the street, she’s clutching her black handbag and glancing across at the club to the slouching door men, she waves, and they wave back, but there’s nothing amicable about it. She takes a taloned swipe at her lacquered hair with fluorescent fingernails, wiping the sweat from her brow. She rubs her hands together to wipe the grease from her make-up off her fingertips. She stops at a half-hidden doorway and pulls down her top a little. She’s ringing the door bell, and she looks bored already.
“Right, in you get.” One of the lads motions for me to step back into the van, they want to leave.
I take my seat by the window and look out as the engine starts. The woman is still standing in the doorway, still clutching the handbag like a grenade. Almost instinctively I look up and see him. He’s still standing too, but his body has movement now, he’s bringing a hand up and he’s turning away from the window to go answer the door. Something long and silver like a sliver of moonlight catches the light and glints before the darkness swallows it up. I turn away from the window, so that I never see the door open, or the woman step inside. Because when you do this job you learn not to see things.
And the thing about working like this is, that at some point, people stop mattering.