Really, what choice did Alex give me?
All right, she wasn’t the worst girlfriend I’ve ever had. That prize should probably go to Sarah the tattooist and vampire wannabe, who filed her canines to points and bit me when she got excited – which, considering she was a massive Leonard Cohen fan, was surprisingly often.
Close runner up was Hannah, who’d rather dismantle her Harley-Davidson ‒ on my new Ikea beech effect dining table ‒ than sit and eat my lovingly prepared spinach and Dairylea lasagne.
Don’t get me wrong, Alex is great. In lots of ways, really great. Beautiful, quirky, smart, quirky, runs her own business, quirky, drives a cherry red Porsche 911 that Jeremy Clarkson wouldn’t throw out of bed. Bit of a disturbing image there, but you know what I mean.
Picked up on the quirky, then? Oh, I loved that about her to begin with. Ah, the beginning…
I was sitting in Lucky’s Bar during Happy Hour, or Functioning Alcoholic Hour as I call it. Lucky’s is one of those dumps that’s survivable during the day, if you can ignore the smell which is like a full ashtray soaking in a bowl of beer into which a Doberman has just peed. At night, of course, the place is a no-go area unless you have a death wish or own a Kevlar onesy.
If the Hour of cheap drinks was intended to help business, it hadn’t worked. There were four of us in that afternoon – me, Fat Sweaty Guy, Skinny Looks-Like-A-Drug-Addict Guy and Covered-in-Homemade-Tattoos-Scary-Builder Guy. We’d each found our own corner of the room, as far away from the others as physically possible because if you’re in Lucky’s at three o’clock on a Tuesday, you’re not there for the company.
The barman had stopped rubbing beer glasses with a filthy towel and was leaning on the bar, his thumb flicking up and down his phone screen, his elbows wedged in the drip tray. I’d finished my beer ten minutes earlier but didn’t have the energy to order another. Besides, the longer I sat there, the more I was convinced the five of us had slipped out of the universe, into an alternate time stream, where the barman’s thumb would always flick the screen, the same fly would mark out the same triangle over my head, time and again, forever. Or maybe that was the Stella talking.
The fruit machine winked a seductive sequence of red, green and gold lights. My forearm was stuck to the table with semi-dried beer and I didn’t have the energy to disengage. The CD player was on an eighties loop and not in a good way ‒ we’re talking Orville and Joe Dolce rather than The Smiths and New Order.
Why was I sitting in a joyless city centre purgatory on a Tuesday afternoon instead of being at work? Well, the Friday before I was invited to be part of a ‘future interchange movement involving the rationalisation and reorganisation of roles and responsibilities’, which all sounded very exciting until I realised it meant me packing my Snoopy mug and my I hate Mondays coaster and leaving work with a month’s severance and zilch redundancy money.
Some would say I was drowning my sorrows. I like to think I was regrouping, reconfiguring, ‘planning a forward action from a challenging dip in financial growth’.
I was just trying to interpret one of Scary-Builder Guy’s tattoos – a daringly, avant-garde representation of Winnie the Pooh doing something unimaginably uncomfortable to Eeyore with a very large carrot – when Alex walked in.
Have you ever seen a stunningly beautiful, copper-haired, five foot eight girl enter a grotty city centre bar wearing red PVC boots, a tartan mini-dress with a bustle, carrying a silver topped cane and dragging a wheeled leather suitcase large enough to hold a medium-sized human male in the foetal position? Me neither. Not before that Tuesday, anyway.
The barman looked up from his phone, thumb in mid-scroll. Fat Sweaty Guy and Skinny Looks-Like-A-Drug-Addict Guy exchanged a look. Covered-in-Homemade- Tattoos-Scary-Builder Guy stopped plucking lumps of dried plaster from his overalls with his thumbnail and ‒ I guess as there was no one else to share the moment with ‒ looked at me. It was a speck of time on the backside of the universe, but with one flick of his eyes, I swear he said,
‘Well, this is a turn up, eh? Who’d have thought it, pillocks like us, sitting in a dump like this. Just shows you never know when Lady Fortune is going to reach into your day, grab you by the jockeys and shake you ‘til something comes loose. Be lucky.’
It was quite a bonding moment. Brought a tear to my eye.
Perhaps one of us should’ve played the dashing hero, offered to help her with her case. But, let’s face it none of us were hero material. We stared speechless, immobile, unable numpties caught in her radiance.
She eased her bag to a halt in the middle of the floor, teetered to the bar, wriggled up onto a stool and said in a voice which I later compared to that of a small, female James Earl Jones, ‘Tequila, please, with a Snakebite-and-black chaser.’
I mean, come on – that’s quite an opener.
But I’m not an idiot and I’m no masochist. Maybe in a parallel universe, there’s another version of me who isn’t a thirty-three-year-old unemployed telephone marketer living in two rented rooms above a fish and chip shop in the crappy end of town. But I’m not him. So I stayed put, tucked my head down low and waited for that oasis of womanhood in my desert of a life to swig her drinks and pass on through.
It was then that a pint of purple liquid was dumped on the table in front of me.
‘This seat taken?’ she said.
To be Continued …
Welcome to the world of The Shadowmaker …
In honour of the fact my YA manuscript, Shadowmaker, is about to wing its way into the submissions process, I thought I’d introduce you to its world.
Tales of the Shadowmaker are short stories inspired by the novel. The characters dwell in the same world, they live by the same rules, perhaps rubbing shoulders with the novel’s protagonists, perhaps not.
They may be humorous, they may be dark. They’ll always be filled with Shadows …