Oh sweet Jesus I’ve been here before. This nightclub, this nightclub is the place I had that trial shift a few months ago. This table, I sat at this table that night too, before the nightclub opened, they gave me a meal and sent me upstairs with it. Carbonara tagliatelle, they gave me so little that the supervisor had to ask them to add a side plate of chips. I sat at this table alone, the nightclub was empty then, and the lights were off. I ate my pasta in silence, flicking through my phone.There were too many bacon bits in the dish, cream made me feel bloated afterwards, regretted not getting the burger, but that half hour to eat was the only break I got over an eleven-hour shift. I considered lying and telling them that I smoked just for the occasional fag break, but didn’t chance it in the end. It was definitely this table though, this crappy, cheap, IKEA-looking brown table, because I left my phone on it and had to run back up the puke-stained emergency stairs, got some specks of vomit on the black leather dress shoes I had bought that day for the shift and forgot to wipe them off. They cost thirty bean, haven’t worn them since.
“I got so bad with going to the sunbeds that they actually banned me.”
I’m brought back to the present where one of Susannah’s friends, seated across the table on one of those rectangular things that are somewhere between footrests and stools, has just let that pearl drop. Its leather is the same colour as the table and the couch we’re sitting on. When talking about the table, I’m sure the bald-headed general manager would love for me to call it dark oak, but I wouldn’t do him such a favour or deal the oak tree such an insult. My bowl of pasta is gone from the table, now littered with glasses half-full and empty, one broken. Four gin and tonics for Susannah and her friends, ginger ale and whiskey for me, the innards of my glass as brown as the table, the rectangular stool, the couch, the brick wall behind the dance floor, the bottom halves of all the other walls and Susannah’s friend’s skin. This entire night is an amalgam of brown; the other halves of the walls are coloured cream, brown’s more sedate cousin.
I had taken Susannah’s friend to be sallow-skinned, but obviously was wrong and only now noticing my stupidity as she explains how she had to be restrained at the door of a tanning salon and the various openings of her mouth show her teeth to be way too white for the skin of her face. They shine as searchlights for all those lost at sea on the dance floor; the only other lights to guide them are the strobes of red, yellow, blue, green.Wish they had been on when I was here eating that lonesome dinner. The hue of them changing exactly every two seconds and illuminating the fatty bacon bits might have at least made for an interesting story. Instead, I sat in the dark, never even bothered to turn on a light, shone the flashlight app on my phone into the dinner I came to regret.
“I know I have the fucking thing here somewhere.”
Susannah is using the flashlight app on her phone, rummaging through an oversized handbag, I don’t know what she’s looking for, maybe a credit card or one of those Chihuahuas that celebrities used to put in those big bags. I’m surprised that I can hear her dolorous and despairing tone, the extra strain she puts on the where in somewhere, over the music. It’s the same music as the night I worked here, the words and melodies and chords might be different, but it’s essentially all the same and some literally is, some songs have stuck around for a few months and are now flirting with nightclub immortality. Whatever it is she’s looking for, she doesn’t find it and so removes her blond mess of hair from inside the white leather bag and resumes the conversation about tanning beds with her similarly blonde friend. All four of them are blonde, all with extremely white teeth, all wearing shoulderless dresses that are variations on the same form-fitting theme. All wearing heels too, and carrying flats in their respective giant handbags.
How did I manage to end up back here? A place where I’m left picking the thread from the cuffs of my grey jumper and looking at the ground, my white runners, while Susannah’s friend says she found a mole and hopes it’s nothing serious. Susannah says it’s probably just malign and it’s grand, but the friend says she thinks malign is the bad one and they discuss that for a few minutes and I don’t weigh on which it is or their adjective use. This place is in such need of business that they let me in with these runners on; all white ones like these don’t get into a town nightclub. Maybe nobody comes here because of the manager, who told me that they don’t show hurling on the TV. I asked for a customer in the pub downstairs before the nightclub had opened, but the message was clear: they didn’t show hurling because they couldn’t have the like of me in there crowding up the place, buying drinks and creating an atmosphere. He was a short man who told me not to point with my fingers or thumb, it was better to do it with fingers together, palm opened, as if I was offering the open air a handshake. From down the country, my way, but he seemed to be the kind that took that to mean he had to prove he was every bit as posh as the south Dubliners he called customers. I only wore jeans, hope he sees me and is disgusted by such casual dress and remembers that this place isn’t upscale; it’s just empty. He said they’d give me a call, that I had done great, which I didn’t think I had because he kept telling me that he was twice my age and could do things three times as fast.They never did call, not sure if I ever even got paid.
“Found the fucking thing.”
The fucking thing has been found, or maybe that’s the fucking things because Susannah withdraws from her handbag with a set of keys in one hand and a little plastic baggy with white powder inside in the other. She asks if I want some and I shake my head no so she plunges the key into the baggy and brings it out carefully, raising the powder to her nostril with her right hand while covering her face from the bridge of her nose down with her left hand. Doesn’t need to use such caution, not as if there’s a bouncer anywhere in sight. She’s going to ask me to dance soon. I run my index finger over the little white circle in the middle of the thumb on my right hand, a remnant from my night here. So many shards of glass had been trapped and clung to the underside of my skin that they had created this abscess, and they now live there as jagged reminders of my failure to land the job.
There’s only maybe five or six couples at best on the small dance floor, mostly older, forties or fifties, the couples who don’t have the energy to go to town anymore so they stay down here, in this little village so far south of the city that it may as well be Wicklow. The lights have finished their latest rotation of colours and are onto their routine grand finale: the multi-coloured dots shooting in every direction, blinding people into thinking they’re having a good time. They swirl around each other before beginning another round of intertwining, landing on the brick wall at the back of the dance floor to entertain the aging couples, their movements becoming more freeform and spastic when the dots start shooting when compared with their near-static swaying when the area is imbued with the solid red, yellow, green or blue.
Those same lights shot through my eyes, already riddled with tiredness, and rebounded around my skull as I made my way off the dance floor, hands full of empty glasses. The work was monotonous; load tray with glasses recovered from floor and surrounding areas, put tray in dishwasher beside the bar, load new tray while the other was being churned through the machine, empty machine, put newly loaded tray in machine as replacement, repeat. The wall behind the dishwasher was a mirror and I watched myself disintegrate as the night went on; my cheeks were like those of a hunger striker by the time the last song played at half-two, the skin around my eyes was tighter and darker, while the rest of my face had grown pale. Any expression in my eyes had died and my heavy eyebrows now sat even lower than usual, oppressing any thought of emotion in the stare that looked back at me. My placid gaze noted the black shirt, stained on the cuffs with food carried during the pub portion of the shift, and the black slacks, and gave an impression of disinterest in the whole scene.
“I want a dance. Coming to the floor?”
Don’t want to, but I say okay and Susannah takes my hand and leads me into the middle of the floor and the surface is that plastic they make to look like wood that used to rip your tracksuit in PE if you fell. Susannah still has a little powder on the outer ring of her nostril and she tries to shimmy her hips in to be close to me, but I put my hands on them and she smiles, thinking that I’m about to show some intention when really I just don’t want her snout touching any part of my face and the cheap leather on these runners gets torn easily so I don’t want her heels approaching them. I hold her with bent elbows; close enough to feign intimacy, but distant enough to see over her head, even in those heels, and out past the wide corridor to the bar, where I see the familiar bald head, hubristic hybrid of grin and grimace and blue and white-striped shirt of the manager, the one I was told never works in the nightclub. They must be short-staffed.
The next round is mine, first of the night for me which means coming into contact with him; I wonder if he’ll recognise me, if he’ll tell me that they called and got no answer, or that they were overstaffed, or this time of year wasn’t busy enough. Maybe he’ll just tell me the truth and blurt out that I reminded him of himself when he was young and he had done his best to get away from that, so he couldn’t have looming over him everyday, like some rural wraith in a paddy hat with scratches from bales of hay across his fingers. One of Susannah’s friends had asked earlier what the dearest bottle of champagne in the nightclub would be and I told her that there was only one, a Beaumont des Crayères, the cheapest bottle you can get in an off licence. Susannah is feeling energetic after her dabble with the key and she keeps me on the floor for four songs, after which we return to her friends at the pretend dark oak table.
“The next round is mine, is it the same again girls? I might get that bottle of champagne too.”
They all seemed very impressed with me as I rose from the table and started walking toward the bar. I run my hand over the shaved side of my head and feel the bones just above my ear, manipulating one to make it rock back and forth under the point of my index finger. I shake my head and feel my fringe flop onto my forehead; it did the same during the trial shift.
When I reach the bar the manager looks at me through squinted eyes for a second and then asks what I would like, calls me sir. Four gin and tonics and whiskey and ginger ale I tell him and watch his back as he prepares the drinks. He comes back and quotes me a price, but I tell him that I forgot, a bottle of champagne too and his eyes widen as much as they can, a stray dot of yellow from the dance floor lands on his barren head and he calls me sir a few more times, says very good at least twice. He turns his back and gets down on his knees to get the only bottle of champagne from the back of the bottom row in the fridge and when he turns around, I’m gone; down the stairs, winking at the bouncer on the door and out onto the street, hailing a taxi to take me back to the city, alone.
Odrán Waldron is a writer from Kilkenny, Ireland, currently living in San Francisco. He graduated with a BA in Journalism from Dublin City University and an MA in Biography and Creative Nonfiction from the University of East Anglia. He is currently working on his debut novel and a collection of short stories.