FICTION: A Couple Of Drinks Is All by Jonathan Clark

It was early evening and it would still be light for a few hours. By chance they caught the same hopper taking them off campus and dropping them at the top end of town. Hotels all the way back to the cliffs had stopped offering cheap rooms and there was a warm breeze that ruffled the hair and left salt on the lips. Buy you a drink? he asked. To which she replied, I don’t think I know you, do I? They found a bar that sold vodka and promised music with a beat. It was too early for music with a beat but it was happy hour and there were many bottles on shelves behind the counter. She stared and pointed and he paid and they took their drinks over to a table under a shuttered window. She talked quickly and drank quickly and so he pushed the menu over to her side of the table and asked her to choose again. But she could not choose and so he returned to the counter with the menu. One of the bottles had a scorpion at the bottom that broke apart when the barman showed it to him. He chose something the menu described as very sweet and carried two glasses back to the table under the window. After that they went into a bar across the street that served cocktails with rude names in colourful glasses. It was happy hour there too and she chatted the whole time to the barman who seemed to know her. Then they went to her place because she wanted to swap her heels for flats. He waited outside. She came back down wearing the flats and a different dress and more lipstick and carrying a cardigan. They found a bar with tables outside so that she could smoke. He ordered two lagers and bought a packet of menthol cigarettes from a machine on the wall. He carried them out with the lagers on a tray to the table where she was waiting and put down the tray and emptied his pockets. She took a lighter from her purse and lit a cigarette and flashed him a quick smile. She draped the cardigan around her shoulders and said, let’s go inside, dropping the cigarette to the pavement and crushing it quickly. They carried their dripping glasses back inside and she chose a table at the far end where the brickwork was showing. She talked about her family as he glanced around the bar. She became very serious. She said that she did want to make them happy and that one day she would be very strict about it and arrangements would be made. She waved her hands about and the lighter and packet of menthols clattered to the floorboards scattering cigarettes under the table. He collected up the cigarettes staring at the flats which were crumpled and scuffed at the toes. We could go to a club, she suggested, let’s go to a club. Okay, he said, a club. Which club? There’s one a couple of streets away that’s just opened, she said, we could go there. You’ve planned this, haven’t you? he teased her. I have not, she retorted, you should be so lucky. This time he did not smile at her tease. I’m never lucky, he said and looked away. He thought for a moment and then asked her if she wanted to eat. I just want to drink, she replied, and then dance. They went next to a bar playing music with a beat and she paid for more lagers and slopped them over to an empty table he’d spotted outside where she could smoke. Two lads at the next table looked up and grinned but she did not look at them. Have you been here before? he asked taking a cigarette and then putting it back. Maybe, she answered. And then, stop that, you don’t smoke. How do you know I don’t smoke? he asked. Well, you don’t have a lighter, she reasoned, and you never come for cigarette breaks. I smoke sometimes when I drink, he said, but not menthol. I only like menthol, she said, it tastes cleaner. It’s really not, he countered to which she replied, I know that. But it tastes cleaner. They thought about what to do next. She wanted strawberry beer. There was a place she knew that served it in tall glasses with the name of the brewer on the side in gold leaf. So they went there. The beer was sweet and sticky with a bitty froth that clung to the glass as they drank. There was a large and noisy crowd inside and out and some of them were drinking the strawberry beer. It’s heavy, he remarked. It’s delicious, she replied, and I want another one. It’s too heavy when we haven’t eaten, he said. We should eat. Okay then, she said, let’s go somewhere. But they could not find anywhere they both liked and settled for more vodka which came in thin glasses at a small bar in a side street littered with flyers and cigarette ends. She lit up again and sipped her vodka at a table out front and picked at the cashews he had opened for her. My mother’s cooking is the best, she said. I’m useless. I can’t cook at all. They made their way from the bar through side streets to reach the club which announced itself in neon and was split over two floors. There was a small roped-off area and a doorman in a black tie. Hello again, said the doorman. Oh hi, she said, how are you? The doorman held the rope aside and they strolled in. She spent a good few minutes talking to the barman but he could not hear what they were saying. He watched her lean into the counter and then he looked away across the room. There were two girls dancing together and another by herself over where the records were played. Several lads sat together in the far corner and stared at the girls on the dancefloor. She came up behind him and tried to surprise him but he was not surprised and held her by the wrists. He noticed then that her nail polish was quite badly chipped.  She stuck out her bottom lip and pulled away and picked up her drink from the bar with her back to him. He shrugged and turned away to watch the dancefloor. And then she was in his ear asking, come and dance. But he would not so she left him there at the counter and went to dance with the girl over where the records were played. And later she came and found him on the other floor sat by himself fiddling with the cross around his neck. Buy me a drink? she asked and then asked again only louder. They drank some more and she danced some more as the club began to fill. And then later still they made their way back to her place and she searched her purse for the keys and could not find them. My landlord lives in the basement but he won’t be there, she said, I’ll have to sleep over at yours. He tried the door and then tried his weight against the door and then started out for the basement but she stopped him because she had managed to find the keys after all. She let them both in but there was nothing to drink and anyway she was tired now. He asked if he could crash on the sofa and she said okay and kicked off her flats and disappeared into the bedroom. He woke early the next morning with a heavy thirst. He wandered into the kitchen and found a cup in the drainer and tried the tap over the sink but there was only a rusty dribble and nothing in the refrigerator either. He let himself out quietly and walked for a few minutes and caught the early hopper because nowhere was open. The low sun hurt his eyes. Reaching into a pocket for sunglasses he remembered that he’d left them on the table outside the bar where he’d bought cigarettes. His hand went up to his temples as the hopper pulled out onto the carriageway. He guessed that summer was here and that it would not rain now for several weeks.

Jonathan Clark

JKC

Jonathan has had poems and articles published in Smiths Knoll, South, NME and Joyzine, and penned the script for an independent film that’s apparently in the final stages of production (although they’ve been saying that for six months). This will be his first published story. Let’s not talk about the guitars or the record decks.

If you enjoyed A Couple Of Drinks Is All, leave a comment and let Jonathan know.

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