Suddenly it’s bright and I’m told to fuck off. They’d turned the music off, and the lights on, over an hour ago to get rid of me, and had to mop around my feet – but I’m happy to float in my own head. Well, happy’s probably not the word – content is more like it. Content in imprisonment. One of the bouncers, who had stayed for an after-shift tipple, ended up having to grab me by my belt and the back-clumps of my hair to launch me onto the rainslicks outside. Probably why I ended up with the big bloody scrapes on my cheek. Probably. The missing footage in the movie of my drunken memory began precisely at the moment when I was thrown out of the bar, and started recording again by the time I was half way home. Then black again. Then I’m in the fourth bar.
This was the third self-destructive rampage I’d been on this week, not counting the ones cut short by arrests. It was also the fourth week since said rampages had begun, after I’d been fired from my job at Tesco for taking money from the tills. Which was, of course, bullshit.
The fourth is the latest bar in town, open til six-ish. It’s nice and out of the way, so I don’t have to worry about wayward students finding it to keep their buzz going till the buses started running again. The place is through a labyrinth of alleys and flights of steps going up and down, and under an unlabelled archway – I still have no idea what it’s called. I never thought to ask, either – everyone in this place was some sort of Slavic. Unintelligible sounds.
So I stagger to the bar and just pointed at a random beer pump displaying a picture of a sheep wearing a crown, said “ONE PINT” ve-ry slow-ly (that way, they understand you), and drop a handful of what probably wasn’t the right change on the table.
Next thing, I’m at a corner table with my drink half-drank, something in my shirt pocket poking me in the chest, sitting opposite a man in a hat (this meeting features in my memory, because his nose stuck out further than his hat’s brim).
“You like beer?” he says. Stretched out as he remembers his poor English, over some old polka music.
“It’s alright” I say, and reeled at the three foam-streaked glasses that I didn’t remember drinking.
And the man looks me dead in the eye, wizened old slits widening. “So, this business opportunity.” He tells me. “You interested?”
But I’ve already forgotten what it was at this point. “Yeah, why not.”
“Otlichno, excellent!” he tells me, clasps his hands together, then clasps mine with treebranch fingers. Then we get up.
Another dark spot.
Then I’m in his house. Couldn’t have been too far away from the pub, but I was certain I’d vomited somewhere on the way (I could smell it from my mouth, and the salt of dried tears encrusted my cheeks). It’s some old ramshackle slum; paint’s peeling all over the ceiling and there’s little foreign clay sculptures on every table.
Also, the air smells of burnt garlic.
Also, there’s scratchmarks on the walls.
The old man is by the coat rack, and starts taking off the big grey fur coat that had made him look like a tiny-headed bear – and when he turns back, coatless, he has a pair of heavy, hanging breasts going all the way to his knees. I try and play it off, like I knew the whole times, but my eyes are very clearly bulging.
“Eye are up here, mal’chik.” The old man – lady cackles, and leads me to the front room. There’s an oversized cast-iron pot here. “I have been getting old. Too old to gather materials I need for work.” She turns to me again, eyes widening again. “Is why I need you.”
“Any work is good work.” I slur. It’ll get me out of the Job Centre. I’m not sure she even heard what I said. “What do I need to get?”
“Children. Small children, if you can.”
The only sound now is some Polish show on an ancient television, the old lady is looking expectantly at me. I look at her walls; there are tiny skeletons mounted on the curtain rails; on the sideboards; on the windowsill. And then I look at her again and splutter something. This time I don’t even hear what I say.
“There’s £7 an hour in it for you, is well above minimum wage. Also, you are welcome to my guest room.”
I can hear the screaming inside the tiny skulls and inside of all of the tiny bones, rattling with some kind of aural terror-residue. Then I think of my flat, the eviction notice, and ‘thirty-job-applications-a-week-or-no-money’. Then I remember the card that was in my breast pocket, she’d given it to me in the bar.
MRS. B. YAGA
CURE-ALLS, FINE IVORY AND “BABYSITTING”
CALL: +44 7537936566
So she hands me a sack and a shovel, and I head outside to start my trial shift. After all, any work is good work, right?