Saturday night in a high street pub could be described as hell on earth, if hell served alcohol, which on reflection it probably does.

‘Cheer up fella. Might never happen y’know.’

That’s what I’m so afraid of. I lower my face into my pint, wishing there was enough beer left to drown me. A peaceful death blanketed by gentle buzzing; the slow silent slide into oblivion. Alas, only a mouthful remains, stale and still at the bottom of a dirty glass. I feel sick.

‘Ah, don’t be like that mate…’ Someone chucks an arm around my shoulders. ‘You’re a student aren’t you?’

I want him to go away. I want to be alone. She is all I want and I can never have her. The guy lets go long enough to swing himself into the empty bar stool to my left with all the grace of three and a half pints. He nudges my shoulder and grins, many chins and bristling beard. I briefly consider punching him. Briefly.

‘Thought so. Looking like that you’ve either gotta be a student or a tramp!’ He laughs and swigs his pint. I don’t argue with him. My dishevelled appearance has attracted a few sideways glances since I got here. But how can I take care of myself when all I can think of is her? I never knew what alone meant until we met. And there’s nothing I can do. Every time I see her, I’m a rabbit in the headlights of her beauty. I can’t move, I can’t speak, I can’t… I can’t…

‘So what are you so miserable about? You’re a student! You don’t pay taxes, don’t have to work, and you get all the girls you want!’

‘No.’ I speak without thinking.

‘Ah, so it’s a girl is it?’ He leers over the top of his pint. A neon-dressed slut reels drunkenly into his back and his teeth clack against the rim of the glass. He curses; the girl cackles and screeches at him, her mask of mascara and makeup a ghoulish contortion in the sepia barlight. I taste bile. The guy’s curses turn to slick words that crawl across my skin like many predatory fingers. It’s disgusting, but the girl only guffaws, pinches his arse and weaves off back to her table. ‘’Ere Shannon! You see that guy at the bar? ‘es lurvely ‘e is!’

‘What ‘im?’

‘Nah, not ‘im you shlag. ‘im on the left!’

‘Oo you calling “shlag”, bitch?’

‘You, shlag!’


The girls explode into a cacophony of shrieking, chittering laughter. Hyenas. Painted hyenas in miniskirts, dancing around drunkenly on their hind legs. I push the dregs of my pint away. I should leave. This place is hell.

‘So?’

‘So what?’ I snap at the guy. My chest and shoulders tighten beneath my overcoat, a muscle ticks under my eye. I grit my teeth, lips pulled back to snarl and eyes glare. Why can’t he leave me alone? Alone with thoughts of her is the next best thing to being alone with her. But that’ll never happen. Never. I close my eyes.
‘ ‘What’s her name then, bucko?’

‘What?’

‘Your girl’s name. The one that’s got you looking like you’ve lost a bollock. What’s her name.’

I stare at him. I…

‘ ‘You don’t know, do you!’ The guy dissolves into throaty, gurgling chuckles redolent of a long smoking habit and death at forty-five. He downs the last of his pint. Still laughing, he waves a tenner at the barman and points it to me and him. The barman gets the message. I want to leave, but the lure of another pint is strong. ‘Ah poor lad. Not a fuckin’ clue eh?’

‘I breath in once, twice, three times, swallow that metallic taste and shake my head. No, I don’t know her name. I don’t even know if she has a name. But what’s in a name? It’s not important. I know her. I’ve known her since the moment I saw her. Never have I felt this connection with another. Her eyes followed me as I walked past her window, and I knew she felt it too. I stopped just past the shop and dared myself to go back. To look at her, talk to her, touch her… But I couldn’t. I knew she wanted it just as much as me, but I panicked. I felt her watching me as I ran. The whisky bottles on the shelf before me whisper coward, coward, coward. The barman’s eyes accuse and the stench of stale sweat and sticky alcohol gets stronger. I cough and hold one sleeve to my face. Can no one else smell that?

‘What about ‘im, Shannon?’

‘Ew! Feck off! ‘E looks like a fecking tramp!’

‘You loves tramps Shannon! You wanna fuck ‘im don’t yer? Don’t yer?’


More laughter. Shrieking harpies. I glance over my shoulder and they’re instantly silent, unmoving, fixed plastic smiles on their fake faces. Nothing’s real about girls like that – fake tan, fake bleach-blonde hair, fake breasts, fake nails, fake clothes, fake thoughts, fake hearts… I turn back to the clunk of the pint on the bar and down half of it in one. The room spins. The barlight splits into fiery flickers, devils dancing on the dancefloor. They twist and cackle and leap. Louder and louder. Louder and louder and louder. I shudder.

‘…you know what your problem is mate? You’re puttin’ ‘er up on a pedestal like some fuckin’ china doll! What you need is to go up to ‘er and just say it straight.’ I have no idea what he’s talking about. I don’t care. He knows nothing about me, about her, about us. How could he? Shaven head to hide the bald patch, dirty diamond earring, shirt coloured like something put in the wash with a red sock. He probably thinks the harpies behind us are the height of womanly virtue. He’s probably thinking about them now, and all the horrible things he wants to do to them. His thoughts are so dark they cast shadows on his eyes.

‘…and John, ‘e says to me right? He says, get down on your knees and…’ Shannon’s piercing voice is drowned by the roar of a stag do in the corner. I cringe. Those girls have probably had a hundred men each. Fucked their way through life and lost their souls one walk of shame at a time.

Not like her. She is untouched, innocent, pure… It only makes me want her more. I try not to listen to the lurid comments that drift from the corner, but a tiny part of me wants to know more. To know what it might be like with her. If I could only bring myself to…

‘So?’

‘So what?’

‘What’s she like mate? She… y’know…’ He holds his hands cupped before him, arms-length from his chest, and grins. One of his teeth is missing, another is withered grey and dead. I can see his tongue waggling in the gap, pallid and fleshy, like a slug.

‘It’s not like that.’

‘Looooooo-saaaaayyyyy! You’re late girlfriend! Where you been?’ A third harpy has come home to roost, and their embrace sends empty bottles crashing to the floor. I swig my pint. Platinum blonde hair, burnt orange skin, a top two sizes too small so that flesh rolls grotesquely between the folds; horrifying, disgusting, demonic…
‘Oo-er. I would.’ The guy smirks and winks at me, eyes flicking between me and the girls. I ignore him.

‘Feckin boss went mental, sis. Kept me back for an hour just to have a go!’

‘Oo! Why’s ‘at?’

‘Well…’
She chuckles throatily. I drink myself further down the pint glass. The guy’s regaling me with all his previous exploits with women. At least half of them are made up, probably more. And what’s a ‘reverse cowgirl’ when it’s at home?

‘This guy keeps coming past the shop, right? Proper dirty lookin’ ‘e was, like a tramp or sumfink. Well I noticed ‘e’d been walking past a couple times a day like and… Ta luv.’ Someone plonks a drink before her and she pouts up at him, peach lipstick shining like a Barbie doll’s skin.

‘So I says to the boss, I says, “look that there tramp’s been here every day this week perving on that there mannequin in the window.”’

‘Y’know what mate?’ The guy sways in his chair, one eye closed and finger waggling in my face. There are four empty glasses in front of him. Mine’s still half full. If I didn’t hate him I’d admire his ambition. ‘I reckon you should just tell ‘er to go fuck ‘erself. You and me, buddy. We’ll go out on the pull. I’ll be yer wingman! If I can’t find you a decent girl, no one can!’ He sobers, looking a little teary-eyed. ‘We gotta stuck together, mate. You an’ me. Us blokes against the world, eh?’

‘…so I figure that if it’s the bloody mannequin ‘e wants, I’ll get rid and the fucker’ll go away. So I did. I got rid of the thing. It’s gone.’

I drop my pint glass.

It shatters; gunshot in a crowded room.

The bar goes silent, just for a second. All faces turn to mine. The guy to my left stares. Whatever expression writ on my face, he shies back from it, eyes too wide and jaundice yellow round the pupils. I stand.

‘’ere, speakin’ of tramps, what about ‘e, eh? Bet you’d do ‘im wouldn’t yer Luce?’

Lucy stares at me. I stare at Lucy. I run from the words on her lips. I run from the bitter taste of fear and the smell of sweat and beer and sickly sweet perfume. I run and I run and I don’t stop until I reach the shop. It’s dark and empty inside. A streetlight shines on the grimy glass, my reflection dim. I put my hand to the pane. It’s cold, and damp with midnight dew.

I’m too late.

She’s gone.