I sit with my head in my hands at the bar. The hard wood under my elbows has made the length of my arms go numb; I can feel my own pulse in my temples, thwump, thwump, thwump. I’m getting a headache.
The place is disgusting, I’ve flicked at least half a dozen dodgy looking crumbs off the wood work in front of me, the glass that held my double, straight whisky is murky around the edges, like a fine mist crept across the cold glass.
My daughter sits on the floor next to my bar stool, playing with something in the dirt and drinking something red from her sippy cup. She’s a little too big for it now at six but it saves time and effort and it’s the only thing that seems to placate her these days. She’s not dealing very well with the changes I’ve been making recently.
Maybe it seems odd to you, bringing a child to a dive like this, and believe me, it’s a dive, but I have all these parenting duty things that I need to do. I also need a drink, a good stiff drink that’ll clear my head. Then I can go home and focus on all the things I need to get done. I can’t seem to think straight these days.
The cheap lino that covers the bar is peeling away, bubbling like some great, ulcerating blister where something wet has got under its skin. My long nails chip away at it, bursting its edges and peeling away the rotting flesh; it’s satisfying, like opening a wound that never healed. Something black and sticky lingers underneath it, it reminds me, prods me into a darker corner of my mind that I’ve been trying very, very hard to avoid. Funny how the most mundane of things do that to you isn’t it?
I’ve been waiting what seems like a life time for this little bit of peace and quiet, so when this large, sweating lump of a man heaves himself down onto the stool next to me the anger begins to spark in the pit of my stomach, like two whet stones clanging together down there in the darkness. I wish you’d just fuck off.
I brace myself for what I know will be a dazzling opening line, a “hey-there-good-looking” dash away from cheesy that I am longing to avoid. He drops a giant, bear like hand onto the bar, demanding the bar tender’s attention. It’s hairy, almost black and his fingers are chipped, chapped and dingy looking. Small black particles of dust cling the under slide of the flaps of skin like little lodgers. It makes my skin crawl.
“I’ll take another beer Dom, and whatever the lady’s havin'” He slurs ever so slightly, the hint of a man used to heavy drinking. The years, tell on his voice and I don’t even have to look at him to know he’s a full blown, alcoholic fuck up.
“I’m not having anything, thanks.” I mutter into my empty glass, rolling the last drop around, wondering what would happen if I smashed it over his obviously meaty head. Fuck off, fuck off, fuck off.
“Double vodka, straight.” The man says and I feel that anger burning up, wracking up the heat. Asshole.
“I said I didn’t want anything.” I said a little louder, sounding tetchy and strained even to my own ears.
“Just trying to help a lady out. You look like you need one. Are you really going to say no?” He waves the fresh glass of clear liquid under my nose. The smell hits me like a freight train running at a hundred miles an hour; something black is floating in it. I can see the sweat from his fingers bunching on the slippery surface.
Finally, I turn to face him. His grin is lopsided, the half slide of a drunk. He stinks of course, his red checkered shirt flecked with paint and dirt; a labouring man. I mop of brown hair fell in a slap dash fashion across his pudding face. The slight flush of red in his checks broken up by flecks of a dark, peppery beard. The round swell of his face was a little too close to mine, too intrusive, his green watery eyes gazing intently at me out of all that pink.
“Look, I don’t want it ok? I’m just trying to have a quiet drink in peace.” I hissed under my breath. This dumb fuck will get himself killed if he doesn’t make himself disappear.
“Hey. What’s your problem, huh? Can’t a man get a little respect these days!” He was shouting now, raising his rolling, slurring voice over the sound of the other drunks stumbling over themselves for their next drink. It fell quiet; the karaoke machine still played It’s a Long Way to Tipperary on an endless, grating loop. It’s a long way to Tipperary, it’s a long way to go! That woman has a voice that makes me want to silence her, permanently.
“If you know what’s good for you, you’ll get out of my face.” I snarled, turning my whole body to face him now. He’s shaking a little, with rage or alcohol I’m not sure but he’s definitely unsteady. He’s about to unleash an ungodly verbal tirade when something tugs on my trouser leg, urgent and demanding.
“Mummy, I’m hungry.” My daughter stares up at me with wide, saucer eyes. Their icy, blue depth looking curiously up at me, my trouser leg still clutched in her vice like grip. Her sippy cup hangs from her; red stains the collar of the white dress that she’s wearing. Her brown hair is matted but it still shines in the half light of the bar. The man looks down at her and wrinkles his nose a little at her dishevelled appearance but dismisses her almost as quickly as he acknowledged her existence.
“Your mum’s busy kid.” He shuffles himself closer and I feel a little of his spit land on my cheek. I want to scrap it off and take half my skin with it but I make myself stare him down, refusing to be the first one to crack.
“Mummy. I’m hungry!” She tries again, yanking my leg off the stool. She’s welling up now, great, fat tears forming in her tiny eyes. I shove the man back as I stand up. Luckily for me he’s too drunk to maintain his balance and he falls backwards just enough for me to slink past, grabbing my girl’s hand and I haul her kicking and screaming out the front door.
“HUNGRY. HUNGRY!” God not now, not now.
We hurry around the corner of the bar, down a side alley. The darkness presses in on us, it’s thick and intense, suffocating. The only light reflecting from my daughter’s bright, angry eyes.
I can hear another, stumbling pair of feet pounding after me and I know it’s him. I quicken my steps but it’s too late. A great barrelling force almost knocks me off my feet as he strides towards me, too drunk to stop properly and grabs my right arm in a tight grip.
“Where the fuck do you think you’re going?” he’s practically forcing his mouth into the side of my face, swaying and angry. I’m pulling and tugging, wriggling and squirming to get away. I swear and curse at this huge, unmovable mass; the little girl in my arms doesn’t move. She’s hissing, quietly, but with a force of anger behind it that I’ve come to recognise. Another second passes before the man hears it too.
He pulls away from me, loosening his grip a little. It takes him a second to focus his eyes on her; the small, hissing bundles in my arms, squirming now to get at him like a giant ball of hungry snakes.
“What the fuck?” He mumbles, reaching up to rub his eyes with his free hand. It never reaches its destination.
Before I can stop her, not that I really want to, she’s gone, leaps from my arms and she’s clinging to him. Her head buries itself into his podgy neck, her sharp teeth hitting the mark and red spraying out across the floor and the walls. He wriggles, squeaking like a little pig before he falls to the ground, gripping her around the middle trying to rip her away from him. She’s so strong now.
I watch. I’m used to this kind of thing now, but it still makes me sick. It’s the smell more than anything, the smell and the guilt; maybe a little fear. As I watch the life ebb away from him I wonder, how long will it be before she turns on me, before I become that twitching mass upon the floor, leaking away into the ground.
When he finally gives up the ghost, she stands up, unsteady on her little legs and wipes a big smear of blood clumsily off her vampire lips. I don’t move to pick her up or touch her. It’s like this now, cold and unnerving. She’s smiling, THAT smile. So much for having a good first day in our new town.
“My dress is all red Mummy.” She says cheerily, coming up to take my hand. I can feel the man’s blood squealing under our interlocking fingers. That’s going to need one hell of a dry clean.