The latest online adult short story from Todd Levin. The Carouser’s literary lover’s latest article is an autobiographical spin on seeking solace in the temporary, a good whiskey and the joy of Van Halen….
“So where do we go from here?”, she said to me from underneath the faded festival blanket that her sister gave to her. “We could keep walking up Thompson Street or we could stop right here.”
For the first time that night I didn’t know what to say. The rain fell like it was expected to in the city at this time of year, the smog clearer, replaced by a thin sheet of spit but it somehow wasn’t as sharp. She looked just as pretty in all this as she did inside the bar that kicked us out no more than five minutes ago for refusing to let them close, being true total pricks about it. She’d given all she’d got for such a little fuck up and she made me smile and made me look at everything in a different light to the blue one I knew her from but she was still what she was and despite how close I was getting, for better or for worse, she looked just like what I was trying to escape. For the first time that night, much like for the first time that week, I didn’t have the answer, the solution, even the suggestion about what could be done about it all.
A year ago I was walking a girl to her bus and I had grown tired of temporary women. It’s a slow process to slip out of temporary and go back to letting people in again, trusting them. I realise that to most this is quite easy and they offer their trust out like charity. I was strung out when I met Olivia and hearing that it was her birthday had reminded me that it was another year since Paula had walked out.
That morning Paula had gotten up from bed, gone straight to the bath and had called me in like she always did for the shoulder massage that had become a ritual. Her skin wasn’t as soft as it had been ten years ago when we first met but that was just how life goes. Instead of a calming Sunday morning in a state of monotonous bliss, she broke down and told me about Paul, her fifty year old driving instructor who she’d been to to seek more than advice on reverse parking.
Paula and Paul. Fucking perfect. All I could think about was questioning how it was possible to have enough room in the back of a Volkswagen Polo without handles and levers getting in the way, much like in the same way that when she drunkenly told me that she’d been seeing my best friend. I turned to him and jokingly said ‘You know she’s still married, right?’. That’s what shock does to you, it turns everything that has already been twisted and broken on its head, to protect you from heading the same way.
That confession, one in a long list of indiscretions, she’d asked me to forgive without ever apologising. It’s what filled my head when I should’ve been thinking about Olivia. I’d met her in the same bar a year ago on her birthday when I’d been toasting to the end of everything and we’d ended up entangled in something else entirely.
Olivia had a very different kind of hold on me but a hold all the same. She had skin that glistened and hair that tried to frizz even when the rain escaping the plastic blanket through the holes of ten summers in the sun wasn’t running down her cheek. Every word that came from her mouth was a surprise, more the way she said things than what she said, a thick North-Western accent breaking through the quiet high-pitch of a voice still ungravelled by time and any cigarettes she might smoke in the future and untainted by the whiskey I poured down her throat to her fragile delight. She was still growing and it was hard to understand how something like her was born in a place like this. A year ago in a morning from now, I put her on a bus home to Oldham. Just looking at her she couldn’t have been from anywhere but the beaches of Rio de Janiero or walking around the streets of Barcelona like she had nothing better to do and had all the other men around questioning ‘What better thing could there be?’.
Paula was pale and deep, like cream, doubtful yet hopeful eyes and everything else most definitely Scandinavian, except for her deceptively wallflower-like ways who’d found herself here to study after she followed a boy that in the end couldn’t be man enough to take the time for all the distance she’d travelled across the sea, 944 miles away from everything she’d ever known. Maybe that’s about the time she changed and took less shit, at least on the inside. Something did stir inside of her and from the outside you wouldn’t know it. She had an honest look like you could walk up to her and tell her anything, but inside she had become contorted by the world around her being so different to everything she’d known and the promises she’d been given being taken away.
It’s hard to compare them, in fact, it’s close to impossible. The one thing they truly had in common were the branded hooks that they both had in me but even that was for very different reasons.
Outside the same bar with the same girl as a year ago, now thankfully a year older, I moved as if heading in all directions but not one made more sense than the one before it. I started massaging her shoulders to delay and to add some sort of charm to the confusion when a year before I had nothing but drunken reassurance. Down Thompson Street towards the bus station didn’t feel good, nor did up towards the later bars that would welcome us with open arms. I didn’t want to do that, it felt like this was our place and breaking ritual stings too much now. My fingers has found their way underneath the silken thing she was wearing and her skin felt just as silken like it had a year ago, like I’d missed after ten years without it. She moved her head and her spine to my hand’s direction.
The rain kept up and I could feel impatience down her neck and through her bones. It scared me how close she was. It felt like some kind of indescribable dance. I stopped and looked around the now unenlightened street where even the neon signs were slowly being turned out one by one, dimming, and the taxis had gone from their tens to a single yellow light availably drifting by us.
“So what are you thinking?”, she said to me, still under the blanket, still glistening though the rain wasn’t as heavy as before. Still I looked up and down the street and hadn’t stopped to listen to everything else going on around me. Even using one sense seemed too much. Away from Thompson Street, I could hear familiar music, sounds that finally drew me toward them, her hand in mine, dragging and skipping behind me.
“What is this?”, she said laughing, still pulling behind me. “Van Halen.” “What’s a Van Halen?”
On the way towards the music, we passed Hold Fast and Jonny the bouncer stood firm at the door and told me to keep walking. It was understandable what with the damage I’d caused in there a few nights before.
“No problem Jonny. I still want to pay for the glasses.”
“Not tonight.” I nodded.
“What was that?” Olivia asked me.
I’m good friends with the manager in Hold Fast – Tommy. He used to run one of my regular nests that I visited nightly after Paula had flown away. He had called me the day after I had been banned, my head still heavy from the hangover though for once sadly I remembered everything. When I finally picked up the phone, just to stop it ringing, he asked me the same question that Olivia asked.
“What was that?” I remembered that Santana was playing on top of it all when Paula told me and it broke me in the same way that the glasses smashed against the bare brick wall and the glass shattered across the hard wood floor, narrowly missing the young couple celebrating their anniversary two tables down. I finally heard the melancholy behind it, now something deeply disturbing behind that Latino drum beat that just made me run like hell.
“Nothing. Jonny’s just fucking around.”
When we finally reached the music, the street was brighter than the one we had come from and we stood under a street light where the rain suddenly stopped. We didn’t go inside, I didn’t want to. The street was warm and the glow of the low hanging light was enough to keep us from wanting to. It was so thankfully unfamiliar.
“I’m tired.” I said to her. “Me too.” she said smiling still hanging on to that blanket. “Where have you been this year?”
She nodded and finally wiped the rain from her face. Now that the rain had stopped, the street was silent but for Van Halen.
“Really, what is this?” “This is what it sounds like to be young.” “I guess I wouldn’t know about that.”, she said laughing. I smiled. She reminded me a little of everything I do every single day of my life. She was going to be temporary again but I didn’t care. I just hoped that she wouldn’t be sometime.
A friend who I didn’t remember left a club across the way and shouted to me. I nodded and shouted. “Van fucking Halen.”
“Who’s that?” Olivia asked me. “Someone from this life.” “This life.”
“I’ve lived a few. I’ve lost a few lives along the way. I lost an important one this week. It was the best one yet. You will too. You’re still young, you have most of your lives left.”
“How many do you have left?”
I looked at the floor and took her hand and started dancing to the music with her. Sometime between now and then it changed from ‘Jump’ to ‘Dance The Night Away’ and I stopped caring about what I had left until the morning.