It was 2 in the morning. Looking for somewhere to continue the blue fug in my head I had come across the club where she worked. the neon sign had read ‘naked girls wrestling – very hot!’ and the word hot had 3 curly lines like steam in red neon. There was no bouncer on the door and I walked straight in. the crowd was made up of a mix of biker thugs, city businessmen, burnouts, half asleep drunks and angry dancers off-duty, The kind of scary girls we called 1860s… looking 18 years old from the back and 60 from the front. a little man was on stage strangling the microphone in order to get it down to his height. i was to find out later that he was the owner. He was desperate for showmanship. his name was maximilian zerkov and he wore a cape. he was a small greasy man with a goatee beard and cliched gold tooth. in fact his whole presence was that of a dick tracy baddie. A look she later told me he encouraged. “i am the tayko king” he screamed. which was lost on me. but seemed to get a ripple from the crowd anyway. i found the end of the bar and ordered a drink. The ice sounded like piano keys hitting the glass, then the murmur of an expectant audience as the drink flowed in and everything seemed to quieten around me.
The lights went down. A girl came on stage. charlotte. Dressed like a knifethrowers assistant. All tassles and high heels. When her act ended she stepped down from the front of the stage and walked to the end of the bar. Beside me. sat down. and asked for a drink. A sailor jerry rum. On her shoulder was an unfinished fox tattoo with no pupils in the eyes. Just white spaces. we immediately felt comfortable with each other.
it then became a habit for me to come and meet her once she had finished at the club and gone on to her other job, where she was supposed to clean the supermarket and open up for the papers at 6. but I never once seen her lift a mop or use the long brush. I would cut through the suburbs towards the city edge. Where the houses were the kind of sprawling affairs that had poolhouses converted to guest rooms and a gardener perpetually in gumboots clipping animal shaped hedges. he would no doubt be puzzling in the morning what animal had trod so ungainly through his flower beds in the middle of the night.
around 4am my little torch would appear in the distance, between the equally spaced trees and abandoned shopping trolleys of the car park. she would be there huddled at the side of the building smoking, and would open the back door and let me in, greeting me with a kiss or quick embrace. She was very graceful in the cold morning light. The supermarket was a different place at that time of the morning, you felt you had to whisper, like a library or cinema or church. As if there was something consecrated between stock cubes and egg noodles. maybe because she only turned on one row of flourescent lights. like a bowling alley eager to close.
she liked my Glasgow accent, and we were both pleased to flirt in full earshot of the cauliflower. After this she would take her ballet shoes from her bag. she would clean them with a dab of mild detergent, wiping clean with a soft, dry cloth and would only wear them to dance so she would also carry a pair of red pull on boots which were soft like slippers or a knitted eskimos boot I suppose. At this the mood of the supermarket would change to being backstage at a little theatre. Sometimes she would be soft-shoeing under a sky of fluorescents by the tinned veg, then a dancer wearing angel wings skipping straight legged in the cereal aisle. She didn’t do it to show off or perform, she just enjoyed herself without self conscience. i didnt really have a thing to do, but i was happy just to follow her around and watch as we passed the time till the paper van arrived. it was all relaxing. just the odd sound of sneakers on a gym floor and perhaps her humming her own music or putting some jazz over the scratchy tanoi. Sometimes charlotte would be content to lie in the veg and read her book. she said she found it comforting. We would munch on an exotic yellow fruit, I forget the name… when extracted they were soft, like boiled potatoes. Other times she would walk around with an old style of camera popping off shots under the blue/green light. each flash leaving a milky film on the flashlamp bulb and sometimes a black scorch. she would drop them on the floor leaving a path of little bulbs that you could track her movements round the aisles. Glass crumbs that i would pick up after her, so that by the end my pockets were filled with little used bulbs. And this was the two sides to charlotte that I knew, the one who would dance at the club and the one who would dance at the supermarket.
For some reason something changed in me and I began to take her for granted. I don’t think I realised how special and unique she was and I began to treat her poorly for some reason. Nothing terrible, just not what she deserved. This I cannot explain. Perhaps I was just too young but we bickered more and more.
The last time I saw her was at her flat, above the club. She had been working and had a day off from the supermarket. From her neck down to her toes was an illustration of a rose with tendrils and falling petals, it was drawn with a darkest purple almost black, india ink upon her body. we had a huge argument, about the job, about this place, about the dirtyness of it all. she retreated to the bathtub, annoyed and frustrated, and began to wash the ink from off her body, turning the water a plum colour.
still tainted with the ink she stood up and left the bath. hardly drying, she threw the towel which landed in the bathwater and walked to the bedroom leaving wet footsteps on the floor which i followed with my own bare feet. I stood by the door, waiting for her to ask me in, to symbolically forgive me, but her stare was fixed forward at the television. she was lying in the bed, the cover already wet from her, and her head tilted up by the wall, the remote in her hand and the plastic yellow flower still in her hair. at the very bottom of the bed there was a spring poking clear and true above the surface of the mattress. the room itself was filled with meaningless decorative elements to the extent where the busyness threw the eyes out of alignment. trinkets and flyers and nik naks. above her was a poster for an old french film called ‘les vampires’ which she had told me she ripped from the wall of the burnt out movie theatre on bridge street. on the floor were sweet wrappers, books. a bizarre guide to the best petrol stations in the area and on the burst couch numerous takeaways and printed windscreen rubbish including a religious flyer with the ingredient list for a product called the ‘wellbeing pie’. i realised this was going nowhere, put on my shoes and left, making sure not to slam the door. when i reached the bottom of the stairs the toothless doorman gummed a smile, as if he knew i was another sap suffering for several years with a lack of belonging. as if hed seen a million men go up those stairs looking for something. i didnt care. he was right about me, i was pathetic. he said something in spanish and grinned and nodded and I left and never went back. I think I thought I would meet other people like her. But no one is as true as she was. I don’t see anyone that dear to me and I wonder where she went, graceful in the morning light.