Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Day Before Yesterday

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I was looking for a quiet place to die. Someone suggested Paignton… Sure, it’s a quiet town – I haven’t died yet though. I was in an empty bar on the sea-front trying to drink away the permanent headache that accompanies living in this town. From the outside, the bar looks like an opium den. It’s intermittently-popular with plain-clothes filth trying to sniff out a worthwhile lead amongst the other backwoods odours. The landlord is a thin Scottish man with a swirl of tattoos around his neck. He’s got a ragged scar diagonally across his face where an ex-wife once hit him with a length of carpet gripper-rod. When I look at his face I can see the skull beneath the skin. It seems to smile. Sometimes. He’s alright, though – mostly just keeps himself to himself. Suited me. I was drinking with a grubby recklessness – dispensing with the pleasantries, concentrating on getting fucked.
The sun set low beyond Paignton Beach and looked just like a festering wound. Now the entire scene was black and white; the soundtrack visceral, sleazy and satisfying. The jukebox oozed hardcore, techno and grunge – in no particular order. I was looking for a girl who wanted to relieve my pain. Searching for casual sex and the pulse of the town. It was rarely a problem here. I ended up drinking with a woman who wrote erotic stories for pornographic magazines. I didn’t catch her name – she tried to tell me, but it kept getting drowned out by dance-static. She told me that she’s 29, but I thought she looked at least 10 years older. She bought me four whiskies and told me that last year she had sex with over thirty strangers. I shrugged and tried to avoid looking into her shit-coloured eyes. She invited me into the toilets to see her porno battle-scars. I agreed and smiled, but stayed in my seat.
When she left for the toilet I stumbled outside to grab some fresh air. I felt drunker than usual – full of tingling, bleak energy. I remember looking up – Paignton looked so fucking beautiful that night. I lurched forward – one shot away from kissing the floor. A shit-load of black prose spewed up and splattered the paving-slabs under my trainers. Bits of sick stuck to my feet. A girl laughed nearby. She walked across the beer-garden, towards me. She looked like a beatnik film-star, an accidental pin-up.
“Paignton tells lies about us.”
She laughed again. I wanted to agree with her, but I still felt too sick to talk.
“You look like you should be famous.”
I wiped the vomit off my lips and offered her a borderline-demented smile.
“Sure – young, gifted and blank … the high priest of Paignton lowlife … famous. Sure.”
She grinned at me with uneven teeth. Her big brown eyes sparkled in the half-light.
“Come on.”
She offered me her hand. I considered that she might be the one to soften my black heart. Maybe.
She guided me through the back-streets, through the photogenic urban deprivation, towards Victoria Park. We trod carefully like cross-town rebels. That night the streets were lined with crippled children playing violins – all playing our tune. In the distance I could hear a mournful trumpet. Small boys beat gas canisters and oil-drums with hands and sticks. I was counting the beats until the night ignited. In the park, the grass was yellow and dry and all of the trees were bare. The stream was swollen, though. It looked fit to burst its banks. The water looked as thick as blood that night. We made small-talk about records and bands. She told me that her brother used to play guitar in the Carjack Fairies. I told her that one of my mates plays drums in Dicklicker. It was much easier to talk about music than what was really breaking my heart.
On the other side of the park we found a quiet bar. I drank beer, she drank gin. We talked. I told her a mixture of untruths and half-truths. She told me that when she was 16 she appeared nude in Caballero magazine – a men’s magazine published in Mexico City. It sounded like bullshit to me, but I didn’t interrupt. I liked the sound of her voice. I liked the sound of her lies. She told me that she also starred in a Mexican soap opera that was hugely successful in Latin America, France, Russia, China and the Philippines. She didn’t tell me what it was called though. I made her laugh. She made me smile.At closing time we nagged the barman for a bottle of red wine. He has the same birthday as me and he’s also called Joe. He relented and lets us buy a bottle off him. We headed back down towards the beach, gulping from our bottle of red wine. It tasted a bit like vinegar. Red wine staining my tongue and throat, I thought it was almost time to exchange deep-south pleasantries. Renegotiate desire. Act out our own stolen soul movies. We are beautiful. We are ugly and dangerous. Sweeter, louder, mutant youth. Later we will be naked and ashamed. It was time to scratch it all away. I lay my head back in the sand and closed my eyes.

Tom Leins

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