All stories

Just the One

Vincent sat at the bar. His elbows were planted on the surface so his forearms formed a warning triangle in which his head rested. He stared at the glowing emerald bottle on the shelf behind the bartender and considered his decision.

He could already feel the dull throb in his arm reminding him of the last time he’d said ‘yes’ to the green fairy.

‘Just the one,’ Vincent had agreed. The thing is, it can’t be ‘just the one’ when you’ve already had six of something else.

He remembered the sense of occasion as the blue flame danced on the spoon of browning sugar. He remembered the wildness in Joe’s eyes after the second ‘just the one’ went down.

He shuddered as the memories became smudged and distorted no matter how much he fought to bring them into focus.

He recalled the faded click and whir of the jukebox and the clear strands of that song about being a joker and other rhyming things. There was dancing, which had seemed to match the rhythm at the time but seemed out of step in Vincent’s memory. There were the women, the faces were gone but the shapes and the hair and the perfume were still there, drifting back from somewhere in Vincent’s hippocampus. Hippocampus; hippopotamus. It wasn’t a hippo that had turned things sour but Vincent’s brain wouldn’t change it back now. It could have been Joe, it could have been Vincent, but smiles had turned to… something else. A thing was thrown; liquid perhaps. A thing was swallowed; liquid for sure. A thing was struck; a chest, a cheek, a nerve. Something was bitten, or perhaps the other way round. Either way, it…

Vincent blinked out of the memory and looked at the ring of scars on his wrist where, previously, that night, there had been an armful of teeth.

Vincent remembered how green had turned to red to flashing blue to black, then he remembered no more.

Clearer now, Vincent remembered the bill, the landlord, the headlines, the shameful conversation with his mother, the afternoon in court, and the endless apologies.

He took a deep breath and looked again at the emerald bottle on the shelf behind the bartender.

He heard the sound of Joe entering through the back door after finishing his smoke and girded himself for the question he knew was coming.

‘So, have you decided?’ Joe said before he’d even sat down. ‘Just the one?’

‘Fuck it,’ Vincent answered.

‘Just the one.’

In Helll!

I’ve just arrived at Fuel Rock Club in Cardiff. My son is on the bill in his new beat combo Meathog. Its one of those gigs with a thousand elaborate spidery names on a black poster. Names like Your Mission is Blood, Chlamydia and Vlad the Inhaler. But you cant read the names because they are so spidery.

I have earplugs in.

I’m not really a fan of this type of music but I’m trying. Every band contains pale faced boys my son’s age, including a distant looking bassist, a tiny but enthusiastic drummer, sometimes female, a lead singer/guitarist with a high screechy voice and a frightening bloke covered in facial piercings who sings the same words at the same time as the screeching one but in the gravelly mutter of a mutant zombie trying to take over the earth.

I’ll be honest, the last few years since Annie died I haven’t been out much, at all in fact. I mean well there was coronavirus for one thing. And also the despair.

To quote the gravelly voiced Zombie in Dull Throb, who are currently performing, “Four years chained in a darkened room, only rats for company in the gloom, facing up to my certain doom in HELLLLLLLLL”. Well yes, after a manner of speaking.

Apart from the barmaid who is about 40, no one in the place is anywhere near my age and my idea of a rock n roll goer is very much locked into a mild, middle-aged britpop look. I hadn’t exactly “hoped to get away with it” but I’m a bit taken aback when the barmaid says “Come to see your son play have you? Proud dad?”

She has a nice smile if your ignore her black lipstick and nose ring.

“That obvious?”…

“Fraid so, we get quite a few, Supergrass tee-shirts we call you”

I zip my Harrington jacket up quickly.

Meanwhile, the gravelly mutant Zombie in Armful of Teeth declares “Now re-awakened from my grave, my only fate to be your slave…… HELLLLLLLL”. I’m not sure about that but I do find her attractive.

“Do you think I should take my earplugs out?” I ask, amazed to find myself engaging in mild flirtation.

“I’d leave them in if I were you love” she smiles, “Leave the full experience for when your son’s on”.

Before the next band there is an announcement from the sound tech who doubles as a kind of disinterested compere.

“Meathog are sorry to tell their fans that they have split up over musical differences and won’t be performing”.

I try to find my son but he is clearly embarrassed by me and hides at the back packing up his bass before departing quickly. It’s enough that he saw I came.

That should be all there is to tell.

But. It’s now an hour later and I am right by the stage, on a promise with the barmaid, whose name I still don’t know but whose shift has finished. We are engaged in something called A Wall of Death! My earplugs lie discarded at the bar.

And, as the guttural Zombie guy from Headline band Enter Through The Backdoor says, “Now your life is over, a new one has begun, it is not impossible for you to have some fun… HEELLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL!”