|The events described in this story are fictional. The author makes no assertion about the lives or characters of the real people whose names and identities she has used in the writing of this story, and makes no money from it.|
In the blue underwater cave of the Shot Bar, he sits on a stool and kicks his heels, watching Georgie zipping back and forth, he and Sue and the blond guy weaving some terribly complicated bartenders' dance together. It goes: bar, hands on the counter, leaning forward to catch the order, back up, under Sue's arm as she dives for the till, glass, ice, vodka, cap off the tonic bottle with a hiss-pop, slap it down, take the money and run, skip, hop, sidestep the blond guy, cash drawer slams out-in with a metallic rattle, here's your change, next. Dom waits until Georgie looks up, catches his eye and smiles.
"Tell me. Where the fuck did you find pumpkin-shaped fairy lights?"
"Hello, darling!" Georgie leans over the bar to kiss Dom lightly on the cheek. Everything about Georgie is light -- his hair is light, and his eyes, and his body. He looks as though he's been constructed from silver-plated wire. The smell of his skin reminds Dom of apple-blossom, and the sun on water. "Aren't they wicked? Woolworth's. Dirt cheap."
Dom touches one of the little orange baubles hanging above the bar with the tip of his finger. It's hot. He remembers to take his finger away before the skin begins to burn. "Wicked," he says.
The rush has died down a little. Georgie folds his arms on the counter. He keeps one eye on Dom, one on his employees.
"Haven't seen you in here for an age."
"Aeons," says Dom. "Millennia."
"Good few months, anyway." Georgie whips a cloth from the back pocket of his jeans, and starts rubbing absent-mindedly at some invisible blemish on the shiny chrome surface of the bar. "What you been up to?"
"Oh, you know," says Dom. " This and that. Work and stuff. Just haven't had the urge to, you know ... go out much."
"Well..." Georgie stands back and looks at him critically, "You're not looking too bad for it, anyway."
Dom grins. "Cheers. I went on a diet."
"Ha ha." Georgie smirks, but his attention is focused behind Dom. Another flood of punters has appeared from somewhere. "You comedian, you. You're so sharp, you'll cut yourself."
Dom opens his mouth, and closes it again, because the puns have to stop somewhere. He looks around him. The décor has changed slightly since he was last here. It's got sparklier, bluer, more silvery. He quite likes it. The wall behind the bar has turned into a vast mirror. There's Georgie reflected in it, his pale, close-cropped head, the black T-shirt and jeans clinging to his delicate frame. Very suave. No sign of Dom, of course. A blind spot he's used to by now, or perhaps he's just used to the jarring sensation that never quite went away. The blond guy flits past with a handful of Smirnoff Ices. His blondness seems to ripple over the surface of the mirror, making it twinkle like a starry night.
"Who's the new guy?"
"Daniel?" Georgie looks surprised. "God, you really haven't been in for a while, have you? Daniel's my right-hand man these days. Ever since Jamie absconded with the Italian. Remember? No? Well, it doesn't matter. Water under the bridge. Daniel's a sweetie. Bit shy, but a sweetie. Obviously, I suspect him of all sorts of terrible dark crimes on the sly." He smiles and raises an eyebrow.
Dom smiles too, and
looks over at Daniel. Cute. Nothing special really. Just a cute boy. It
seems to have become Dom's mantra recently. Everyone he meets, in the
shop, in bars, on the street, in the flickering fluorescent cage of the
night-train. Cute. Or not so cute. But either way, nothing special. Just
people, with their constant breathing that they don't think about, and
their beating hearts.
"Trick or treat?"
He looks up. The kid can't be more than seventeen. He's chewing the end of an obscenely fat pink and yellow marshmallow twist. A pair of tiny devil horns peeks out of his spiked-up brown hair, and he's wearing something black and fluffy over his little silver t-shirt. On second glance, the fluffy thing turns out to be a spider.
"D'you like it?" The kid's face lights up like a lantern. "Isn't it cool? It's, like, a rucksack as well as a spider, so it's really handy. You can stroke it if you like."
Dom shrugs, and obliges. "Cool," he says.
"Thanks," says the kid. "Anyway, trick or treat?"
Dom takes another fraction of a sip on his gin, and regards the kid through narrowed eyes. "How many times have you said that tonight?"
The kid hops up onto the barstool next to Dom's. "Loads." He shakes his marshmallow in evidence. "See? It's so cool. Thing is, no one's said 'trick' yet." He flashes Dom a brilliant smile.
"And what happens when someone says 'trick'?"
"Dunno till it happens, do I? D'you wanna find out?"
Dom shakes his head with a grin. "Sorry," he says. "Nice try, though."
The kid bites the end off his twisty sweet, and chews slowly. Then he shrugs. "S'cool," he says, jumping down off the barstool. "But I have to tell you. You're missing out." He wags his finger at Dom, schoolteacher fashion.
"I'm sure I am," agrees Dom. "Bye now."
"See you round." The kid blows him a sugar-scented kiss, and is gone in a flash of silver.
"Only makes the magic stronger," he says to no one in particular.
Dom looks at the mirror, and does a double take. There is a reflection there. But it's not his. Of course, it's not his. It's Daniel's, the blond guy from behind the bar.
"Oh," Dom turns round, because the whole reflection/no reflection thing's starting to make him feel dizzy. "Hey. Um."
"Hello," says Daniel. "What were you saying just then? About magic?"
Dom is as close as he ever gets to being embarrassed. "Oh, nothing. Nothing, just being, er... weird. Um."
"Right." Daniel just stands there, looking at him.
"So..." Dom shifts. He feels awkward, and he isn't sure why. "Daniel, right?"
"Hi Daniel. I'm Dom." He sticks his right hand out and smiles.
Daniel takes Dom's hand. He doesn't shake it. He doesn't drop it. He just stands still, holding it.
For some reason, Dom finds himself thinking about people. He thinks about the kid with the marshmallow, the waves of sugar and heat and youth that followed him, surrounded him. He thinks about Georgie and his fluttering, bird-wing sweetness. He thinks about Sue behind the bar, who smells of cherries and tobacco. He thinks of Kirsty in the shop, how she's somehow soft and chalky and sweet, like sherbet. Like a candy love-heart, tacky and cute at the same time. He tries, very hard, not to think about Elijah, about the smell of Elijah and the taste of Elijah. He tries, but as usual, he fails.
"Er," he says. Daniel has stepped forward. He's looking at Dom's face. They are close enough to feel each other's breath on their faces. Of course, Daniel won't feel very much. Neither, to his surprise, does Dom. He feels nothing. He smells nothing. Where Daniel is, there is nothing. Daniel is nothing. His eyes are like pale pebbles washed translucent by the sea.
"Erm," says Dom.
Daniel says, "Why did you do this?" With his other hand, the one not holding Dom's, he's drawing circles on Dom's face. His fingertips follow invisible curves, drag over the surface of Dom's skin in spirals, in stars.
Dom clears his throat. Perhaps he had too much gin tonight after all. Alcohol is the only thing he can really handle ingesting, but he has to limit the amounts. Too much makes him want to be sick, clogs his passages, sticks to his insides like glue.
"Don't know," he says. His voice comes out thick and liquidy. "Just something I do, um ... sometimes. Are you...?"
Daniel's eyes close. Dom watches as the lids come down. They flicker. Daniel's lashes are almost the same non-colour as his skin. Dom shivers suddenly.
"You shouldn't." Daniel's voice is so quiet. A cold draught comes with it, playing around Dom's bare neck, drifting slowly, lingering.
"Okay, then," says Dom. "Well, I won't. Any more." He wishes he could move, pull his hand out of Daniel's gentle grasp and walk out. He wonders where all the noise went, and why no one's coming in or out. He wills the door to move, and to be someone, someone alive who just needs a piss or a quick grope in a cubicle.
"You're so cold." Dom wonders why he said that. He didn't mean to. It's just, this whole thing. It's not right, the coldness, the nothingness. He wonders, is this how I feel to other people? Do I make them shiver? Do I feel like nothing to them? Did I feel like nothing to him?
Daniel smiles. He doesn't open his eyes. His smile is like something chiselled on a tomb. "You're so much closer than me," he says. "So much..."
"What do you mean?" Dom's being pushed. He's being slowly backed against the washbasin; he can feel its solid rim digging into his arse.
"Closer to them." Daniel smiles again. His smile is blissful, and his hair falls brightly around his cheekbones. "You can feel how warm they are, can't you? Tell me you can feel it."
"Yes." Dom's eyes are closing. He feels Daniel's hand gripping his, and Daniel's groin pressing into him, hard and cold and heavy.
"You can feel their life..."
Life. Hazily, Dom remembers life. He stands there, pushed against the washbasin, remembering his own life, and other people's. Weird, pointless shit, like making pancakes for no particular reason, eating them hot with lemon and sugar, straight from the pan. Like tripping over the kerb and falling, skinning his knee, black specks of grit in the red blood, hot tears starting out of surprise, and then getting up, looking round to see if anyone noticed. Like spending hours in Blockbusters, browsing the shelves. Elijah saying he wants Doritos, saying hey, look, let's just get the first one. Only, did that happen before, or after? He isn't sure. Things are beginning to blur for Dom.
"Ah..." He forces open his eyes, and sees Daniel's mouth, pale lips parted. Daniel's cold breath blows on Dom's eyes, into his nostrils, down his throat and into his lungs. It's too cold in here. Daniel is cold, and Daniel is nothing. The light is too bright. It hurts Dom's eyes. He wants to go to sleep. If only he can go to sleep, then he can get warm. He sighs. He reaches up and touches Daniel's back with his left hand, feels his thin spine through the t-shirt. His hand moves and flutters like a bird. Daniel pushes him, hard, into the washbasin, and Dom's arm folds around him, grips tightly. He thinks he can feel everything getting warmer. Just a little bit more, a little bit warmer, and then he can sleep.
"You're so beautiful..." Daniel's dead-leaf voice against his neck. "I've never met anyone like..."
"Mm ... never..."
Dom's mouth is on Daniel's throat. His lips curl up, turn numb. It's like his gums are frozen, like he's trying to bite into snow. It's like he's falling asleep in the snow.
Daniel puts his hand on Dom's face again, traces the lines. He guides it, tipping it sideways and forwards. He smiles his joyful smile. "Let me taste you," he says. "Let me taste it."
Dom's eyes are heavy again. So heavy under the snow. It's wrong, it's bad. If you fall asleep in snow, you... He should at least make an effort. Pretend to fight back. Then he can rest. So he strokes his left hand all the way down Daniel's marble back, and puts it on the edge of the washbasin, and shoves.
It's not much, but it's enough to catch Daniel off balance, to make him stumble for a second. They sway sideways together, and as they do, their joined hands swing out and float for a second under the hand-dryer. It jerks into life with a roar. Hot air blasts out, breaking the silence, and some of the numbness lifts from Dom.
"Fuck off." He half-chokes on the words, tastes bile and alcohol in his mouth. Wrenching his hand out of Daniel's, he pushes blindly, cold flesh stinging his hands. "Fuck off. Leave me alone." He half-runs, half stumbles out of the toilets, his feet dragging and catching on the tiles. He can't stop, can't turn round, can't look back. The door swings shut behind him, and he's in another world.
He tries to remember the way out of the bar, but he's confused by the lights and the music and the smells. The smells seem stronger than before -- alcohol and sweat and blood. Mostly blood. An agony of pins and needles pierces his limbs as he makes his way to where he thinks the exit used to be. He tries to stay close to the walls, but it doesn't help that half of them are mirrors.
A light voice. Cotton wool and birthday candles. Dom looks up, sways slightly. Georgie's sweet, worried face bobs up and down behind the bar. The bar bobs up and down, too.
"I'm okay." Dom tries not to shout, but he's having trouble judging how far away things are from him. "Just ... too much to drink."
"We'll call you a cab, all right, love? Where's Daniel? Daniel, can you call Dom a cab?"
"No!" Dom clutches at the wall. There are fingerprints on it; he can feel the swirling mazes of them, and smell the oil left by the skin. "I'm fine, honestly, I just need to get outside. Where's the door?"
Georgie points, and Dom lurches. The night air hits him like a waterfall, and he slips into its embrace, half sobbing, and runs. He runs until he stops. Then he doubles up and vomits into the gutter. Strings of bile and spit and gin hang from the back of his throat, and he spits and retches until they're gone.
He's walked halfway home before he thinks of flagging down a taxi.
"Sorry. Let myself in."
"What the fuck... Why didn't you turn the light on?"
Elijah shrugs and considers. "I don't know, actually. I guess I kind of thought you might freak if you saw the light on. But you freaked anyway, so..."
"Well -- yeah..." Dom drops his keys on the coffee table, and sinks heavily onto the couch next to Elijah.
Elijah looks at him. "Are you okay?"
"Shit night. Why are you here?"
Elijah shrugs again. "Don't know. Came to see if you were in. You weren't. I guess I forgot to leave."
Elijah smiles faintly, and looks away from Dom, at the wall. He always seems smaller out of the shop, less sure of himself. He always seems a little lost.
Dom closes his eyes for a second, and then opens them again. "Do you want a coffee, or something?"
"Why, do you have any?"
"It's okay. I don't want any, anyway."
They sit and look at the wall together. Elijah shifts a little in his seat.
"So, why was your night so shit?"
"I, er, met something bad. And I think it tried to suck my soul out, or something."
Elijah turns. His eyes go impossibly wide. "Oh my God!" His mouth hangs open in mock-shock. "You have a soul?"
"Fuck you, Wood."
"No, seriously, do you?"
"Well, how would I know? I mean, do you?"
"I have no idea."
"Exactly. So anyway..."
"...to continue with my horrifying encounter..."
"...well, that was basically it. It was bad, and it was dead, and it was kind of cute, but that's not the point, because it was very bad and very, very dead, deader than me, and it was very scary. And I'm never going out again. The End."
"Okay." Elijah looks at him thoughtfully. He tucks his feet up on the couch, and hugs his knees to his chest. "How cute?"
"Not that cute, really. The scary, dead bit made more of an impression." Dom half laughs, half just breathes. He never realised how comforting breathing could be before it became optional.
But Elijah's arms are around him, his face warm against Dom's neck. Dom presses his nose into Elijah's old grey sweatshirt and inhales the scent of him, stronger than the faint, fake ones of detergent and fabric softener and smoke. He smells like ... Dom can't think what. Everything. Gratitude and relief are pricking softly at his eyes.
"Am I ... Do I make you cold? Am I cold? I mean..."
Elijah leans back and places a hand on Dom's forehead. "You're okay. I mean, you're not boiling hot or anything, but you're okay."
"But..." Dom screws a handful of Elijah's sweatshirt into a ball, twists it. "I don't want to make you... I just."
"Dom, shut up. Okay? Everything's fine. Do you want me to leave?"
Elijah puts a hand in Dom's hair, leans forward and kisses him, gently, and then kisses him again. Small, light kisses, until Dom kisses him back. Spearmint bleeds faintly through Elijah's saliva. He's been chewing gum, but it only half covers up the taste of the smoke, and it doesn't cover up the taste of Elijah at all. Dom sucks it all in, swallows it down into himself. Their mouths open together, open wider, and Dom's teeth graze slightly against Elijah's tongue, sending little sparks flying up into his brain. Dom pushes his arms up under Elijah's shirt, rubs the twisted wrist-leather against Elijah's skin. Elijah shifts on the cushions until he's almost on top of him, coming in and out of focus, his fingers scraping at Dom's collar. Dom thinks, absurdly, I never took my jacket off. He leans his head back against the couch.
"Well then, what?" he says.
"Uh ... well." Elijah smiles. "Tell you in the morning, maybe?"