Ant Smith

All stories

Some enchanted evening

In love's landscape we abuse liquor, chase our shadows, and listen to whispers

The next night was the twenty-third.

'I'm the main man in a 9-piece all drag Creole swing-band'�, she said somewhat incongruously to the fat bartender; and it got kind of quiet for a moment. I didn't believe it could have been entirely true. Or choose not to. The tired stoop of her neck and shoulders made me want to lift a weight for her. But she seemed sort of self-proficient. And I felt way too small to be lifting weights in the wake of one such as she. I could only stare and make believe that she could talk to me. The sneering pot-bellied drunkard to my left put his glistening lips around another glass of whiskey and sneered something no-one caught; which might have been a shame if he hadn't been cynically deranged.

This joint was a dive.

There was a whole lot of hustling going on.

The looming, over-confidence of the hookers and the pushers, 'Hey Big Man, how can I do you?'

The constant brawls over money out back in the pool hall.

The stink of the toilets evident on the dance floor.

The skittish fits of the skint beggar; 'Can I ask you a question? It's not about drugs'

The screech of tram wheels outside, ploughing furrows in the hordes of tourist onlookers.

The vision of the maid of New Orleans slumped in a corner; wondering if she could be responsible for any of this madness.

'Oh yeah, sure'� I told the beggar, who by now was in my eye-line. The pushers pushed off when I shrugged my shoulders and the hookers didn't even walk over for less than a ten.

'It's very cold and I'm -'

'You want some money?'

'Er, yes'

'Take 5. I think that's good'

'It is good'

But by then she had slipped off. Can't blame her. It was a dive-joint.

So the beggar got his coins. The pusher pushed his drugs to some teenage fuck-up pool-playing thugs. The hookers took a couple of slaps. The drinker took a slug. I pushed myself off.

Outside I had to fend off the prying hands of three French hens, two pick-pockets, and an organ farmer who I'm sure was feeling my kidneys up, just to cross the street. The city sure seemed to be in season.

I saw her walk to the nearest canal, and I saw her start to cross. I think I may have seen her stop, before a tram broke my view of the scene.

Anything is possible in this too sordid life. In the time it took for a tram to pass by, I found myself believing I was watching the taking of an all-drag human life. I didn't believe it could have been entirely true. So I dashed to the spot I imaged, and there was no sign I could discern.

Christmas eve day had broken with a yawn.

That morning I'd heard 169 not dissimilar renditions of 'God rest ye', suffered three broken ribs in a crowd-crush outside of Woolworth's, and drunk myself in to a little pool of caffinated coffee. And bought no more than one present I didn't need. Which is entirely different to buying any number of presents other people didn't need. Because that means nobody needs them less than you. And she didn't need them at all. I ordered another coffee.

Staring moodily at a pointless gift, a somewhat expandable woman's purse. Staring quietly. Perhaps drooling a little as my mind wanders, struggling to call forth the sound of her voice. To fit it to some new words. To keep it alive, in some new scene.

Maybe she can be the belle of the ball, or an African Queen. A New York doll, or the Maid of New Orleans?

'Each love lost is one step further down life's path.' She declared to the birds in the park, who took flight. I believed she meant it. Or tried to. The glisten of unshed tears made me want to swim the channel for her. But she was a champion swimmer. And I felt too far adrift to catch up. I could only flounder toward the beach to take up sanctuary in a moment of shared history. The December-wind -frozen, naturists playing tennis all screamed. An ululating screech in unison that had no meaning, for they were all hysterio-maniacs.

This day wasn't no picnic.

Too many dark clouds looming over yet another scene, yet another possible past.

The main avenue trees have been felled, to save them from the ravages of Dutch Elm's.

The ice-cream parlour forlornly lays open.

Sense of smell laid raw by frost in the air.

The flitting skits of a life spent together'

Flashing oars in the middle of the lake.

Not only in dreams, but in bars we'd never frequent. Or even here, on an anonymous park bench - visions come and go.

Someone standing up in the boat.

The naturists slip covers on to the heads of their racquets, it pours down with rain and they're off, in a panic.

Shoes in one hand, bag in the other.

The rain stings and fills my ears and eye sockets with its water. At least my feet are dry as I rush for cover.

The visions come and go; but always play to the same, terribly damp, end.

And over a polystyrene cup of dish-water tea I'm troubled as, out through the window and gristly rain I see one small rowing boat, set adrift and barely afloat'

Christmas Eve night had flown in on wings of vengeance and sat on my shoulder with its talons pinching at my heart. This is how it feels when you lose your shield. This is how it feels when the last match is spent. This is how it feels when a phone rings in an empty hall. No one home. None of the dreaming recaptures her soul. I feel like I'm lifting a heavy weight. And I feel like I'm never coming out of this wake. And as some countless number of maniacs launch again into 'God rest ye', and I sleep, clutching a slightly pointless somewhat expandable woman's purse.

Christmas day thunders and lightening.

The lamps on the tree flash in a way that's a little bit frightening to the semi-combustible angels strung up and dangling. Twisting in the draughts that near-empty houses always seem to have. Tiny typhonic fingers scrabbling in the corners which used to be lit by life's loves and occasional laughs. Whipping up pools of shadows of memories of times gone past, until only the histrionics of the angels are left to last. A maelstrom of last year's good intentions wakes me. And I wake in a typical frenzy. I pull my socks on typically frozen feet, rise and switch off the typical plastic electric tree.

I wonder, how long can it be - that life can be sustained by a cushion of grief? When some day will seem less terrible than the last? When my mind will forget the patterns of the past, and I find it impossible to dream. To dream of a new scene. To keep alive our life as it was before.
Maybe we could fly this world on a perpetual motion machine? A fantastic impossibility or just another impossible fantasy?

'It had to happen, nothing's built to last'� she whispers in my ear, and I take fright. She knows I can't believe it. I can't let her ghost live for that consigns her to the past. She's the swimmer and I'm trapped on the shore. Then she hits me the blast. That I am the haunting, not the haunted.

And still she taps, in the corners of the room. Maybe I'll have to listen. Maybe sometime soon. Maybe that tapping'll start to soothe. I almost think that I can learn to gain more than loose. But that's my belief, in impossible fantasies - and I listen to the drizzle of the rain.