The younger of the two women looked over to the place by the door where he was sitting, half-aware someone had said something. The hinges of pink under where the man’s eyelids connected at the nose side were swollen. These tended to behold instead of the eyeballs themselves when he got tired enough. He mussed his face self-consciously.
It was just him, a person behind the bar and the two women in there, music pulsing dully. There were no windows. The establishment was owned by the younger brother of an actor who had been well-known in the early-2000s. The older of the two women had heard the thing about how the actor liked to drink in the back room on quiet nights like these and how, when the time was right, any women drinking in the front room were apparently invited through to the back to join him. The younger woman was there because she had heard the thing about how the actor’s brother and his friends liked to strongly imply the actor was in the back room and proceed to get the women drunk enough so that they could eventually take advantage of the women themselves. The younger woman thought this outcome seemed interesting and she had adjusted herself to it. She had said nothing to the older woman about what was probably going to happen.
The man who had spoken crossed one leg over the other and rested his wrist over the elevated knee. He watched his glass of coke and waited for it to meet him at his temperature. The man who had spoken worked for a company that sold fakey walkthroughs of the civil service recruitment pre-interview in-tray task, driving theory test and things of that nature. He had never come to this establishment before. It provided an alternative to the usual – evenings ruined by eating too much out at his little house in the fields by the hospital.
People loved the actor back in the early-2000s because he looked like he smelled great and never washed. That was the finest point ever put on the actor’s appeal. One entertainment pundit said the actor’s particular brand of musculature made it look like he could appreciate the manliest vices without letting them destroy him, and this was aspirational. ‘Sinewy’ another commentator said.
In addition to the fakey walkthroughs, the man generated a negligible second income from Stacker, a piece of software he had developed which allowed kebab shops and takeaways to put together photographs of the individual elements of burgers and kebabs quickly and digitally for their behind-the-counter menu displays. Stacker ensured that the shadows were consistent across the patties, salad, slices of cheese and so on. It was never going to go anywhere and most of the time these days he just played on it for fun.
The actor’s brother would pull the same trick as a teenager, throwing parties that were promoted with the rumour that the actor would stop by. This had been around the time of the actor appearing in some of his earliest nine o’clock television dramas. He had played an infamous serial killer. He had played a doomed post-punk frontman. Each character had been consented to as a reincarnation of the previous character. It was like the connecting presence across these characters was sent down to earth to live again each time instead of achieving the peace of finally being beyond the world. The reason they had really all loved him was the thing in his eyes in each role that screamed get me out of here. People could relate to it.
The younger woman appeared to be in great distress. She was beginning to regret her complicity in the deception of the older woman.
“You have to go,” she said to her. “I’m going to stay. I can’t explain why.”
The man laughed. The man searched in mind for the perfect thing to say in order to demonstrate how mild he had become – how anonymous his life was now. Perhaps he would lead with Stacker. Foiling his brother’s plan would be sweet. The idea that he had ever been the type to beckon women through to the back rooms of nightclubs had been installed in the world entirely by these schemes that his brother had been running since the start. All of that ‘Jack’ll stop by’ and ‘Jack’s in the back’ had reached the powers-that-be and caused them to cast him as a series of manly-men. It had stood in the way of his efforts to emerge as who he really was. Even back in the days of the teenage parties he hadn’t been the type to want to meet girls. It had forced him to quit acting.
The exposed brickwork was lit with the kind of streaked and dramatic surface lighting put on the exteriors of churches or cathedrals in a time of year opposite to the one in question, the one in which the man waited for the right moment to reveal his true identity, like spaceships of faith out into the nothing. His eyes drooped shut again, tired from work. In these moments the nothing won. When his eyes opened his brother’s men were dragging him out into the street.
Patrick Daniel is a writer from Norfolk, UK. His short stories can be found at Expat, Necessary Fiction and Hello America.