by Jack Raffin
We were sitting around the big table at Bar SK, when the booze began to take hold of the night.
I remember saying something like “Do not delay and please enjoy” at someone, anyone, who was foolish enough, or in-tune enough to the frequencies around us, to seriously listen and consider.
A loud and terrible scene had formed all around us; the overlapping conversations had deformed into drunken yelling and snarling; the bank of monitors and projectors beamed out video games onto the painted walls; the music out of the bar’s speakers blending in with the sounds of people had formed an incoherent roar around the room; and those infinite threads of Christmas lights that snaked around the place, up the walls, through the ceiling, around the tables and chairs. What at first seemed like a charming decorative touch to the place was now quietly revealing itself for what it truly was – a pulsating metaphor for the human condition, a sick reference to this increasingly electronic world we’ve created for ourselves. We were all now hooked into the main circuitry and there was no going back. But what now?
The ones who remained were by now shifting mental gears, getting themselves ready to climb an even steeper hill just up ahead. You could see it in their eyes, in those short moments of faraway glances, in the shrugging of shoulders, and straightening of backs, and rolling of necks. This was going beyond the twelfth round. This was overtime. This was no longer within the realms of normal human endurance. In some of us, not all of us, there is an urge to push, always just a bit further, to see what’s around the next corner.
It had all started out nice enough, a few drinks at the bar to honour Sister Billy on her birthday and to wish her luck on her upcoming trip to Japan, where she had been invited to curate another group exhibition at the Taka Ishii Gallery in Tokyo. Billy had arrived with her new girlfriend, the scholar Kathleen Kennedy. The Professor, as we knew her, had been kicked out of almost every university she had worked in for sleeping with her female students. She was now working on writing a new book on how the internet was being used to plant false memories into impressionable young minds, making them all think they were victims of rape at some point in time in their lives, as part of a bigger government plan to take on population control by instilling an irrational fear of the other. The Professor was now asleep in Sister Billy’s lap.
“If it truly were a matter of national security, we’d all be dead by now!” I yelled at Milovich, Sister Billy’s personal bodyguard. Milovich was a deadly mix of Croatian and Australian, able to get violently drunk yet not slur a single syllable, and built tough – half woman, half refrigerator. I grabbed her by the collar of her jacket, pulling her in closer. “The lights, Milovich. The lights. They carry this information. We’ve been slowly adjusting our eyes to the constant pulsing of lights for the past 20 years, the teals and the pinks, the neon. Light is both a particle and a wave. It sneaks into our brain through our eyes. It’s doing something in there.” Milovich nodded as if she understood. But I knew that she didn’t. I heard myself say these words, not sure of their meaning either. But it meant something. I was sure of that.
Screaming. The yell of a single man, somewhere, running after something. Some of us turned around to see what was going on. A tall heavyset man, part TV biker, part beanbag, his filthy tufts of long black hair and beard bounced around as he ran into the bar, looking under the empty tables, straightening chairs, looking under more tables, then disappearing out to the back of the room.
“There was no dog,” someone said.
I turned to see that Candy was talking straight at me, her green-grey eyes refusing to blink. “I thought he was chasing after his dog. But there was no dog. There was nothing.”
This was unsettling, as I wasn’t prepared for it. I looked around the bar. There indeed was no dog. Was there supposed to be? I focused back on the table, a wet sloppy piece of driftwood, and like some of us perhaps, holding too many drinks to maintain for much longer. Then I found myself thinking: This table was once a tree. Did it expect to be doing this later in its career? No, too much digital weirdness to be processed right now to start worrying about the trees. Enough.
“We’ll have to get rid of him,” I said to Candy, downing the rest of the whiskey. The matter had been decided. I drank someone else’s drink too, just in case.
“Look, there he is,” she said, pointing out the bearded freak, as he slumped back to the other end of the bar. “Let’s get him now. We’ll both take him on. Let’s fight him.” Her face fired up, her ginger hair now forming a glowing corona of fire around her freckled face.
“No, too many witnesses,” I suggested. “Wait till they close the bar. We can lead him out back. A solid punch to the jaw will bring any man down.” Candy closed a fist around a discarded wine cork as I said this. I shifted in closer to her. “We’ll take him through the back exit, dump him in the boot. I’ll talk to the owner, he’s a good friend of mine. We’ll roll the biker in a rug and throw him into the river.”
Candy’s eyes lit up at the plan. She broke away from our fierce eye contact, looking away for a moment, considering the idea. “What if he wakes up in the boot, you know, when we get to the river?”
“Milovich has a gun. Naturally, she’ll have to come along.” Milovich sat at the other end of the table, solid as a mountain, head pointing down, in quiet small-talk, nodding like a boxer. “I think I’ll get Milovich to run out now, and get a couple more guns, just in case. We’re gonna have to be armed for this one. Who knows who this flunky biker runs with?”
Candy’s eyes locked in with mine again. “There’ll be more of them, won’t there?”
“If he’s local, there could be more of them.”
“On the other hand, he might be from out of town, just visiting. Alone.”
Yes. But why was he here? I shifted in my seat, stealing another drink. In chess, you can only think so many moves ahead, but in the end it’s always just one move at a time.
“Alright. I’ll have to make a few phone calls. My buddy JK is associated with the Angels here. We don’t want to start a war.” Or do we?
“No war except on the dancefloor!” yelled someone.
The voice undeniably belonged to Outback Dan. He took a seat at our sleazy, wet table, plonking a beer in front of him, most of it foaming up and spilling onto the table, dripping down the floor, his goofy afro of curly hair framing his even goofier face, grinning from ear to ear. He had just left the bar only to come back with his friend Joey, looking like he’d been kicked out of bed, too busy trying to impersonate James Dean to notice the true nature of the scene before him.
Dan and Joey were in a band together, which was starting to become famous, although I can’t remember the band’s name, or any of their songs. But they were famous enough for people on the street to take notice. Girls were throwing themselves at the two boys on every corner, and they were too young to know what to do about it.
There’s something about youth being wasted on the young, but part of being young is being stupid; and part of being old is quietly wishing to again have that innocent stupidity that makes the younger generation seem fearless, leaping headlong into life with a sort of bulletproof vest of ecstatic ignorance covering them all the way through.
Sister Billy’s face, puffed up with untold amounts of booze, now puffed further out, in a sort of proud joy at Outback Dan’s sudden reappearance. She bounced up to her feet to greet Dan, the Professor’s heavy, sleepy head slipped out Billy’s lap, landing back on the wooden bench with a hollow thunk.
“When are we going sailing!” Billy yelled in Dan’s ear. It was more a statement than a question.
“Whenever!” Dan suggested, his face a tableau of unfailing optimism.
“We need to go out on that boat! My brother Jack wants to write an article about it! And how sailing is a metaphor for music!”
“Yeah!” Dan offered. They both looked at me.
I nodded, confirming the concept, using this moment to seize another unattended double whiskey from the table. The two kids hugged again and jabbered on. This all came at the perfect time, defusing what was an otherwise tense situation. The lust for blood had ebbed away from Candy’s stare, who was now calmly talking to my wife, the novelist Anita Huysmans. She was more or less in the role of legal observer tonight, as she hadn’t ingested a single drop of anything. What was she making of all this?