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Eyeball it.

By SOFIA GENCO-BILLINGTON


The bartender leaves my drink on the bar for so long its melted when I get it. I thought the ice lolly thing would be fun, it makes a change from G&T’s that hit my stomach like diesel. But when he finally smacks it down onto the wet drinks mat, it’s just a drink with a wooden stick in it like some sad lolly skeleton. Lemon ice. Who even likes lemon ice lollies? They make me think of grandads. At the beach. Skegness holidays. 


It’s Friday. A lad in a white T-shirt that’s almost see-through with sweat, pushes past me and shouts ‘purple shooter!’ The bartender takes his colourful threat and gets to work on something in a goldfish bowl. I see it ending up in a hedge tomorrow, full of somebody’s piss. 


I can’t find Steph anywhere. The club’s so small and she seems to be every single girl in here and also none of them at all. I try to sniff out her weird berry-smelling perfume in the throngs of brunettes, but she’s nowhere to be smelled. All the boys stink, and the older lads just stink a more expensive stink. I can imagine the aftershave bottles nestled in the corner of mouldy toilet cabinets. Sauvage Savages. Hugo’s Boss. God Awful. I want to find Steph so badly. I came here with Steph. She wanted me to come, so I came. 


I go to the toilet and for some reason it’s dead in there. Overwhelmingly red with glittery floors, it’s such a headache. I wish I could just sit on the floor, but it’s one of those with a bathroom attendant and I feel embarrassed. She’s sleeping. Back in the club they’re playing Katy on a Mission so loud I think Katy’s in my gut, yet this woman’s fast asleep. My armpits start to sweat. Maybe she’s dead? Maybe I’m just freaked out. She does look pale. Like a sicky pale. If she’s not dead, what if she’s diabetic? Or epileptic? Or anaemic or something? I feel like I’m doing a disservice to women if I don’t help her. What if she’s dead and they can’t determine time of death because everyone assumed she was sleeping? She could be in a coma and need help? She’s breathing all funny. She takes a breath in twice before blowing it out soft and slow. Breath Breath. Out. Over and over. Almost like she’s crying. Impulsively, I put my fingers gently on her neck and check for a pulse. Her skin is clammy and somewhere between cold and tepid. Her pale lips twitch about. Suddenly, she wakes up and smacks my hand hard away, hitting it bang against the empty tampon machine with an ugly clacking whack.


‘Fuck!’

‘What are you stealing from me?’ She shrieks.

‘I’ve not stolen anything, fuck me. You’ve just broken my wrist.’

‘What’s wrong with you?’ 

‘Nothing! I thought you were dead.’


I start to shake all up my arms. Lemon Lolly hates pain and my wrist is exploding in ache. She tells me she’ll break my neck and kick my arse and do other generally bad things to my body. A massive group of girls fall into the toilet, one right across the glittery floor. Her friends laugh and her strappy heel is all about her ankle like a shackle. Steph is at the back in her traffic-cone orange dress. Her fringe isn’t even sweaty, it’s still as perfect as it was at my flat. I take the opportunity to move away from the attendant. 


‘Steph!’ I shout, going up and giving her a half hug. 

‘Yeah what?’ 

‘Where did you go? I got you a drink.’ I give her my drink. She knocks it back and the lolly stick falls onto the floor. My wrist is really hurting and for a moment I think I can see it starting to go purple. There’s a heartbeat in it.

‘That’s so nice.’ She says. ‘What happened to your eye?’

‘What?’

‘Your eye babe, it’s all black. Do you need me to go to the bar?’

‘What? What are you going to the bar for?’

Katy feels like she’s on a mission to drive me nuts, I can hear fuck nothing. 

‘To ask for Andy or that thing you do when you get spiked or punched.’

‘Angela?’

‘No I’m Steph babe.’

‘I know that Steph I came with you.’

‘You didn’t.’ She says.

‘I did. And I haven’t been spiked I’m fine.’

‘You’re fucked.’ A girl in a skirt tells me. 


I am cradling my wrist like a dead hamster. My fingers are fizzy; I can’t move them. 


Steph and the girls, who are all shouting, push past me. The girl on the floor crawls. Once they move out the way I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. My eye is normal and I don’t know what she’s talking about. 


Steph’s pissed me off so I leave the toilet. She has my stuff but she was going to take it all anyway. She’s greedy with everyone’s stuff. She pretends she doesn’t remember taking it but she does. Then she boasts about taking all of it. Then people offer their stuff to her and she ends up not paying for it anyway. 


This club is so small the toilets having doors feels irrelevant. The DJ isn’t even fit tonight. Usually if they are, and if their sets are bad, I just like to watch them. I like watching all the colours bounce off them. You don’t usually get to see attractive people in multicolour. 


My wrist hurts so badly. There is a cup of quickly-melting ice on a table, waiting for a drink to be poured in it but the boy I think it belongs to is kissing a taller boy in a red shirt, and struggling with the height difference, so I nick his cup and put the fistfuls of ice against my wrist. I’m so cold. The ceiling sweats in the heat. I really hope the bathroom attendant doesn’t hurt me later. I think of maybe going back and apologising. Sorry you woke up to my fingers in your neck crevice, I was a bit drunk and thought you were dead, have you ever been told you sleep very still? 


Someone comes up to me and long hair brushes against my cheek. 

‘Babe!’ She shrieks into my ear.

‘What?’

‘Why don’t you get me a drink?’

I turn and it’s Steph again. Though I didn’t see her follow me out.  Her hair really tickles against my neck and I squirm but she’s got an iron grip. 

‘What do you want?’ I ask.

‘One of those lemon ice lolly ones!’

I wriggle from her clutch and turn to look at her. 

‘I just gave you one of those, you just drank mine.’

She furrows her dark eyebrows at me.

‘You didn’t.’ She says. 

She says it with such finality, I assume that no, I didn’t. 


I go back to the bar and order yet another lemon ice lolly. The bartender doesn’t even bat an eyelid. I wildly look around and see Steph’s dress dart back into the toilets. Begrudgingly I buy the drink and follow on.


But the toilet is dead. Empty. My fistful of ice is dripping all over the floor and my other hand is stuck to the cold plastic up. I can’t feel anything to do with my hands. The front of my skirt is getting all wet. I don’t know what to do. A massive group of girls fall into the toilet, one right across the glittery floor. Her friends laugh and her strappy heel is all about her ankle like a shackle. Steph is at the back in her traffic-cone orange dress.

‘Steph!’ I say. 

‘Yeah what?’

‘Where did you go? I got your drink.’ I give her my drink. She knocks it back and the lolly stick falls onto the floor. 

‘That’s so nice.’ She says. ‘What happened to your eye?’

‘What?’

‘Your eye babe, it’s all black. Do you need me to go to the bar?’

‘What?’ I say. ‘There’s nothing wrong with my eye Steph I told you this.’ 

‘I’ve not seen you all night. You left me on the dancefloor.’ 

I have nothing to say. The heartbeat in my wrist feels like its rippling through my body. 

‘Do you need me to go to the bar?’ 

The girls around Steph start to snicker. I realise I don’t even know them. Not one of them. 

‘I just went to the bar.’ I say. 

‘You need an ambulance not a barman.’ A ginger girl titters.

‘My wrist is fine.’ I say. ‘I just-‘ I look over at the snoozing bathroom attendant ‘hit it on something.’ 

‘Nothing up with your wrist it’s your eye babe.’ Steph says.

Panic starts to wrap its fingers around my guts.

‘There’s nothing fucking up with my eye- ’


But the mirror lies. And somehow, I have a black eye. A big, ugly one. One that is glossy with sweat and blood, one that’s sending shivering red capillaries across my eyelid. Suddenly it burns. I feel it ringing through my skull. I touch it and wince. My fingers come away sticky, black. When I look up, the girls are gone. 


The room is empty. Small and red and empty. In the corner is the bathroom attendant. Deathly still. Some awful whiny man is singing in the club, whatever the song is, it pumps and pumps and makes me feel sick. The lollies next to the sleeping attendant buzz across the table, losing the fight with the thrumming bass. They inch closer to the floor, finally scattering into a little heap.


Everything’s so red in there. I’m really red too, cheeks all flushed up and blazing. My wrist is blooming with pain, it’s defiantly broken. The bathroom attendant is the only one here and she’s asleep again. But she’s not doing her funny little breathing. She’s really, really still. 


They were right, my eye is black. There’s a big horrible ring around it then it’s completely black. The more I look and prod about with my good hand, the more confused I get. In fact, I can’t find half my face? 


The attendant doesn’t wake. I realise, with a pinching dread, that she isn’t breathing. I feel cold and unpleasantly sober. Something is coming out of her ears. Sticky black. It runs down her neck leaving a perfect road. I slowly walk over. Somewhere out there Justin Timberlake is moaning something, but all I can do is walk closer. Her eyes are rolled back. With my good hand, I go to find a pulse again. 


Her pale lips twitch about. Again she wakes up and again, sends my hand vibrating off the tampon machine. I scream in pain, but she goes for me, right for my face. I hit my eye against a tacky light fixture on the wall that’s shaped like a raunchy, kicking leg, and hit the floor in a heap. 


Once I’m down, I can’t tell if it’s silent, or really, really loud in there. But I know that everyone has left, and that I’m in the club again. Clubs look weird empty. You realise they’re actually just rooms with chairs and tables. Rooms like hospitals or cafes. So many things happen in there, but when you empty things out it’s all just thing. Empty thing.


The music jitters. When it plays, I can’t move for people. When it stops, it’s just me. On and crushed. Off and alone. As the music shivers, I look out and see myself, at the bar. Holding my lemon lolly drink. I have all of my face. And I’m watching me. And I’m smiling a big shit-faced grin. So big it makes me angry.


There’s a lolly in my hand. I unwrap it and put it in my mouth. Instead of being hard it bursts immediately, all down my chin. Sugar has rotted. I feel something clink between my back teeth so I spit it into my hand. Small and clear, I hold it to the light. I don’t know what it is. The music jitters less and less until it all falls silent.


I’m stood utterly alone. I think alone. I don’t know if me at the bar counts. I’m still drinking and watching. The lights swim about. This club always had bad lights, always too green, never enough red. Made you feel like Christmas. Me at the bar finishes off my drink. Me at the bar eats the wooden lolly stick. I can hear the crunch from where I’m stood. I get a feeling in my stomach. A clunky feeling. The feeling of eating something you know wasn’t meant to be eaten. 


‘What are you doing?’ I ask myself. 

‘Your eye babe, it’s all black. Do you need- ‘

I lunge at myself, hitting her eye on the corner of the bar. But I’m quick, running into the toilet. When I throw open the door, I’m looking at myself with joyful malice, eye filling with blood, fingers inches away from the neck of the bathroom attendant.


‘Don’t do it.’ I whisper.


But I do.


And again, my wrist hits the edge of the tampon machine and reverberates off like a bell. The pain makes me feel sick to my bones. The bathroom attendant grabs me by the neck, shrieking at me to give back the lollies. I say I don’t even have them but I feel her hot grip wring against my skin. I tell her to let go but I won’t, I’m really strong when I want to be, and I just won’t let go. Lollies tumble off the rack and spill to the floor, squelching under the soles of my shoes. White veiny messes. My air gets less and less. 


I’m woken up by the sound of dance music, something that I don’t recognise but it’s deep and bassy like thunder. A group of girls tumble through the door. I’m relieved to see Steph. 


‘Steph!’ I try to say, but I think I’m winded.

Steph looks down at me from the group. 

‘Yeah what?’ She says. 

‘I need you to help me up, I- ‘

‘That’s so nice.’ She says. ‘What happened to your eye?’

I feel vomit churn in my stomach.

‘What?’ I say. My tears want to come, but they feel too thick.

‘Your eye babe,’ she says, ‘it’s all black. Do you need me to go to the bar?’

‘What?’ 

‘Your eye babe, it’s all black. Do you need me to go to the bar?’

Bar. Yes. I’ve ripped my fishnets. My knees are bleeding. But, I go. 


You see, Steph will want a drink by now. At this time of night, Steph always wants a drink. I always have the money to get Steph a drink. She deserves it. Steph always offers to take me to the bar when my eye’s bleeding. Every time. She always says it. I know, because she always says it. So I go. Steph will want a lemon ice lolly drink. I know, because I always get her one of those, and she always offers to take me to the bar when my nose is broken, so I go, because she always says it, and she always offers to go to the bar when my wrist has burst open, she’ll want a lemon ice lolly drink, she always does, she always does, she always does…



 Jason Manning, Agent Provocateur, 2000, Photograph. 

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