He ground out another cigarette to add to the ashy collection that was sandblasting his desk, running his thick tongue over his furry teeth. Luminous shadows danced before his eyes and deep fried electric currents through his brain. Bonnie. Her name was a lie for a start. Her head was all bashed in. When he saw her he was high as a kite anyway so he should be excused officer no intent meant I’m a proper gent and I’m giving it up for Lent. Fuck there it goes again. Running freeform. He inhaled the sweet smoke of the sane as he kicked his boots off and listened to his mind whir and spin cartwheels into the depths of oblivion. The silence was deafening and his head was pounding, reverberating through his skull like warehouse bass.
Bonnie baby give me some more. Your head was all bashed in. The streets were dead. The alley was quiet save for posters screaming about life and guitars and raven haired siren dolls. High as a kite, soaring through the city as it swallowed him up and spewed her out across the gravel like trash.
Massimo found himself in the kitchen by the fridge, clutching a glass jar of lychees to his chest as if his life depended on it. He wasn’t sure how he had got there, or where the lychees had come from, but a cigarette was burning precariously in the brimming ashtray on his cluttered desk.
The lychees looked like countless eyeballs with the pupils scraped out. Some were staring at the ceiling, some were staring at the floor and all the others were dully focussed on him, unblinking and blind.
‘Stop fucking staring at me,’ he said to the jar.
He hurriedly unscrewed the lid, stuck his oily fingers into the sightless melee and guzzled a pawful, if just to stop the staring. His brain had blended into a thick pea soup, green guts everywhere. A pungent sweet-smoke fugged the room and he blurrily recalled the cigarette burning in the ashtray. Bewildered, he staggered over, acutely aware of his own smell, knocking over a pile of magazines on the table that landed with a fishy slap onto the tiled floor and bulldozing his way headlong onto the swivel chair. Wooossshhh! He spun round like a kid on a carousel, candy all over his face like Bonnie in a morning. Bonnie baby give me some more.
Petey’s entire head was covered in what looked like taco seasoning. So that was what the smell was. Every greasy follicle dusted with paprika. He’d just grabbed hold of Bonnie’s hand in his bear like paw and run her fingers through it, proud as punch.
‘Yeah the bitch waitress in the last joint chucked a whole fucking thing of spice over me head cause I said she had a nice rack, fffuckinsssslut. I’d kill the bitch.’
She let his beery drawl wash over her but penetrate no further. He was wearing a t-shirt painted with a raven haired siren doll, naked but for her tattoos and the heavy links of Petey’s neck chain, which seemed to shackle the design by her protruding, metal bolted nipples to his chest. Petey was absolutely wasted, dull, raw eyes glazed over with alcohol sheen. Bonnie wasn’t far off either, let’s be honest.
She swiftly drained her glass, barely managing to conceal her disgust.
‘Oh well that’s not very nice of her, why would she do that to you?’ she said, in the most saccharine-coated voice she could muster.
Over the throb of the bass from upstairs, she could hear muted cheers and whistles from the other room, layered with the MC, goading the crowd over the mike, ‘Make some noise if you want to see more of Dakota. Come on boys, that bikini’s not gonna take itself off!’
Petey was clutching a crumpled wad of notes, brazenly enough to show Bonnie he had enough to splash. But he hadn’t parted with a buck. He had also been following her round the club for the past hour, haranguing her on the stage, using his bulk to warn off other customers, grabbing her arse when she walked past, exuding an acrid stench of a man who liked to smoke, shout and screw…
‘Anyway, I’m Bonnie. Happy Birthday Petey.’ The anti-climax in her voice exploded like a Christmas cracker with no snap.
‘Your friends said you were after a birthday dance. Do you want to start with $50 for ten minutes?’
‘Kit off,’ he spat, face open mouthed, like a puncture. His dead eyes had not moved from her chest, and, paprika limbs sprawled everywhere, he reminded her of a stray dog slobbering outside a Tijuana taco truck.
A waitress buzzed past their booth, all boobs and bolshiness.
‘Let’s get another drink. Tequila shots!’ Bonnie breezed, hoping to clear the confrontational clouds that seemed to be gathering overhead. The sound of her own artificial, candy coated voice gathered bile in her stomach like impending thunder.
He nodded, or at least tried to, his head lolling to one side and his eyes glazing. He made a grab for her waist and pulled her back on to him. ‘Bonnie baby, give me some more!’ he slurred, the acrid stench of beer and sleaze cloying the air. She wriggled free, the power of his thick arms dulled by a night of drinking.
‘Drinks, baby. I’ll get that waitress. Be right back.’
By the time Bonnie had fluttered out into the bar, the waitress was nowhere to be seen. Back in the booth, she found Petey snoring soundly, the room hazy with booze. She took a moment to look at him, his mouth open. For a fleeting moment she felt pity, watching the rise and fall of his chest. His mouth had softened, all expletives lulled to sleep. In the real world, he was probably nice to his mum; he probably bought her carnations from the servo the day after her birthday; wilted wonder, always endearingly late. A loveable lout. Heckled girls in Daisy Dukes when his white van sat in traffic lights on sunny days. Always bought rounds for his mates, was there if you needed him in a fight.
Still another fucking dickhead in here, she thought, suddenly fuelled by an indignant resolve that clouded her better judgement. Remembering the messages on her answer machine from the landlord, the drawer filled with bills in the kitchen – and, fuck it – all the other dickheads she’d spoken to that night, she prised open Petey’s clenched fist, grabbed the stack of money, turned on heel and tripped off down the stairs.
It doesn’t take a genius to realise that a strip club is not the best place in the world to drop acid. But when everyone else has ditched you because you’re talking shit, and the local won’t let you through the door because your eyes are like dinner plates, and you’d been chucked out of the kebab shop because you covered your ID in chilli sauce and tried to eat it, of course, you’d try somewhere else. Defeat is for the sober. Yesterday’s weirdness is tomorrow’s reason why.
Somehow Massimo breezed past the doorman. Up the stairs, two at a time and thought it would all be fine. Imagining kind, Cinderella faces, comforting breasts to suckle him back to sobriety. Instead, he finds himself pecked by a flurry of exotic birds, constantly preening, twittering and ruffling his feathers with their flawless plumage. But then he sees them in black and white, hungry magpies, chickens pecking for dollars he doesn’t have. He stumbles towards one of the empty booths where the birds take people to dance and crouches on the chair.
This shit is stronger than he thought.
The sudden sense of solitude and voyeurism sobers Massimo quicker than a bump. Just to make sure, he pulls out the little wrap from his jeans pocket, and furtively lines a cheeky one across the ball of his thumb. And snorts.
He cranes his neck round to get a better look at the girl, just in time to see the guy pulling her backwards onto his lap, snarling.
‘Bonnie baby, give me some more.’
It doesn’t sit well in Massimo’s stomach. But that could be the gear. Or the chilli sauce. Casting a frantic glance to the side to take the image out of his head, his mind becomes snagged on the damask walls and he begins to drown in the blooming jungle of wallpaper, the curly colour of spilled wine. Floundering, he splays his arms out to the side to claw at the heavy curtains as his mind scales the walls like a spider.
And his mind plummets from the ceiling as his eyes are suddenly shot through with a flowerbomb of colour, pink feathers everywhere, petals opening as his head turns to face the booth to his left where the flamingo is fleeing her perilous perch. Her feathers are aflurry as she breezes past him. Heading out the door, feathers flying, the vulture nowhere to be seen, but eyes, black eyes everywhere. Massimo spreads his wings and swoops after his clever, wily marabou stork, down the stairs, past a chicken coop and a flock of doves and into a shard of shadows in the alley outside. Feathers catch in his throat and he is overcome with a sudden and divine sense of release as the night asphyxiates him.
In the alley, he comes to, waking up with a start to her name escaping from his lips like a cry for help. A distant bird severs the silence with a lazy squawk. He is not alone. The vulture man startles him as he brushes past Massimo and into the shadows of the alley, carrying a bulk, pink and still in his arms.
‘Cheers kid,’ the vulture wheezes, spitting a thick bile onto the tar. He heaves his burden into the shadows and it lands with a dull thud in the blackness.
‘Needed the extra pair of hands. Those birds are all the same. Now let’s get the fuck out of here before someone comes.’
When Massimo blinks, the vulture has been swallowed by the night. The alley is empty, save for posters screaming about life and guitars and raven haired siren dolls. Incredulous, he pulls a downy feather from his teeth and licks the metallic blood that’s lingering on his parched lips.