STRANGERS IN THE NIGHT • by Shivaun Conroy

I can’t be alone tonight. Sleep is not an option with this bitterness screeching through my brain in frenzied orbit. It’s warped I know, but perhaps if we slept together one last time, basked in the happy hormone after-chill, got drowsy, got sleep proper – Sleep – we could tone down the hatred. Our bodies would harmonize, even with the trust-support fantasy surgically removed. I ask if I can stay over. No, he tells me, I can’t. I curse my stupidity.

 

Now here I am at three o’clock in the morning, facing down a young, slightly built male, nose cut and bloody, coiled like a spring. I step back.

“No, no, no,” he wouldn’t hurt me, just wanted to talk, and I see he’s not dangerous. It’s company and I’m grateful for other broken people in the night. We walk and talk and sit on a bench and walk.

“How old?” he asks.

“Old enough to be your mother.”

“Oh, that turns me on.”

“Ugh.”

“Bit of a perve, I am. Never trust a man who says he’s not a pervert.” I think women can be perverted too, but don’t say anything, feel too old to find him amusing or exciting, feel sad.

He’s coy starting off about himself, but I tell him he’s had a row with his girlfriend and she’s kicked him out. He’s surprised. Me and my psychic powers, ho ho.

He’s been drinking since he was twelve in California, though he’s originally Scottish – Duncan MacDuff, you couldn’t make it up. Mother’s in a motel in California. On holidays? I ask; he’s genuinely surprised at my stupidity. No, she’s alcoholic, he hasn’t seen her in seven years. And his father’s long gone, disappeared in his childhood. Mother’s parents met at an AA meeting.

He’s mid 20s, devil-may-care looking, one of the chosen ones, spoiled by women, the type who’d have made me feel boring and sticky many years ago. I feel it now, but through water. Secretly resenting him, deciding he’s a superficial thrill-seeker bragging about alcohol-related incidents in Denmark and Iceland, now in Berlin. Suggest he broaden his horizons and go to Nigeria and pick a fight. Be a real global mess. He likes this and I’m flattered by his laugh. Mostly as is the way with such things, he is the main character. I am the bosom to be leaned on, the female to take care of him till I don’t.

His nose drip drops blood even after I’ve nagged him into cleaning it in the toilets of an all-night café. We sit outside, drinking tea and beer respectively.

A sunken drunk, early 60s maybe, smiles over, leery, mumbles something inaudible. “Blahblahblah, ja?” I smile back, deciding I ought not prioritise the young alcoholic. Or maybe I’m just trying to show Duncan that he’s not special.

“That’s your brother,” I say to Duncan and tell him he’s a pretty boy. “You can do it now. There’ll be plenty of females to pick you up. One day you’ll be him.” I wonder briefly at my meanness, unsure if it’s tough love or obscure envy.

“Brother!” he calls over to the drunk. To me. “It’s okay, I’ll die this year,” and I feel he will and don’t care too much at first. But suddenly there’s my helper complex swooping in, asking if there isn’t anything else he can do to get the relaxation which alcohol gives him; swimming works for me sometimes.

“Oh yes, there are other things.” He recounts an accident in Helsinki, LSD-cocktail, where he thought he could fly from the 3rd floor, lost all his teeth, had to learn to walk and talk again too.

 

Music and light blast us and a shape stumbles out of the neighbouring nightclub.

“Did you get the number?” a female voice calls over. Australian accent I think.

“You know her?” I ask.

“No, just some crazy.”

She comes up closer. She’s pretty. Long hair. Dark brown eyes. Sense his body registering, tensing.

She’s slightly unsteady on her feet. I can’t quite decide if she’s a tourist high on holidays and Berlin night-life or a student or some other possessed nightbird.

“You got a light?” she asks Duncan. “Or ‘have you got fire?’ as our German mates would say.”

“Oh, I’ve got fire all right. You got a cigarette?”

“Scrounger.” She fumbles in a jacket pocket and hands him a cigarette, leans in for him to light hers. Their young faces glow softly for a moment as the flame meets the cigarette end. I look away.

“So did you get the number?” She straightens up and takes a drag.

“Your number. You haven’t given it to me yet.”

“Ha ha. The truck that ran over your nose. That number.” She registers me. Moves back a step. “Or did she beat you up? What did you do to deserve that?”

“We just met,” I say a little too quickly.

“Funny, funny,” says Duncan to the girl. “But you’re a wee bit ruffled yourself if I may say so.”

“Ruffled, haha. I’ll ruffle you, if you’re not careful.”

“Oh, I like how that sounds.”

“Time for me to head,” I say.

Brief flash of panic in his eyes as he adapts to the new situation. “You just going and leaving your empty chair behind.”

“Aw, that’s almost poetic. Duncan the noseless poet.” Notice I’m trying a bit hard. Am I flirting, what’s that about?

“Would you ravish me if I were a poet?” Raise eyebrows and exhale, so he turns to her. “Would you?”

“Not with your nose cut open.”

“You could put a plaster on it for me.”

 

I leave them on this line, head home to my own little island of problems. Tell myself that the Australian girl has absolved my responsibility. But guilt is clingy. Duncan got me through the night, let me play concerned mother, take a holiday from myself.

It’s light outside. Inside blissful oblivion descends. Hope he’ll be okay, but he probably won’t.


Shivaun Conroy (still no cats, but would like a dog if it didn’t feel a bit cruel in the city, not to mention the operation…) teaches, translates and scribbles the (very) odd story.


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Every Day Fiction