Let me start by telling you that I know a bit about the world. I may only be young, but I grew up in London and I know people from Australia, Japan and America (New Yorkers, of course -- I have no time at all for fat Midwesterners with no self respect).
Tonight though, I'm just having dinner with a few English people. A couple of my old housemates from university got married this year and they're throwing a little soiree at their new flat. It gives me a chance to wear my new jeans, and I'm looking forward to the attention that they'll get me, especially from Naomi. I'll say right now that she's not my girlfriend, although I've heard her bandy that word around before. I just want to have a bit of fun.
I graduated from Sussex University three years ago and I've been in love with Brighton for as long as I can remember. I'm the Brand Coordinator for Daschle Life, a company that throws cutting edge parties on the beach for high-profile clients. We only involve ourselves with the very best guests and artists. I'm passionate about my job.
The flat overlooks the beach. Tonight, which is a warm night, the sea is very calm. I've brought a great bottle of wine to the party, and Claudia kisses me twice on each cheek when she answers the door.
I can tell that she's fucked already, and I hope that this dinner won't taste like shit. Claudia's always been a terrible cook. I build a joint and pass it to her while she stirs the bolognese sauce. Half a bottle of vodka is sitting precariously on the edge of the kitchen counter, dribbling over and mixing with chunks of discarded mince and tomato. I've been trying to do Claudia ever since I met her in the first year at Sussex. She has the most graceful neck that flows upwards, like a waterfall trying to make itself more beautiful. I put my hands on her collar bone to give her a massage, and then I wrap my fingers lightly around her neck. She's so cunted that I can get away with that for a few seconds before she squirms out of my hands, laughing.
"What are you doing, dickhead?"
"That smells beautiful, Claudia."
She quickly kisses me, teasingly, on the lips.
"Naomi's in the living room with Mal and the Blobbies. Go and play. Dinner'll be ready in a bit."
I get comfortably lost in their massive leather armchair and listen to Mal. He and Claudia have just got back from a month-long trip to Europe.
"The problem with Budapest is that every fucker's going there at the mo'. During my gap year you could eat at a five-star restaurant, drink the bar dry and get a champagne lap-dance to boot, and the tab'd only come to what -- about twenty quid. Nowadays you can't move for all the stag dos. It's like Leicester fucking Square."
I've known Mal since primary school. I have no idea what he does, if he does anything at all, but he goes on these expeditions at least five or six times a year.
"I hear that the place everyone's talking about these days is Latvia," says Naomi.
"I've come to the conclusion," Mal declares, "that Eastern Europe is over. All that Soviet bloc chic was perfect for a spot of pre-millenial angst, but now it's so commercial. I think about the region nowadays and all I can picture is telecommunications barons."
The Blobbies are sitting on the floor, adding nothing to the conversation as usual. They went to Sussex with us and they've been going out since the first year. Nobody liked them back then either; Claudia only invites them to these things because she feels sorry for Her. She's staring at her white wine and He's playing with his new phone. It's a beautiful phone, sleek and compact, perfectly snug in his palm. I've been thinking about buying the same model. I love the way it feels in my hand. I'm fucked if I'm going to make conversation with Him about it, though.
Dinner is laid out on the table. I open the wine. Mal tells me to "Let it breathe for a minute."
"Let's go to Bulgaria," Naomi says. "I've always wanted to go there. The women in Sofia are meant to be the most beautiful in the world in the world. You'd love it there."
"Mmm, great bolognese, Claudia!" Our hostess agrees, closing her eyes and faking a mini orgasm. It makes me want to hit her in the mouth. I grind black pepper onto my plate. Mal informs me that it's from Florence. "They make the best black pepper in the world. I refuse to get it from anywhere else."
Naomi unwraps the cellophane from a packet of Marlboro Lights and smiles at me. She has very dark eyes and a great jaw. I want to see her on television discussing films with those other pretentious cunts on BBC2. We all start to play Exquisite Corpse, but the game falters when the Blobbies say that they can't think of anything. He goes back for playing with His phone and She looks out of the window.
I ask Naomi what her deepest fear is. Growing old, she says. Dying alone. She asks me the same question.
"That I'll never live to see England lift the World Cup."
Mal starts to talk about the Middle East. "It's not that I have anything against the Jews as a race," he tells us. "I still cry whenever I see Schindler's List. I just don't understand how a race with such a tragic history can be so barbaric in their treatment of the Arab people. It makes you wonder who's really in charge. We'll go and invade anyone who we call terrorists, but it's like the government's too blind to see who the real criminals are." His face has gone red, and his hands tremble. Claudia strokes her husband's shoulder, cooing to him gently.
"I know … sssh, I know … if I were a Palestinian I'd be a suicide bomber, too," she says. Naomi crushes a cigarette out and blows smoke out of her nostrils.
I suggest that we all go out for a drink. The Blobbies finally piss off when we get to the McDonald's on Western Road, with the excuse that they want to get an early night. Delighted, I think, fuck right off you boring, boring cunts. Let's get the beers in. Let's get the coke in.
Someone's mashed a Big Mac into the pavement, and the meat's pulped into a bloody ketchup mess.
"Christ, it looks like Ronald McDonald's just been hit by a bus."
Naomi tells the others that we'll see them in the bar. She wants to talk to me for a minute, and after we leave Mal and Claudia to find their way to the bar I allow her to touch my hand on our walk down to the beach. I find that girls always go to the beach when they feel the need to talk. It's a fine night, though, so I don't mind too much. Just as long as it's quick. There are a lot of people out having fun, and even the pier looks good for once.
"What do you have to talk to me about?" I just want to get on and get Naomi drunk. Tequila, absinthe. I want to get her and Claudia drunk and fuck them both on the beach, under the Palace Pier, with Mal watching like a queer boy. Naomi looks good drunk, though. She doesn't play games with me, and at least she can cook an acceptable fucking meal.
Naomi says, "So when are you going to break up with me?" I stare at her, but she doesn't seem fearful at all. "You didn't say a word when I mentioned Bulgaria. Are you sleeping with anybody else at the moment?" She must be testing me, trying to get a reaction. Well, fuck that.
"The football's on," I tell her. "Let's go back. I don't want to end up getting these jeans dirty."
But Naomi starts acting like a child, and she pokes me in the ribs. Then she tries to tickle me under the arms. I fucking hate being tickled. My reflex action is to swat anybody who even tries to do that -- I don't give a shit. But I hold myself and somehow manage to not punch her in the crotch.
"We're going to the pier," she shouts, running off before I can stop her. I don't know who she thinks she is. This is embarrassing for me. But like a twat I jog after her. Maybe I can get something from her out of this-she'll owe me for not leaving her here like a dizzy little twat.
Everybody pretends to love the pier. I'm thankful for it, if only because it confines Brighton's scum to one place. I've visited the thing exactly once in my life, which was when I first started university. Now I have the same nauseous feeling that I did all those years ago. There must be hundreds of parkas all around me; it's like they're a pack of little animals swarming to the edge of the pier so they can jump off into the sea. The rollercoaster's lights are flashing red white and blue, but the boardwalk is a weird hazy green glow, illuminated by all the mobile phones.
I walk into the arcade and it's the smoke that gets me; a thick, choking grey smoke that gets stuck right behind my eyes. I start coughing and put my head down-just walk forward and try not to breathe. Everywhere, kids everywhere; either boys plugged into big video game cages, bog-eyed and frothing at the lips, or their girlfriends standing by, shrieking into their phones. Something right next to me goes CLACKCLACKCLACKCLACK and someone bangs on a sheet of metal. A ginger munt gets in my way, her hair scraped back, takes a long drag on the tiniest butt of a cigarette, and her eyes look like they're about to sink back into her skull from the exertion. The exit's in front of me -- thank you! -- and I make a run for it, my lungs feeling like they're about to tear under the pressure.
The arcade hall cuts off into the pier's big ballroom, all polished dance floor and cheap tattered seats. The fifteen-year olds are gone, replaced by their grandparents who are sitting against the walls recovering from a big bingo game. I can still hear the zipping and crashing from behind me, but in here it's undercut by a deep music, some slow waltz from the old days. The smoke can rise up high here in the ballroom, and the only two figures on the floor dance away under a dark cloud, like they're reliving the time they walked through the wreckage of London in the war. The man has a rack of medals stuck to his chest -- too many, as far as I'm concerned. Nobody could have been that brave, no matter how many times they'd been shot. Do medals have a sell-by date? They should. What good would he be now if we got invaded? One smack and you'd take half his face off.
Everybody in the hall is watching this decrepit couple dancing away. They're probably the last ones here, besides myself of course, who retain something approaching full control over their bodily functions. I don't like the way they're dancing. It's just shuffle, shuffle, shuffle. Even the music's going faster than these two. They must think that they have all the time in the world. I'll have more self-respect when I get to their age -- I'll scuba dive, hang-glide, anything to stop my body from turning into a useless piece of crap. All these fucks here have failed to grasp that basic concept, and I have no sympathy for them. Jesus, and I thought that it stank in the arcade. It's disgusting in here. It smells of piss bags and chips. Look at them all. Where in fuck's name is Naomi? This had better not be a prank. Mal, the cunt -- he had something to do with this. Right now all three of them are in the bar, laughing themselves to death. Yeah, yeah.
The old guy's looking into this old girl's eyes, and when I see his rotten yellow teeth I remember my pledge to give up when I'm thirty. His wife is spellbound-by what, I couldn't tell you. She certainly couldn't have caught her own reflection in the mirror lately. Probably been with this bastard all her life. I assume they'd never heard of political correctness back in the nineteen-thirties.
Then the music stops, and the cripples lined up against the walls start to clap, as if they'd just seen something impressive. But the couple keeps on dancing, without the record. They're not even winding their steps down, like a train eventually stops long after the driver has slammed on the brakes. They look like they could keep on going until they drop dead.
Now the old man's leaning into the light, and I can see that the medals are grubby, that they haven't been polished in some time. I thought that these old soldiers took pride in their appearance? He hunches over the woman so that he can almost wrap himself around her little shrivelled body, and without a care in the world he hitches up her navy-blue skirt and punches four stained fingers into her cunt. And they keep on shuffling, just a step at a time.
"Oh. Oh," she says, with the arcade machines banging in the background. Oh.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Paul Stevens lives in Brighton, England.