Blank now welcomes all creative fiction / poetry efforts from local writers. Each month, one piece of writing will be chosen to feature in the printed magazine and online. Pieces must be original and no longer than 1500 words. Note only the first 600 words will be printed, and the rest will be put online. Email submissions to email@example.com
The hotel room is dim with only a single lamp providing light. The cream-coloured walls and leather furniture seemed classier, more tasteful, dressed in half-shadows. A Monet reprint hangs crooked in the kitchen. Anita sits at the coffee table with a gin and tonic and a slim cigarette. She waits for her friend to phone the room. Kind of Blue hums out through the cheap stereo speakers. Miles blowing somnolent, floating melodies. Outside the night is alive. The sound of voices, laughter, and the rare car through the open window. Not much driving in Montmartre, the streets are too narrow, too many people on foot. She takes a sip of her drink, too strong. You had to be careful with gin – easy to go too far.
Anita taps her cigarette on the edge of the marble ashtray. Paris – the perfect getaway. Just a ferry from London. From home. She taps the couch and her cat runs over, collar-bell jingling. He’s stressed. New environment. The hotel policy strictly stated no animals but she got him in. An extra 50 francs over the counter. Straight into the Velcro wallet of the counter-boy. It helped that Anita looked the way she did. She was used to special consideration. The cat purrs loudly now, Anita strokes its chin. The phone rings. A quick drag and exhale to finish her cigarette. Last mouthful of gin. The cat darts away as she stands. Anita picks up the receiver.
‘Hello’. She speaks softly.
There’s a muffled silence on the other end. Then, Jacques.
‘Hey, Anita’. Her and Jacques go out whenever she’s in town. He’s older but switched on to good music, restaurants, bars – all of it. They slept together once but there was no real fire. Better friends than lovers. Anita’s certain that if given the chance, Jacques would want to again. He’s Parisian after all.
‘Hey Jacques, how are you?’ She curls the telephone cord around her finger.
‘Good. Like always’. He laughs a fake telephone laugh.
‘Mmm, that’s good’. Anita extends the phone cord almost as far it will go to get another cigarette. She lights it.
‘So how’s the hotel? I haven’t heard of it.’ Jacques speaks slowly, always careful with his English.
Anita looks around the room, considering it. ‘Yeah not too bad’.
Jacques laughs again. ‘Not too bad eh? Well did you want to meet for a drink on rue clichy in a half hour?’
Anita takes a long drag from her cigarette. ‘Meet you at the metro entrance?’
There’s a pause on Jacques end. He’s thinking. Anita looks at her cat lying under the coffee table. Yellow eyes glaring. ‘Yes, that’ll be great’.
‘Okay, well I’ll see you soon’. Anita considers, hangs up the receiver. Time to get ready.
Walking down the few blocks until she reaches rue clichy, the red light district, it’s cold but Anita’s brown camel-hair jacket keeps her warm. She passes the Moulin Rouge, crowded, bustling. The McDonalds golden arches sear the dark, glowing and buzzing. More cars now. Traffic. Noise. Anita heads for the metro station. Heels unsteady in cobblestone cracks. She walks through the park-path running like a vein along the centre of the road. A black teenager starts to tail her, emerging from the public toilet. He calls out in English.
‘Hey, you want some weed? Speed? E? Whatever you want I can get it.’ He stops following when she doesn’t respond, kicking a rock. Back on the main foot-path. Crepe vendors, beggars, gypsies and tourists walking around with huge fluorescent backpacks. She spots Jacques leaning against a phone-booth at the metro entrance. He’s smoking a Gauloises, always Gauloises and dressed in a well-tailored corduroy suit. He spots her.
‘Hey An’. She hurries over. They hug.
‘Jacques, how you been?’ He takes a long drag from his cigarette and stares at her for a few moments. The blonde hair. The lips. He’s crazy about her.
‘Yeah I’ve been good, just working y’know’.
Anita nods, but in truth, she hasn’t really worked a day since she was twenty-four, when her father died. Car crash.
‘But you’re enjoying it?’
Jacques shrugs, exhales. ‘Work is work. I’m much more excited to go and have a drink’. Crowds usher past them on their way to the cinema, or to a restaurant, or for drinks. Everyone dressed to the hilt, a sartorial city. They’d be out late. Paris never sleeps, too many neon lights.
‘You gotta’ place in mind?’ Anita asks.
Jacques scoffs. ‘Of course’.
Anita rolls her eyes, smiling. ‘Well, let’s go then’.
Jacques leads Anita a half-block away to the Bearded Lady, a narrow bar with a stage at the back for bands. The place is lit with lamps made out of twigs and tree branches, illuminated bird’s nests. Above the bar a row of red candles flicker and melt into hot wax. Very trendy. Anita expected nothing less from Jacques. There’s not a lot of people inside but everyone who is looks like model or an artist. Vintage clothes, strange haircuts. The pair sit at a small table on the balcony entrance. They can smoke there. Drinks aren’t too expensive considering the bar. Anita orders a gin and tonic. Jacques, a whiskey soda. They’re served in jars. Anita looks at hers for a few seconds with a slight-smile. Jacques raises an eyebrow.
Anita laughs. ‘Nothing, this place is cool’.
Jacques nods, smiling. ‘Yes’. He leans forward. ‘It’s good to see you again’. He rubs her hand. Anita pulls it away.
‘Yeah, you too’.
They both light cigarettes. There’s noise from the end of the bar. A band setting their amps and tuning their drum-kit. Anita stands to get a look at them. Young guys, dressed in either a fashion so new she isn’t aware of it yet, or something uniquely their own. Anita leans towards the latter. They look like they get their clothes from second-hand stores but still manage to look stylish. She sits and turns back to Jacques.
‘Any idea who these guys are?’ Of course he’ll know.
Jacques also stands to look and sits back down. ‘I’m pretty sure these guys are the Camino Muertos. They’re from Madrid and are touring Europe right now’.
‘Oh, very nice’. Anita sips her gin. The two keep drinking and talking. The band begins to play. Reverb surf guitars, heavy bass and light drumming underneath a crooning voice. The singer sings most verses in English and then switches to Spanish for the choruses.
‘Y la monotonía es un asesino lento’.
Drinks ordered again and again. Anita is feeling it. Drunk. She looks down and notices her cigarette is all ash. Jacques is laughing and mumbling something in French. She doesn’t really like him after a couple of drinks. She puts both hands on the table to steady herself. The band glides to the end of one of their songs. The singer kneels down and drinks from a jar. He returns to the mic.
‘Thanks everyone. This is our last song and it’s a cover, hope you like it.’
Anita gives all her attention to the band now, ignoring Jacques. A fast four count and then a song she doesn’t expect. A song she’ll never forget. Fifteen years ago. Taiwan. An unexpected hit. Ego Bender by Forests. A few people in the bar cheer as they recognise the tune. Chinese characters in glowing neon lights, a sky of telephone wires, motorbikes, Revolver, and Jim. Jim from UCLA. Jim who got famous. Jim who recorded Elvis two years after that. It didn’t feel like fifteen years ago. She’d read an article about him a few years back but he didn’t look like the awkward boy she remembered. He looked like a different person and not in a good way. The Camino Muertos motor through their rendition, and for a split-second Anita sees Jim standing watching them. Nursing a beer. Young. Wide-eyed. The band finish the set to applause and drinks are raised. Jacques continues trying to have a conversation with Anita but she’s distracted, smiling at the singer of the band as he walks off stage. He winks at her. Curly long hair falling in front of his face. He’s no Jon Du but still, he’s handsome. Jon, sitting in her apartment crossed-legged showing her new Forests guitar-parts. Lying in bed kissing her stomach. Driving her to the airport when she left Taipei for her father’s funeral. When she left for good.
Anita and Jacques stand out the front of the bar. Breath visible in the air. Jacques has sobered a bit but Anita’s distant now. He talks.
‘So that was fun yeah?’
She nods but doesn’t meet his eye. Tight chest, slight headache.
He rubs his hands together. It’s later in the night, colder. ‘Are you okay An, you look like you’ve seen a ghost?’
She looks at him now, slick and well-dressed, and smiles. ‘I think I did.’
Jacques laughs. ‘Maybe we better get you home then eh?’
She grips his arm and rests her head on his shoulder. ‘Yes Jacques, I think we better.’