The Beat

It’s just too much, too much.

She ran down Wood Street, its long, narrow stretch punctuated only by the occasional inebriated passer-by and bursts of noise from the packed bars that peppered the road’s length.

The static air streamed into her nose, heightening her senses as she dashed past the warm, multi-coloured glow of The Swan’s stained-glass window, in and out of dark and light, through illuminated patches of water stagnating on the cobbles. The figures that she passed were just ghosts, their voices amalgamated with the cars and music seeping out from the clubs, sounds rising and falling in a constant hum that persecuted her as she ran on, consumed by her own tears, her own desperate breathing. All she could feel was the power in the air, the need to go on, to get further away, to try and escape from her destruction.

Eventually exhausted, she ground to a halt, doubling up and leaning on a crash barrier for support. She looked up to see she was on Hanover, faced with the enormous glowing spectacle of the Paradise Project’s cranes and towers. The noise and light from the city proper filtered down to her, and, as she caught her breath and cleared her stinging eyes, she could see a few revellers passing by in a blur of movement and sound. One guy held back briefly from his group and gave her a slight look of concern, before moving on and re-joining the laughter.

Overcome once more by the rushing heat in her head and the screaming ache in her insides, she ran on, down the road and across The Strand without pause and causing Mark to slam the brakes of his van. He jabbed the horn violently as she ran out of his eye-line and then paused to regain his composure. His engine ticked over as the car rested on the otherwise deserted road and he looked down its expanse. Paul Weller’s ‘You Do Something To Me’ crackled out of the shitty speakers. He looked around his cab, lit only by red LEDs and the sodium from the streetlights, and thought about his wife.

The river was full that night, a fluctuating slick of semi-solid blackness that licked near the top of the dockside’s high walls. One ship, lit by only a handful of bulbs, moved slowly toward the sea and on the opposite bank, the orange lamps that lined it stretched off into the distance and a well-lit Irish ferry loaded up with trucks for the late crossing.

It was to this that she arrived and rested, finally, against the cold black bars. She looked up and down the silent promenade to see no one and breathed out in relief that she had finally escaped the energy of the town centre. Here was a kind of peace. She breathed in the clearer air, looked and listed to the water’s rise and fall, and, for a time, the knot in her chest loosened. For all the troubles that had come to face the river over the centuries it had yet to produce an answer, but it often helped, she thought.

She thought back. Back 18 months, to the heat of another night in the club, reality, as usual, softened by darkness and smoke and drink and flashing lights and music, into a strange space where the barriers that we create for ourselves are blurred just enough for us to unite.

And through the usual intoxicating spectacle of the boys and girls in their loosening finery, she had seen him moving on his own, glowing in and out of the strobe. She saw him and was drawn immediately, the way he moved, in time with the music but still looking like he wasn’t even trying, like he didn’t care what anyone thought. Most of those assembled moved freely and happy, but clumsily. He moved only slightly, eyes closed with a big smile, and alone, perfectly connected to the music. Without even the usual nod to her mates, she moved over towards him.

Feeling that slight, beautiful ache and heightening of the senses, she slipped through the crowd to where he stood. It was still early, so the place was busy but not yet rammed. She stepped in front of him, but facing the opposite way, then shot him a quick, direct look.

His eyes remained shut and she instantly felt a jab of self-consciousness. She had left herself wide open for rejection and the piss-taking of her mates. She turned her head back away and slipped more into the music, preparing to slide away and make excuses to her friends. Hey, no-one could deny that he was hot.

But before she moved, something seized her; follow your goddam instincts, woman, there’s nothing else that’s any use in this bloody game. She flicked her head back around to find him with eyes open, looking at her.

Would he be a cool operator she wondered, if so he could fuck right off. But no, straight away he moved towards her so she turned to face him fully and they swayed toward each other in the music. By the time ‘Debaser’ was played two records later, they were together, falling about in the mass with not a single thought for anything outside their own connection.

Another record played, prompting a break as they both shouted something along the lines of “Ihatethisfuckingsong”, and a joint laugh further cemented their bond. She took the initiative and pulled him by the hand through the growing crowd towards the light of the bar. It was time for a closer look. It was then she remembered her friends and swung her head around expecting to catch sight of them pointing and gesturing and doubling up with laughter at her forward actions, but they were nowhere to be seen.

He retuned with two vodka and Cokes. More drinks and dances and kissing and more feeling, and she forgot about her friends. They agreed to go before the lights came on, so they wouldn’t have to see the aftermath and could pretend that this, all of this, would go on forever. Grappling up the crowded stairs, she saw others couples in similar embraces and was cheered that that they were not the only ones who had found their way. They stepped out onto the street, clinging to each other at the sides, falling about between the crowds. Everything appeared fluid, the lights, the street, the people and the cars veering in and out of each other turned into a beautiful slick. Out of it she managed to pick out of it the orange glow of a free cab. They tumbled in, he murmured some instructions to the driver before turning his attentions back to her and they necked gently. She considered for a moment her actions, this was much faster than she usually moved, but again, instinct told her to carry on. And as the cab swung around she caught site of the Chinese arch in all its silly glory before they became lost in each other again till they reached the dead terraced street.

They kissed and groped slowly up the stairs, she noticed the rotting flower-patterned wallpaper that covered the walls, and he led her into a room. He didn’t turn the light on. Fumbling instead at some plugs till the room became lit by a UV tube and a gently spinning fibre-optic lamp. She followed him onto the bed and they slowly worked to a conclusion.

And as they lay together in the haze of the early hours, indecipherable noises echoing in the distance, she knew that this is what she had been looking for and said “I love you.” He remained silent. She slipped into sleep.

When she woke, the realisation of her actions, and the prospect of facing the truths of the night in the cold hard day, kept her pretending for a while. Eventually, she rubbed the crust from her eyes to find herself alone. She was relieved. It would give her time to clean herself up before he returned form the toilet or downstairs or wherever, time to compose herself for reality.

And then she waited. And waited. He didn’t appear. She searched through the scruffy, bare house, with its ragged wallpaper and out-of-time furniture. No guy, nor a note, and it was at that point she realised she couldn’t remember his name. Had he told her? He must have done, she wouldn’t have gone back with someone she didn’t know the name of, would she? The memories of the night were already beginning to fade, replaced by a searing head and a thousand questions. She fumbled for her phone as she sat on the sofa. Six ‘Where are you?’ messages from her friends and a final ‘We’re going home’. She searched for a photo or a letter even for some indicator of his name, but there was nothing. She waited some more, watching the hands of the intricate old carriage clock on the mantelpiece revolve till she was overcome by the desire to vomit. Cleaning herself afterwards she felt better, but a growing hole filled her stomach instead.

It was time to leave. She composed herself and stepped out into the still quiet street, expecting to see curtains twitching. Fearing judgement, fearing that she was just one in a line, she walked up to the main road and beckoned a cab, said her address and ducked inside as quickly as she could. Watching the river flit in and out of view between buildings as the cab sailed along, she bit her lip and concentrated hard on her composure, which was enough to contain the tears until she slammed the door of her flat closed.

She returned 18 months later to the club, long after emotions had been released to exhaustion,  explanations had been given, walls had been built up to protect and sense made of the irregularities, or forgotten for the sake of sanity, and all pushed back into the stream of time, past so much. She bounded down the stairs again, towards the electric, beckoning hum, straight through the crowd, onto the floor and into the middle. To see him dancing alone and another girl moving towards him slowly, and then she saw in the blink of a light the satisfied smile and, even though his eyes were closed, his knowledge of everything that was going on around him in the smoke and mirrors.

A choke in the throat and she ran and ran till the grey bones of the new stadium towered over her.

She knew. She didn’t know how, but she knew what he was and what he was here for, why he came and danced.

Shadows in the half-light, lurking in the stickiness and vibrations that surround us. Taking, only taking, feeding on us as we expose our core, share out the pure energy of our being and aim for the point beyond life. He had to do it again, every week a new soul to live.

Leaning on the cold iron by the river, she knew what she had to do.

By Kenn Taylor