That night we went to Gerry Bellino’s Christmas party by accident, Eve and I. We were looking for Club Afro Caribe. My feet were blistered and sore. We sat and watched a fat man sweat under dim lights, his p’s like little explosions against his microphone. He made jokes about Italians. Mafia references. Some people laughed. I didn’t. I told Eve that I thought, perhaps, we had come to the wrong place.
“Gerry Bellino walked into this bar-“ said the man on the stage, the beginning of a joke at our host’s expense. We looked at the sad tinsel dripping off the nicotine stained walls. A Christmas party. Gerry Bellino’s Christmas party.
I stood up. I looked towards the door. A man was walking towards us. His hand was large and warm on my shoulder. He called us ladies and asked us to stay.
“I’m sorry,” I told him. “I thought this was Club Afro-Caribe.”
“Mr Bellino would like you to stay.”
Eve was anchored to her seat. Eve wanted to stay. Free drinks. An adventure. I could see now that every man in the room had noticed her. I could see her basking in the attention. This was that night. The same night. I could feel exhaustion settling in my ankles like sand.
That was the night. This is the day. This interminable day. All dank-sock sweat and uphill trudge. It is a train then a bus then another bus. Then, at the end of this marathon of public transport there is a climb and I can see the beads of moisture forming on Eve’s forehead, bubbling up from under her makeup. I should have worn makeup. Her lipstick should be called open-wound red. They look bloody and swollen. It makes her seem vulnerable I reach out and link my fingers between Eve’s and her hand is slick with sweat. Our fingers slip away from each other. She stops to blot her forehead with the back of her hand. A fat drip makes a slow trail down my back and I feel it nestle between my buttocks, wetting the flesh, a snail-trail travelling incrementally downwards.
“Should I have worn make-up?” I ask.
Eve shrugs. She is gorgeous. Her blonde hair is wind-mussed. She smells ripe with body-heat and perfume. I haven’t worn perfume. I don’t own perfume. I could have worn some of hers. She has a collection of little bottles cluttering her bedside table. When I lift them to my nose I remember her naked flesh, bursting with the overblown sweetness of fruit and flowers. My back teeth ache with the desire to bite down on her nipple. I have never thought to use her techniques of seduction, her scents and her shampoos, her blush and her berry lipsticks. Now, catching my breath, half way up this hill in the dry-roast of suburban Runcorn, I begin to wonder whether I should have had an extreme makeover before venturing out.
“You look fine,” Eve tells me, by which she means; you look sweaty and unkempt and not particularly femme.
“We’re almost there, aren’t we?” hopeful, staring up yet another hill, checking the map to see if there is an easier way around. There isn’t. We flap the damp fabric of our shirts. A whiff of her perfume.
“Sweaty is fine,” I tell her. Sweat is actually sexy.
We continue to climb.
I don’t know what we were expecting, but this isn’t it. The boy is too young. He is wearing boardshorts and a Hawaiian shirt. No shoes. The flat is small and smells faintly of mould. The carpet is threadbare in places and there are several empty XXXX cans crushed onto a breakfast bench dividing the loungeroom from the kitchen. The boy is perhaps 19, perhaps 20. By the time I am inside his apartment, I have decided that I don’t want the job but I have no way of communicating this to Eve.
“We saw your add in the paper.” Eve has turned on the charm, a thick dollop of it, oozing out from under her heavy lidded eyes. Flirtation is her weapon. She aims it expertly at the boy. I see him waver under the onslaught. All his Christmases standing at his front door. Eve is the jackpot. I am a distraction.
"Yes indeedee." he says. He is ridiculous. I glance at the slight tenting of his boardshorts. Eve has this effect on all the boys. "Glad you could come ladies," double entendre intended.
The sweat is drying on my back making my skin cold despite the weather.
"How does this work?" Eve asks, eyelids stuttering low.
"Well," he is nervous. He scratches his elbow and I notice a wide patch of scaly red where the skin has been scraped raw. "After the audition, we just take bookings. Get this thing rolled out. How's that sound?"
Audition. Sounds like a hollow thud. Sounds like I'm back in drama school, sounds like panic attack and it smells like that acrid reek of phobia that stains the dressing-room walls nicotine yellow. Eve is nodding.
"It is a double act." She coos, her bedroom voice tickling his already attentive ball-sac.
"All things are up for negotiation." He grins. Leers. He is an ugly boy.
She is nodding, but I am already shaking my head.
That night we went to Gerry Bellino's Christmas party. We thought that Club Afro Caribe was on that night, at that venue. Eve liked Club Afro Caribe. I often went and sat with a beer just watching her dance. Everyone always watched her dance. The Italian man asked us to stay and I knew that Eve wanted to, but I declined.
"There's this English guy, this Irish guy, and this Italian, right?" The man on the stage was snickering as if even the idea of the joke was funny.
I told them I was tired, and I was, and I walked out of the bar, thinking that Eve might stay. She didn't. She walked home with me instead.
In the loungeroom, slipping off our shoes, I told her that I didn't want to work for the pimple-faced boy and she told me that she already knew it.
In the bedroom, lying, side by side without touching, I asked her if I smelt bad, like a wild animal, a bat or a possum or even a fox. She giggled and shifted so that her fragrant hair fanned out over her pillow.
"Don't be silly," she said, which wasn't really an answer.
"You only tolerate me because you think that men find you more sexy when you're a lesbian." I said, not expecting an answer.
"Go to sleep." she said.
And eventually I did.