Richard was here every Saturday night – Heebies, a bar you’d belong if you were trying to be numb. If you made it inside with that sad excuse of a fake ID you have, you’d be exploited to a parliament of wannabes, sourly downing their cans of Red Stripe. To your left, more of them, laughing too loud – their cans half empty and warm. To the right, them again but in ten years’ time – empty cans.
Was it something more than the sticky floors that gravitated me towards this place? I never found out because an unwanted pair of hands fastened onto my waist. I addressed this school boy with the dirtiest look I could scrunch up. He got the message, and the hands came undone. Slightly embarrassed, I decided to shuffle over to the courtyard. Not that I smoked, no. It did nothing for me. But more to observe. See, a renaissance would happen here every weekend for the kids who wanted to become their favourite lead singers. Dabbling in their first taste of ecstasy like it was the blue pill from The Matrix – they condone indifference here.
My attention was drawn by an attempt of maturity that stuck out from under the bench it sat at; Leather brogues. My eyes ascended. One leg crossed over the other, wrapped in the skinniest jeans, pulled in by an obnoxiously vintage belt. Tucked into it, a washed-out Bob Dylan tee, that failed to impress anyone. Draped over his shoulders was this Ralph Lauren Harrington with the collar popped. It was July. If that wasn’t a big enough hint of his private school education, maybe the Tag around his wrist would give it away. His fingers and thumb held a Marlboro light, hopefully diverting the attention away from his bitten nails, as he lit it with his broken Che Guevara lighter, flicked one too many times in an attempt to look cool. That was Richard, and it wasn’t him at all.
‘The Government is lying!’ he perfectly elocuted in between posed drags of his fag, pressing it against his chapped lips. His blasé attitude however, seemed to contradict with the sleepless nights and angst that hung under his eyes. Yet, the girls who swarmed him couldn’t see what I could and sat anticipating the delivery of his manifesto. Most of them chain smoking and leaving their half-smoked cigarettes wounded in the ash tray, bruised in purple lipstick on top of one another. This complimented the cans and one martini glass standing over it. The glass holding in it an overpriced melted strawberry slush with Bacardi in, half empty and neglected.
A girl in rose tinted sunglasses was sipping this sad daquiri. I laughed to myself at the irony of this safely behind the bollards of people in the courtyard. But the joke was on me; she was sitting with Richard, I was not. The bar girl came by and paved a path to take this slush on its walk of shame from her Instagram filter to the refugee of the bar sink, this was my chance to speak to him. Stumbling too close to this bar girl as if handcuffed to her, I made it to a barley of wooden benches. It was at this point that Richard happened to notice me.
His smile said my name so I shouted over to him. A year ago, I’d be at his side but tonight I am an intruder.
He reached into his pocket, uprooting stale bus tickets and a box of fags, took one, then hesitated, still smiling.
‘You want one, Sal?’
‘Oh, no, tar. I don’t smoke’
‘Then why are you out here?’ Interjected sunglasses girl, whilst the congregation laughed too loud. I laughed too, although I didn’t find it very funny.
‘Who’s out then? Anyone I’d care about?’ He said.
‘Well I was out with El, she’s still in Largo with everyone.’
‘it’s pronounced La’go, you know.’ He smirked at sunglasses girl & Co., and they smirked back.
‘Oh, well, you know what I mean like-‘
‘Lyra, Lyra, Lyra.’ He sang to the rhythm of his cigarette tracing the circumference of his ash tray.
‘You’re crazy doll.’
What am I actually supposed to say back to that?
‘Want a drink? I mean I’m going the bar, does anyone want anything?’
‘No, no. I’m Swell’
Sunglasses didn’t say no but she didn’t say yes. She just smirked at Richard and he smirked back. Then she laughed too loud.
If I had known this would have been the last time I saw Richard what would I have told him? To be young and to shut up? Probably. Only what I know now is that between the sleepless nights and angst under his eyes, and the bitten nails, the chapped lips and the laughing too loud, it all just hinted at how unhappy he was trying not to be. But I still couldn’t stand this version of him. I didn’t recognise him. Where was the Kid I’d tease for acting like he knew everything except to bring a jacket to feed the ducks with me in the middle of Winter? It would be freezing, but Richard was never cold. I was back there.
‘Okay, you’re just being dramatic now.’ He said.
‘You’re wearing about ten layers. And my jacket may I add!’
‘Well take it back then if you want to complain’
‘I don’t need it back, I’m not cold’
‘Sallie, you are my sunshine. How could I be cold?
I hid my smirk by burying my face into my scarf. Eventually my embarrassment was as apparent as my disinterest in the ducks.
‘Shut up!’ I Eventually spat out. Hitting him in the arm, well, tapping him really.
He popped his collar and strutted across the pond side, pouting, pretending he loved himself to death. He knew just when to break an uncomfortable silence, and just how much his dreadful impressions made me laugh.
‘Do I look like that guy from Arctic Monkeys?’
‘Hmm…’ I wondered playfully. ‘Closer to Danny from Grease try.’
He pretended now to be offended by my remark, as an excuse to chase me around the pond, hoping he’d be quick enough to catch me. He did. And he whispered something so quietly that I only knew he had spoken from his breath against the back of my neck.
‘What was that?’ I asked.
‘Nothing’. He kissed my cheek, and we walked home together. All the way I was trying my best to figure out what it was that he said.
It was only now that I know exactly what he said because I felt the same way too. I still do. Of course I fucking do. I’m in this bar I don’t even like just because I know he’d be here. Just to catch a glimpse of him. It was like that moment in all the films where the main character would have some massive realisation as a light shone down on them. Only here I realised, whilst underneath ultra-violent licks of the strobe lights at the bar that I loved him. I loved him, I loved him, I loved him. And I still love him. The only thing was that I couldn’t bring myself to like him. The crowd heaved and swayed while I grieved the loss of him. The loss of days before he called me doll and days before he was so doomed. I had to leave this place. Repulsed by the half empty cans. Repulsed by the laughing to loud. Repulsed by what they had done to Richard. He caught me in the nick of time to make my final glimpse of him the memory I would really cherish.
‘Again next Saturday?’ He smirked.
‘Maybe’ I smirked back. ‘I’ll think about it.’ I turned around, just about to walk away.
‘yes?’ I stopped. He hesitated.
‘You are my sunshine…’
He repeated this refrain as he turned and walked back through the crowd, back up to the courtyard and back up to the audience he left waiting, whilst I flagged a cab to take me home.
I really did consider ‘again next Saturday’ all the way home. Clenching onto my seatbelt as the cab took sharp left turns, I thought of how only he would notice how my knuckles would turn white when I was nervous like this. Or how I’d stare blankly out the window when I was scared. I wish a version of him was here with me to notice these things I do. But that was the last time I saw Richard. The last time anybody did.
It’s been a month since Richard Killed himself. Some say it was caused by a lethal combination of bash and melancholy. For others, another teenage suicide. For Heebies, a lost tip for the shot girl and irrelevance.
And ‘Again next Saturday’ is where I am at now. He asked me that a lifetime ago and still it feels like it was last week. The sticky floors irritated me each step I took towards the courtyard, eventually sitting at the table in the darkest corner of the yard, my chair strategically placed with its back to the wooden benches. I hid there behind a can of Red Stripe. It was undrinkable but as long as it disguised me with these mannequins in the courtyard, I would have drank a whole barrel of it. That’s exactly what they were to me now. Mannequins. No emotion. No identity. No voice and Certainly without compassion. I was so different though. I was his sunshine. A dreadful, inconsistent sunshine that couldn’t so much as beat down an antidote and restore him to the kid I grew up with. The laughing too loud interrupted my thoughts just as they were turning darker and darker. The sound wasn’t as frustrating now. Just incoherent.
‘Communism works on paper, but not in practise.’ I overheard from behind me in the courtyard, from the wooden bench that not so long ago was Richard’s podium. It seems the supporters of his politics however, had moved on to a new party to fund through the currency of ends of their fags and with laughing too loud. Turning back round I couldn’t help but notice someone I thought I knew. It was sunglasses girl. Complete with her strawberry slush and box of Marlboro, flicking her clipper lighter over and over again. Only tonight she sat as alone as I am. No laughing too loud, no smirking.
Things here moved on. The crowds still heaved and swayed. The boys still tried too hard. The girls still took themselves too seriously. Everything the same but I’d never be able to view anything the same again because Richard wasn’t here. And Richard was here every Saturday night.
I may not be able to be his sunshine any more but this bar was full of Richard’s who all needed their own source of light. Sunglasses girl could be hiding just as many sleepless nights and angst under her eyes from behind these spectacles. Sunglasses girl, that’s it! I don’t know where the courage came from when I saw the reflection of myself in her glasses staring up at me as I approached her. She moved them back off her face into her hair and rubbed her eyes apologetically -they prompted me to spit out the line I’d been rehearsing in my head for quite some time.
‘How about that drink I offered the other week?’ I smiled.
She offered up the seat next to her and smirked at me, sending me back to the last time I saw Richard. But for the first time I was comforted by such a memory since he left us. Everything felt quite alright for a while, but it couldn’t change the fact I’d never see him again. Richard was here every Saturday night, only now he is not. And for some reason, as I sat next to Rachael not exchanging a word, everything was suddenly okay.