art by Caroline Moore
Her tip glass is empty.
Maria; she has cold hands. She has hands begging for blood to return,
to wash back into the shore of her fingers. She dips back into the ice
sink. She carts the cubes into the glass. Her hands are trembling, trembling
jelly. Customer bastard says lay off the Charlie yeh? It’s not drugs you
stupid fucking chav, it’s the cold. But she doesn’t say it. She doesn’t.
She smiles at him, forced giggles out her nostrils. Alcohol, sugar soda,
stir, stir. A little serviette paper below the drink; routine, like sleep
One hundred and three, she tells him.
Customer bastard makes comedy face, says you having a laugh. Another
giggle; her eyes shifting between ugly mug and beautiful wallet. Please
pay with cash, please; she wishes for the papers of heaven. He brings out
cash, she can’t control her smile. He counts the money. She watches the
notes fall on the bar top. She counts. She keeps her hands, her wandering
fingers, herself, behind her back. She can’t control herself, her lips
curl back to be licked. Like Sesame Street, she counts along: eighty, ninety,
tip, tip, tip, tip. No tip. The crash. Customer bastard leaves perfect
change and slappable smile. She turns, sniffs once under the shadow of
her hair, loads up the till with notes and coins, notes and coins. Disappointment;
eyes are like stubborn children; they wander where they’re not supposed
to go. They wander to the tip glass, and her tip glass is empty.
Her tip glass has metal tender.
Customer bastard after customer bastard after customer bastard and
bitch. Her till says seventy seven transactions. Her tip glass says six
pounds. Her projection, the amount she would need to make in tips tonight
to keep her life together, was six hundred and fifty, excluding food. She
has done it before, many times before. Saturday nights long before she
has made more with her eyes closed. She knew how to wine and dine customer
bastards. She knew the right words to say, the right way to move. With
her eyes closed, she made miracles. On this Saturday night; it was all
going wrong. Her words were not smooth like new butter, rather stale, like
old bread. She had unbuttoned her top right down to the bra, but
customer bastards weren’t looking. Flattery, singing, jokes, discounts
on the cocaine dispenser, flashing, licking; all amounted to six flimsy
sculptures of the King’s head. Happy hour ended at seven and she had made
nothing during that time. Those with cash were with drinks and weren’t
buying any more. Lovely Dee was doing majestic business with his Es. Lisa
had a full tip glass. The only one it seemed having a terrible night, was
her. When she really needed the money.
Minutes crawled on their bellies. The music chewed the ears; they refused
to be blocked out or enjoyed, that terrible dance stuff. Customer bastards,
glass red eyed, soaped on lovely Dee’s Es, didn’t want alcohol; they used
her for water pints. The time was 11:15. The body kept working, her mind
desperate for a plan B. she cannot pay the rent on six pounds. She
cannot borrow cash from anyone; Lisa was not her friend anymore, she still
owed her neighbors, and mother was dead.
A popular song; the crowd applauds.
Customer bastard and bitch comes up to the bar, wants a single shot
of Smirnoff neat. Cheapo. His bitch’s wearing her black eye with pride,
gives Maria a I-got-a-man-what-you-got Look. She wants to bust out a laugh,
point at the swollen circle and giggle till morn. But she doesn’t. She
shrugs. She wants, needs him to pay cash. Glass, Smirnoff. Bastard changes
mind, wants ice. Cold, cold fingers, no more blood, dip into the ice sink.
She fixes her smile in place before she raises her head above the bar.
White serviette, drink. Bitch wants a beer. Maria’s opens mouth to complain.
Customer bastard launches slap on bitch, takes drink off bar and places
credit finger on top of the bar scanner. A short, depressing beep accepts
payment. Customer bastard pulls bitch to dance floor. Maria’s lip speaks
with no support from the tongue:
Wanker; cheapo credit whore.
She could always love the landlord a couple of the days, but she was
still on her AIDS medication, and he knew that; he had given it to her.
He wouldn’t want to fuck her now; it’s such a bastard to get rid of. Maybe
she could love his dick instead? Maybe she could psyche him into it, into
letting her off for another week; he always says she’s his favourite. Now
that she believed anything that fat, balding, ugly, leeching little piece
of… fuck! Hopes bubbles away; his wife was in town. He would kick her out
in a heartbeat.
Oi! Doll-face, hurry up with the fucking drink.
Eight more customer bastards pay with credit finger. She worries.
A miracle; two hundred and fifty. Hope bubbles up.
Armored bouncers were on their shift, kicking out the overdosed puking
about or fighting or falling without a pulse to get up with. The janitor-machines
did the cleaning, the dance floor is empty. More customer bastards are
let in to plug the holes. Fresh, new, money/drug eager bastards. One of
them turns out to be a regular. Oh does she thank her gods! She’s on him
like a persistent little fly; smiling, dancing, winking, flirting. She’s
desperate, he’s loaded. One happy time after, she’s halfway to salvation.
Two fifty, in thirty minutes. Her tip glass isn’t an ugly beast anymore.
It’s not yet a beauty, but at this rate she will pull out. She relaxes.
The tension fucks off. Confidence is like an old friend; she on a roll.
Ten pounds, twenty, thirty. Three hundred and ten already. Lesbian bitches
tipped her, even lesbian bitches. Definitely on a roll. She lets herself
fall into a forbidden dream; she could pull it off. She keeps on she’ll
be safe for this week. And after that no more smoking, no more pills. Not
til she stabilizes her finances. She smiles. She’s overjoyed, dancing to
the music even. Giving compliments for no reason, serving everyone. Everyone’s
happy, everyone’s tipping. It seems so easy this, making tips. Like breathing.
Four hundred. Four hundred already! She’s almost there. More customer bastards!
More, more, more!
Regular’s gone off with some bitch, she worries, but lets it go. She’s
on a roll, with or without him. She can pull it off. She notices new customer
bastard, one of the club patrons; old man in rich young suit with old bitch
in lion fur. Cute. They’re on Lisa’s station, and she isn’t there. Maria
helps herself. Hey gorgeous, she says. The old bitch stares her down. She
wishes she never said that.
The man says, can I have a glass of champagne for the lady. Old, smoked
out voice he had.
Yes sir, she says, and what about you?
He halves his eye, scopes the bottles behind her. She gives way so
he can see. His eyebrow bends into a curve. He says, Bombay Sapphire and
Yes sir, she replies. She bends over. Fingers launch at the ice sink.
She doesn’t mind anymore.
Oh, he adds, can I have green eye with it?
She freezes, the ice bites her. She looks up. An eye sir?
A green eye, dear, says his bitch.
For a moment she cannot move, cannot think. She pulls herself together;
it’s just a garnish, it’s just a garnish; she repeats the mantra in her
head as she turns around, the one they taught her in training. She opens
the fridge. No eyes. Fuck. Nearby fridges are clean of eyes. This looks
bad. She looks back at the old customer bastard, and he is watching her.
She knows she has to leave the bar, but that will mean the loss of her
vibe. The customers will change. Her space will feel cold and unfriendly.
The music will be different. She can’t leave the bar now! She’s in a roll!
She was going to make it! Why of all times now?
Lisa returns, just in time. That bitch, she must have planned
everything, to fuck off her vibe. She knew the old bastard wanted an eye
so she left when she wasn’t looking so she takes the order and has to go
to the wash-up to get the cellar manager, leaving the bar and losing her
vibe. She wants to shoot Lisa down with her look. Lisa serves other customers,
ignoring the old bastard and his bitch. She smiles at Maria for a moment,
just so Maria knew she’s been purposely fucked over. Four hundred, and
now she has to leave the bar. She shuts her eyes; she needs another miracle.
When her eyes open, she’s pulled herself together and ties down all the
pieces of her mind with a tiny string of hope. She’ll just go ask the cellar
manager to send her some. She’ll be back in no time. She can still pull
this off. No big deal. She says We’re out of eyes, sir. I’ll have to go
get another one. It’ll take about ten to thirty minutes; do you mind?
Please say no. please say no. please say no.
He says, I don’t mind.
She leaves the bar.
Worst fears never come without a party; she calls the cellar
manager from the phone in the wash-up at the end of the bar, and he has
no eyes left. At first she felt it meant one disappointed customer, her
returning to the bar. But then she bumped into the bar manager. Did you
call Tolik, asks Brian.
You’re serving Lussen, yeh?
The old man in the suit?
Oh. Oh shit, she thinks. Yeah I am.
Did you call Tolik, see if we have any eyes in?
We don’t have any in. Can I go back to the bar?
No. Go upstairs, get your coat on.
What? Words, like rain, wash away dreams. Where… why …
where am I going?
To Soho. I’ll give you the address.
The shivers inside, her ribs boogie and she’s not even cold.
But… can’t we order some more or some-
Hang on, he says, let me make a call.
Minutes. Valuable tip making minutes flying by. She looks at
the bar; there’s a customer rush, and she’s not there. She’s not there.
Fuck. She looks at the time. Two. Fuck. Two hours left. The door busts
open. Customer bitch falls into the wash-up leading a flood of music, drops
to the floor.
Blood trickles out every hole. Her face and hair soaked in seconds.
Bouncers move in, move her. She chokes while on top of a muscled shoulder,
green eyes glistening. Maria forgets her troubles to sneer; fucking cokies.
Fucking cokies. Brian is back.
Our contact has run out of eyes, he says. He has something wrapped
in a red cloth, he’s giving it to her.
What’s this? She takes it. She opens it. A knife. No, no, no.
I told Luke I don’t this shit okay? I don’t-.
I’m not asking you, I’m telling you.
For fuck’s sake man, how am I supposed to-
Use your initiative bitch. Get out there or get out.
She gets out. Upstairs. Staff room. Coat. Jeans. Pills. Gas mask.
Travelcard. Petroleum jelly. Fuck! Fuck! FUCK! Tears. Sniff. Breathe out.
She can do it, she can. Petroleum jelly on skin. Pills. She goes out the
There are bodies piled on the side of the club, waiting for the
morgue bus. Maria can’t believe her luck. On the top of the body mole-hill
was cokie customer bitch, coughing white foam out her mouth with her head
upside down. Green eyes, bright green, the best kind. Maria bites lip.
She looks at the bouncers. They shake their head. What? She looks a those
juicy eyes, calling for plucking.
Why not? She asks.
Them druggies you bitch, you wanna get this place closed down, passing
druggie eyes without customer consent?
She stews. She wants to blow their heads off with her looks.
It doesn’t work. She walks to the bus station.
Attention all passengers on bus 38. We are now approaching Tottenham
court road station. Please put on your masks now.
Maria isn’t listening. She’s watching everyone on the bus. The
rubber hilt of the knife burns her skin, she’s holding too tight. She needs
to get back, she needs to get back on the bar. She only has an hour left
before closing time. Two hundred more, she can do it. One green eye. Who
has green eyes? Her eyes begin to sting, she can taste, see the smog. Oh
shit! She wears the mask. There’s no way she can see them now. Fuck.She
hides the knife. Couldn’t do it on a bus anyway. Gets off at Shaftsbury
And she stands at the bus stop. The bus goes off, there’s nobody,
no bodies in sight. She’s never done this before. Fuck what does she do
now? No idea. It’s freezing. She hates Soho. Too many fucking cokies, and
there’s nobody now. Running out of options. Doesn’t even know where to
start. Maybe someone’s selling eyes here? Tears. Breath. Her mask’s getting
fogged up. She looks at the watch. 2:30. Shit. Pills kicking in; no adrenaline,
no happiness, no fuckness going on inside her, so the drugs heighten her
desperation. She cries. It’s quiet. No buses in sight.
Hello there, love. You alright?
Maria turns around. Old woman. Seventy, by the looks of the fingers.
Gas mask too big so there’s cello-tape about the neck. One of the filters
on the gas mask’s got a cigarette on it, which is a cool idea. Five foot
something, thin blond hair.
You alright love?
And the greenest eyes.
Maria plucked out the knife stabbed the woman through the mask
into the head took out the knife stabbed into the cello-tape neck she gurgles
smoke comes out took out the knife into the tummy out the tummy in the
tummy out the tummy the woman screams the woman falls Maria falls in the
chest out the chest woman screams in the chest out the chest the woman
screams Maria screams in the chest out the chest Maria screams Maria screams
Bright light showers over her, only her. She thinks it’s the moon,
but it’s really a searchlight on a helicopter. She screams at it anyway.
She throws her anger at it. It speaks back to her, via gamma phone.
The lights goes away.
Maria is in work clothes. The bath was cold, she shivers. She
goes through her normal clothes, dips her hands in her pocket. Something
squishy. Oh fuck. She must have sat on one of the eyes. Fuck. One more
eye left. She walks downstairs. She must blow the landlord. With four hundred
and a good trouser clean he’s sure to let her for the week.
Brian catches her before she gets on. Did you get it?
I sat on one.
What? God, you stupid cunt. Where’s the other one?
She gives it to him by the vein on its back. He picks it, looks,
and shakes his head. I cannot believe you. I cannot believe you. You fucking
What? What did I do now?
Do you know what colour these eyes are?
Wha? What do you…? She looks again. Worst fears never come
without a party; blue eyes. Speechless.
Brian says fucking useless. Storms off with the eye. Maria sees
the world through smudged lens. Her mascara crumbles into rivers on her
face. Brian returns. Fucking useless, he says. One hand is the eye; the
other is a contact lens. He fastens it onto the eye, and voila! Blue eye
is green. Don’t stir the drink yeh? Don’t fucking stir the drink. Now off
Customers shooed or tossed out. Machines work faster on the empty dance
floor. Lisa and the rest of the girls count their tips. Maria drops the
eye into the rock glass. Almost, almost stirs, her mind is broken. White
serviette. Drink. Sorry it took so long sir.
It’s okay. One hand ushers credit finger, the other picks out the eye
and gulps. Customer bitch hisses, Maria turns, hides under the shadow of
Customer bitch has an open purse. She pushes bastard’s credit finger
away from the bar, gives Maria five thousand.
Ma’am, you… you don’t have to pay
Don’t be silly, girl. Take the money.
The manager said
He said. I insist.
Maria wants to kill this woman. It’s only four hundred and twenty
Then keep the change.
Keep the change. The club must have gone dead silent. Lisa, girls,
bouncers turn to look. Keep the change. The words chop her apart with their
delivery, like rhythm in poetry. Four thousand, four hundred and
eighty. She cannot begin to imagine what she no longer has to do to live
with a roof under her head. The debts she can settle. The flowers she could
buy for mother’s grave. The clothes. The shoes. The food. Real food. The
drugs. Real, un-recycled drugs. Un-recycled pills. The Stuff. She
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