by Janet Howson
two vodka and blackcurrants
“I think Stacey from our drama group told me a while back but she said it was really crowded and they water the drinks down. Worth a punt though. What do you reckon?” Annie felt a bit doubtful but she could see Debbie was keen.
“I’m up for it. We could get a taxi there and back and if the other two want to join us that’ll cut the cost down a bit. I’ll give them a ring and let you know.”
Annie finished the text and pressed send.
“Sorry had to answer that message. Yes that is fine. Next Tuesday it is then.”
So that is how Annie, Debbie, Sue and Jan find themselves in the hot, stuffy, throbbing bar and dance floor of the infamous Cinders. The cab driver had said they would need a crowbar to prise themselves out of there at the end of the evening but he would be waiting for them at 12 a.m. at the entrance to the car park. “Watch yourselves, girls. Keep safe, ” he shouted after them whilst lighting a cigarette before returning to the cab offices.
“I’ll get the drinks in, if I can get anywhere near the bar,” Sue shouted above the noise of the very loud music and the general hub bub of conversations and singing. She then disappeared out of sight.
“I’ll come with you and help you carry them, Sue,” Jan called after Sue’s retreating back. She too disappeared, leaving Debbie and Annie shoulder to shoulder trying desperately to find a slight gap in the throngs on the small disco floor to slide in and attempt to shuffle around in imitation of dancing as to dance properly would be impossible.
“Over here, Debs,” Annie had found a handkerchief of a corner to stand her ground in, looking defiantly at a couple of women who had the same idea. Debbie pushed her way through and joined her.
“I didn’t for a minute think it would be this bad. Sorry about this, Annie, it was my idea.”
“Don’t be silly. It was free and it’s better than sitting at home watching the bleeding telly all night,” Annie replied attempting a few limited dance steps, knocking a few people out of the way as she did it.
“’Ere, where the ‘ell do you think you are? On Strictly Come Dancing? Mind where you’re shoving your elbows.”
This was red rag to a bull and Annie reared up to her full height, “Shame you have to take up so much bleeding room then isn’t it?”
“You calling me fat?
“I didn’t call you anything,” Annie replied, continuing with her limited dancing in front of a worried looking Debbie who had witnessed Annie on several other similar occasions. “But if the cap fits.”
Just at this point, Sue, who had pushed her way through the crowds with two drinks held above her head and Jan following as close as she could get transporting the other two Vodka and Cranberries, found Debbie and Annie.
“Sorry we were so long. It was like World War Two getting to the bar then ages to get served once you were there. You need to be built like a wrestler and seven foot tall to get noticed.
At this point the woman confronting Annie disappeared into the crowds as she realised four to one was a poor ratio.
“Thanks, Sue, I could do with this. Good thing that silly cow moved away, my drink might have gone straight over her head!”
What have you been you been up to?” Jan queried.
“You don’t want to know. Right lets drink and dance and enjoy a night out without the fellers.”
All four of them holding tightly on to their drinks, handbags across their chests determined to make the best of a bad situation moving backwards and forwards in their claimed space. The lighting was hypnotic as it flashed to the beat of the track and soon they had forgotten about their limited space and were giving it all they had got, downing their drinks at speed so their hands were free. Jan had drawn the short straw in finding somewhere to deposit the glasses and they thought they had lost her but she returned, breathless.
“Gave them to a feller who looked like he worked here. He said he wasn’t a waiter but he would take them anyway if I would dance with him. Fat chance of that. He had jug handle ears and you could play join the dots with his acne. I just said I couldn’t hear what he was saying and got away.”
“Average age here looks about fifty as far as I can make out. A lot of saddos looking for a night off from their husbands and wives. A bit on the side for an evening,” Debbie shouted above the noise.
“I heard they disappear into the car park for a quickie and return looking a bit worse for wear. Talk about desperate. Can you imagine doing that? Where’s their pride?” Sue replied.
“OMG look at him!” Annie pointed at a middle-aged man gyrating his hips and flinging his arms into the air in an attempt to keep in time with the beat of the music whilst struggling to even stay on his feet as he obviously had drunk too much. “He can’t have got drunk here the drinks are so watered down you could bottle feed a baby with it.”
At that moment, he fell over on top of the young woman he was trying to impress, bringing them both down in a heap along with several other couples standing very close to them. The result was mayhem. Shrieks of laughter from everyone still on their feet and screams from those who had tumbled. The young woman was trying to make herself decent as her short leather skirt had risen even shorter and the drunk partner was out like a light, face down on the floor unaware of the commotion he had caused. The other unfortunate victims were trying to stand up and restore their dignity with little success.
“I hope someone videoed that. It would go viral,” Debbie shouted between gales of laughter.
“Serves him right though, silly git, dancing like a moron at his age,” Annie replied literally crying with laughter and wiping tears from her eyes. “I think we could do with another vodka after that. My turn. Coming with me Debs?”
Leaving Sue and Jan behind, they pushed their way past the security guards who were dragging the comatose man off the dance floor towards the exit
“Love to be a fly on the wall when he gets home to his wife. I wonder where he told her he was going. A quiet drink with his mates down the local?”
“I dread to think. I don’t even know how he will manage to get home. I mean, Annie, What cab driver would take him home in that state. He’d probably puke all over the upholstery.”
The two of them laughing eventually reached the outskirts of the large pushing crowd around the bar. They couldn’t even see the bar staff as both of them were only about five foot four and that was in high heels. After ten minutes of not moving forward at all, Annie shouted to Debs, “This is hopeless. Come on, elbows out, lets force our way to the front. People are getting served before us just because they can be seen. Ready?” Annie led the way with Debs close behind. They had spent their teenage years in bars in the East End, much rougher and tougher than Cinders. They were not going to be ignored.
“This is just not working, Debs. The sods won’t move out of the way. Perhaps if I shout ‘fire’ everyone will run outside and we might get somewhere near the drinks!”
“Can I help you two beautiful Ladies?”
Annie turned her head round to see an Adonis of a man smiling down at her. He was tall, bronzed, with neatly cut hair and the most piercing blue eyes that she had ever come across. How ridiculous, thirty six and she felt like a love struck teenager.
At first she was lost for words then she took charge of the situation. “You could try and get the barman’s attention. He can’t even see us but you are tall. I would be really grateful. We want four vodka and cranberries, here’s the money.” She passed the notes to him, aware that Debbie was watching the situation with interest. Too much interest. She was always the one the men fell for with her Marianne Monroe looks, blonde hair and lovely figure. It was like watching bees around a honey pot whenever they went out. Sue, Jan and herself always ended up with whoever was left as Debbie always got the ‘good looker’. Not this time though. He spoke to her first; he was her conquest.
“Let me buy these,” he said handing Annie back the money ignoring her protests. “It would be a pleasure to have a drink with you. Are you with anyone?”
“No, girls night out,” Debbie responded, before Annie had drawn breath. She frowned at her friend. She was not going to allow her to muscle in on this.
“We do it every now and again. The other two are on the dance floor but I would love a drink and a chat with you,” she smiled at him moving into a position where she partially obscured Debbie with her body. “Debs can take the drinks back to the others on a tray, can’t you Debs?” This was not a question it was an instruction.
“Oh, okay then,” Debbie replied petulantly.
They watched as Adonis easily obtained the drinks, buying himself a whisky. The drinks were duly placed on a tray, without Annie’s who held on to hers, and Debbie disappeared, not too happily into the crowds, leaving the remaining two to struggle to find a space to talk and be heard.
“I am James, by the way, and you are?”
“Annie, Thanks for the drinks, you didn’t need to do that. It was my turn to buy the round.”
“No problem, anything to be able to get away from the pushing and shoving and have a decent conversation with a lovely lady like yourself.”
Annie felt herself go hot. Could be the alcohol or it could just be his charm. She changed the subject. “So what do you do for a living?”
Adam took a sip of his whisky. “I am an air pilot. I work for British Airways. What about you?”
Annie took a minute to get over the staggering news he was a pilot. She had always had loved men in uniforms. Her Scott was an electrician. Really useful when the electrics went wrong, but it was hardly a glamorous job. Thinking of Scott made her feel guilty. Oh it was only a bit of fun. String them along like Debbie did then just give them a wrong number at the end of the evening.
“Oh, I just do a couple of days in a bank. I can walk there and it goes towards the holidays. I expect you get to go all round the world, James. What a great job. I love travel.”
“I only tend to see the inside of the airport, so it isn’t really that great. I love flying though. I was a Biggles fan as a child.”
“Are you working tomorrow?” Annie swerved as bodies pushed back and forth to and from the bar.
“I have to be at Heathrow by two a.m. for an early flight to Sidney. I will have to leave here as soon as it finishes at midnight. How are you getting home?”
“Oh we’ve got a cab. Blow the expense. It means we can all drink. Hey, talking of which, let me buy the next round. It's my turn. Whisky was it? Annie pulled out her purse and handed Scott a note.” It will be easier if you get it though, I will never get to the bar. While you do that I will pay a visit.”
Annie pushed her way back through the crowds towards the toilets. There was the usual long queue and she spotted Jan near the front. She shot down to where Jan was standing, reading her texts. “Thanks for saving my place, Jan. ” Annie pushed in beside her. “Good thing you did. I would have been here all night”
“You cheeky mare. Good thing I know you so well. You owe me one. Here, who is the feller? Debbie said you literally knocked her out of the way so you could have him to yourself.”
“He’s called James and he’s an airline pilot.”
“You are having a laugh. Not the usual clientele they have here. Trust you to meet a pilot, wow.”
“He’s got a flight at two a.m. so he’s got to leave at exactly midnight.”
“Or his dress turns back into rags and he drops a golden slipper?” Jan laughed. “Very appropriate as we are in Cinders.”
At that point Jan had reached the front of the queue and dashed into an empty cubicle. Annie was soon in another one. By the time she came out Jan had gone back to the dance floor so she washed her hands and wound her way back to James who was standing with a tray of drinks, talking to a young bloke with a shaven head, earring and a plethora of tattoos. Scott spotted her and said something to the man who turned around, smiled and disappeared towards the bar.
“Got your friend’s drinks but I didn’t know where they were. I can try and find them if you like?”
Annie had images of Debs chatting Scott up and probably succeeding with her looks and personality. “No problem, I’ll quickly find them and come back. Don’t move or I’ll never find you.”
She wound her way back, her ears were hurting by now, because of the volume of the music. She also felt too hot even though all she was wearing was her ‘little black number’ that was sleeveless and short.
“Annie, over here,” Debbie’s voice could be heard over the din. She had excellent voice projection, probably why she was so good in the drama group. She had got the role of Puck in their next production, “Midsummer Night’s Dream”, which she was very pleased about. Annie, drinks held high found the other three girls.
“Traitor,” Debbie joked, “leaving us all evening to fend for ourselves. What’s this Jan has been telling us about you finding a pilot? Come on fill us in, I want to know all the facts.”
“Nothing to tell, it’s just a bit of fun. He’s off at midnight for a flight at two am to Australia. I don’t know how he does it.”
“I assume he isn’t drinking,” Sue threw in.
Annie hadn’t really thought about this. “He’s had a couple of whiskeys. I suppose he knows what he can allow himself. Anyway, got to get back, girls, I will see you outside at midnight for the cab.”
As Annie made her way back to James, the other girls looked worried. “No way that bloke is a pilot,” Sue commented. “How could he possibly drink all night in this atmosphere, then rush off to Heathrow for a flight? I hope she is going to be all right. Better keep an eye out for her.”
“Oh she’s as tough as old boots. She will be fine,” Debbie replied, “and he is hot. Fancy him myself with apologies to Tommy, who knows I would never leave him and the kids. Same as Annie with Scott.”
Annie didn’t hear any of this and found James who was just accepting another whisky from the man with the tattoos. Thinking about what Sue had just said she wondered if she should question him about it. No, it was nothing to do with her how much he drank.
“Ah, you are back, looking even more beautiful than when you left.” Annie noticed he was slurring his words a bit. “Can I take your mobile number so I can contact you when I get back from Australia?”
As if on auto pilot Annie told him her number as he wrote it down on the back of his hand in biro. She realised immediately that she had broken her own unwritten rule which was to give a false number. This felt very different though. Perhaps she would just see him the once and then that would be it.
“Better still, why don’t we meet up tomorrow and you can bring one of your friends and I will bring a friend of mine. Should be a good evening. I’ll text you as to where. Probably better go now. Duty call.,” He bent down and kissed her lightly on the cheek. Annie felt her knees grow weak.
“Have a good flight. I’ll ask Debs to come with us. See you tomorrow.”
Annie found the others. They were getting ready to leave and find the cab in the car park. Annie pulled Debbie to one side. He wants to meet up again tomorrow and asked if I could bring a friend. He's wonderful, Debs. It is only a laugh, one night out and that will be it.”
Debbie stopped in her tracks. “Hold on a minute. Didn’t you say he was flying to Australia?
“Yes, two a.m. flight to Sydney.”
“Annie, it takes over 20 hours to fly to Australia and the same back. How can he meet us tomorrow? Are you sure he really is a pilot?”
Annie felt sick. Of course. She had been such a fool. Falling for his charm and good looks she hadn’t taken notice of everything that didn’t add up. The drinking, the impossible task of getting to Heathrow and preparing for a flight after leaving the club at midnight and then the date for tomorrow which he would never make if he had flown to Australia. She felt angry.
“Right. We’ll meet him and his so called mate, if he isn’t made up, tomorrow and I’ll give him a piece of my mind. He will regret ever messing about with me. Come on, our cab awaits.”
As they left Cinders to find the others and the lift home, Debbie wondered if Annie had realised that it was the final dress rehearsal for ’Midsummer Night’s Dream’ tomorrow. Oh well, surely someone could read in for them She wouldn’t miss the confrontation of Annie and James for the world.
About the Author
Janet taught Drama and English for 35 years in several Comprehensive schools, directing a lot of plays, some of which she wrote herself. She was spurred to start writing again when she found a folder of forgotten poetry she had written years ago. She is now enjoying writing short stories and is honoured to have been chosen to be published in The Best of CafeLit and also Nativity a Bridge House publication. Her first published book Charitable Thoughts is now out at last and available on Amazon Books.
Links to previous episodes:https://cafelitcreativecafe.blogspot.com/2019/11/episode-one-shirley-finch.html