Continuing our series of short stories set in, or influenced by, London. This week, Yoel Noorali offers a slightly surreal, slightly sweary adult tale of naughtiness and number-play.
Despite never showing an interest in natural disasters, of any variety, my mum decided to buy me the Big Book of Natural Disasters for Christmas. Maybe she was trying to make a snide comment about my life. I figured that since I got it, I might as well use it. “That’ll be £11.38.” 1138, The Aleppo Earthquake kills 230,000 in Syria.
I’ve taken to playing a game at the Deptford corner-shop I work at where I look up and try to memorise a natural disaster, and the number of associated fatalities, which occurred in the year that the customer’s price resembles. I’ve memorised most of it already.
A girl, maybe 20 years-old walks in and heads to the magazine rack. She’s short and blonde and dresses like she’s going to a hipster-funeral. She’s sexy. She reaches up to the top shelf, grabs a copy of Buttman and comes to the till.
“How much is this?”
1530, St Felix’s Flood in the Netherlands kills 100,000.
“Fuck, why is it so expensive?”
“It comes with two DVDs.”
“Oh, OK. I’ll take it.”
A girl’s never bought porn in here and I can’t resist asking her about it.
“Are you…into this?”
“Why the Hell else would I be buying it?”
I feel stupid for asking. There’s a pause and for the first time in my life I’m the one who feels embarrassed in the money-for-porn exchange.
“Isn’t this, like, a shopkeeper faux pas?”
“Asking someone about the porn they’re buying?”
“Yeah, I guess. Sorry it’s just women never buy this stuff… Don’t you find it a little degrading?”
“I’ve seen worse.”
“Can I flick through it? Unless you’ve got somewhere to be or something?”
She doesn’t and she’s happy to sit with me and take me through the magazine as my shift draws to a close. I learn that she’s 20, a year younger than me, that her name’s Charlie, that she doesn’t own a laptop and that while that’s the case, she masturbates to this sort of thing, preferring it to using the Internet on the family computer, for obvious reasons. She’s polite; she hides the magazine and stops talking about it when customers enter. Eventually she asks me if we can talk about something besides porn.
“What ya up to tonight?”
“Well, I’m going to see Burial play at XOYO. Ya like Burial?”
She looks so disgusted.
“You don’t like Buttman, you don’t like Burial, what do you like?”
“Ya know Leonard Cohen?”
“Yeah, think so. It’s a boutique store in Shoreditch right?”
“Sure. I get all my clothes there.”
I don’t know if she realises that I’m being sarcastic but I don’t bother to confirm as I’d really like to have sex with her and I’m worried that if I explain who Leonard Cohen is she’ll think that I’m the type to have an iTunes playlist called ‘Pensive’. I’m not.
Soon enough she asks me if I want to go to Burial with her. She’s got an extra ticket and explains just how lucky I am to be offered it; Burial hasn’t played live before; he’s never even been seen before.
“Doesn’t that mean it’ll be like watching an amateur?”
“Do you wanna come or not?”
“Who are you going with?”
“My friend Bianca. She’s cool. She writes for Vice.”
I agree to go with her. When my shift ends at about 9pm I ask my boss, who comes in to take over, if I can write him an I.O.U. for a few cans for Charlie and I. “Christ, again Joel? Might as well write the thing in ice.”
“Thanks. I’ll leave it on the radiator for you.”
We open our first cans of Red Stripe, walk to New Cross and get the overground from there to Shoreditch. We drink our second on the train, and third in the queue.
Everyone inside the place looks like bums from the future. After looking at all the intensely serious faces in the room I’m amazed at how so few people seem to be enjoying the drugs they’ve taken. Burial’s wearing a white mask and a hoodie. We find Charlie’s friend, the Vice writer, and the way I’m dancing has me concerned over whether I’ll crop up in their Don’t section tomorrow morning. Bianca shouts at me,
“WHAT DO YOU THINK?”
I’d rather pay to watch a boxing match between Mike Tyson and my cock than listen to this esoteric bullshit.
I go to buy us all cans of Red Stripe.
1650, Kolumbo Volcano erupts in the Aegean Sea and kills 70 people. I pay her and leave the bar.
The night’s not so bad after that can. I’m not drunk but I’m loose enough to enjoy myself, and even the music I assumed I’d hate. Charlie takes my hand and pulls me down to her height and we kiss for a while.
Burial finishes and we leave the place. Bianca says we can share the sofa at her flat, which is only round the corner.
“Don’t fuck on it.”
The cobbled ground that leads to the front door has thousands of tiny shards of glass over it, from broken bottles I guess, and they sparkle as they reflect the streetlights. Charlie describes it as “urban beauty”, which is a really stupid thing to say, but combined with Burial still echoing round my drunk skull, I had to admit, to myself anyway, that the light in the cobbles was a little beautiful.
I guess part of Burial’s appeal is that mystery surrounding what you’re enjoying; he’s faceless, and London’s the same; God knows it’s a real dark place that I don’t get a lot of the time, but there’s an ineffable quality about it that makes me enjoy it. That ineffable quality, and the fact that I just fucked Charlie on the sofa; that’s why London’s alright.
We’re still looking for London short fiction stories. Please continue to send submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Entries must be no more than 1,000 words, and must be set in London, or strongly inspired by the city. Full details here.
Previously in this series
- Amelie: Narges Rashidi considers the interactions of three people on a District Line tube.
- Shelter Drawings: Stuart Snelson’s tale of a mysterious Circle Line artist.
- Tracks and Albums: Richard Lakin attracts the attentions of the British Transport Police.
- Seeing Red: Anthony Fitzgerald on the woes of a cab driver.
- Instant Karma on the 263 to North Finchley: one seat left on the bus. Next to you. Raving drunk gets on. By Ronnie Capaldi.
- Two Four Eight: Lance V Ramsay envisions an Orwellian dystopia in the lingo of future London.
- Old Nichol: Jill Fricker evokes the woes of the old East End.
- Clissar: Grazia Brunello dips into the future of north London, through a glass darkly.
- Harvest Festival: A spooky Halloween tale in the London suburbs by Helen Craig.
- Ordinary Days in London: Madelaine Hills on a Docklands disturbance.
- Bishopsgate: Oliver Zarandi visits the site of a bomb.
- The Perfect Gift: A Christmas fairytale in which London’s statues come to life, by Katherine Wheston.
- The City Inside: Tom Butler has some curious metropolitan anatomy.
- Jazz Code and the Tube: The ambivalence of dating, by Jenny Mackenzie.
- A Free Man: Melanie White’s flash fiction piece considers a recently single guy at a bachelor party.
- Clean Living London: Ursula Dewey rolls her sleeves up for some housework.
- Swipe Right: Does Tinder have the answers? By Heidi Scherz
- The Writer and the Dancer: Close encounter at a flat party by Vincent Wood.
- St Peter’s Gate, Knightsbridge: A nocturnal romance at closing time, by Theo Klay
- First: A romance begins inside a London gay club. By Lance Middleton.
- Compatibility: Stephen Lynch conjures the awkwardness of flat hunting.
- An Extract From the Diary of Kay Richardson, Actor: The surreal tribulations of a washed-up London thesp, by Tom Mitchell.
- The Further Adventures of Kay Richardson, Actor: More from the feckless thesp, by Tom Mitchell.
- You Were Not In When We Called: A Christmas tale from Megan Toogood.
- The Do: Alan Fisher gets party phobia.