Showers of Neon
“You wanna know what the problem with people is?” the guy yelled.
He rubbed the side of his nose with a soggy fingertip and squinted in my direction. The scratchy beat thundered on in the background and I stopped wiping the puddles of vodka, sparkling like little pools of poison around the bar. The lights were pulsing, breathing around us, dyeing the pools purple, yellow, then blue. This guy had the same vodka running down his ugly mustard polo, the spill so fresh it still beaded on the fabric. I thought that he may not be the wisest judge of the problem with people. Still, I was a person myself, so I raised my eyebrows; listened intently.
“Money,” He stated simply. “It’s the only reason you have people in here, you know.”
I sort of agreed with the proposal. I was bound at the wrist by student debt, and chained to this endless cycle of pouring, wiping, and pouring. Money was the only reason I needed to be listening to drunk, mustard polo shirts.
“And hesitation,” he added. “Everyone is just…like…caught up in their own bloody worlds and never see what good stuff is right in front of ‘em. Poke ‘em with the opportunity to have something great and they leave it without a single worry, but if ya wag a fat stack of cash, they flock like bloody pigeons!”
He raised the tiny glass up to his wrinkled lips and swung his head back, draining the contents. The liquid trailed down the sides of his jaw, sinking into his darkened collar, and he groaned at his own inexactness. I chuckled; handed him a wad of brown paper napkins. I couldn’t quite blame him. After all, it was a very exact sort of performance, taking a shot. I could never grasp the grace of it either.
The guy gestured for another. I poured. The sharp scent of spirits emerged from the bottle, burning the air around us. This place always seemed to possess its own atmosphere. Singed breaths escaped their bottled prisons or leapt out of blackened lungs between lines of electronica. I’ve always said that entering a club was like allowing yourself to be sucked into a portal. Wherever you emerged after you walked through those scarlet doors was a different world. A place brimming with its own air, and basking in its own suns. The people were like aliens, too. Mustard Polo was nothing special, after all.
The dancefloor, planted directly in front of the bar, was teeming with bodies; gyrating, glittering bodies wrapped in ribbons of sweat. They swung to the rabid bassline, tapped fake leather heels to vague melodies. They weren’t paying any particular attention to each other. Their eyes were focused elsewhere; on the spinning hexagons of light dotting the dancefloor, or the faint vomit stain on the carpet beneath the bar that I could never quite get rid of. Towards the front of the horde, a green polo wrapped a glistening bicep around the shoulder of a black jumpsuit, and the two overlapped. I scoffed, unsurprised. After all, this was a place where people came to overlap, to buzz and bathe in showers of neon light. To forget that a reality of rejection, and chunks of regret, existed right outside those crimson doors. To find others that needed to forget and…overlap.
I turned back to the guy. He was slumped over the counter, clutching the half-empty shot glass limply. Security was absent, so I flicked droplets of vodka in his direction. He didn’t stir. I left him; figured he would be kicked out sooner or later. That was a pretty big rule here: no sleeping allowed, just in case you happened to dream of someplace better. A lump of muscle and bleached hair was in charge of the process. He had one of those absent faces that you can never quite recall properly, but his grip was memorable. He had a thing for dragging. I think he just liked the drama of it. If Mustard Polo wanted to become part of that presentation, it was fine by me. The alcohol numbs the pain of it anyway. It always does.
I rubbed my palm over my temples and approached a woman further down the bar. She wore a tight, navy dress that snaked around her figure, constricting her thighs in the shiny fabric. Her fingertips stroked the wooden counter as though she could bring it back to life.
“Sorry for the wait. What can I get you?” I leaned forward.
Her lips parted and stretched into sly grin.
“Money, huh? And just when I thought I had beaten capitalism, too.”
I paused. Shuffled in my old, white Skechers. My lips curled at the edges.
“He had quite an interesting theory,” I said.
The girl shook her head carefully. Her hoop earrings glittered and danced around her neck.
“I make a habit out of ignoring theories in clubs. Especially from people as apocalyptic as that guy.”
“Yeah, he makes you think it wouldn’t be so bad if the world shattered.”
The DJ hollered, and the bass exploded in a single roar. Music thundered, crashed, and bodies danced in the background. Their faces contorted as they yelled; sang along. They shouted until their throats tightened and shut, yet they could never be heard. With each flickering beat and flashing strobe, the movements wearied. The drop wound down to a sad string of loose melodies. They stopped, shifted in their heels, rubbed sore calves. A tiring sight.
“Interesting observation,” I nodded.
Her right eyebrow inched upwards into a smooth arc, “So you agree?”
“I guess, yeah,” I shrugged, shaking my head softly.
The girl closed her hand into a fist and yanked it down in triumphant joy.
“I’ve roped one,” she laughed.
I scoffed in return; patted the damp counter absently. I probably shouldn’t have been speaking to her. I should have dismissed the first comment with a saintly grin, asked her swiftly for her order, and poured. But pouring seemed so far away now, somehow. It was a reward and a punishment. Still, I pulled myself back.
“So, did you need anything?” I asked.
She scratched behind her ear and leaned forward.
“Did anyone turn in a black jacket? I think I dropped it over there.”
Her finger pointed over her shoulder, hovering towards the dancefloor.
I shook my head.
“No, nothing like that.”
“Do you have a lost and found, or anything?”
“No, sorry,” I said to the girl.
She snagged her front teeth on her bottom lip and bit down, contemplating the same breeze of thought that blew in the apocalypse. Her shoulders rose. Shrugged.
She tapped the counter again.
“Worth a shot, I guess. Does everything disappear here? I had a friend who lost her phone, and then I lost her. I swear, it was like she just danced into some cigarette smoke and vanished.”
The music was suddenly gone, and her voice rose over the vague entropy. I felt her words as though they were buzzing through my veins, tunnelling under my skin.
We all exist to disappear. Outside those scarlet doors, all promise freezes over. Those falling leaves spiralling over campus - the colour of sunset - turn brown and crunch into obscurity. Those late nights of highlighting blank pages, of lower back pain and squinting at the fluorescent screen; they all fade into nothingness. In the end, it’s always that cheap club down the road, with those shimmering scarlet doors, that you exist within. That cycle - of pouring and wiping behind the stretches of wood - is where you end up existing. I am real for a moment in the memory of these dancers, and then I disappear, become nothing but a black tie and a full glass in the dusty corner of recollection. That’s all I could be, it seemed.
“It doesn’t have to be like that, though,” the girl piped up. Her dark eyes widened, as though she shared a space in my mind.
I placed a shot glass on the counter.
“Whatever spirits you want, on the house.”
“Oh, I don’t drink,” she smirked, pushing the glass back towards me with her pinkie finger. “Especially not spirits. Sounds kind of dangerous, don’t you think? Wouldn’t want to disturb the dead.”
“What are you doing in a club, then?”
She seemed to leave for a moment, as the question hung absently in the air between us. The club continued to thrash and pound around her, but somehow the world faded out of focus then and there. I could only see the purple strobe highlighting her mascara, and the sweet sound of her fingernails tapping at the counter. Finally, her head tilted upwards and black eyes, like empty hallways dotted with illuminated windows, ensnared me.
“I like the noise,” she smiled.
I chuckled, inching forward over the counter.
“That’s a strange reason.”
“Do you want to go and disappear together then?”
I froze. My lips opened and shook with festered anxiety. I did! I really did. But Mustard Polo was only seconds away, his slumped figure holding me down like breezeblocks.
“Oh. Well, I…like, I would, but –”
“You know what, don’t worry about it.”
She waved her hand dismissively and smiled again. This time, it played back more like a grimace.
I had a sudden compulsion to ask her if she felt that the performance of taking a shot required a particular exactness. But, then again, that would be like proposing a theory, and she never listened to theories in clubs, so then I would become the apocalyptic asshole. I watched, stuck within the hold of hesitation, as she slipped down from the velvet barstool and moved towards the dancefloor. The light embraced her; the shocking beat vibrated into her core. She melted into the crowd and they became one: a single abstract mass of bodies, trembling alongside that expired melody.
Julia Saab is a sometimes Law student, sometimes writer, born and raised in Sydney. She writes pieces based around human experiences and interactions, fascinated by the inner workings of memory and attachment. Her hero and number-one fave dude is China Mieville.