His legs buckle and he sits down. Gravity pins his head back onto the vinyl of the booth. Taking a deep breath doesn’t stop the room spinning upwards. Drinkers at the bar are hurtling to the top of his vision. With effort he brings them back down. They hurtle. He closes his eyes.
The voice is soft. A girl. He daren’t open his eyes. Taking care not to move too suddenly, he gives a small nod. The foam in the couch beneath him breathes and the PVC squeaks as she sits down and briefly places a warm hand over his.
The gesture shocks him. He would flinch, if he could, as though from a slap; but his body remains unresponsive, inert. Her touch angers him, although somewhere in the half-light of his being he recognises that this gentleness is what he craves. Sometimes, late at night, bed ruffled and damp from his exertions, he feels he would give all he owns for a light touch, a tender kiss, his hair smoothed from his brow.
A long time ago, he subverted this need for affection into a longing for sex. He’d spend a week’s wage buying drinks, flirting with girls who’d cackle out into the black night. Sometimes he got what he wanted, but it never seemed enough. The girls slipped away from him, no matter how many phone calls he made and texts he wrote, no matter how many visits he made to their flats. The whole thing was too much effort. There had to be an easier way.
There was. When he was plastering for McInty’s, high up a ladder, he’d overheard Big Bob and Micky talking about what they’d done the night before. Seemed like everybody was doing it. There were the occasional disadvantages, of course: the odd stretched muscle from trying to move a dead weight; funny looks from the taxi driver, that kind of thing, but nothing that would put him off doing it again, and again.
Until tonight. Now he feels awful. Sweat is beading on his face. Something has gone wrong. But what? The roofies are still in his pocket, so he hasn’t taken one by mistake. This time, someone has spiked his drink.
He smells the girl’s freshly washed hair as she leans close and whispers, “Open your eyes.” He does and shuts them again quickly. Her image burns onto his retina. One of his girls. He’d taken a photo of her, trussed up and naked. She’d never know. Where was the harm?
“Remember me?” she asks. The anger in her voice is controlled. “It’s my turn now.”
So this is what it feels like.
Although she never writes them down, Petra McQueen creates award-winning novels in her head while hanging out the washing.