Dear Diary by Beverley Byrne

Obviously, I woke up. What happened remains a blank and this diary’s little help. 1974. Hand painted flowers on the cover. My name, printed in careful block letters on the first page. Underlined in green ink with the pen Martin nicked from some hotel. Beneath this, I’ve written, ‘This year I will be happy’.

You can tell by my handwriting January began on a positive note. Neat round letters. Italic ‘e’s and a flourish on any consonant with a tail. I’ve taken time making promises. No drinking. Give up smoking. Lose two stone. Yoga three times a week.

By February, faint words meander across lined pages like pissed spiders. Spattered Rorschach ink blots and brown spots that could be blood or red wine. A smudge where I’ve dropped fag ash on the page. A singed corner where it caught fire.

That night in March, the words looked like they’d given me up. Lines dribbled off the page like worms crawling to safety. The only decipherable sentence is ‘left his bracelet on the door handle.’ I can see those beads now, dangling a reproach.

I’d woken up shivering on the floor with a mouth coated in felt. ‘Sticky Fingers’ static on the Dancette record player. The meter must have run out because the bars on the electric fire were black and cold. On the tatty rug, by my nose, an ashtray overflowed with concertinaed fag ends. The stench of stale ash made my nostrils twitch. I sneezed. A few hanky-size Rizlas scattered across the album cover’s licentious zip wafted gently into the air.

Wiping a snail trail of dribble from my chin, I summoned memory fragments. Walking from Camden tube to the lock. Nodding at the dreadlocked girl packing up her stall selling spicy scented candles and joss sticks. Staring up at Dingwalls, a brick warehouse of a building reminiscent of a Victorian workhouse.

I always felt special getting to gigs before the head banging hoards arrived and saying to the bearded gonk on the door, ‘I’m with the band’. This time, after perusing the guest list, he shook his head. ‘Sorry love. ‘Yer name’s not here.’

‘I expect Martin forgot,’ I said, unbuttoning my coat to give him a good view of the bosoms Martin once described as ‘magnificent.’ ‘He’s knackered after the tour. I’ll just pop in. I’m sure he’ll sort it out.

‘Nah, you’re all right,’ said the slavering fool, nodding me through. In the gloom, shapes hugged the bar and fags flared like glow worms. Ear drum dissolving Prog rock blaring from invisible speakers rendered conversation impossible.

On stage, sweaty roadies wearing headbands and singlets were plugging leads into an amplified version of Hadrian’s Wall. I waved at Martin who was tuning up on stage. He gave me a brief nod before strumming a chord and attacking the wah wah pedal with his booted foot as if stamping on a tarantula.

Drum rolls and ‘one twos.’ Banshee feedback. I covered my ears and went backstage. The so-called green room, ripped banquettes and purple walls covered with obscene graffiti, was crammed with people I didn’t recognise. Acne’d youths wearing studded belts were swigging beer from bottles in a crate in the corner. A pallid blonde girl with black lips and tattooed ivy crawling up her arms lounged on the seat cradling a bump. ‘When’s it due?’ I asked, not really caring. She smirked, stuck her hand under a diaphanous top and pulled out a bag of white powder.

The door opened and Martin loped in; black beret at a jaunty angle, roll up dangling from his lips. ‘Hey man,’ the boys chorused, their exultant expressions suggesting a guitar deity had entered the room. Behind him stood a Viking with arms like plaited rope circled with clattering bangles. Axel, the new drummer I’d read about in the NME.

Martin gave me a faint hug and swept wet lips across my cheek. Bit limp, considering I hadn’t seen him for weeks. I kept the postcards he’d sent when he was on tour. Landmark city images bearing the words, ‘I’m in’ whatever country it was and a couple of XX’s. He always came back to me, eyes like two burnt holes in a blanket and a bag full of dirty washing. The most recent card featured Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid but no mention of the band’s return. I found that out from Melody Maker.

The girl jumped up and flung her arms round Axel. Pulling away, their pearl coloured curls trembled while they babbled away in Hurdy Gurdy Scandinavian. Martin stepped forward, tapped Axel on the shoulder and whispered in his ear. Axel laughed and said, ‘Watch him, little sister.’

She was called Anja. I shadowed her while the band played their set. But in this audience, it was like steering a canoe through rapids on a seething river. Men threw themselves around like demons possessed, blocking my view. All I wanted was to watch Martin’s fingers run up and down the fretboard and imagine them on my vertebrae.

Fuelled by the contents of Anja’s bag, Martin’s elaborate solos made the crowd whoop and stomp. Behind him Axel’s drum sticks whirled like Catherine wheels.

‘They’re hot tonight,’ I yelled in Anja’s ear as the band launched into a frenzied encore.

‘Martin is a genius,’ I heard her say. Her chemical breath was hot on my face but her gaze was locked on to his. Even at this distance and surrounded by sweating bodies, there was no mistaking the voltage coursing between them.

Hours later, when the promoter came backstage to say he was turning the lights out, Anja’s bag was almost empty. Her neat lines of white powder distributed on a paperback copy of Siddhartha made Martin her slave. Axel sat beside me rolling joints, glancing now and then at Anja’s slender throat thrown back in laughter. I wanted to slice it with her little razor blade. Instead, I swigged from the Tequila bottle Axel passed me, took another toke and leaned against his granite shoulder.

Axel put his arm around me as we stumbled from the club, clutching bottles of wine. In the streetlamp’s light, Anja’s hair shone like a halo as she skipped through beer cans and pooled puke. We stopped under the railway bridge, waiting for a cab. A train rumbling overhead gave me my chance. I shook Axel’s heavy palm from my shoulder and tottered to Martin’s side. In the shadows I felt his body stiffen. Even though I knew the answer, I still whispered, ‘You coming back to mine babe?’

His farewell words elude me now. Something along the lines of ‘had a good time.’ ‘Always be mates.’ Shite like that. My legs folded like a broken deckchair. Sliding down the bridge wall, I sat howling on my haunches watching Martin amble away with Anja.

To this day the cab ride remains a black hole. Axel’s bracelet is one reason I know he came home with me. The rest is oblivion until that icy blast of wind brought me round. Pushing myself up on all fours, I tried to focus. Angry clouds wreathed outside a cartoon jagged hole in the window. Outside, I heard glass crash into a whirring refuse lorry. Scattered across the floor were shards of splintered albums and books, like broken birds, with pages ripped from their spines. On the table, a pyramid of shattered glasses and broken bottles. Sitting cross legged, I turned my palms up in my lap to see a road map of dried blood.

In the fireplace, my diary lay open at last night’s indecipherable entry. As I crawled to retrieve it, a chill breeze lifted and turned the page. The words Axel wrote were those that saved me. ‘MARTIN SAID YOU WERE A HANDFUL. GET SOME HELP.’ I never kept a diary again.

Selected: 24th Short Story 
Published in Issue #30

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