I didn’t refuse to dance with Abigail because I can’t dance (though I can’t) or because I thought she should spend more time dancing wi...

The Girl with the Riddler Tattoo

   I didn’t refuse to dance with Abigail because I can’t dance (though I can’t) or because I thought she should spend more time dancing with Harry, her husband of six years and my good friend of who knows how long. I didn’t refuse because Harry would get jealous or because I needed to sit down for a while. No; when she was pulling my hand, half-heartedly trying to lift me from that seat upon which I slouched and watched the dimly lit function hall with a half-smile plastered permanently on my face, and she said come on Aaron, just get up and dance for one little song, I didn’t get up and dance with her because I was drunk enough by then that if I had started to dance with her, I never would have let go, and what I whispered in her ear would have been that I had always thought she deserved better than Harry and if she wanted to I’d run away with her tomorrow and we’d live the life she had always deserved to live and she’d never have to worry about anything else again because I loved her more than he ever could and ever would.

   But I didn’t tell her that. I said, no, no… I can’t dance.

   You should spend more time dancing with Harry. Look at him, he wants to dance now.

   Really, Abigail! Harry will get jealous!

   No, go on without me, I need to sit down for a while.

   And I watched her bottom jiggle as she shuffled back to the middle of the dance floor, looking over her shoulder at me and pouting like a rejected schoolgirl.

   I was drinking so much those days, I didn’t even consider that every word of the little speech I had run through in my head was a lie. If I had stolen Abigail away that night, I would have come crawling back the very next day, tired of her company and hating myself and in desperate need of a stiff drink and maybe even a little medical attention. I was just clutching at straws, clinging to the hope that there might one day be another attractive woman who would look at me the way attractive women used to look at me before I put on all that weight and stopped shaving and started working as a software developer (worse: a Java developer). Abigail was just something lofty I could pin the hook of my desperation onto so that I could stay hanging just those few inches off of the cold rock bottom I had been dangling inches away from for years.

   And I guess that deep down, I knew that. Even sitting there that night, sipping on a quadruple vodka and orange juice (a double into which I had poured two more shots; a desperate measure I had been resorting to ever since I had discovered that only the most careless or clueless of barmaids would ever pour four measures of vodka into a glass for anyone, let alone a fat, sweaty, bearded man whose neck and forehead started to itch when he hadn’t drunk for a day and whose nose glowed red with the exploded blood vessels of years of substance abuse) and wincing with the heartburn each gulp brought on, I already realised that Abigail wasn’t who I wanted. Who I wanted was anyone that would take me in their arms and tell me I wasn’t the worthless prick I thought I was. I wanted someone, anyone, to tell me that they didn’t hate me half as much as I hated myself.

   ‘So how long have you wanted to fuck Abigail?’

   The voice shocked me like ice cold water poured over one’s head. ‘E-excuse me?’ I coughed, turning to my right to look at the woman lighting a cigarette on the opposite side of my table, raising her eyebrows at me and grinning, flashing bright white teeth between vivid red lips.

   ‘I’ve been watching you watching her dancing. You have it written on your face. You’ve been undressing her with your eyes since your eighth Screwdriver.’

   ‘Ha, I – obviously I don’t –’ I spluttered, trying not to slur or let my eyes wander back to Abigail’s legs or feet or hair or neckline and instead focusing on the tattooed arm of this slim woman in a dark, dark dress who sat smirking knowingly at me, smoking a long cigarette which she held between slender, manicured fingers, ‘she’s the wife of one of my best friends. I don’t want to f… to make love to her at all.’

   ‘Whatever you say, Casanova,’ her grin remained upon her face as smoke crept out of the sides of her mouth and framed her symmetrical face in a dreamy haze and she held out the packet of cigarettes to me and asked, ‘want a cigarette?’

   ‘No, thanks. I’ve stopped. My body is a temple. A temple I fill with vodka.’

   She let out a quiet chuckle, this stranger, and her eyes drifted toward the room and away from me, allowing me to take a longer look at her. She had hair a sort of dyed grey with blue streaks, but both colours were so dark that at a glance you’d just think it was all black. Her earrings were upside down crucifixes and she had a tattoo of The Riddler, the Batman villain, surrounded by green question marks on her arm which spread down to her elbow and disappeared into her dress at the shoulder, ending who knows where. Her dress was black and low-cut, revealing normal sized breasts and collar bones that stuck out because she was so slim. Her eyebrows were either shaved off or had fallen off, and she had drawn deep black lines where they should have been, which served to accentuate her piercing blue eyes, blue the colour of the Las Vegas summer sky. She was stunning, this woman, and it struck me at that moment that in all the years I had known Abigail and Harry, I had never seen her at any of their parties. The way she had just burst into my consciousness, it was more like she was an invention of a mind in need than a friend of a friend who had decided to talk to the lonely drunk who wouldn’t get up and dance. Not that I considered this at the time; I was barely able to pick my jaw off of the table.

   ‘Don’t worry,’ she said, watching Abigail dance and taking a long, seductive drag from her Pall Mall, ‘I think you’re one of about a hundred million men at this party who want to fuck Abigail. Anyone who’s hit puberty wants to hit that next.’

   ‘It doesn’t sound like you have a high opinion of the men here,’ I replied, trying to hold it together, trying not to let my tongue drown itself in a paddling pool of Smirnoff.

   She shrugged. ‘I don’t know many of them.’

   ‘Well,’ I replied, seizing an opportunity to work my drunken magic, ‘now you know me. I’m Aaron.’ 

   I held my clammy hand out for her to shake, and she ignored it. Instead, she stared into my eyes and purred, ‘Are you, now. How nice for you.’

   ‘So… how do you know Abbie and Harry?’ I mumbled, shaken.

   ‘Muh,’ she shrugged, dropping her cigarette into her empty wine glass, ‘I don’t, really. They’re friends of a friend. And even that friend is a new friend. I’ve only just met them, really. They wouldn’t know who I was if they had even noticed I was here.’

   ‘And your friend thought that you should come to their anniversary party? Knowing no one?’

   ‘I think he needed the company.’

   He?’ My drunk heart sank.

   ‘Yeah,’ she grinned, those beautifully straight, white teeth once again flaunting themselves shamelessly as she leaned her elbows on the table and pulled another cigarette from the pack, ‘he. You jealous, stud?’

   I laughed, blushed, hiccoughed, coughed. No, I’m not jealous, I rehearsed in my head. ‘No, I’m not jealous,’ I lied, terribly.

   ‘Don’t worry, I think that all my new friend needs is a pick-me-up,’ she breathed, blowing smoke into the air between us and now leaning on the table full time, facing me head-on, ‘like we all do, now and then.’

   Her eyes bore into me. I began to sweat. She wasn’t smiling anymore, just watching me, and my neck and forehead began to itch.

   ‘Are you… Are you saying I look sad?’

   ‘How long have you been an alcoholic, Aaron?’

   ‘Er, excuse me?’

   ‘I’m not judging. I just want to know how long you’ve felt like you don’t have control.’

   ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about,’ I faux-laughed, shrugging and avoiding eye contact. I can stop whenever I like, I don’t need to drink, I rehearsed in my head. ‘I can stop whenever I like. I don’t need to drink, I just like to ease the tension,’ I lied, terribly.

   ‘Why do you feel like you need to drink to ease the tension?’ She asked, pressing further, leaning closer, ‘What tension do you need to ease?’

   ‘The tension of… life,’ I sighed, rubbing my temples, inexplicably feeling like I could trust a total stranger, ‘the pressure. The fact that I’m perceived as a fucking loser by everyone I meet and my last girlfriend left me because I was addicted to Sim City and I’m thirty-six.’

   ‘And how exactly do you know that people think you’re a fucking loser?’

   ‘I can see it on their faces. All I have to do is start talking about my life and I see people’s faces drop. Their eyes glaze over, and their lips curl. It’s as if they’ve just smelt shit on my breath.’

   ‘That’s not what I thought when you started speaking.’

   ‘You’re not like everyone else.’

   She grinned, and shot me a wink. ‘That’s sweet, sugar plum; but you should know that I’m exactly like everyone else. We’re all so different that we might as well be the same. And we’re all so incredibly concerned, twenty-four seven, by what everyone else thinks of us, that we forget to ever make these harsh judgments that we imagine everyone else making. We’re all in the same boat, sinking in a sea of self-consciousness and insecurity. It’s all in our heads.’ She tapped her temple with one hand, and held the cigarette to her mouth with the other, to take another deep, enticing suck.

   ‘I wish it was. I wish that was true.’

   ‘It is. Everything you think people think about you is a fiction. You can’t ever know exactly what people are thinking, so you have to make it up. You could just as easily make up a positive perception, but right now you’re choosing the negative. All you have to do is change your choice. Choose to believe that people are seeing a winner, and maybe you’ll become one.’

   I laughed, enjoying the sound of her voice and the way her words were lifting me, ‘Where have you got all this from?’

   ‘It’s the truth. The first truth I’ve told you. No, the second; the thing about every man in this room wanting to fuck Abigail is also true.’

   ‘It’s the truth that everything I’ve ever thought that people thought about me was made up?’

   ‘Absolutely true, yes. We know that the sky is blue because we see it, and we’re told it, and everybody talks about it being blue; we know that the Earth is round because it’s been proven, and scientists have told us, and Google Earth showed us. When we know things, it’s made easy for us; but as soon as we can’t know something, our minds panic. They say, shit, I don’t know what people think of me, so I better make something up. What can I base it on? I know! My perception of myself! and normal people like you and I start this self-loathing spiral that leads us hurtling down toward a life of constantly trying to improve personalities that needed no improvement to begin with. Meanwhile, cunts like… I don’t know… Piers Morgan are so sure of their own superiority that they turn themselves into Iron Men, when really they’re… Balsa Wood Bastards at best. The world you think you know is imaginary, Aaron, and only you can change it.’

   We sat for a few moments, staring at each other and grinning. ‘I think you just blew my mind,’ I said, downing the rest of my Screwdriver and slamming the glass onto the table.

   ‘You haven’t heard anything yet,’ she replied, ‘there’s so much more where that came from. I have a whole barrel of crackpot theories. For instance: can you be sure that I exist?’

   I giggled drunkenly, uncontrollably, embarrassingly. ‘Of course I can,’ I snorted.

   She raised her drawn-on eyebrows and finished her cigarette.

   ‘I tell you what,’ barked Will, an old school friend who couldn’t hold his drink, as he threw his weight down onto the remaining seat at our table, ‘I would pay good money to fuck Abigail right now. Good. Money.’

   The girl with the Riddler tattoo smirked at me and began to pack her packet of cigarettes and her lighter into the clutch bag she had rested on her lap.

   ‘Will, this is –’ I began, desperate to keep the stranger at the table, to learn her name, to follow her down her rabbit hole of endless possibilities and realigned perceptions of this cruel world.

   ‘…a shit hall,’ Will blurted, finishing my sentence for me, and chuckling at his own joke. ‘Can you believe it’s three quid a pint? This is fucking Blackheath, not Mayfair. And the female to male ratio, it… it leaves a fuck of a lot to be desired, Aaron.’ He could barely keep his eyelids open.

   ‘I… I’m sorry about this,’ I said to the girl, surprised that she had stirred enough motivation to impress in me that I felt the need to apologise for my drunken friend’s behaviour.

   ‘You don’t have to be sorry, Aaron. I told you, how people see you is nowhere near as terrible as how you’re seeing yourself. You just have to wake up to that fact. It’s all in your head.’

   ‘What are you sorry about? What are you talking about?’

   The girl was getting up, so I grabbed her hand. ‘Wait, don’t go,’ I begged, trying to keep my cool and failing.

   ‘I need to get out of here. I don’t think my company is needed anymore. This party is wrapping up soon, anyway.’ With that, she leaned down, kissed my sweaty forehead, and walked off into the darkness of the hall, seeming to disappear in the fog of the smoke machine and the alcohol and the cheap disco lights.

   ‘What do you mean don’t go? I’m not going anywhere,’ slurred Will, his head starting to slump onto the table.

   ‘Will,’ I sighed, still staring into the space where the girl had disappeared, ‘do you know who that girl is? Do you know who she came here with?’

   ‘Who, Abigail? She came with Harry, you spastic,’ he replied, his eyes closing.

   ‘No, the girl I was talking to. The one sitting at this table until, like, a second ago. Do you know who she is?’

   ‘Mate,’ he mumbled, ‘there was no one sitting here. I honestly have no fucking clue what you’re talking about. It’s all in your head.’

   And then he began to snore.

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  1. Yeah, fuck Piers Morgan.

  2. Finally, someone who understands the moral of this story.