"Then Kidman turned and looked at me: 'Hope, I think, is a little like going down on a man: once you see even the tiniest spark, you should blow on it gently!' I smiled, blushed slightly and turned away. Then I heard her say mischievously: 'I know I always do!'"
The noise of the bar bombarded me as soon as we entered the main door. After so much quiet and solitude living in Mordan House, after the silence of the town library, even the genteel rise and fall of voices in any of the town’s cafes, a bar full of people and music felt like being dropped from a plane into the centre of a cataclysmic war zone.
Voices scurried around as if for dear life, and all struggling with each other in noise-to-noise combat. It was a colossal onslaught of sound and I almost held my ears at every aural explosion sounding around me. Kidman though just smiled, wiggled as she walked and bounced on her heels slightly as we pushed our way through a crowd of people on our way to the bar. It was at some point on that short but brutal journey that I realised how terrified I was, how much I wanted to turn tail and run, taking the full consequences for desertion, willing to face the firing squad rather than endure this conflict.
So, what kept me there? Kidman’s hand.
It hand was holding mine and guiding me through the people. If not for this, I’d have been in a corner of the bar already, knees tucked up, body shaking, thumb in mouth, and with, probably, the distinct scent of urine emanating from a leak in the lady cupboard. Kidman, man, Kidman! She was getting me through this, as best she could. And I was holding on to her, as if she were a rifle or a shield, or a locket containing a lock of hair from a loved one.
We finally reached the bar and Kidman nudged me, telling me to try and get the barmaid’s attention. Kidman looked into my face and I saw her recognise the fear that was there. She grinned falsely, but as a different kind of nudge, one that said that she wanted me to smile, even if I didn’t feel a smile anywhere inside me. So I did. It felt horrible, like lobbing a grenade into a crowd of civilians.
Before I even had the chance to try and get the barmaid’s attention I heard the woman's voice and looked up with surprise. She was looking right at me! She saw me! I was curiously amazed at being noticed, at my absolute visibility in such a place of visual and aural violence, and I swallowed and tried to remember how to speak.
Kidman hollered at me: “Bourbon. And water. A stiff double too. Hit me.”
Nothing would have given me more pleasure, but instead I avoided physical violence and said instead: “Uh, one double bourbon and water, please.” Bourbon? Where did that word come from? When had I last been in the States and ordered bourbon? I corrected myself: “Or whiskey, I should say. And a glass of red wine.”
"Kidman looked into my face and I saw her recognise the fear that was there. She grinned falsely, but as a different kind of nudge, one that said that she wanted me to smile, even if I didn’t feel a smile anywhere inside me. So I did. It felt horrible, like lobbing a grenade into a crowd of civilians"
I did it! What a sigh came out of me, but what a jangle was still going on within my nerves at the same time. Shell-shock is a terrible, terrible thing: one minute you’re all laughter and confidence, then some totally thoughtless prick slams down a paperclip and you’re suddenly behind the sofa playing with your bottom lip!
Yes, the barmaid cocked her head slightly when I mentioned the bourbon, and there was some choosing of wine and whiskey to be done, but I rattled through it without much thought. Aside from that slight cock of the head, she treated me as if I was normal. Nor-mal! How the hell could I be normal? I was ordering two drinks when there was only one of me! What was I to say if challenged? “Oh, it’s for my Imaginary Kidman. Oh, don’t you have one? Everyone should have an Imaginary Kidman. Mine’s the latest model, complete with back-chat, ENP, lifelike hair and nails, and a lady cupboard to die for! You better get on eBay then, huh.”
But she was unlikely to ask; the bar was too busy for her to notice that there was only one me and two drinks. Strange, I know, but I felt I had to order this 'presence' a drink – I felt it was the only way I could get through the night. Without my idea of Kidman I couldn’t do any of this. Yes, I was a part of it all – all this Kidman stuff – enthralled by it, but I could see something of its absurd, frightening shape at the same time.
We found a table; two people leaving just as we walked by them. I sat down, feeling suddenly secure to have a chair beneath me. So many things in life take on the role of chairs, and yet, when it comes down to it, you can’t beat having a real chair to give you security and rest. In a sense, I sat on a chair as I sat beside my other chair, Kidman.
The bar was typical of the drinking dens that you find in Scotland, especially outside of the cities: it was all old wood on the floor, ceiling and walls; low, beamed ceilings; lots of little corners where you can tuck yourself away; little lamps emitting yellowy light that cast warm shadows everywhere; candles here and there, and flickering in conversation with each other just like normal paying customers; and full of all different kinds of people in different kinds of dress, and all appearing unselfconscious and relaxed and boisterous. Funny kind of war zone, I realised. The chaos of war, but with the euphoria of a war just ended. Like VE Day. Intense celebration, but with the ghosts of the dead weaving in and out of the embraces, subverting every tear of happiness.
"Funny kind of war zone, I realised. The chaos of war, but with the euphoria of a war just ended. Like VE Day. Intense celebration, but with the ghosts of the dead weaving in and out of the embraces, subverting every tear of happiness"
Kidman, meanwhile, was still buzzing. Her head swayed from side to side as she tried to take everything in, smiling and laughing endlessly. Her euphoria began to give off an electrical glow, just as a group of musicians, huddled on small chairs in some corner of the bar, began to play traditional Scottish music. The giddy little notes skipped through the crowd, and bodies began to sway as the notes weaved all around them. Kidman began to tap her foot and shoogle little unnameable bits of herself rhythmically. Yes, my elemental creature was in her element!
After a while, I started to stop seeing things through my own eyes and my own disposition, and started to see through Kidman’s eyes. What she was looking at was all the little glimmers of hope that existed in the world, that people ordinarily don't notice when endlessly bombarded by the dark and destructive bombs of this world, those that explode around us and inside of us, in this midnight world of ours. She looked with glee through all the darknesses piled high and spread wide, as if seeing bits of humanity everywhere – admittedly small, but bright in themselves and filled with potential.
Across from us, through wall upon wall of hollering bodies, we could just make out a man and woman sitting close and looking at each other, then kissing tentatively but then with avarice, everything uncertain but guided by a great red helium balloon inside them that rose up and pushed to get out. Ordinarily such a display as this would disgust and annoy me, but through Kidman’s eyes it seemed like a spark of hope. Sure, it might turn out to be nothing but a one-off sexual act between them, but, for those moments, there was a chance to flower, the possibility that something might grow that would give this blistered world a chance.
Kidman watched them, then nudged me, saying: “Always remember that hope starts from the smallest glimmer of light, a spark even, and what you try to do in life is slowly but surely create a fire out of it. To hell with the darkness and to hell with how much of it there is!” Then Kidman turned and looked at me: “Hope, I think, is a little like going down on a man: once you see even the tiniest spark, you should blow on it gently!” I smiled, blushed slightly and turned away. Then I heard her say mischievously: “I know I always do!”
"What she was looking at was all the little glimmers of hope that existed in the world, that people ordinarily don't notice when endlessly bombarded by the dark and destructive bombs of this world, those that explode around us and inside of us, in this midnight world of ours. She looked with glee through all the darknesses piled high and spread wide, as if seeing bits of humanity everywhere – admittedly small, but bright in themselves and filled with potential"
What happened next happened incrementally, like a surfer being carried ever-faster and ever-higher by a swell that rises ever-so gradually as it moves towards the shore. On the surface, I seemed to be exactly the same, but as little events gathered themselves together around me, I felt them having an effect on me, lifting me up and carrying me along. I went from being in a place where I knew no-one, and where I was on the outside of things, to being gathered into the fold of all that was going on in that bar. People came over to talk to me. Those selfsame people then mentioned “the American girl from Mordan House” to other people, and they then came over too. Soon there were drinks being bought for me and I was paraded to different quarters of the bar to meet all manner of people. At what point I started to be up and dancing with complete strangers, as a fiddle played exuberantly, I don’t know. But it happened.
And, somewhere behind me, Kidman’s drink sat on a table untouched. In fact, I lost sight of her completely after a while, even though I occasionally craned my neck to see if I could still see her 'presence' in amongst all the people.
It was wonderful! A permanent smile was on my face and it eternally billowed into laughter. It was the most wonderful evening I’d spent in such a long time. Even before Mordan House and its dead presences, I found it hard to remember a night like this – especially since everything that had happened with Philip, my ex-boyfriend, back when I lived in Glasgow.
Not sure at all what time it was when I left the pub. Not sure what prompted me to leave either – although I’m pretty sure that it was round about time for the pub to close. Not sure how much I’d had to drink, but it was a considerable amount of wine and whiskey. Not sure of anything much that was said or done within that last hour either. But, what I do remember was the face of flawed perfection that I saw as I stumbled out of the bar.
He was talking to someone at the other side of the street and he saw me almost instantly, his eyes suddenly fixing on me with recognition. I think I whispered the name “James” out loud, and no sooner had I uttered it than he walked towards me.
I had thought that the war was over, and that there had been a glorious victory celebrated by me inside that bar and in amongst the downpour of sparks of hope contained within it. But perhaps it had all been a skirmish followed by a Pyrrhic victory, and the real battle was just about to begin.
Next instalment: 52. Kidman's Gift - Part Three