For the past month I’ve been raking through my past and, I must say this, overwhelmed by what it took out of me to write my last poem, resting. So, I’ve written a short story, THE GATEKEEPER , but it will only be on this blog for five days.
It was close to midnight, five in the club already and now it’s about to get busy. Lester is standing in the doorway. The street is as quiet as a city street can be at midnight on a Saturday. There’s a few drunks shuffling to the fast food joints for their chips and curry sauce before they stagger home. Lester inhales smoke deeply. No-one notices or pays any heed. A joint is no big deal in this neighbourhood.
He hears the door open behind, a breath of warm stagnant air at his back. George, one of his regulars, a tidy and anonymous man, pokes his head out. Lester glances at him, his eyelids heavy.
“I think there’s a fella in here in need of assistance,” he says.
Lester looks at him. He’d never taken George for an adventurous man nor a funny one, either.
“Fuck off,” Lester tells him. George doesn’t look in the least perturbed.
“I’m serious,” he says, “he’s conked out or somethin’”
Lester looks at him again.
“Is he sick or wha?”, Lester asks him.
“He needs help, there’s something wrong with him,” George mutters as his head withdraws indoors again.
Lester takes a last look down the street, sucks hungrily on the butt of his joint until it glows bright then spits flame and smoke. He drops it at his feet, steps on the spent butt and turns inside, following George. He dips behind the shop counter first, as though to collect some emergency response kit but secretly, taking a sizeable nip from the naggin of brandy he keeps there.
The man in need of assistance, as George put it, is in the cinema. It’s not really a cinema, of course, just a room with chairs and a small flat screen television on a table in the corner.
The man in question was nearest the door and sure enough, his entire body was as stiff as a board, at a forty five degree angle to the ground, his neck resting on the back of the chair, feet stretched out before him.
“Oh Jaysus,” Lester thinks. He recognises the customer, a foreigner. He arrived alone and bought himself a cinema ticket and a bottle of poppers. “Don’t tell me he’s snuffed it. I’m not trained for that.”
Lester looks up, his eyes finding the faces of his other four customers. Each is in a different state of undress and the three furthest away look as though this inconvenience was disturbing their cinema time. Even George, still in his shirt and tie, jumper and jacket but naked from the waist down, is looking at him to do something.
Lester grips the customer by the shoulder and shakes him.
“Hello,” he says, snapping the fingers of his left hand in the customer’s face, wondering what the hell he should be doing and, in the middle of that, wondering where he is and why he’s there.
“Hello,” Lester says again to the stiff body before him. He leans in close to the man’s glazed eyes and says, “are y’alright?”, before pausing, glaring and then offering, “stay away from the light.”
Lester shakes him again, looking in the faces of his four man audience for approval. Then he notices his stiff customer rigidity stretches to the outer limits of his body. The man is naked from the waist and a popper bottle is grasped tightly in his left hand.
“Ah Jaysus,” Lester recoils from the customer who’s eyes are now flickering. He withdraws from the room, George’s giggles ringing in his ears.
Now George, I have to tell you about George. If only to give you some idea of this place and the people Lester meets, while he’s at work. His job, he’s told, is a public interface job. He meets the public all the time although in a very specific environment. It was a train on the spot job. It’s taken a whole lot of adjustment, too.
George is a regular. He’s a public servant, too, a caretaker in a local school. He’s in the mid-30s, in Lester’s estimation, although he’d never ask him. George dresses well with a shirt and tie, a light wool jumper and usually, a sports jacket to complete the look. Single, Lester supposes, as he’s never seen a ring or heard him mention a family. George comes in about three times a week. If there’s no-one in the cinema room, he’ll hang around reading dvd boxes and, if Lester’s not busy, making small talk.
George, he insists, is not gay, homosexual, like? Now Lester grew up without people casting aspersions, or asparagus, as his mammy always said. But a homosexual was a homosexual or a queer, as most people put it. Beyond that, no-one ever went into details except they liked to fondle their own toys and had no time for the females or the fairer sex.
George likes to visit the cinema, strip off to his waist while he’s there. After that, I didn’t want to know except I hear from other regulars that George is fond of a good spanking. Ordinarily, George is so little trouble, you’d hardly notice him.
Tonight though, George is everywhere. There’s a good crowd in the cinema and at least half a dozen people in the lounge, a room where they sit around in whatever state of undress they like and , well, do what they like.
Lester’s in the front of the shop and after a long boring day and the near death of Mr Popper, he’s outside again, smoking a joint.
One of the worst things you don’t want to hear in a shop like this, he thinks, is ‘Jaysus, that’s the weirdest thing’s ever happened to me.’ Short hairs on your neck, back and lower arms are immediately elevated. You wish you haven’t heard it and whatever you heard is not what you think it was. He turns around and sure enough, it’s George.
When a grown man like George who likes to walk around half naked in a crowded room with a smacked arse says something beyond his comprehension has happened, well, you have to pay attention.
“There was a fella there giving me the eye,” he says, “so I took me coat off the seat between us and the next minute he was sitting on me legs and his arms were around me nick choking the life out of me.” George did look shocked. It was as though this behaviour – bounding into his lap and strangling him – was behaviour that was outside the pale and beyond the boundaries of acceptable in his world.
“George, you were leading him on,” Lester says “you said so yourself.”
George takes a metaphorical step back, re-examines his actions in his mind’s eye and then comes to a conclusion, “It was the look in his eyes. It was scary.”
And this from George about whom and his habit of importuning others to give him a thrashing, one group of regulars complained, was ‘weird and creepy.’ Lester’s long past worrying about the job he has. Fuck it, it’s work, he thinks. He hasn’t told many of his friends. They’re just glad he has enough dough to buy a round. He did tell one mate who had a laugh and then called him The Gatekeeper. He never mentioned his job again but he liked that, The Gatekeeper.
Of course, those same lads – middle class by the sound of them and the cut of the suits they wore – brought their own costumes of pvc and leather and enjoyed nothing better than a rigorous paddling.
“Look, George”, he says, “isn’t it past your bedtime?” George stops, purses his lips like a horse and exhales. Then he turns and walks away. Things quieten then. Enough time for Lester to skin up his last joint of the day and drain the last few drops from his naggin of brandy.
He misses the cut and thrust of ironic slagging.
Two hours later, he’s closing up, the last of the stragglers has gathered his underwear and departed. Lester, a day full of joints, brandy, boredom and the passive ingestion of someone else’s popper vapour, is ready for home and bed. The shop as clean as he’ll get it – he refuses to clean the cinema and someone else does it with those mechanical tongs to pick up, er, refuse, discarded by the previous night’s revellers. He locks up.
There aren’t many taxis about, he notices, city centre rush hour. He might as well walk. Sauntering along, a girl gets out of a taxi on the corner in front.
“Oy, wait,” he shouts, racing up to the cab. The girl sees him, slams the door of the taxi shut and teeter runs in her heels, around the corner. But she’s dropped her purse and Lester, deciding, picks it up and runs after her. The taxi takes off.
Around the corner, Lester calls again to the receding figure of the girl in high heels with no purse.
“Oy, Miss, Wait.”
She’s racing barefoot now, the heels discarded. She screams. She screams again. Lester’s out of breath, can’t speak. He stops, sides aching, chest heaving, one hand, holding a purse, arm extended in front of him.
Two minutes later he’s arrested.