Harvey squished a blob of old gum under his midsole. He pushed it into the glittering pavement until it flattened right down, staining the tarmac like little splashes of spunk. The air was almost brittle, so cold that it hurt to breathe in through his nose. He wheezed through his thin lips, puffing out licks and twirls of the December night. If Harvey looked over the tops of the Bugattis and Lambos that only sped through this area of town after dusk, he could see a light peppering of snowflakes falling over the sign for Wallis Avenue. Warm headlights gliding over muddy puddles in the crevice between drain and pavement. He pressed his back against the glass door to The Regis Hotel. He liked to tap his ear piece along to the cushioned sounds of business conferences and black-tie balls. Heady beats of jazz-fusion and the rap-tapping of salsa every other Thursday night. If he leaned hard enough against the walls, he could feel the beats pound right in the space between his nipples, feeling it thump against the bespoke crest that heralded clean sheets and trouser presses.
Mini-skirts and brogues strutted in and out of the glass doors, usually swinging a sharp right upon entrance and heading to the bar. Huge slabs of white marble framed the room and sparkling crystal slid across the counters, their contents swishing around in waves around the glass. A small-ish stage too; bare wires and artificial smoke. Gin and tonics. Harvey played a game of ‘guess the drink’ as the couples came stumbling back through the hotel doors and into taxis, when twilight was in full swing. The women clutching at their husbands’ biceps, toppling over like a stack of cards. The men usually drank the house whisky – Harvey could smell its woody undertones under the whiffs of cheap cologne and tobacco smoke – and the women, they drank the gin and tonics. They faltered down Wallis Avenue with a high heel dangling from their fingers and their hair pushed up at the back, or gracefully dived headfirst into a car. Some drank less, coquettishly flitting around the entrance with a straight jammed in between their ruby red lips. They shot twinkling glances at Harvey, and he always thought of his wife in her tired leggings and slippers with a baby on each hip, back where there were no neon lights and sports cars but mould growing round the window and rust emerging round the hobs. He thought women looked ugly with fags in between their teeth, anyway.
The doors swished open.
‘ – and have you seen Randy? Boy, he’s looking rough, put on a few pounds and all after Janis left. You know Janis, the one who used to work at the old dump on the other side of town. Apparently they burn waste there now. Funny that.’
Two pairs of legs crept into his eye-line, and he watched them jump in the back of a cab. He nodded at the driver’s window, his charcoal eyes creasing at the corners as he accelerated off into the city core. Behind the tinted windows, Harvey could make out a hazy outline of a snapback on his head. Harvey had been doing security at The Regis for a couple of years now, about as long as the snapback man had been doing the runs from the hotel to people’s front doors. Harvey had never seen his face but just recognised the little flick at the back of his cap, and nodded out of mutual respect.
‘Thanks for staying at The Regis. Have a safe journey home.’ Harvey muttered, staring down at the gum on the pavement again.
The taxi rank shifted forward by one vehicle. A wave of blue lapping over the dirtied streets. Three business men marched out of the doors and tap-tapped on the window of the new leader of the rank, their cheeks hollowed and their eyes bulging with stress. They hopped in and the line shifted again. The drivers lay slumped at the wheel, eyelids drooping and the meters shining in neon green. Empty money, waiting to burst into life with an open door.
An old man in a velour suit, and two women who smelled of Jimmy Choo and sex. Harvey routinely nodded at the driver, as instructed, and outlined the snapback again. Once, twice, three times.
Midnight called and Harvey was halfway done. Twiddling with the plastic coil around his ear, tonight had been fairly quiet. He appreciated those nights, where he could watch pale pins and frosted tips jump in and out of cars, and witness the occasional beggar get ignored by a butt cheek with a fiver sticking out its pocket. God knows how many taxis pulled up outside The Regis in one evening, but the air was rife with the acrid smell of burning petroleum and the chugging of exhaust pipes until the sky turned amber with morning.
There was a light crunch of rime on the pavement by three, when Harvey clocked out and walked briskly down Wallis Avenue, whiskers of chill tickling his moustache. He hooked his trousers up, the belt buckle jangling, breaking the silence of nightfall. Wallis Avenue was a red-bricked and cobbled passage, its mouth poking out into a zippy and restless highway. Harvey’s silhouetted glided under a streetlamp, dust tumbling through its muted glow.
A taxi trundled over the cobbled passageway and pulled up next to Harvey. The driver rolled down the window, slowly revealing a red Footlocker snapback with a little basketball player stitched on the front.
‘Oi.’ The driver swung an arm out of the open window.
Harvey considered walking out of the spotlight from the streetlamp and scurrying on home but, even though the two had never exchanged words, he considered him a colleague. Curiosity killed the cat, indeed. Harvey opened his mouth a little to speak, but only took in a sharp breath, the cold flooding his mouth.
‘It’s a long walk home for you, ain’t it? I see you walking way past Wallis most evenings when I get off. You live down Randall way, don’t you?’ The snapback man tapped at the map which lay scrunched on his dashboard, curled and peeling at the edges.
The driver furrowed his eyebrows and re-adjusted his hat, before peering out into the night air.
‘It’s awful cold out, isn’t it?’ The driver added. ‘Want a lift?’
The driver was right, it was awful cold out and Harvey did have a long walk back to his apartment on Randall Avenue. He hopped in the backseat.
They drove too quickly down Wallis Street. Harvey’s stomach flipped and he felt his dinner tumbling around in there. Harvey clutched at his midsection.
‘Hey, slow down there mate.’ Harvey said through a nervous laugh. ‘I hope you don’t drive like this when you’ve got drunkards in the back. They’ll be throwing up all over the place.’ Harvey laughed again. The driver did not respond, but turned on the radio. There were two young-ish men on Junkie FM talking about Turkish marijuana or something like that, and Harvey wondered if cab drivers could tune into some erroneous radio stations that regular folks couldn’t access. They took a left at the end of Wallis Street.
‘It’s right for Randall, isn’t it?’ Harvey questioned. The driver was silent, and Harvey flushed in embarrassment having corrected a cabbie’s driving. He felt like that ‘Kid Charlemagne’ lyric. Is there gas in the car? Yes, there’s gas in the car.
‘Can be.’ The driver spoke, at last. Harvey was getting bored of listening to his own voice and the talk of eastern narcotics. ‘If you’re walking. This way is quicker.’
Harvey curled his lips and sat back in silence. Harvey checked his phone to see if Nora had texted, but she hadn’t. She was probably asleep by now, he would hope so anyway.
The sky grew orange. There were no clouds in the sky as morning unsheathed itself from night, and God turned off the stars. By the time Harvey would usually be home morning would have hardened, I guess it might be nice to get home while morning is still soft. But they drove straight past the leafy turning to Randall Avenue and down Thorston Street instead, by the disused dump. Harvey leaned in between the seats and tapped the driver on the shoulder, but he only accelerated harder, the tyres crunching on the gravel like grinding teeth. Harvey stayed put with his eyes glued between the headrests.
‘What are you doing, we’ve already gone past Ran-’
Harvey was thrown back and the driver swerved into the dump, a trashy odour of burning pyres and decaying bin bags swelling in through the open window. Harvey poked his head out and saw the bonfire. Great licks of fire lapping over one another, reaching higher and higher up a ladder of debris and scrap, the flames French kissing the fringe of dawn. As Harvey peered out of the window, the taxi started again and joined the queue. Harvey’s eyes bugged out of his head when he saw every blue taxi from The Regis patiently lined up before the pyre, like yummy-mummies waiting at the supermarket checkout. One by one, driving in. The driver tipped his snapback to Harvey, and said:
‘Thanks for staying at The Regis. Have a safe journey home.’
Chloë Moloney is a writer from Surrey, UK. She has had a short story collection published with Channillo, and fiction published with Moonchild Magazine, Occulum, Sick Lit Magazine and more. Chloë's fiction has also featured on Burst FM, she frequently writes opinion articles and obituaries for the newspaper Epigram. Chloë is also the president of the University of Bristol's Poetry and Creative Writing Society for 2017/18. Bienvenue au Danse, Chloë.