When I returned home from Perth on Sunday night, I found that two pink flower buds had sprouted from the cactus plant on my mantle place, beaming like pimples on the end of a nose. I was surprised by the discovery because I didn’t know that my plant was capable of producing beauty. In the days previous I had been feeling a lot like the Roy Orbison bridge in the Traveling Wilburys song “Handle With Care”, and until the following morning, when I awoke with fresh and sober eyes, I couldn’t be sure that the flowers weren’t a drunken creation of my imagination’s desire for company.
The pink buds were still present on Monday, and although I felt happy to see them, I was questioning why they were there. I hadn’t watered the plant in months, believing that the cactus enjoys the drought a relationship with me brings, yet it was still capable of producing new life. My instincts were telling me to pour a little water into the soil, to help nurture whatever was happening amongst the leaves, but I worried that showing affection now might cause more harm than good, as is the case any time I try and approach a woman in public spaces, and I decided to continue to neglect the plant.
The arrival of new life wasn’t the only recent transformation in the living conditions in my flat. The change in climate, and the early onset of winter weather, has brought with it a realisation of how cold my small living space can become. Seemingly any heat which is generated is drawn upwards to the high Victorian ceilings, like a snow globe turned on its head and left there, helpless. Each night when I return home after work, there is a quiet voice within me which wonders whether I am going to open the door to the living room and find a polar bear sprawled across the brown leather sofa, giving the impression of a fluffy throw. I’m quite sure that nobody wants to encounter a polar bear in their property – particularly in Scotland, where the arctic animal would presumably have undertaken a long journey to travel to and may be in a tetchy mood – yet I can’t help but feel that I would at least welcome the warmth generated by snuggling up to a polar bear when getting my nightly Netflix fill, and if nothing else, it would be something to talk to.
In search of company and warmth, and as a means of avoiding any potential Halloween guisers, I went to Aulay’s to watch the football on Wednesday. The night was shaping up to be a rather uneventful one: the bar was mostly empty, Celtic were winning 4-0 before it was even half-time, and it turns out that, unlike small children going out dressed as skeletons, nobody gives you a free beer as a ‘treat’ for matching your black tie to your socks.
After a while, a drunk man was refused service in the adjoining public bar, an occurrence which is not unusual in a pub. Several minutes later, there was an exclamation from one of the scatterings of men in the lounge bar that someone was urinating against the outside of the door. When someone in the pub is so animated about a going on it is difficult to avoid turning around to see for yourself, and sure enough, the man was accurate with his description of events. As soon as I swiveled on my barstool, my eyes met the penis which was grasped in the drunk’s hand, its appearance disfigured by the blurred effect of the stained glass. Clouds of steam were visible around the cascading pee, making the gland appear as though it were a zombified tortoise emerging from a misty darkness in a scene from a horror movie.
None of us present in the bar thought to go out and confront the drunken urinator, presumably because it was so cold, and there was the consideration in the back of my mind that if this is how he would treat a perfectly acceptable piece of stained glass, what would he do to anyone who dared to question his actions? I turned my attention back to the football, although it was a struggle to concentrate and my thoughts were distracted. I was appalled by what I had just witnessed, yet there was a part of me which couldn’t help but feel a faint admiration for the guy outside. The autumn had been a cold one, and the temperature was continuing to drop, so for a man to be exposing his penis to such elements when throughout the week I had been feeling nervous about walking around town without wearing gloves seemed like a brave thing to be doing.
By five o’clock on Friday evening, the clouds above the bay were the shade of a slice of bread which has been left in the toaster for a minute too long, like they had been most other nights through the week, and when it came time for me to go out some hours later, they were releasing drops of rain the size of monkey nuts which had been broken from their shell, and they soaked my brown tweed suit. The bars were mostly quiet, as they had been since the end of the summer. Upstairs in the Oban Inn, George Noble was playing disco music to as much enthusiasm as there were people. It was the saddest Halloween party anyone had seen, and I was feeling uncomfortable watching it all. We decided to leave for Markie Dans, the walk along the seafront adding several more splashes to my teal shirt. When I arrived, I had received a text message from the moonlighting banker, the upshot of which was that at least one more person was drinking in the bars that night.
It had been a while since I was last drinking with the banker who is occasionally seen on the other side of the bar. We ended the night in The Lorne, which is often the way these meetings go. With a glass of Jack Daniels in my hand, I was approached by a girl whose hair was bleached blonde, giving her the stature of a lighthouse at sea on a stormy night. Her lips were painted a rambunctious red, the colour of a traffic light, but all they were saying was “go”.
The girl with the bright red lips was making her intentions obvious, even to someone like me, whose understanding of female body language is as fluent as my understanding of Mandarin. She was standing unnecessarily close to me and spoke as much with her hands as she did her mouth. At one moment she breathlessly confided in me that she likes a man who wears a suit, and it was all I could do to respond that I am a man who knows how to wear a suit. In spite of my senseless way of communicating, she continued talking to me, and it was becoming clear that this was a situation even my words couldn’t spoil. I was beginning to imagine where I might take her on our first date: what I would order to eat and the outfit I would wear. Ordinarily, it probably wouldn’t seem appropriate to wear a suit on a first date, but if it’s what attracted her to me then how could I not?
The bar lights flickered back to life, and suddenly the room was as bright as her bleached blonde hair. Closing time was nearing, though it felt that the night was only opening up its possibilities, like a pink flower bud on the end of a cactus. Who knows how it got there, but it was exciting.
From a crowd of people soon emerged a baby-faced homosexual who turned out to be a long lost friend of the girl with the bright red lipstick. They reacquainted themselves, and I waited patiently for their reunion to be concluded with the promise of a phone call or a cup of coffee. After an agonising passage of time, the young woman and I left the bar and returned to my flat for some drinks, along with the friend she had come out with, the moonlighting banker and the baby-faced homosexual. We all gathered in the kitchen with our drink of choice, with the exception of the two long lost friends, who sat down for a heart to heart in my bedroom, on the end of the bed I had been hoping for a crotch to crotch on.
It was some time around five o’clock on Saturday morning when everyone started to leave my flat. The absentee gay friend left in a taxi first, but by then it was too late. The others left a short while later when the friend of the girl with the bleached blonde hair had passed out on the kitchen floor and was unresponsive to her name being called out in a loud, drunken fashion. There was a measure of concern about her wellbeing and talk of phoning for an ambulance. As I held my phone in the palm of my hand, scenes from the Quentin Tarantino film Pulp Fiction played in my head. Within these scenes I was trying to get my story straight, thinking about how I would explain to the medical crew that my measures of vodka were almost within reason and that as far as I knew the tube of Pringles didn’t contain any opiates.
I was about to dial for help when the girl whose name I had only learned in the midst of panic moments earlier came to, and she was able to leave with the assistance of her friends. The relief I was feeling was tempered by the confusion over how there were six glasses in various stages of emptiness for five people. No fewer than seven bottles of Budweiser sat along the kitchen counter, none of them finished, and broken Pringles were strewn throughout the flooring of my flat, as though someone had left a trail to remind them of how to get out. I shuffled through to my bedroom, defeated by the night, and fell asleep on top of my bed in my brown tweed suit, Roy Orbison singing for the lonely.