“C” is for “Cloakroom”
by George Pringle
Excerpt from “Service Journals”, “Steel & Industry” 2017
“I just want you to know that you really need to move this thing from here”
She points an acrylic nail in a nude, French hue at the golden latch that holds the counter to the cloakroom up.
“I was just here on my phone and I caught my head on it and I’m bleeding. I’m bleeding…”
I look at her in a neutral way, trying to gauge the temperature. I’ve been in this situation before. If I indulge her too much then she will try and make me feel bad. But if I seem as though I don’t care, my life won’t be worth living.
The woman’s friend interjects –
“You should really change that because you will get sued one day. Seriously, someone will SUE YOU”
“If you want to file a complaint maybe I can get the manager for you”
“No. I don’t want to file a complaint but I’m just telling you ok…just so you know….This is not cool”
“Ok, I’ll tell my boss when I see him.”
“You’d better, because its like…” she pops her eyes out at me, as though to impress the importance of this unsound item, how it is clearly my fault.
I should have anticipated this event, how when bankers let loose, they can sprawl across the counter to the cloakroom. They’re drunk-dialling Yves and Charles or Lorenzo…when they’re on 2 percent and don’t realise they’re on “airplane”. They need to remain umbilically chained to the “Charge Station ” below the counter. This can lead to sprawling…to hair, caught in latches. It can lead to bleeding.
I go and hide down the side for a moment and down the remnants of my Champagne, sitting in its plastic goblet. You see, the glasses were accounted for. We foresaw that. You see, glasses can break. They’re technically, unsafe. They can lead to bleeding.
“It’s so dark in here. I can hardly see anything, except for that you are very beautiful”
“Haha ha ha” I laugh, grinning hard, avoiding eye contact, smiling down into the cash drawer: Please swallow me, I will swim in your pennies like a perfect Scrooge for eternity if you please make this man understand we’re not going to talk all night.
I quickly gather up a load of change and notice I’ve taken some old pound coins. I decide this guy won’t notice if I give him one.
“Is that an old pound coin?” he says, the second it hits his palm.
Never. Fool. A banker.
I feign surprise. I spend a while looking at it as though I had no idea. As though this is the first time I’ve seen a coin in my life.
“You’re right, it really is dark in here. Here, let me get you a new one…”
He doesn’t look impressed. He’s Swiss, it turns out. The cuffs of his shirt are crisp. White as Mont Blanc.
He stays for long enough to have this conversation, to tell me he’s Swiss and to ask the same question that is asked every ten minutes, in this city:
“Where are you from?”
…and I say I’m from London. They always say “Really?” like they don’t quite believe me. He smiles and hangs on after every line until I’m visibly bored and dry and he takes himself into the club.
The corridor has emptied.
The other cloakroom girl says “Oh my god, what is that?” and she gets her phone and she turns the torch on and she shines it behind the back of her leg and says “I can feel something”…and after about a minute, she lifts the stable door and goes into the bathroom across the corridor and after about five minutes she comes back looking wired and catatonic.
“I’m really getting fat. I have, you know this orange peel thing on my legs. Oh no-no-no. I was eating so much junk this week. You know, like cookies and sweets”
I glance momentarily to the bin by my feet and see the empty packet of strawberry wafers we ate the night before. Yes, she was eating a lot of junk. Honestly it was the thing I liked most about her. It was very cute, the eating of all the wafers and the turning up to work drinking coffee and Baileys. It was like something out of Anime.
And then the Bar Back came in and he was sharing his Haribo with us and he said “You know, when I get Diabetes I’m going to blame you. I really love sweets” and we all started laughing because this is as close as it comes to camaraderie in this place and the girl from out on the floor came in to get her chewing gum and she said “I’ve got M&Ms in my handbag, help yourselves” and then we all laughed because the only way we can stay awake is by eating sweets and drinking Tequila.
“You’re not fat. Don’t be silly. Everyone have that, even models.”
“Nooo, it’s true” she says. I believe her, she looks distressed.
Two very thin Sloanes with plump, pillows for lips walk in. One of them is wearing a Policeman’s hat with a waistcoat and a bra. The other is wearing a see-through shirt, with no underwear. They hand their coats, continuing their conversation:
“You know earlier, when I said that, I didn’t mean you didn’t look hot. Because y’know, you always look hot. So, like what I was saying…Babe, I was so happy when I met you. What I mean is I was so (“so” for a Sloane, is always said “sew”) happy when I met you, am I allowed to say this? I was so happy because, y’know, I finally met someone as hot as me. Is that really bad? I always wanted a hot friend. That’s a really bad thing to say…(minor expulsion of mirth) But y’know, babe. It’s true.”
The girl in the policeman’s hat grins. Her lacquered lips are a shade of Dominatrix. She grins though the vinyl plum, deep into her tits which are hard and firm and standing to attention.
As they leave the cloakroom, we realise the one in the hat is practically nude from the waist down. She wears a thong and stilettos.
“Wow, I’ve never seen that before. Hahahah”
My mad colleague’s laughter turns into a song:
“Deep inside! Deep-deep inside!“
“It’s that song. You know, that remix.”
She searches it on her phone and presents a YouTube clip. I stare blankly at the screen as it tinnily plays a dreadful song we have been subjected to at least three times a night for the past month.
“I’ll always think of you when I hear this song.”
My mind drifts back to the Sloanes and their lips.
“Hey, you know the lips thing…it’s interesting. Everyone have it now…”
I pout like a duck and touch my lips.
“I really want them. My top lip is so small. I think maybe I’ll get them one day. Just a little bit”
“Don’t do that.”
“Don’t fuck around with your face.”
A portly middle-aged exec blusters in from outside. He stops by the shelf of drinks, waiting for their smoking owners. He finds his but knocks somebody else’s onto the floor. He looks down before looking, pointedly at us. He sort of smiles…
“Not my problem” he says, slowly, before his corpulent form is swallowed by the swing doors. We look at one another before bursting out laughing.
The rest of the night we will say this about everything:
“Not my problem”
A man in his early 40s with curly hair and high eyes, fixes his gaze on me. I shrink backwards into the wall of coats. He introduces himself and holds out his hand. Reluctantly, I offer mine. He grabs it and pulls it in towards his mouth to plant a limpet-like kiss. Oh god, this is so disgusting, I just want to wash my hand. Why do the men keep doing this? There was that huge man, who did it last week. He said “Hi, I’m from Vegas!” (which seemed quite the exclamation). I was alone in the cloakroom and he grabbed my hand and slobbered all over it. At any rate, later he confessed he was rather drunk. I almost forgave him. But this guy is something else:
He’s talking about auras.
He loves my aura.
I have a light blue aura, it’s really tranquil. He really wants to know what’s going on under that “French Beret”. You see, his aura is dark red, it’s a bit intense so he’s looking for someone who is light blue to y’know…”to balance me out”. “Look at her (look at me)…isn’t she an English Rose? Look at them cute little dimples!” he says to his friend who is lingering in agitation, waiting to go for a smoke.
“You seem like you’re super chilled out…am I right?”
If only you knew, baby. If it weren’t for the common laws of decency I would string you up. I would put you in my cauldron. I would cackle all the while, “babe”.
Make. No. Bones.
“Oh, not really” I say, in a “super chilled” way.
After a while his friend drags him outside but another suitor has arrived at the other end of the booth. He has eyes for my colleague.
“I’m just gonna say this, alright: You are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.”
“Thank you” she says.
She is so gracious.
He continues…”Please, please will you give me your number?”
“But aren’t you here with your girlfriend?”
“That’s nothing. I’ve only been seeing her for three months”
“I dunno. I think three months is actually something”
“Please, please give me your number. I’m serious, it’s nothing. I don’t like her, really”
God, I can’t even listen to this. I go down the back of the booth, deciding I need another drink. If I stay in this place any longer, I’ll turn into a card-carrying drunk. I happen to have a stash of shots that people keep bringing me. They’re lined up alongside the lost IDs, the lipsticks, the glasses and the body mist…I down one, wince slightly and tune out into my phone. When I tune back in, the guy is leaning further over the counter. My colleague looks alarmed.
“Are you pestering her?” I pipe up, slightly strict but I follow this with an immediate and amenable smile.
“Am I pestering you?” he says, cricking his neck in that terse, macho way.
“No, I just said I don’t want to give you my number, ok”
But she says it in such a way that is quite sweet and lovely, as though she might even want it. She might even like it.
Finally, he relents:
“All right, but you’re really beautiful. If you change your mind…”
And he goes outside.