Jane shifted her weight and gingerly tugged her left shoe away from the carpet so she could slip her foot out. She could feel the blood rushing back to her toes and the throbbing of the burning pain underneath that she knew would still be there tomorrow morning. Raising her foot had helped but it was just a temporary reprieve, and she crammed her toes back into the cheap black stiletto then repeated the whole manoeuvre to try to ease the pain in her other foot. Each time she had to pull quite hard to raise her shoe from the sticky carpet. Every seat around the edge of the club was taken up by equally sorry looking women, either openly rubbing their feet and grimacing or smiling expectantly through the pain in the hope of one last dance before the lights came on.
Staring through the gloom to the writhing mass on the dancefloor, Jane could see Amy almost bent double as a tall boy wearing a leather jacket, and undoubtedly sweating profusely underneath, stuck his tongue right down her throat while his hand clutched ineptly at her backside. Not far away from Amy was Elaine who wasn’t so much dancing as leaning on a stocky, beer-bellied skinhead in a sweaty t-shirt who was holding her up with one arm as the other clutched a smeared pint glass, some of which he was drinking and some of which was spilling down Elaine’s new Topshop dress. She’d be cross about that in the morning. Jane had to search around a bit for Chrissie, but there she was in the corner, finally entangled with the smart, handsome man she’d had her eye on for the last few weeks and doing thumbs up signs behind his back at the other girls. Draining the last few drops of vodka from her glass, Jane reached across a man with beer stains – or worse – down the front of his shirt to add it to the rest of the empties on a soggy looking table.
As they’d grown older, the glue that had held the four girls together through school was slowly dissolving. They kept up the tradition of going out on a Saturday night, which had begun long before they were 18, but once one of them snagged a boyfriend she would disappear from sight for a bit until she reappeared, swollen eyed and cursing, and they had to take her out and tell her how he was a shit and they’d never liked him, then feed her vodka until she was too drunk to care. The pattern had been repeated endlessly. The only constant was Jane, whose romantic endeavours were few and far between meaning she could always be relied on for a night out with whoever was on the boyfriend wagon and needed a partner in crime in order to help her climb back off it.
Saturday nights would begin with a bus ride into town where they’d share a bottle of sweet white wine to ensure they would be well past tipsy before they reached the city centre. Then they’d trail from bar to bar, each one fuller than the last, squeezing themselves past bored looking bouncers and being jostled by vaguely familiar faces while one of them pushed their way to the bar. By the time they got back to the corner they’d stashed themselves in, most of the drink had been jostled out so it didn’t take long to down them and move on.
Eventually they’d head for a nightclub, usually the same one each week where they could be fairly sure of seeing whoever they’d had an eye on last week. Then it would be every girl for herself as they downed more drink and loitered around the dancefloor, waiting for their favourite songs to come on then throwing their drinks down on the nearest table and flinging themselves into the crowd. The moment when the music stopped pumping out disco classics and the slow songs came on always filled Jane with dread. It was the same every week – the girls would be dragged off to the dancefloor one by one by a succession of drunken sweaty men that they’d been flirting with all night, while she would be left on her own. It was always the same, no matter how optimistically she made eye contact with anyone that looked half decent. Just once she’d like to be manhandled across the slippery dancefloor and groped inexpertly to a Lionel Ritchie record.
With a last glance at the huddled dancers, Jane shuffled over to the cloakroom queue to pick up their coats. She didn’t mind, really. It gave her something to do to avoid lurking about like a loser and it saved a bit of time when the club kicked out and minicabs were hard to come by. The ancient blonde behind the counter had lipstick on her teeth and had severely bleached hair that showed three inches of grey at the roots. She grabbed the tickets from Jane and disappeared into the gloom with a smirk.
The queue hadn’t really been long enough tonight to kill much time, so now Jane had to shuffle back towards the dancefloor weighed down with four winter coats and three damp umbrellas as well as a selection of scarves that were trailing forlornly out of coatsleeves. As she looked around for somewhere inconspicuous to stand, something unpleasantly greasy dripped on her head from the ceiling and a slow trickle ran down her face. A ginger haired man with his shirt sleeves rolled up and a tie undone around his spotty neck leaned right up to her ear and shouted ‘Cheer up love, it might never happen!’ Then staggered off guffawing, tripping over a loose patch of carpet as he went. Jane cringed. Surely there was no sadder sight than a lone girl standing at the edge of a dancefloor, clutching an armful of coats while a tear ran down her face. Argh.
Thankfully the music came to an abrupt end and the dark glamour of the club was shocked away by fluorescent striplights. Nobody ever wanted to see this place in anything but total darkness, so there was a rush for the door and Jane was jostled by a succession of drunken couples barging past her on their way out. She pressed closer to the wall as the club slowly emptied. Chrissie was first back and tugged her coat from the pile on Jane’s arm.
‘Thanks hun, you’re a star. We’re going to get going, but I’ll see you in the cab queue. This is Eddie. Say hello Eddie…’
But Eddie was too busy peering town Chrissie’s top to say much and Chrissie shrugged and dragged him towards the door, giving Jane one last thumbs up behind Eddie’s back as she went.
Jane fixed the smile back on her face as Amy appeared and grabbed her jacket.
‘Cheers m’dear! We’re just going for some chips, see you in the queue.’
And she was gone. Jane couldn’t see Elaine anywhere although the dancefloor was empty now and the bouncers were starting to move people towards the exit. There was only one place she could be really. Jane risked a telling off and pushed open the door of the ladies toilets. There was one girl at the far end vomiting into an already overflowing sink, and once cubicle with a locked door.
‘Elaine?’ shouted Jane ‘Is that you? Are you ok?’
She could hear muted giggles from behind the door. Then a click as the lock was pulled and a hand reached out.
‘Have you got me coat? I’ve been a bit sicky but Andy is helping me get better.’ More giggles.
Jane thrust the expensive mac into the waving hand. ‘Are you sure you’re ok? Do you want me to wait?’
‘Nooooooo I’m super fine. Suuuuper fine. See you in the queue in a bit.’
Jane looked around at the vomiting girl in the corner who was trying to drink out of a tap and trailing her hair in the filthy sink. Time to leave. There’d be an hour or so to wait for a cab as it was, maybe she’d meet up with the other two in the chippy.
Jane picked her way carefully through the cobbled street up to the main road, trying to look but not stare at the rutting couples she passed on the way, trying to work out if they were Chrissie or Amy. There was no sign of either of them in the chip shop queue which reached out almost to the but Jane was too cold to wait in the taxi line without something to warm her hands on, so she joined the end, behind a group of older men who were clearly hammered. They were pushing and shoving each other and shouting at the girl behind the counter, who had probably heard much worse before and was steadfastly ignoring them.
‘I’ve got a sausage you can have if you’re running short darlin.’
‘They don’t do chipolatas here do they? She’d be better off with my Cumberland monster, you’ll never fit that in a bap, mind.’
‘Here – what d’you think of it love? Want a look?’
Jane looked up. Of course they were talking to her. The shortest one, who didn’t have a lot of hair and had for some reason permed the few strands he had left, was waggling his crotch at her, fingers clutching at his fly.
‘Didn’t you pull tonight love? I don’t mind giving you a bit if you’re desperate like,’ he smirked.
The older looking one wearing a dirty looking vest gave him a shove. ‘Shut up divvy, she’d rather have a bite of my hot dog wouldn’t you gorgeous.’
Rolling her eyes in what she hoped was a non-aggressive way, Jane made the fatal mistake of answering back with a tense ‘No thank you very much.’
‘Oooooooh, listen to her – it’s facking Pippa Middleton. Think ya vary maaaach,’ the short one sneered.
His mate grinned. ‘I’d give Pippa Middleton a bite of mine any time. Lovely arse.’
‘Snobby cow though, bit like this one. She can feck off and all.’
‘She’s in a mood cos she hasn’t pulled.’
“Who, Pippa Piddleton?”
‘No, this tart behind us. No wonder, with a face like that.’
‘Nice arse though.’
‘Who, Pippa Middleton?’
‘I’d bang it. Don’t say you wouldn’t. Face like a cow’s bum though, you’d have to do her from behind.’
Jane had lost track of whether they were insulting her or not now, but her face was burning red and the lure of chips suddenly wasn’t as strong. As she walked out of the door, she could hear them calling behind her in fake posho voices. She hurried away.
The taxi queue was long, and there was no sign of any of the girls closer to the front, so Jane joined the end and pulled her coat around her to try and warm up a bit. All around her were drunk people either snogging or eating chips, she couldn’t decide which she wanted more at that precise moment. Actually what she’d really like is one of those foot baths. Or a combination of all three, a snog while sitting with her feet in a foot bath and a plate of chips on the side. Looking around, it seemed like everyone had paired off except her – maybe nobody had really noticed, but she felt very conspicuous standing on her own. Taxis were few and far between, it didn’t look like she could escape any time soon either. She checked her phone, but no messages from either of the girls. She could imagine what was keeping them both busy.
She was gazing aimlessly into the distance when someone thrust a bag of chips in her face.
‘Want one? Sorry about my dad and Billy, they shouldn’t be let out on their own really.’
It was the third man from the chippy, who had been silent while the other two mouthed off. He was younger than them, not bad looking really. And he had chips. Jane smiled and took one.
‘Thanks.’ She smiled. ‘I didn’t mind really, I just got fed up of waiting.’
‘On your own then? I can’t believe that, you’re lovely.’
Jane blushed again, hoping he couldn’t tell in the dark.
‘Yeah, my mates are around but… you know. They’re meeting me here.’
‘I’m Joey. You want another chip?’
‘Jane.’ She reached in and took another ketchup-smeared chip from the paper. “Are you on your own too now?’
‘Yeah, those two have gone off to the casino. They won’t let them in though, not in that state. Fecking cold isn’t it.’
‘I’m freezing, I wish these cabs would hurry up. There’s only been two since I got here and they only took one person each. So annoying.’
‘Do you want a little cuddle to warm up?’
‘No!’ squeaked Jane, taking a step back from him in surprise. He laughed.
‘Sorry, can’t blame me for trying. No more chips for you then,’ Joey grabbed the packet away from her and turned his back in a pretend huff. She looked at him, and tried to think of a good reason for not having a little cuddle. Imagine if the girls rocked up and there she was, in the arms of a mysterious hunk. Hmm. Also, more chips.
‘Oh, go on then.’
‘Thought you were playing hard to get? I knew you’d give in. Here, have two chips if you like.’
But there was no opportunity for another chip, Joey’s arms snaked around her waist and pulled her towards him so she could smell his beery breath. His tongue was down her throat in an instant. Jane didn’t mind at all, he really was cute, and not a bad snogger either. The night had improved a lot in the last ten minutes – now all she needed was the foot bath. The couple behind gave them a nudge to move down a bit, then Joey went in for another kiss, and she responded enthusiastically, giving his bum a little squeeze in return for the mauling hers was getting. He was very keen, a proper turn up for the books, she thought. At last, someone, some bloke, had paid her a bit of attention. And here she was snogging him! Jane let him slip a hand inside her coat and giggled.
She hardly noticed the car pull up alongside until Joey let go of her and shouted ‘Let me in, dickheads’. The car door swung open, nearly hitting Jane on the leg. She looked inside, it was the two idiots from the chippy. Joey winked at her and jumped in, shutting the door quickly. He leaned out of the window towards her waving something that she thought must be the rest of the chips. ‘See ya round,’ he shouted as the car screeched off.
It happened so quickly, it took a moment for Jane to catch her breath. That bastard, he was just waiting for his lift, she thought. It was all over so quickly she couldn’t quite believe it had happened at all. She turned back to the front of the queue and shivered and wiped her hand across her lips, which still tasted a bit of beer and chips. At least it had filled up a few minutes of waiting time, there weren’t so many people in front of her now. And she didn’t feel like quite so much of a loser any more. Still no sign of the girls though, what a shame – they’d never believe her. Well, not that he was so good looking. He had been cute at least, maybe she’d run into him again next week.
It took another half hour to reach the front of the queue, and a cab pulled in almost straight away. She was still on her own, which was annoying because there was nobody to share the fare with, but Jane almost didn’t care – in fact, it would have annoyed her more if they’d walked straight up to the front after she’d been stood there for the best part of an hour. At least she had what was left of that night’s kitty to pay the taxi from – quite a lot if she remembered rightly, they’d managed to get most of their drinks bought for them one way or another. She slipped her throbbing feet out of her shoes at last and grinned to herself. She’d got a snog and she was heading home for toast, things weren’t so bad after all.
The driver wasn’t very chatty, thankfully, and Jane was glad to pull up outside her flat even if it meant squeezing her feet back into those shoes. She pulled her handbag onto her lap from where she’d slung it on the seat and a shiver ran through her as she realised the zip was wide open. She must have opened it at the chip shop and forgotten to shut it again after she legged it. How stupid, she was usually more careful, you had to watch out these days, there were pickpockets all over the place. She reached inside, holding her breath. Her phone was still tucked into the side pocket, and the few bits of make up she’d brought out were still in the bottom. And her keys were rattling in there somewhere. But there was no purse. Not in her bag, not on the seat beside her, not on the floor.
Suddenly she realised what it was that Joey, or whatever his real name was, had been waving to her through the car window. Leaning forward, and taking a deep breath, she slid open the glass panel between her and the driver. ‘I’ve got a bit of a problem,’ she began.
[Overheard in Morrisons Wood Green 3 January 5pm]