26/01/16 - Short Story: Dragon Slayer

     The bar had been quiet and the drinks had been cheap.  At first it had been exactly what we wanted.  We had taken a corner table and ordered the second cheapest bottle of white wine on the menu.  But as the night wore on the music seemed to be getting incrementally louder to the point where conversation became practically impossible.  The cheap drinks attracted a progressively cheapening crowd, from barely-legal girls in too-tight dresses to a gaggle of women in their mid-forties wearing black T-shirts emblazoned with ‘Shazza’s Hen Do’ in neon pink.  Each had their own inappropriate nickname printed on the back.  They’d scarcely arrived, and already we’d witnessed Spunky Sandra consoling a tearful Anal Amy over her no-good boyfriend.  On seeing the queue for the ladies’ snake out into the main bar, we decided that was our cue to leave.  Stumbling, giggling, past the bouncers and out onto the chilly city streets, I stopped to take stock. 

     I knew my way around as though I’d grown up here but in that moment, I needed to pause in order to calculate our route home.  The blue line of my mind began navigating through an aerial view of the streets, but recalculated at my partner’s insistence of a stop along the way.  He was right.  Sustenance was needed, the greasier the better.  As the night air reddened my cheeks, I stood momentarily, trying to gauge my level of drunkenness.  It might have taken ten seconds, it might have taken ten minutes, but ultimately the question was left unanswered as I flailed my arms to get my companion’s attention.  He was busy leaning his forehead against the darkened window of a closed shop and watching his breath fog up the glass.  He used his finger to etch our initials and a heart, and stood back to admire his masterpiece.  I called his name to get his attention and he turned towards me, slipping his arm through mine and speeding us away with all the enthusiasm and energy of a capering puppy.  The streets were almost empty, bar a few straggling revellers and the plaintive bundles with paper cups extended for change.  It was too cold for anyone to be walking around without a high blood alcohol level to keep them warm.  The plume of condensation that rose from each breath became hilarious to me, and I recalled stomping through the snow on my way home from school.  I took a deep breath, drawing the icy air deep into my lungs.  I exhaled with a loud “haaaaa”.  He looked at me out of the corner of his eye, his right cheek twitching with a smile.  I did it again, and he twitched again.  Suddenly I detached myself from his arm and swooped off ahead, holding each end of my scarf extended to imitate wings.  I stopped and defiantly turned back to face him, my scarf-wings rhythmically flapping at my sides to keep me in the air.  He was doing it.  I knew he would.  That’s my boy.  One of his hands was clutched around the hilt of his sword, the other controlling the reins of his horse as he galloped towards me.  I hissed and retreated around the corner just in the nick of time.  His horse reared up as he did an abrupt spin and he dived into the mouth of the alley, plunging his sword into my chest.  I clamped my hands over my heart and threw my weight back against the rough wall, staggering and groaning before finally letting my head slump and my tongue hang out.  I stayed still for a moment, committing to the role, until I felt his arm around my shoulders and his lips pressing against my temple.
“Hey!” I objected.  “You don’t slay the dragon and then kiss her.  You kiss the princess.  This doesn’t make sense.”  He chuckled and gave me a little squeeze.
“Well come on then princess.  I’m hungry.”  I slipped my arm around his waist and allowed him to lead towards the bright lights of a kebab shop, even though he had sort of spoiled the story.

     As we walked in silence, chips keeping our hands warm and our mouths occupied, I wondered why life couldn’t always be this simple.  Walking.  Eating.  Laughing.  A moment free from thinking about the abrupt alarm that would wake us up the next morning, the mad rush to get dressed and out the door and onto our separate buses in enough time to get to the jobs we didn’t even like.  A moment free from worrying about bills and food shopping and the concerning damp patch in the bathroom that seemed to be growing by the day.  The headache from the wine, the extra hour in the gym for the chips, the chores and the commute and the colleagues.  Tomorrow all of those things would combine and they would stop me from remembering this feeling.  And it wouldn’t be until the next time I was tipsily walking home to the flat I loved – but could barely afford – with the man I loved that I would feel this way again.  If I was lucky.  These moments can’t be engineered.  They have to sneak up on you.  That’s what makes them special.  Maybe I could have explained this better.  I’ve told this story to friends who’ve said they don’t get it.  “But it was cold and you were walking through a rough bit of town and you were just…eating chips.”  But maybe you will.  Or maybe that’s why it’s special.  Because no one else has to get it.  It’s mine, and it’s his, and it’s better than any fancy meal or expensive holiday.  And one day, we’ll look back fondly on this period of our lives.  When all we had were silly games and shit jobs and each other.  When all our money was spent on extortionate council tax and books and cheap wine.