Picking Up In Butetown, Putting Down In Ely 2005
by Writer 3
Alexander, tall, slim, 35, in tailored jacket and trousers extinguished his cigarette under the heel of his Boss lace-ups. His blue eyes watched the little light go out and the night fill the space.
He was in Butetown, it had used to be a part of Cardiff docks until the docks had been replaced by the modern construct of Cardiff Bay. There were signs in Welsh and English to let you know but Butetown was still recognisably Bute.
Cardiff Bay on the other side of Lloyd George Avenue averted its eyes from the Everything For A Pound shops and Pawnbrokers of Butetown, it didn’t want to see.
Alexander counted on that.
He pushed open the door of The White Horse.
The smell of alcohol washed over him, low level chatter fiddled at his ears.
You didn’t need signs here.
The White Horse was busy with people either poor or within touching distance of poor. Many sat unable to buy a drink, waiting for others to buy one for them.
A Friday night.
Eyes thin and eager swept over Alexander’s expensive jacket and minds narrow with need made their calculations.
It did not bother him that they saw him as parts, put a cash value to each piece, everyone did that, only kids believed otherwise and he was a man, full grown. It had taken him a while.
At one end of the pub a bone thin man in an ill fitting suit whispered to a fat man in an intricately decorated leather jacket. Both wore heavy gold necklaces and bracelets. There were no signs on their ornaments just the brute fact of precious metal. The rich in Butetown were rich in the way that poor people were rich.
At the bar Alexander ordered a pint of Brains, let his long tongue lap at it.
As the glass was at his lips his elbow was jogged, his mouth overfilled and a little of the beer ran onto his chin.
“You shouldn’t spill it,” said the woman who had knocked against him. “That’s money gone to waste.”
Alexander took another pull at the beer, felt it go down clear and true.
“Could you buy a girl a drink?”
The tone was formal.
Alexander turned his head and examined her. Shoulder length blonde hair framed a face pinched around cheek and chin, the face carefully made up around blue eyes. She was carrying a small scar high on her forehead which she had attempted to powder but could not entirely hide. He guessed her age to be late twenties but he knew that his estimate might be high, people could be aged in ways other than the passing of years. She was short and thin and in her red dress close to pretty.
He said: “What’ll it be?”
“My question, don’t you think?” she said under her breath so that only Alexander could hear and cracked a lipsticked smile.
Alexander did not return the smile.
“A vodka and tonic,” she quickly added.
“Vodka and tonic,” Alexander called to the barman.
“Ice and lemon,” put in the woman.
“I know, I know,” said the barman.
The woman sipped at her vodka. “I’m Kylie,” she said.
The man behind the bar snorted.
“Thanks for the drink,” said Kylie and ignored the barman. “What are you doing afterwards?”
“Going home,” said Alexander.
“Nice place, is it? Local?”
She meant the Bay, he was dressed for that.
“Ely,” said Alexander.
A moment then: “Long time since I been out that way, wouldn’t mind going there again.”
It had to be the clothes. Butetown had the Bay, Ely had nothing but the way he presented that was the hook.
Alexander finished his drink, stepped out of the pub. Kylie gulped her vodka and followed.
The mini-cab office stank of tobacco although no one was smoking. Kylie ordered a cab from a controller who knew her.
The controller, a tiny, black man, smirked at Alexander.
Alexander lit a cigarette.
The controller tapped a No Smoking sign taped to the office wall.
Alexander drew on his cigarette, looked at the man.
“Come on,” said Kylie tugging Alexander’s arm. “Our cab’s here.”
The cab driver was a blown up version of the mini-cab controller, the same smirk was pinned to his face.
They could be brothers, thought Alexander.
He got into the cab with Kylie and the driver pulled away. Alexander looked out of the window of the Honda. After dark Cardiff was populated by drunks. He could imagine the same, inane smirk on every one of them.
Kylie slipped her hand into his trouser pocket, began to feel around. She leant close to him and whispered: “Let’s agree terms now, with that out of the way we can get on with enjoying ourselves.”
She dug her hand a little further in.
Alexander thought that his wallet was not in his trouser pocket, she would not find her money there.
Kylie kept her hand in motion, felt his hardening response.
Right on the money.
“What if we make a night of it,” she said. “We could really party.”
Alexander pulled his wallet from his inside jacket pocket and counted out the notes.
He saw the driver’s eyes watch as he passed the money to Kylie. He should keep his eyes on the road. He turned his head from Kylie, looked at the night they were passing through. He saw the puddles of lights put there by the talents of man. All light had this quality: it could be put out.
His place was a block of flats, Cowbridge Court on the Cowbridge Road.
The council build of Ely, 25,000 souls, had the occasional owner occupier along the artery of the Cowbridge Road. Where he had bought made it easy to get out of and the prices, well it was what he could afford after his marriage had fallen apart.
He had given the driver an address on Caerau Lane, a little south of the Cowbridge Road.
“Must have got it wrong,” he explained to Kylie. “It’s not far,” and began to walk.
She looked at the departing cab. “It’s your night,” and nodded.
As she tramped after him, her high heels clicking out their progress she said: “Don’t get much traffic out this way.”
She was game, a real pro, she had been paid and she would deliver, Alexander had nothing but respect for that.
Cowbridge Court was four storeys of 1960s build, his flat was at the top.
They began to climb.
Through three years of residence he had come to understand what they were passing. Mr. and Mrs. Harvey in number two, married for forty years, always together now Mr. Harvey had retired, early to bed they were separate in their dreaming. In that separateness Mr. Harvey went back to work, to some long past, over imagined love which with the suppleness of dreams mixed with his boyish fantasy of Welsh cowboys. And Mrs. Harvey next to him, her teeth in a glass, was sophisticated in her dreams, was stunning. Rich, powerful men threw themselves at her feet.
Alexander knew that from the little things they had let slip.
In flat three in front of the telly was Connie Williams. Her husband was on the road between Croatia and Cardiff and she had joked, almost flirted with Alexander about their first time, how at the end of the day she had sneaked into his cab as she hoped other women did not. Then they had both been wearing L-plates, now they were saving for a baby. When the kid was born they would be out of here.
Mr. Griffith, a sailor washed up at fifty-three into flat four, thought of himself as a satyr on a sunny, female rich island where it never rained as it rained in Wales. Tony and Emmy in flat five were one, big twenty-something smile through which when Tony had to work late Emmy let slip their dreams and her fears. The set of her face never changed.
People: they just couldn’t stop talking about themselves.
Alexander ushered Kylie into his flat.
As he closed the front door Kylie wrapped her arms around his neck.
“We’ll have a good time tonight,” she said. “I know we will.”
Alexander disengaged himself from her, asked: “What about a night-cap?”
She answered: “Whatever you’ve got.”
She was hard and bright and right there, trying to seem up for anything.
He poured her a vodka, took nothing for himself.
She hesitated, then drank.
His eyes crawled over her motion.
“That’s enough now.”
She looked at him. There was still stuff left, still vodka.
“Enough,” and he showed her what to do. Love was a transaction.
Kylie knelt naked on the bed as Alexander unbuttoned his trousers.
When he was undressed Kylie lay down and Alexander secured her to the bed-frame. He had suggested tying her down and she had not demurred, she had negotiated an extra payment.
Her upper arms and thighs were messy with the marks of needles.
He bent his head to the marks on her thighs, licked them, imagined blood flowing out of the needle punctures and onto his tongue.
He felt her tense as his tongue moved from needle mark to needle mark, raised his head and saw her hands tugging at their bindings. That excitement. He entered her gently, staring into the dark, built to a fury which broke as he came.
He looked at Kylie as though surprised to find her there.
He rolled off her.
Kylie pulled at her binding. “Could you?”
Of course. It wouldn’t do to leave her tethered. He untied her.
She sat up. “I just need to,” and nodded at her handbag.
Alexander thought of how separate he was from people who crabbed about Cardiff’s streets. He imagined the city having one screaming head, one crab-apple heart, pictured himself taking off the head, digging out the heart. It was a good thing to imagine.
“Do you need something?” Kylie asked. She was sitting at the end of his bed.
“What?” Alexander lost the image of a decapitated, dehearted Cardiff.
“A pick-me-up, whatever. You know.”
Alexander heard her voice stretch for bouncy but fail, brought down by the weight of her need. Some things could not be passed off.
He extended his muscled arm, pulled her back to him.
“Good price,” she said.
He kissed her on the lips.
“That’s extra,” she whispered. “You got to pay for that.”
He gave long, bruising kisses.
He licked his way from her mouth to her breasts, kept going, past her belly and thigh, imagining the small, odourless hardness of a pill on her tongue, that point of dryness dissolving. Drugs had brought her into his arms, a chemical thing which could be written down and understood.
He was getting the taste of her.
The tip of his tongue gathered up a bead of her sweat. An experiment for this chemical girl: how much more would she sweat if he kept her from her drugs?
Alexander caressed each of Kylie’s toes, carefully licked the soles of her feet, then he was off the bed and rummaging in her handbag.
Kylie sat up. “Hey.”
“Proper little pharmacy in here, haven’t you.”
He faced her, the needle marks on her arms and legs, the craving in her eyes.
“We’ll have none of that here. Not tonight.”
Kylie smiled nervously.
“I mean it,” he said.
He returned to the bed, delicately rubbed the palm of his hand on the needle marks at the top of her arms.
“But I need to,” she said.
What were our needs that they must be fulfilled? He said: “I know you do,” and kissed her shoulder.
He would keep her from her drugs and so prevail over what she could not overcome. He would show her the way.
Kylie made an effort to get off the bed but he held her, eased her down to the pillow.
“I don’t want to share you,” he said.
She would not look at him.
Deep in the night, sweaty and full of jerking muscles, she made a final attempt to get off the bed and to her drugs. He maintained his grip and the effort left her.
He smiled at how easily he had got the better of what she had thought could not be bettered.
She sobbed the names of her drugs to herself. “I need them,” she pleaded. “I’ll die without them.”
She would but not because of them. He kept her wrapped in his arms and safe from her heart’s desire.
It was right to take care of her like the others.
That was only proper.
End of Picking Up In Butetown, Putting Down In Ely 2005