I’m five levels of tired; it’s 5am, and that new shitty remix of Mambo Number 5 is playing, the same song that’s been playing all summer at the Club, familiar thuds towards the end of each night to mark closing time, to mark The End of Times, to mark the mind-fuck of time. Today is my 16th birthday. I’d said I was already 18 to get this job. So what, I lied, everyone lies.
We sit in the breakroom and we don't talk. Everyone in the world above and below us is drunk and shrieking, and we are so sober; all the girls smoke and cough, and all the boys swallow Mars Bars and Salt and Vinegar crisps and Strawberry Yahoo like this is a school trip and the bus will never stop. When the fucking mambo finishes we all get back to mopping. I hear one, two, three-four-five, the DJ is playing Mambo Number 5 again, and I breathe out sound, and I mop — I scream softly, and cry and mop — I can feel the screams’ sharp splinter heartbeat louding, a tiny skull with tiny teeth, and the circle circles, everyone stares at me, like a séance, like they summoned me up out of the black, and I’m a silver cat a liquid bat an owl in a bucket, a screaming-mopping-freak and I remember. Yes. This is how it felt, hiding, in the 5am abandoned 19th Century Botanical Garden greenhouse at the park five years ago, this is how it felt to breath out a hot heart onto the floor and to not even wait, to see if the floor would scream back, but to leave, leave that park, leave that silver mop bucket on the ground, leave that owl hooting up the dawn, leave that day, leave that city, leave that life.
I dream about mopping every night.
I sleep, I mop.
I wake, I mop.
I have an earworm that also follows me home into my dreams, that drugged arrhythmic dance trance remix of Mambo Number 5, the tune, the heart-attack spasm, every time I hear it, that one, two, three-four-five, I think — the silver bucket baby is five years old now - one, two, three-four-five.
I was 11 when I birthed it, and when I left it.
Don’t speak about it, don’t think about it, don’t speak about it, don’t think about it.
Repeat five times, forever.
There are five lily pads floating on the botanical glasshouse pond, each one of them doing the mambo. I press my hand into on, to feel my own weight. I climb into it, into the fat cold green. I have no bones.
The first time we were kicked out of a flat, I was five. ‘Repossessing’ was my Mum’s word for it. That's what words and places and people were, already by then, transient things, that belonged to other people.
I get under the covers with the fleas. Half my body is in them; my blood in their bites; I’m a hard belt of fire. I spray my flesh with pound-shop insect repellent. My face, my arms — some gets in my eyes, but at least crying keeps the sharp corners away — I scratch until each fingernail is a comma of blood, five on the left, five on the right. I poltergeist. Months mambo through me in a scratch.
I am a glasshouse. A botanical garden, and inside me there is a baby on the ground. A translucent orchid-skin baby, asleep by the green roots of the Dragon Tree. Plump and cool, growing from moon sprinkled soil. Blink: baby after baby after baby, five of them, growing in mambo-swivels, from the vine. I’m the black, the night, the bats hitting the roof.
These have been my White Lightning years — the sugar-high-cheap-cider-in-a-plastic-bottle years, and I could go on forever like this — but no, 16 is going to be my hangover year, a cigarette on the top deck of the Night Bus, lungs hurtling towards black-rooms back-rooms, bar jobs full of people and techno, dub, trance, whatever; it all sounds like nothing, like Cash-In-Hand Under-the-Table No-Paperwork, year.
‘5 Levels of Sweet Crunchy Sound’ is how they advertise the club, like it’s a rock with strata or a very loud trifle. I ghost in I ghost out, smoke. I’ve not spoken a word outside of numbers in five months working here, just screamed out declarations of money owed, for beer and vodka and tequila. Mostly for bottled water, because everyone is so high. When I add it all up, I’ve not spoken anything outside of numbers and lies for 5 years. It’s my 16th birthday today, and I’m celebrating by not drinking any White Lightning, and maybe tomorrow I’ll be sober enough to blink and brink and spew and spit out my own storm, sing a fucking sea shanty to all those I’ve lost. I lip read through the job, the music is loud, but I smell the words in people, in their beer belch, their wet hands wanting change. I give them what they want — more — more drink, more drink — and I think about the eye of a cyclone, and how this current birthday-born tropical calm might mean nothing, and be nothing more than a temporary moment of 30-65 kilometres of clear vision and sunshine, and tomorrow I might be a shitstorm again, all white lightning and Here be Monsters, but after that, surely, surely there’s got to be some dry land, maybe a mountain, a rainbow, green pastures, still waters, or even just the edge of the map, some thing to finally fall off, and I mop the end of the night up, a pail of water-sweat-spit-beer-tequila-empty-pill-bags-vomit, then I taxi home, where I pass out into a dream of owls, singing in a silver bucket.