gosh – darlings – we’d Completely forgotten we’d started this story – a long(ish) time ago – but something about the rain Today (RAIN?!) in los angeles and of course we are Thrown Instantly Back to Brighton (did we tell you who-we-are-in-RL was born in brighton?)
so here’s the beginning of something that we never finished – maybe we never will – but *sighs* at Some Point it might be somewhat Cathartic and possibly Lucrative.
Back in Brighton
Maisie had not intended to go back.
But when the first year at university ended her rich friends took off for glorious adventures abroad, or headed deep into the English countryside for endless summers at their family estates. With neither option on the horizon; and the distinct lack of money in her bank account requiring actual paid work, rather urgently, she sighed and took the train back to Brighton.
She found a house that someone needed looking after for the summer by the Duke of York cinema and asked for her old waitress job back at Fitz.
It was as if she had never been away. The same lilting voices of the art students from Liverpool drifted across the wooden tables and mismatched chairs as they sat eating a fry-up before retreating to the kitchen to prep. Only the waitresses changed each season. All except Maisie who had started there when she was seventeen and, with her recent return, never really left.
A week after arriving back in Brighton and working at Fitz a familiar routine enveloped her again. She lit another cigarette and looked out at the July rain. Some kind of summer, she sighed. The restaurant was set up, the chefs busy downstairs and the other waitresses – Joan and Sue – were gossiping in the back by the coffee pots over Joan’s new conquest, Darren, the soux chef.
Then came the unmistakable sound of a screw top bottle being opened, something poured into glasses and the bottle replaced on the shelf. Maisie knew what had just taken place – the so-called Fitz Nip – a pre-shift slug of coffee liqueur emptied into a frothy milk-rich beverage. She took a drag of her cigarette, finished it and stubbed it out and went to turn the sign on the door to open.
As it was a Saturday the shift got busy really quickly and the three women were barely able to catch their breath. It was only when Sue asked her to take an order on table nine because she had to nip to the loo, that Maisie realized they were both completely drunk.
When surrounded by others getting quietly hammered during Saturday afternoon shifts, it was best to follow suit, so she quickly took the order on number nine and helped herself to the bottle of liqueur on the dresser. It did not matter, after all. Fitz was hardly an upscale restaurant, it was a place you sunk into, gratefully, to escape the rain or to while away the afternoon with one cup of coffee during a quiet afternoon writing your novel.
Fitz was named after Mrs Fitzherbert, the mistress of the Prince Regent, who later became George IV, and there had been a cafe called Fitz on the premises since between the wars. A gay man from Chicago had bought the resturant on a whim from bankruptcy court in the mid 80s and, just as quickly, sold it on to two brothers from Leeds.
You never saw the owners who were savvy enough to install a bona fide restaurant manager, Mike. Mike was a thin man who dressed in ill-fitting grey suits, losing the jacket to help out during Saturdays in his shirtsleeves.
During her first winter working at Fitz, Mike had suddenly appeared before the evening shift, on a quiet Wednesday, wearing tight jeans and a black leather bomber jacket, on his way to hear a big punk band play down in one of the clubs under the arches by the beach. It had seemed so unlikely. Especially since the ill-fitting suits returned the very next day and the leather jacket was not seen again. But Maisie knew Mike had another side. Everyone at Fitz had another side.
She had been left on her own that night. Not many customers, a few tourists in need of a reasonable, dubiously English-style meal or one of the slightly risqué-named hamburgers. Like the “magic mushroom burger” (the only magic was a lethal garlic mayonnaise – she watched Darren make it fresh once a week) or the “Saturday night burger”: was the pineapple on melted cheddar meant to be an extra special – only-once-a-week treat? Or was there something suggestive in the pineapple ring almost penetrated by the strips of bacon lying across it? That was Darren’s theory. But, that first winter, she had been a seventeen-year old virgin so just blushed.
A full two years later she did not blush when the boarding school boys came in with their local girl dates and ordered the burgers by name; the blood rushing up the backs of their necks as the sassy Brighton girls sucked on a cherry on the top of their Diet Coke swizzle sticks.
Maisie clocked off at four and headed for her locker downstairs by the kitchen. She opened the door and saw Darren smoking on the iron steps that led to the patch of concrete where the kitchen put the rubbish out each night. He turned around as he heard Maisie flip open her Zippo lighter.
“I didn’t think you’d come back,” he said, looking directly at her in that art student way of his, as if appraising her face for the way the light fell before he drew her. “Not once you’d been to London.”
He said London as if it did not impress him at all. The inverted snobbery of the Northerners was not lost on Maisie. The way they left Liverpool and Manchester to come to the art college in Brighton, by-passing London entirely and yet, if they had any hope of a commercial career in art, the very city they would have to settle in.
She wanted to answer Darren in a way that would make him realize she was no longer Mousey Maisie, the teenage waitress. Not that she had any interest in Darren but his opinion set the tone at Fitz so she needed to make sure this summer got off on the right foot. While she was still thinking of an answer the kitchen bell rang and Darren got up, handed her a beer from the ice bucket on the steps and disappeared.
Maisie almost dropped it but Darren didn’t notice. He had gone. It was not that she did not want it. But it was only four o’clock. And if this summer was about drinking at four o’clock there would not be an adventure. And she really needed an adventure this summer.
and from a little bit further on…….
The corrugated iron door was ajar and she could hear a track of music blending into another as a line of melody clashed with dark drumbeats and then, finally, silence. Constance, dressed in boy’s jeans and a stringy tank top waved from the DJ booth. Maisie waved back and took a warm beer bottle from the crate in front of the booth. She watched Constance for a while and tried to see if she had changed at all since last summer when they all celebrated the end of school and the beginning of what was next. Constance had stayed behind in Brighton to continue DJ-ing at the Zap. Her parents were both in the music industry so rarely around and certainly not worried that she did not want to go to university.
Maisie had learned how to blow smoke rings in Constance’s bedsit opposite the Palace Pier. A one room disaster zone in a crumbling Regency house. The orange swirly carpet studded with cigarette burns from the mid-70s, a kitchenette, never used, a bed, always unmade, and a nubbly brown sofa rescued from the street. Constance and Jolyon, her sometime lover/sometime dealer lived on pizza, beer and cigarettes, projecting John Wayne movies and stolen porn onto the blank wall from an old projector.
Finally Constance wrapped up her mix session in the booth and came down to look at Maisie who, unlike Constance, had changed radically in the course of a year. Her old schoolfriend took in the black bob that replaced the long blonde hair, the thin layer of black liquid eyeliner on her eyelids and the distinct dark circles underneath. Maisie shivered. She felt strange being back here at the Zap, especially under Constance’s scrutiny.
The Zap had been the pinnacle of Brighton nightlife their entire teenage years. A place she despaired of ever being old enough to get into. A place of many drunken, wonderful, Bacchanalian confusions but now, with the fading shaft of cold daylight from the rainy beachfront piercing the shabby interior, it looked drab. Constance took the points of Maisie’s new black bob and pulled them towards her cheekbones. “Very Louise Brooks,” she said. Maisie felt foolish. Of course it was exactly why she had a black bob cut in the first place. But it was embarrassing to have someone know that about you.
and the last bit before we Dash out of the door to do-some-work-in-the-Valley.
The sweet shops selling rock and toffees and ice-cream under the arches were closing for the night and the pubs were opening on every corner as Maisie made her way up the hill, past the railway station, and into the house she was looking after for the summer. It was completely silent. A really ordered house. There was no clutter or eccentricities or junk flowing down the stairs. There was even a coat stand by the door and a little shelf where you could hang your keys. Maisie still thought that was so grown-up, so strange, but she carefully hung up the still unfamiliar key ring and checked her appearance in the hall mirror. She smiled sadly at herself, thinking of Constance’s non-committal reaction.
“Doesn’t look as if anyone is going to throw me a welcome home and coming out party then.” She went upstairs and crawled into bed and try to fall asleep but she was hungry.
The best thing about working in restaurants is they feed you. The worst thing about working in restaurants is you never buy food to keep in the house. Maisie decided she could not stay in so she got up, pulled on her clothes again. A bag of peanuts in the front balcony seats for the late showing at the art-house cinema next door would do for supper again.
Summer passed quickly as the restaurant got busier and Maisie fell back into the routine of working, watching endless old movies and going clubbing at the Zap at the weekend. Then Constance moved to Glasgow at the end of the summer to DJ but did not leave a forwarding number. Maisie only found out when she wondered why someone else was in the DJ booth that night.
After her shift the next day she went round to Constance’s bedsit and found Jolyon sitting on the steps smoking a joint and reading Camus. Or rather not reading Camus but the note stuck inside a copy of Camus, left by Constance. They talked for a while. Jolyon did not appear to be upset. But there again Maisie could not remember Jolyon ever actually having any sort of emotion for as long as she had known him. They walked to the train station together. Jolyon had decided to move to London, now Constance had left Brighton; as if her exit gave him permission to leave too. He told Maisie he was moving to Blackheath.
“Do you know why it is called Blackheath?” asked Maisie, who was full of odd bits of knowledge. Jolyon did not look as if he cared. But he did perk up slightly when Maisie explained it was because of the Black Plague. She explained nothing could ever be built on the heath itself for fear of releasing the plague once more. Jolyon barely registered what Maisie was saying. So she asked him why, exactly, Blackheath?
He was more forthcoming about that. He told her about his brother who was a fight instructor at The National Theatre and lived with a crowd of dancers and actors who passed through each other’s bedrooms and lives under the watchful gaze of the mural of Salvador Dali painted on the kitchen wall, his mustache flicked over the peeling paint on the window frames. “You should come over some time” said Jolyon, leaning into Maisie’s breasts as he tried to steady himself and buy a train ticket from the machine.
hmmmm, it’s Definitely bringing back memories…….maybe we’ll leave this one for Another Time and finish The House on Church Row before writing a 2nd Emerald novel ;-)
maybe this one is Next.
sometimes stories just get Insistent to be told.
or r e l e a s e d.