Gin drains her glass, and winces. ‘That was too sweet,’ she says.
He’s standing an arm’s length away, polishing the bar. ‘You were smacking your lips earlier,’ he says.
‘Well I’m not smacking them now,’ she says. ‘You mixed it too sweet.’
‘I always mix it the same,’ he says. He moves further down the bar. ‘Miserable old drunk,’ he says under his breath, but not low enough, and she catches a word. She raises her glass then bangs it down. He gives her a look.
There are hundreds of bottles in front of her, so shiny and soothing, the colours of the night. ‘The vermouth,’ she says, pointing along as if looking for a book. ‘Is it Italian?’
‘It’s the same vermouth as last night and the night before,’ he says. ‘You’re the only one that drinks it.’
‘Show me,’ she says, squinting. But her vision starts to fuzz, and she feels as if she might be about to topple. She puts both hands onto the bar, and that does the job. ‘Blood pressure’s a curse,’ she says.
The door bursts open and a couple of punters walk in. Gin’s never seen them before. Young boys, blowing into cupped hands and removing their scarves. The barman goes over. They order beers. ‘That won’t warm you,’ shouts Gin. The skinny boy looks down and shuffles a bit. ‘Don’t worry,’ she says, ‘I won’t bite.’ The boy smiles. A pretty smile. Such pretty lips. ‘Not unless you want me to,’ she says, grabbing hold of the bar again.
The barman’s back, touching her hand. ‘It’s time to go home, Gin,’ he says.
‘Yes,’ she says, disarmed by the sudden softness. ‘Perhaps it is.’
On her way out, she has to walk by the trio of Rose Street whores commanding its usual corner by the games machine. The women are watching her approach. Gin fingers her necklace, and eyes the one with the prominent teeth.
‘Early night, love?’ says toothy.
‘He’s mixing the drinks wrong,’ says Gin, leaning in. ‘Too much vermouth, or the wrong type. I don’t think it’s Italian.’
The whores smell like loose face-powder in the bottom of an old handbag. Toothy mutters something, and the others cackle. Gin steps away. ‘Laugh all you like, you ugly old cunts,’ she says. The three gale with laughter.
In the street, cold air bites into her face and stings her eyes. She snakes homewards, leaning on the wind. Once inside, she drops onto the carpet, just for a rest on the way to the kitchen. She thinks of the boy in the bar, and the lips that she’ll never taste, and she hammers her fists on the floor. The man downstairs shouts up. She shouts back, tells him to mind his own business. He goes quiet. He knows not to push her. She closes her eyes. It’s comfortable on the carpet and she might sleep for a while, but her cheek will have marks when she wakes. Carpet marks and untasted lips. The world is so cruel.