Ben Waters

Rocks Around The Clock

The crack-buzz starts to subside halfway up the Lothian Road, and Tristan’s getting paranoid: the bouncers in the doorways are like King Kong, each and every one of them—eyes on him, despite the swaying queues before them. This confuses Tristan. Like, am I a peachy blonde in a leopard-skin dress? Am I in black and white? Fuck, no. Get your eyeballs off me. His legs are shaking, and he can’t stop grinding his teeth.

As he stumbles across the road he realises other people are staring at him. He catches his reflection in a bookshop window. His eyes are like two table-tennis bats—flashing an invisible ball across the bridge of his nose. He gets deliberate with his steps and keeps his eyes cast low.

He tries to distract his mind from the craving. It’s close to midnight, he hums. Michael frigging Jackson? That’s enough of that. He tries to moonwalk, but it feels like dragging two cannonballs through melting tarmac. Time to get practical. He checks out the people he passes, looking for an easy steal—a handbag slipping off a forearm; a wallet sticking up from a back jeans pocket; that kind of thing.

He tries to snatch the bag of a drunken woman sitting in a doorway, but the bag is hooked around her arm, and won’t come free. He gives it up when her mumbling gets louder, and it starts to look like he is robbing, rather than helping her.

He slips down a side street, heading for the Grassmarket.

He trips on a wayward paving stone, and smacks into a newsagent’s window. It doesn’t break, but blood is streaming down his nose—he wipes his four-day stubble with the back of his hand. Fuck. Happy New Year.

He slumps into a doorway, smokes the last of his rocks, then throws his head back and waits until he feels the blood stop trickling down the back of his throat.

The Grassmarket: Finally. Tristan crashes through the doors of The Black Bull. Christ, seething. After a few minutes of ebb and flow with the crowd, he sees his target—a little cowgirl, complete with Stetson; her face strawberry-red, puffing as if she’s run a marathon. Her handbag is on the floor beside her. Tristan goes with the flow, the crowd turning him like a slow-motion pinball. He gets within arm’s reach, snatches the bag, pushes the cowgirl into the huddle of her friends, and shoots for the door.

He throws the doors open. Home free. But something weird is happening to his legs—he looks down at his trousers. They are around his ankles. The cowgirl is on the floor, with his belt in between her teeth, and his pockets balled up in her fists, hanging on for dear life. I can’t believe this shit. In the background he sees a huge cowboy muscling through the cowgirls, looking ready to wrestle a prize bull to the ground. Sweating and hyper-ventilating, Tristan wriggles like an eel. Finally the belt snakes out of the loops on his trousers. He snatches them up, makes it out the door, and pelts for the shadows of an archway.

He strips her purse on a darkened stairwell, whistles. Oh yes, this night mine. He gives an emphatic rap on the door of the dealer’s flat.

Princes Street Gardens, down by the War Memorial: the wind ripping through, the whole gardens dancing, every bush like a banshee. Tristan can barely stand up. He can’t get the image of that couple in the hotel window out of his head; them looking down, bathed in the warm light of the room, him practically crawling up the street, heading here. He imagines being in that room, raiding the minibar—putting his feet up on the radiator.

He pulls his lacerated jacket tight around him, cursing the fence. His hands are stained with mud and grass from slipping down the bank. He wipes the worst of it off on the torso of an Unknown Soldier, and heads further into the gardens; looking for shelter. Five minutes to midnight. He has no idea how he knows this. He collapses into a bush, and waits for the fireworks.

The fireworks kick off and he lights the biggest rock, filling his lungs. He tries to keep his head from nodding out, so he can take it all in. That’s when he starts to see them, emerging from the shadows.

First, Tonka, big as a truck, steps out of a shelter, arms aloft, tipping beer all over his head. Then, looking left, a guy Tristan knows from the hostel crawls out from under another bush; like he’s just emerging from a portal to another universe.

Further back, he sees Bad Barry and Lily—pirouetting and embracing, like two dancing bears, or two exhausted boxers—the vodka bottle in Barry’s hand tapping Lily’s shoulder like a hopeful suitor, trying to cut in for a dance.

Tristan laughs. And laughs and laughs and laughs. All us lowlife, with the prize seats for a multi-thousand pound display. Us all down here in the dark, them all up there on the streets looking for buses and shelter. Fuck ’em.

He passes out just as the final crescendo explodes overhead.