CREATIVE Michael Nath

NWR Issue 119

The Treatment

On a night when the millennium was young, Craig Norman, then my boss at The G*******, took me to the Tiresias. It was Craig’s birthday and Craig was amply furnished with cocaine – which he wouldn’t lay out till we’d been to stare at strippers in Commercial Street and put pounds in the pot, then come west to the Red Fort, and later, heavy-stomached, up some stairs in an alley to this club that was the threadbare side of seedy, even church hall side of seedy, lacking in anything but functional comfort, with tables that rocked and ungrateful chairs. And this was the time when the capital’s celebrities of the kind you’ll remember for their brilliance, beauty, wit, élan, and tendency to be exculpably involved in the deaths of others who’d been chatting to them only half an hour ago by the open window, wouldn’t have been permitted to be seen dead in such a place by their agents, minders, or PR units. Thus, the Tiresias.

Craig signed us all in, me, righteous Ellis McMahon, a buffoon called Dragonheart. Laura and I were now separated, on grounds of blandness and anti-spontaneity (my complaint) and irritation and fake spontaneity (hers), and she was living in Devon; along with a miserable sense of vandalism, I had a gap to fill. By the bar, a blonde in a peculiar hat, and a husky woman in unclean plimsolls and leather trousers, were grouped before a high-backed bench of dark wood, when a voice said, ‘Yer look like Charles Bovary in that cap, our Cassie,’ and they parted to reveal the speaker, who had in her lap a little dog. A hazel-eyed young lady it was, with dark hair and lipstick like a ‘This-way-for-Sin’ sign, who asked me what I was staring at, and the church hall became a sort of coven. I was about to apologise or back off, but her eyes were merry, so I asked her who was Charles Bovary, and she cried, ‘Sling this one out! Meant to be a literary salon in here. Doesn’t know first thing about books!’ Craig Norman suggested I knew a lot of other things, and she said, ‘Well tell us summat!’

I was saved by John Dragonheart, who found it difficult not to be the most heard person in any gathering for many seconds, and began flyting with the dark lady about her accent while I swayed in her eye-magic. Some time after, she came and sat by me at a rickety table like she had the freedom of the place and asked what I’d eaten for tea. Pickled chicken and vindaloo puffs. She thought as much. Then Craig Norman made signs and we two and Dragonheart went down to a shithouse where the smell of piss was like strong condiment, and the light didn’t work. We snorted powder off a pocket-size listings mag, reascending to the coven in good fettle where the dark lady reappeared at my side to advise there was a nice clean lav upstairs, for future reference. I was about to deal with the little witch, when she disappeared. Dragonheart kept me occupied; the bracket lamps made anchors in his eyes...

Michael Nath’s first novel, La Rochelle (Route, 2010), was shortlisted for the James Tait Black Memorial Prize (2011). His second, British Story: A Romance (Route, 2014), was a Morning Star ‘Book of the Year. He has published short fiction, extracts and translations regularly in Stand, Critical Quarterly, New Welsh Review, Argonauta, Litro, Route anthologies, Main Street Journal and Billy Liar. A tribute to Mark E Smith appears in Messing up the Paintwork (Ebury Press, 2018). He teaches English Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Westminster. His novel, The Treatment, from which this is an extract, will be published by Quercus in 2020.

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