Happy Hour: How beautiful

Words by Andrew Hutchinson

Pictures by James Blake

Published on April 16, 2014

Happy Hour was extended on account of the bar’s owner crashing through the doors in the late afternoon, voice creaking like an old gate. He’d won on the races. ‘Drinks all round’. This was in New Cross Gate, on the edge of London. I was there visiting Mikey who was working behind the bar, and by this stage he’d already waterlogged me full of concoctions that scraped my trachea but warmed my insides.

I got talking to these two girls from a university nearby who’d just finished their last day of term. The evening spun through warm colours of pool table lights, pouring liquids and shining teeth, then Mikey finished up and leaned into my ear to sort out which girl was who’s and we squeezed into the corner booth, shoes stomping on tables to sing out each chorus.

Our breath floated like ghosts through the orange streetlights. There was a line to get in and security were patting everyone down as they went through. We staggered through the night, arms flailed wide across the concrete, swinging off lamp posts until the Tube train arrived and we slumped onto the piss-stained seats as it slid out into the night.

I don’t remember this. Mikey tells me how I kept telling the one girl how beautiful she was. How I kept saying it, over and over. He reminds me of it anytime we have a drink. I don’t recall. I do remember realising I was too close to her at one stage, of being aware I’d got too close. And I remember her saying about her brother, how he’d cut me if I did the wrong thing. I imagine I mused of her beauty in response.

In that ‘Underworld’ song he sings about Tottenham Court Road, which was reason enough for us to stumble out at that station and drift into the London streets. The city was alive in the middle of the night, lights dragging, rushing by my leaning head. There were tables out on a crowded footpath and beers and Mikey whispering to some European guy about drugs and then they drifted off into the night. Mikey waved as he went. And as we wandered on my eye caught a woman walking by.

It was Julia Stiles. She was just there, bustling through the crowd like everyone else. Then consciousness flooded back, long enough for me to realise that I was too drunk, that I was seeing things. That I needed to go home before I accosted some innocent to ask a random question about ‘Ten Things I Hate About You’. Then I dragged my feet round a corner and saw this billboard, this huge looming image watching over the people below. It was for some theatre show, starring Julia Stiles. It was her. I ran back round and yelled out, my voice creaking like an old gate. She didn’t turn around. I watched her move through the tide of people, washing through the night.