Friday, 4 October 2013

Some Scenes Have Been Created For Your Entertainment

“This isn’t working,” said Jake. “I think it would be for the best if we don’t see each other any more.”
Annabel said nothing, although she wasn’t exactly surprised. By the time she finally thought of a suitable response, she couldn’t help but feel that the moment had passed.
“Cut,” she said. “Can you do that again, Jake? But this time, really look at me. Don’t be afraid to get a little bit intense, to make the viewer squirm, you know?”
“For god’s sake, Annabel!” He snapped. “Can’t you see that this is the problem? I can’t indulge you any longer. I won’t go on being a player in this little show of yours. None of it is real – the whole thing is just too weird.”
Annabel frowned, hoping his comments hadn’t hurt Bill’s feelings. Bill was her cameraman.
“I understand,” she said, “but if we could just give this one more go –”
“No, Annabel, it’s over.”
“Oh, I know that,” she said. “What I meant was, could we give the breakup another go? One more take, maybe two. I think we’re so close to nailing it.”
Jake’s lip curled up in disgust, but she signalled for Bill to keep rolling. Sure enough, Jake stood up and stormed out of the restaurant. With the right editing, it would make the perfect cliff-hanger before an ad break.
Annabel was the first to admit; reality TV wasn’t for everyone. She’d had some doubts about it herself, when she first got the call from the production company. Because no matter how unseemly your average Guardian reader might find it, the qualms of the prospective starlet are double. Was she anxious, apprehensive even, at giving a film crew unlimited access to her life, of forfeiting mherprivacy for god knows how long? Of course. But she also knew that the show, The Sweet Life, was too big an opportunity to give up.
At the end of their first day of shooting, Bill had taken her aside and told her she was a natural. It took some getting used to at first; having to enunciate more, conducting the same conversations over and over in order to form a seamless narrative in the edit. And then there was the camera. She soon learned to suppress the instinct to smile or ‘act’, and just behave nonchalantly. It was funny, really. She’d always felt special. Like, maybe in another life she might have been Cleopatra, or Marie Antoinette, or Cheryl Cole. Turned out, she was born to be a TV star, which she thought beat being Kate Middleton any day.
When Annabel arrived home after her disastrous lunch with Jake, Mum and Dad were sitting in the living room. She positioned herself far enough away from the window that the late afternoon light wouldn’t ruin the shot, then said brightly:
“Hi kids! What’s new?” She talked to her mum and dad as if they were the young, hip parents of a 90’s sitcom. Apparently the fans loved it.
“Darling,” Mum beckoned for Annabel to sit next to her. Instead, she perched on the arm of the sofa, to better show off her Jimmy Choos. She was hoping to get an endorsement.
“We ran into Jake this afternoon,” Dad said. “He told us what happened.”
Damn. If Jake was blabbing to all and sundry about their recent split, it wasn’t going to come as much of a surprise to viewers when the episode aired.
“I won’t lie,” she said, with a heart-heavy sigh, “I’m really hurting right now.” This could be the episode’s closing act, she decided. The star of the show, letting down her confident, ready-to-take-on-the-world exterior, and showing her true feelings. There had been talk of a National TV Award, so she needed to give it her all.
“Why don’t you tell us your side of it, love,” said Mum, supportive as ever. Annabel had told her more than once that she was a firm fan favourite, but she’d hear nothing of it.
“Good idea,” said Dad. “Who dumped who?” Unfortunately, Dad’s directness had garnered him less in the way of a fan base.
“He…” Annabel paused, and let her voice falter. “He broke up with me. I never thought I was the kind of girl who needed to be with a man, but he made me really happy.” After another long pause, she added, just for good measure: “I'm heartbroken.”
“Oh, love…” Mum reached out and took Annabel’s hand in hers. “Did he say why?”
She hesitated before replying, reluctant to bite the hand that fed her, then resolved to tell the truth. She’d only be seen as braver for it.
“It’s the show,” she said. “It was all just too much for him.”
Mum’s expression changed.  She glanced at Dad, then turned back to face her.
“Annabel,” she said, in that gentle yet firm way of hers, “we’ve talked about this. There is no show.”
Annabel laughed. “What are you talking about?” Is this some kind of meta joke, she wondered, or perhaps something for the DVD extras?
“It’s all in your head, Annie,” Dad said. “The Sweet Life, the cameras, everything.”
Something in the way Mum and Dad looked at each other, that worried glance they shared, made Annabel uncomfortable in a way that being dumped by Jake just hadn’t.
“But Bill,” she said, no longer concerned with breaking the fourth wall.
“Bill’s not real either,” Mum said. “Look around. See for yourself.”
She turned to where Bill always stood when they were filming downstairs; in the doorway, where he could capture the entire room. Except he wasn’t there now.
“No,” she said, “this isn’t right. I’m a natural. People love me.”
Her eyes began to sting, and Mum pulled her into a tight embrace. Why did she feel like this conversation had happened before? Why did this feel like the umpteenth take? Tears quickly followed, and as she cried into her mother’s silk scarf, Annabel thought she heard Bill’s voice in her ear:
Give that girl a BAFTA.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Last Dance At Yoko's (Part 4 of 4)

Following his impromptu excursion into the past and metaphysically impossible reunion with his dead girlfriend, the day to day routine of Charlie Gillespie became something of a waiting game. He would eat, sleep, smoke weed and shoot the shit with Kat, but he did all of these things on autopilot – the whole time, he was listening for something. Fine tuning his senses as best he could to the whims of the universe, trying in vain to anticipate his next Quantum Leap.
But a watched universe never boils, and Charlie found the weeks passing with worrying regularity. Before he knew it, well over a month had gone by, and he began to despair. Might he not get another chance to put things right with Alicia? Had he wasted the chances he’d been given? Or, more probably, had he simply imagined the whole bizarre affair?
He could tell that Kat was feeling less and less inclined to humour him. He never intended to bring it up in conversation, knowing only too well how deranged he sounded, but he found it hard to stop himself. They’d be watching a reality show and Charlie would feel the topic bubbling up in his throat like a hiccup.
“I know it’s going to happen again, I just don’t know when,” he said once without provocation, and he swore he could see Kat physically resist the urge to roll her eyes. She very patiently explained to him that it had in all likelihood been a rather complicated coping mechanism, and he should see the fact that he was no longer experiencing these blackouts as a sign he should be moving forward.
But forward was not the direction Charlie was interested in, and they both knew it. At the end of the second month, Friday night came around but Kat didn’t. He knew he should pick up the phone, but it just never quite transpired. Nothing at all seemed to carry much importance anymore.
After what felt like a lifetime of avoiding the local shop like the plague, Charlie’s cupboards were now well stocked with all the essentials; lager, whiskey, vodka, schnapps for when he was feeling exotic, and a variety of hard-boiled sweets to go with the treats he had been able to procure from Twig, whose acquaintance he had decided to renew.
Friday nights became quite the party chez Charlie, not that anybody received an invite. He would crank up the Arctic Monkeys, work his way through a bottle of spirits and a dash of whatever else he had handy, and while away the hours rehearsing what he would say to Alicia when he next saw her.
“Don’t call her a bitch,” he would tell himself. “Don’t get into that row again, don’t ruin your last night together. Make it perfect, like it should have been, like it has to be.” He would play ballads and practise his slow dancing moves, knowing that “Careless Whisper” or “I Will Always Love You” could always be relied upon to make appearances at the end of the night in Yoko’s.
Charlie became so focused on preparing for his next trip that he stopped trying to predict it. He had no notion of when his reunion with Alicia would occur, only that it would, and this was where all of his energy went.
Once, on his way back from a fruitful meeting with Twig, he ran into Janelle in the street. He smiled and went to give her a hug; she shrugged him off and marched away at a steady chop, glancing back frequently over her shoulder, her eyes wide and panicked. She didn’t recognise him. Charlie tried to think when it was that he had met her, and where. The details eluded him; anything that had happened in his life before Yoko’s reopened for business seemed not quite real.
Even the most impatient children know that Christmas morning will always come eventually, and whether Charlie was good or not, he knew the same was true of that club, of that night. And not long after he saw Janelle, a week at most, Christmas came for him.
The third time that Charlie was plucked from his linear existence and thrust back into Yoko’s, torn on this occasion from a half-finished bowl of cornflakes, he recognised the pure Eighties piano synth assaulting his ears before his vision even had time to clear. Tears For Fears, one of the few old school groups Alicia had time for. “Head Over Heels”. 
He was standing on the edge of an empty dance floor. He turned around, scanned the entire club, but saw nobody. The place looked completely deserted. His chest began to tighten, he should have known dreams didn’t really come true…
And then he saw her.
“You’re late,” she said, emerging from the doorway that led to the Ladies.
“You’re dead,” he replied.
“Don’t change the subject, you’re still late.”
“I know. I’m sorry.”
“I’ve been waiting so long for you,” she told him, taking him by the hand and pulling him towards the dance floor.
“I tried to get here sooner,” he said. “But I forgot the way.”
“Doesn’t matter, you’re here now.” The song changed to something by The Cure, and Alicia began to rock gently.
“I’m still not sure I understand,” Charlie murmured, not entirely sure he cared anymore.
“Think about it,” Alicia whispered in his ear.  “When was the music here ever this good?” She stepped back and held out her arms.
“Dance with me,” she said.
Charlie took her by the hands and pulled her closer, as close as she could be to him without their bodies merging.  It dawned on him that he need never leave this place, that he had always belonged here, at Yoko’s, with Alicia. He would only ever be a stranger anywhere else.
The DJ spoke into his microphone, informing the club that the final song of the night was about to be played.  Alicia wrapped her arms around Charlie’s waist and he buried his face in her hair, breathing her in, and together they began to sway.

Last Dance At Yoko's (Part 3 of 4)

Charlie kept the promise he had made to himself and stopped taking Dr Clarke’s pills.  He gave the pub that Twig liked to do business in a wide berth, believing that if he avoided temptation, then the chances of a repeat of Thursday’s incident would be vastly reduced.
As he put more and more days between himself and the event, it became easier to think of as nothing more than a particularly vivid dream.  A chemical and emotional hiccup.  After a while, Charlie had all but forgotten the entire episode.
It was almost three weeks later that it happened for a second time.  Charlie had just bid Kat goodnight after a curious dinner which she had insisted was Persian, but looked and tasted more like Indian food would if it just stopped trying.  Charlie slumped down on the sofa with a beer, intending to flick through the channels until he came across some post-watershed foreign film that showed a little flesh.  But when he reached for the remote, he touched nothingness.  He could feel neither the sofa nor the floor beneath him.  There was only blackness, and silence.
When Charlie felt something solid beneath his feet, he opened his eyes which he hadn’t even realised were squeezed closed.  He was surprised by how little surprise he felt at being back in Yoko’s; this time, he had been deposited in the red corridor leading into the main club.  Thankfully, he didn’t appear to have been sick as a result of this latest trip.
He looked down, and sure enough, he was wearing the creased shirt and leather jacket from three years ago.  Even his shoes carried the same stains from numerous spilled beers.  Charlie walked slowly into the club, passing two young men who were engaged in the age-old ritual of mutual shoving, and scanned the room, knowing she would be here somewhere.
And sure enough, there Alicia was, dancing with her girlfriends to Joy Division, although Charlie knew for a fact that none of them would recognise this song beyond its use in remixes, samples and other bastardised efforts.  "Love Will Tear Us Apart".  A little on the nose, Charlie thought, not to mention out of the ordinary for Yoko’s on a Saturday night, when the edgiest fare one could expect was “Bohemian Rhapsody”.
Alicia tossed her hair in that rehearsed, stripper-like way of hers, and he could tell she had spotted him from the corner of her eye.  She waited for the song to finish before retrieving her tiny handbag from the small pile in the middle of their group and sauntering across the dance floor towards him.  She looked less angry than the last time – had he arrived at a different point in the evening?  Charlie glanced down at his wrist, but it was no use; he had never been the type of guy to wear a watch.
Alicia greeted him with a peck on the cheek, then took a small, expectant step back.
“Now I just know there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for why you’re so late.”
“Almost certainly,” Charlie said, old habits easing his tied tongue.  “And as soon as I think of one, I’ll tell you.”
Alicia frowned to cover up her involuntary smile.
“Stop me if you you’ve heard this one before,” he continued, “but did it hurt?”
“If the next words out of your mouth are ‘when you fell from heaven’, I may have to leave immediately.”
“Then my lips are sealed.”
“Let’s not be too hasty,” she interjected. “You know how fond I am of your lips.”
“Why don’t you remind me?”
He pulled her into his arms and kissed her.  Alicia kissed him back, completely unaware that from his perspective, this was their first kiss, their first embrace, in over one thousand days and nights.  This was more than a simple dream or memory.  Charlie knew his mind was incapable of recreating the smell of Alicia that night, the perfume and smoke and sweat.  She was real, and she was here; he could feel the heat and weight of her in his arms, on his lips.
Except, Charlie knew that this was not how things had played out that night.  He had arrived late, Alicia had been furious, and the spiteful row that followed had cracked their relationship open, allowing every tiny annoyance and resentment to come spilling out.  She had been unable to hold in any longer how much her friends pitied and mocked her for having to forever hang on, waiting for him to grow up.  He had decided to bring up the exact number of her close friends who happened to be male, succeeding in calling her a whore without ever uttering the hateful word.
Remembering that bitter truth was all it took, it appeared, to break the spell.  Charlie could physically feel Alicia vanishing from his arms as the strobe lights, drunken revellers and humid din of the club gave way to his living room once more.
“No!” He exclaimed, turning to punch the nearest wall.  Not satisfied with the first jolt of pain, he did this again, and then again, continuing to drive his fist into the wall until both his knuckles and the plaster were spattered with blood.  She had been right there.  He had spoken to her, kissed her for heaven’s sake; how could she simply be gone again?  It felt wrong.  Beyond unfair, it was obscene.
Charlie sank to the floor, cradled his wounded hand, and made a mental list, exploring every possible explanation for what was happening to him.  It turned out to be, inevitably, a rather short list:
1. I am actually, physically, travelling back in time.
2. I am going mental.
He was naturally inclined to believe the second one and get on the phone to the funny farm straight away, but something stopped him.  Something about the way Alicia's hair had smelled.  Like coconuts and nicotine.  If he inhaled deeply enough, he was almost sure he could still detect it.  Or at least, he thought he could.  Charlie dismissed the idea temporarily as he rose from the floor and went in search of a bandage for his hand.  He could be certain of only one thing.  If time travel really existed, then it was purely as a means for the universe to play a cruel joke on him.
He switched on the battered radio on the kitchen windowsill before putting his hand under the cold tap.  The Pixies were playing on whatever obscure, too cool for school radio station he had tuned it to months before.  “Where Is My Mind?”  Charlie swiftly turned the radio off before it could offer any answers.
To Be Continued
Read Part Four

Last Dance At Yoko's (Part 2 of 4)

Charlie rolled onto his back and continued to lie there, staring at the ceiling, for half an hour.  When that half hour came to an end, and he had failed to wrap his head around what had just happened, he sat up, walked into the kitchen and began to make himself some beans on toast.
“I’m going to have a word with Twig,” he muttered to the beans as he stirred them in their pan.  “God only knows what was in that stuff he gave me.”
The clock on the kitchen wall informed him it was approaching seven in the evening.  Charlie had left his new acquaintance Janelle’s home at around quarter past ten.  Which meant that he had spent the entire day hallucinating.  And had, at some point, made it back here safely.
Charlie ate his beans straight from the pan (there was no bread to make toast), then made a cup of excessively sweet tea and retired to the sofa that he must have somehow fallen from earlier.  It was the only explanation for the collision with the floor that had ended up waking him.  As for the dream itself, Charlie wasn’t too sure he felt like dwelling on it.
But dwell on it he did, as he lay in bed that night, sleep evading him at every toss and turn.  It was perfectly logical, he decided, as midnight melted into one, then two, then three.  He had been thinking about Alicia that morning, and then he’d suffered some ill effects courtesy of Twig, or Dr Clarke, or both.  It was only natural that his subconscious would throw up that night at Yoko’s to tease him; the last time he had ever seen Alicia, and they had fought.
That had been three years ago.  Three years in which Charlie did very little except go to the pub with his mates from home, the ones who hadn’t gone to uni.  Until one by one they started getting girlfriends, and jobs, even kids in some cases.  Three years passed, and everybody was busy living, except Charlie.
He’d thought about Alicia often, of course. Constantly, in fact.  First bitterly, licking his wounds, then more tenderly as time went by.  He wrote letters that he could never quite bring himself to send, picked up the phone a million times but always succumbed to his own cowardice.  He’d called her a cold bitch that last night in Yoko’s, before walking out and leaving her there.  That was what he relived every time he considered making contact, and the shame always stayed his hand.
And then eventually, of course, it didn’t matter if he wrote or not, because Alicia Solomon died.  Killed in a car accident along with her new rugby player boyfriend.  In fucking Australia, no less.  Charlie couldn’t help but think that Alicia would be pleased with that last part.  When friends and family spoke of her years from now, she would be remembered as the tragic, beautiful girl who died before her time… in Australia.
That was why he had been taken back to Yoko’s, Charlie decided as the night sky began to pale outside.  To him, Alicia had never left the nightclub.  She’d stayed where he’d left her.  Simple psychology, really.  As Charlie finally succumbed to sleep, he resolved to steer clear of Twig, and refrain from taking Dr Clarke’s pills again.  He could do without the guilt.
It didn’t dawn on him until his doorbell rang that evening, stirring him from his bed, that today was Friday.  Charlie didn’t have much in the way of a routine, or any real notion of structure in his life at all, but Fridays meant one thing and one thing only: Kat.  A former colleague from one of the brief periods where Charlie had held down a job, she was almost but not quite old enough to be his mother, but that had never got in the way of them being mates.  And, ever since the day that Kat had made it painfully clear to Charlie that he would never get into her knickers, very good friends was just what they had been.
When Charlie had first heard the news about Alicia, his mother and father had been sympathetic, as had most of the friends from whom he had drifted apart.  Everybody knew what she had meant to him.  But as the months slipped away and Charlie refused to make even the slightest move in the healthy and expected direction, people began to lose patience.  Mates returned to the vacuum from which they had appeared, and his parents rang every so often to make sure he hadn’t hanged himself. But, for the most part, Charlie was left to his own devices.
Except for Kat.  It had mystified Charlie at first, why she insisted on darkening his door every Friday with a takeaway and a bottle.  Her intentions were far from romantic, and Charlie had never done her such a kindness that it needed returning.  In the midst of his greedy, all-consuming grief, selflessness was something Charlie couldn’t conceive of.  A few Fridays had passed before he started to suspect that Kat might know a little something about what he was going through.
“Tell me about Alicia,” she’d said to him that first Friday, after helping herself to his best weed.  And so Charlie had told her, not realising until hours after, when he went to sleep, how much he had needed to talk about her, how saying her name aloud had almost been enough to conjure her back to him, so that she was part of his world again and not forever dying over and over in a car with a rugby player on the other side of the world.
They had never been what one might call an obvious match, by anyone's standards.  While Charlie would fret over whether the Gallagher brothers were going to see past their differences long enough for Oasis to produce another album, Alicia would be busy extolling the virtues of her favourite Sugababes line-up.  Nothing that Charlie owned looked like it cost any more than the spare change which solely occupied his wallet.  Alicia, on the other hand, was partial to expensive, close-fitting dresses.
It wasn’t anything as clichéd as “opposites attract”, thank god.  More an example of how being utterly, spectacularly drunk can bring two people together in an unexpected and serendipitous way.  For a short and blissful time, they were perfect for each other.
Kat would say nothing as Charlie rambled on for hours about Alicia and Carrow (because the two were forever intertwined), every film they had gone to see together, every shit student party, every argument and every reconciliation, everything but that last evening.  She would just listen, drinking wine and ever rolling another joint.  So yes, she must have known.  Must have lived her own version of Yoko’s at some point.  One day, when Charlie was less of a catastrophe, he intended to return the favour.
Tonight she had treated them both to a fish supper.  Charlie began to roll a joint in preparation for after the meal, while Kat hunted through his cupboards for ketchup.
“Have you actually ventured inside a supermarket this year?”  She called out from the depths of his fridge.
“They’re overrated,” he shouted back.  “Now get in here and eat your chips before they get cold.  I have a story to tell you.”
They sat cross-legged on the rug in the living room, eating straight from the masses of crumpled newspaper in their laps.  Between steaming mouthfuls, Charlie told her all about his experience the day before.
“You’ve taken all sorts in your time,” he said, when he had recounted the entire tale.  “Has anything like that happened to you?”  It was the first time he’d mentioned anything to Kat about that final night in Yoko’s, and he could see her storing that away for further exploration later.
“Who’s to say it didn’t happen for real?”  She asked, seemingly serious.
“Beg pardon?”
“Well?  Is it really so preposterous?”
“I’d say so.  Maybe we should give the bud a miss tonight.”
“Think about it.  You loved Alicia more than you’ve ever loved anyone.  You still do.  The human mind is capable of some pretty amazing things.  Even more so the human heart.  Sure, there’s the rules of physics and everything that keeps the sky up top instead of down below, but what if you’ve found a way around all that?  What if, somehow, through sheer force of want, you’ve found a way back to her?”
Charlie stared at Kat, aghast, for a full minute before she cracked up.  A few seconds later, he was laughing along with her.
“On the other hand,” she snorted, “what a load of bollocks that would be.”
“You are awful,” he admonished.
“It made you laugh, didn’t it?  I was seriously thinking I’d have to shag you in order to put a smile on that sullen face of yours.”
“That may still be necessary,” Charlie grabbed a handful of thigh and gave it a playful squeeze.  Kat responded with a swift, painful jab to his left kidney.
“Fuck off,” she grinned, as he doubled over in pain.  Then, rather more sweetly: “Would you happen to have a lighter?”
To Be Continued

Read Part Three

Friday, 20 September 2013

Last Dance At Yoko's (Part 1 of 4)

The first time Charlie Gillespie found himself in the past, he blamed it on the drugs.  A curious mix of Bell's whiskey, the red and yellow caplets prescribed for anxiety by Dr Clarke, and a couple of slightly less legal party favours purchased from his old acquaintance Twig in the pub.  Of all the possible side effects, travelling through space and time was not one he had been particularly prepared for.
It started on a Thursday morning.  Like a lot of mornings recently, Charlie woke up hungover, in a bed that was not his own, next to a girl he only vaguely recognised.
“Morning,” she whispered in his ear.
“Morning…” he mumbled back, trying to decide if he needed to be sick or not.  Her name was... Shit, what was her name?  He wanted to say Jor-El, but he knew that was the name of Marlon Brando’s character in Superman Janelle.  That was it.
“…Janelle.  Morning, Janelle.”
She was a good looking girl.  A damn sight prettier than some of the women he’d found himself waking up with in the last six months.  As she got up from the bed and covered herself with a robe, Charlie spotted a rose tattoo on her left shoulderblade.  Was that why he’d gone home with her last night?  Because that tattoo had been visible in her revealing dress?  Her dark skin and hair were a factor too, he supposed.  Not forgetting those gold hoop earrings.  Little things that might have made her look enough like Alicia to fool him in the hazy stupor of karaoke night at The Crown.
Alicia.  The one and only girl Charlie had ever loved.  Not that he ever told her, mind.  He’d thought himself exempt from that kind of sappy gesture, even when it really counted.  And now it was too late.  Alicia was gone, and here he was, trying to get high enough to fashion a decent simulacrum out of some random girl in a bar.
“Breakfast?”  Janelle asked from the bedroom door.  Charlie shook his head and tumbled from the bed, reaching blindly on the floor for his clothes.  A look of understanding formed in Janelle’s eyes.  She was disappointed, but far from surprised.
“I have to get to work,” Charlie offered, lamely.  She didn’t even need to believe the lie if she didn’t want to.  He dressed quickly and was soon out of there.
The morning that greeted him as he left the building was bright and unforgiving.  Charlie pulled up the collar of his jacket and retrieved his iPod from the pocket.  One of these days he was going to lose or break that thing, and he dreaded to think what the walk of shame would be like without it.
Charlie lit a cigarette and put the player on shuffle, hoping to blast away some of the cobwebs before he got home.  He could feel the ill effects of everything he had taken last night waiting for him just out of sight, like an albatross.  Biding their time to hit him when he least expected it.
A song came on that he didn't remember adding: "I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor".  Old enough now to qualify as a classic, which meant it belonged on an entirely different playlist.  Charlie couldn't hear this song without thinking of uni, of how he had gone from loving it to hating it as the DJs played it to death.  And of course, like everything else at the moment, it made him think of Alicia.
The moment her name entered his head, the moment he began to picture her face, Charlie felt the albatross swoop in.  The cigarette dropped from his fingers.  The Arctic Monkeys suddenly sounded very far away.  The edge of his vision frayed into darkness, as if he were about to faint, and then it happened.  Charlie felt a jolt, a pang in the pit of his stomach, and the world around him vanished. 
For a split second, he was terrified.  He thought he was dead.  Then, in the blink of an eye, he felt something solid under his feet, and the world came rushing back in a surge of colour and sound.  Charlie promptly dropped to his knees and vomited.  He felt hammered.  It took him a few moments to scramble to his feet and realise that the pounding he could feel wasn't in his head - it was the rhythmic thump thump thump of a nightclub.  He looked around.  The walls weren't closing in on him like he'd first feared; he was simply in a toilet cubicle, standing next to a small puddle of sick.  With aching, trembling fingers, Charlie slid back the bolt on the cubicle door and stepped out into the room
The sight of urinals filled him with relief; he hadn’t blindly stumbled into that sacred territory marked “Ladies”.  It looked like any gents lavatory in any club.  He could be anywhere.  Charlie couldn't remember the last time he'd blacked out so completely. It was a small miracle that any bouncer in their right mind had let him come in, the state he was in.  Charlie rinsed out his mouth at one of the sinks, then stumbled out of the toilets and into a red, tunnel-like hallway.
An oft-cited cliché tried to form on his tongue, but he struggled to get the words out.
"Toto," he rasped.  "Kansas."
He was dreaming.  He had to be.  The garish pop art on the walls, the sticky floor, the smell of aniseed and cigarette smoke...  There was no mistaking it; he was in Yoko's. 
"Impossible," he said, clearing his throat.
"You what, mate?"  A young man leaning against the wall looked up from his phone.
"Is this Yoko's?"  Charlie asked.  The man laughed.
"Had a bit too much have we?"  He finished texting, then met Charlie's eye again.  "Yeah, we're in Yoko's."
A dream, Charlie decided.  Definitely a dream.  Because Yoko's never opened in the day. Yoko’s was miles from here. Yoko’s closed its doors for good almost two years ago.  And yet…  He couldn’t recall ever having a dream this vivid.  The smells, the sounds.  Most of them quite unpleasant.  Charlie wandered further down the red corridor, towards the music.  Déjà vu did not even begin to describe what he was feeling.  Already seen?  Already lived, more like.  He had spent longer than he cared to mention in this smoky corner of Carrow, off his head when he should have been working to achieve something other than a third class degree.  It had been a second home to him… and her.  Always her.
Charlie emerged into the club itself, where the Arctic Monkeys were blearing from the sound system, almost as if to greet him.  “I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor.”
He needed a drink.  Or a dose of anti-psychotics.  But he’d settle for a drink.  Charlie made his way through the sparse crowd to the bar, and ordered a double whiskey.  He knocked it back before realising he didn’t have any money.
“Fuck,” he muttered, patting his jacket and jeans knowing full well he would find nothing there.  He smiled uselessly at the barmaid, a skinny blonde with a hard, thin mouth, while trying to think up some excuse or platitude.  Before he could come out with anything, he saw a slender hand push a ten pound note across the bar in the direction of the blonde girl.
Charlie knew that hand.  He knew those polished red nails, the white gold pinkie ring, and the tiny scar on the thumb (from an incident involving lots of wine and a noble attempt at making bacon sandwiches).  Charlie looked up at the owner of the hand.  She smiled, and then she slapped him.
“Where the hell have you been?”  She asked furiously.  “I’ve been waiting here like an idiot for over an hour.”
His cheek burned where she had struck him.  Definitely not a dream, then.
“Alicia,” he said, “I don’t understand.”
“What’s not to understand?”  She asked.  “We arranged to meet here at nine and you didn’t show up.  Again.”  She signalled to the barmaid for another shot and then necked it, wincing slightly.  Neat spirits had never agreed with Alicia; she was a rosé girl at heart.  She slammed the glass down on the bar, as if to punish it for the vile taste of the whiskey, and then returned her glare to its rightful recipient: him.
Charlie remembered this row.  He remembered this whole evening.  It was the last night of university.  Tomorrow, they would both leave Carrow; Alicia would go home to London and Charlie would go back to Bristol, and they would never see each other again. 
“Alicia,” Charlie whispered, and then he said something that could not be heard under the din of the club.
“What?”  She asked, leaning in.  Charlie repeated himself, but she shook her head and held her hand up to her ear, sidling ever closer. 
“You’re dead,” Charlie shouted into her ear.
The beat stopped.  The bar that Charlie was leaning on vanished, and Alicia disappeared along with it.  Charlie fell into darkness, grappling for a hold on something, anything, before colliding with something hard and flat.  It might have knocked him out cold, or he might have awoken straight away – he couldn’t be sure.  All he knew was that when he opened his eyes, he was lying face-down on the living room floor in his flat.
To Be Continued
Read Part Two