Kia stood in the basement of The Aquarium willing her heart rate not to overtake the bass. Panic rushed her veins. Her next prescription for Propranalol wasn’t due until Tuesday and she needed a double dose pronto. She’d hyperventilated for days, just maintaining her public mask where it mattered. Socialising made her feel dishonest. Small talk made her mouth metallic. Men’s eyes swarmed. Kia felt overwhelmed by the eye contact system for being served drinks at the bar. Queuing was not fair. It was about eye contact: who was lairy, beddable, which people were too intimidating to make them wait a turn. Snake-lipped bouncers yelling about who goes in, then deciding who hurts on their way out. Predators. Hattie had disappeared. She was last seen doing a backwards crawl dance for a rugby supporter with too many teeth. Hattie’s gold-scaled dress was easy to spot. She must have left to finish him off.
The music fade merged into a single melodic thrum. Strobe lights flared over the crowd making the dancers turn blue faced and slow-moving. All Kia could see were bulging fish eyes, hard faces with drug-induced gurns under the dazzle. In the music lull, Kia’s deep breaths were amplified. Nobody noticed. The dancers turned into shoals of fish, jaws gaping, just poised waiting for the bass to drop. When the sound swoosh came they were all off, arms thrown to the air with eyes shut, a fast freestyle of neon tetra writhing through disco waters. Kia’s vision swam. Her ankles folded and as she fell, her knees cracked like toffees on the silver-tiled floor.
“Have you got asthma, darling?” The voice was intrusive. A dark face with it. He had black curly hair and deep life lines. His teeth were higgledy-piggledy, his nose had a kink. The man was holding her useless hands.
“No. Tetany. Panic. I stop working.”
“What a shame.” He sat down on the floor next to her sprawled body and held her wet hands with his dry. “Look up at the dancers, they all look fucking insane, don’t they? That’s why I don’t dance. They look as though they need bolts through their necks.”
Kia could see the stamping feet and breathe in their stink from floor level.
“I was thinking they all looked like fish. A different species. They’re cracked up to the eyeballs, though. If they knew they looked like that, they’d never dance again. Why are you here, then, if you don’t do public humiliation or blissful hedonism?” Kia’s legs stopped convulsing. The music pulse wasn’t pounding in her back so deeply.
“I didn’t say I don’t do hedonism. Honestly? I’ve escaped an insane woman. I’ve been watching you. I know I’m hedging my bets, risk sounding like a psychopath; but I’ve been watching you stood against the mirrors for the last hour. Until your legs gave up.” He had long fingers. The kind she used to like around her neck before she became ill.
“I’ve done nothing interesting to watch. Broken doll syndrome. I can’t socialise. I can’t dance. My arms stop working when I hear that repetitive ‘tronic crap. I can tell you’re not a psychopath, though.”
“And how is that?”
“Psychopaths have something behind the eyes. I’m safe with you, I can tell.” He looked at her deeply. His eyes were fucking petrifying. She skimmed her damp palm along his forearm and noticed his lips were like black plums.
From the floor, everything Kia could see was strange. The feet were relentless, lifting up and down in pointless patterns. Women’s feet were string wrapped in leather, the swollen flesh crammed into impossible shapes. She noticed that most of the men wore trainers. The floor was sprayed with sticky hop slops and bundles of lost, floating hair. Shreds of crisps dug into her thighs. She could see a red mangled lipstick and some sinister black hair extensions still attached to a head band. There was a hot wave of air every so often from the wild feet.
“I’m taking you home.”
She didn’t answer. He carried Kia up and out over his shoulders, as though she was fresh red meat. The amber glow of the street lights lit up his features, all sharp lines, as he shoved her onto the chilly back seat of the taxi.