The Reptile That Ate Time

Jonjo cast a not-quite-frantic eye around the crowded club, in search of the girl with the short brown bob. She liked her music, he knew, so he tried to catch sight of her on the dance-floor, strategically alternating glances back to the bar in a ratio roughly proportionate to the relationship between how much he knew she liked her music, and how much he guessed she liked her alcohol.

Truth be told, he didn’t know her that well, but he knew her well enough, he thought, to make certain assumptions.

What am I doing here? – he asked himself, not for the first time that day. It wasn’t that he didn’t enjoy a night out drinking, chatting and dancing – though when he thought about it, it had been a while since he’d done the second and third things in that list – but it had been a long while since he had made an effort on a New Year’s Eve, and longer since he’d really enjoyed one.

It had to be about a girl, didn’t it?

He found himself momentarily distracted by a large screen suspended over the bar. The club was apparently taking part in some kind of international event, or else piggybacking on the back of one. Footage from other end-of-the-decade parties that were a couple of hours further along in other parts of the world flashed up on the screen. It seemed like a counter-productive idea – frankly, even someone as generally cynical about the holiday as Jonjo could tell that Southerton wasn’t going to hold its own against any of the other venues taking part. It put a depressing note of civic failure into the already heady mix of regret and resignation that was in the air, at least as far as Jonjo was concerned.

A cluster of giggling girls bumped into him, spilling some of his pint over the edge of the glass and onto his fingers. One of them managed a fleeting “sorry!” as they went, which he had to put down to the high-spirits of the night – people didn’t normally bother apologising these days.

Jonjo let himself take in the mob. His main problem with New Years was that it seemed to serve as a call to arms for all of the bloody amateur drinkers, whipped into a frenzy by unaccustomed all-day drinking over Christmas, to go out and get properly bladdered, and Jonjo found his evenings always suffered for it. This crowd didn’t look so bad – they seemed to have their exploits held neatly in check, between just-that-bit-too-much and over-the-edge-of-self-regulation, but it was early yet.

What struck him most was how damn young they all looked. Depending on who you spoke to, this was the end of the first decade in a century hot on the heels of the one he’d spent most of his life in. It’d take another ten years before he could claim any native status to the 21st century, really. It confused him. You don’t work your entire adult life in a record store with the intention of getting older, but somehow it happens anyway.

He was pondering that, and trying to wipe his fingers clean on his jeans, when he saw her. She hadn’t noticed him yet. She was across the dance-floor, and a lad who looked younger than her – and a lot younger than Jonjo – was talking animatedly at her. He had to crane his neck down to talk near her ear, and he was still clearly having to shout. She was nodding her head, but from here it was hard to tell whether it was for the guy’s benefit, or to the music. Her head was turning on a slow arc, trying to look for something more interesting, but trying to save the chap’s feelings.

Jonjo had a flicker of self-awareness, as he realised that there was absolutely nothing in what he knew of her that suggested a capacity for that sort of mercy stroke – if he was already finding endearing traits where they didn’t exist, before he’d even shagged the girl, he was in trouble. The flicker dissipated in the wake of a shiver of sudden anxiety, when he worked out that she would see him any second.

When she had told him about her party plans, in the shop earlier in the day, and had capped it off with a wink and a “you should come!”, he had taken it as the culmination of a month of impromptu visits by her to the store, often without any intention of buying anything, and little half-flirtations disguised vaguely as chats about bands they both liked – or more often that she liked, and he made a big deal of not liking. But now, he was suddenly wondering whether he might have misread the whole thing, and if that was the case, wouldn’t it be weird seeing him here?

He spent so much time in comfortable places, and every time she had seen him before had been well within his territory, so panic bubbled in him.

The feeling was suspended by the fact that once she was facing his direction, it took her a few moments to really see him. For those seconds, her face was entirely blank of expression, which put Jonjo on the back-foot somewhat. He thought she had the hollow, lost eyes of the rampantly bipolar.

…And once she saw him, there was the big smile, and the shining stare. She had the frantic, euphoric eyes of the rampantly bipolar.

Not that Jonjo was medically qualified to make such a diagnosis, of course. And not that it worried him overly. He’d become quite adept at spotting the signs, but then, he had a theory about this. He believed that as men are almost all autistic at some level – from the very slightly anal to the full-on Rainman – that most women are a little bit bipolar.

It wasn’t a theory that was particularly popular among his friends and acquaintances, but he had a raft of experiences that he felt bore it out. He didn’t see it as a negative, really – he found his own capacity for trivia immensely comforting, and some had even found it appealing in the past, and by the same metric he liked the fact that most of the women he had dated weren’t entirely blank walls of stoic certainty, but he allowed that extremes could be worrying.

The problem was you never could tell until you could tell.

(In his more reflective moments, Jonjo knew that this might be more about the women he was attracted to then the gender as a whole, but he believed you had to put limits on how deeply you looked at these things. You couldn’t know everything, after all. This was just something he’d had to accept.)

The girl was on her way over to him, and he lost sight of her for a second. While he waited for her to reappear, he looked back up to the monitor. There was parade on, somewhere other than here, and the camera had turned its attention on the floats making their way slowly through a busy, intensely cheerful crowd. In the middle of the procession, for no reason that Jonjo could work out, was a giant papier mache crocodile, garish green.

He couldn’t take his eyes off it. He had no idea why anyone would think a crocodile was appropriate for a New Year’s Eve party. Jonjo hadn’t been fond of the creatures since watching Disney’s Peter Pan as a kid. He associated them with mutilation – with taking a piece of their victim but leaving the rest of them alive, tormented and obsessed. He had been very young when he saw it, after all.

In the story, a crocodile bites off and swallows the villain’s hand, along with his old-fashioned clock, and from there on, Hook is haunted by the sound of tick-tocking. He can hear when the monster is coming, but he can’t do a thing to stop it. And it’s because of the reptile that he becomes Hook – it’s what makes him dangerous, and deformed.

Not the best representative of the passing of time that Jonjo could think of, really.

He was still watching the bright green behemoth when she put her hand on his shoulder, snapping him out of it. She seemed genuinely happy to see him, her own eyes now flashing as green and bright as the float. He glances back briefly, but the action has shifted to another party, on another continent.

“Oh, it’s so good that you came!” She said, and then the song changed, and she started tugging him onto the dance floor. “Come on, you… dance with me!”

It’d been a while since Jonjo had been on a dance-floor, and longer since he’d danced with a girl, especially one that he liked, and he wasn’t altogether happy with it – he’d rather be chatting, or doing anything else with her, than dancing.

He remembered back ten years, to the last big end-of-year bash he went to – another girl, but that time he was living with her. She’d pressured him to go out and see the new century in, and look how that had turned out? Partying like it was 1999 hadn’t stopped the next few years from being… well, the next few years.

He knew with clarity that if he was already making compromises this early in this thing with this similar-but-different girl, he was in trouble.

But on the other hand, it was just a dance, wasn’t it?

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Nicolas Papaconstantinou
Nicolas Papaconstantinou is an enthusiastic amateur creative type, and the chap behind Elephant Words. Be nice to him. He growed up kinda wrong.

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