Saturday, 12 June 2010

Plato's Cave - Friday Flash

My nose is pressed to the windows of an old haunt of mine. The Marathon, all night Greek eatery, and more germane, small hours watering hole. Merely order pitta bread with some humus and you circumnavigated the licensing laws. Or drove a bloody great bus through them in point of fact.

Such a bill of fare delivered up a motley clientele. Those dedicated drinkers keen to preserve their pleasant pub buzz. Salted olives instead of peanuts and stuffed vine leaves in place of pork scratchings. A better class of well-oiled sclerosis. Students stoking up fuel for their through-the-nighter assignments. Only for the misfit camaraderie on offer to keep them from their desks and knuckling down. Some forlorn lonely hearts eclipsed from life and a sprinkling of nocturnal lunatics, drawn by the flames licking from the rotisserie like solar flares. Me, I just went to people watch. The closest drizzled and grizzled London gets to a café society.

Every night there, was an awake surreal dream. With the faces of men melting under the atmosphere of gas-fired heat and light. We were each marked with a sheen of perspiration. Absconding beads of sweat ran down the flesh of us absconders from purposefulness, aping the grease globules dribbling along the spit meat. Under the willful striplights we conversed with visages blanched and blotchy. Mottled like the herbs sprinkled on the raw meat under glass. Each of us skewered and merely awaiting searing on life's lattice grill. Extemporisers all, we were gathered in order to be beyond time. To while away small, inconsequential hours, stretching them to ludicrous brittleness. Tempus fugit for its very life, here in the sweat-puddled well of deep stasis.

For where men are drawn together under the influence of alcohol, great mystical discussions take place, with improbable leaps of logic beyond reconstruction the bleary eyed morning after. Some men discovered God under the fluorescence. Others imagined themselves to be roasting in Lucifer's gaudily glinting Hell. Single night conversions only. Off the cuff marriage proposals were made to the few intrepid female souls who ventured along. Fights broke out, since such women inevitably came in accompanied. There has even been a murder, where the blood ran free into the drains along with the meat juices sluicing from the grill.

Folk danced, sung showtunes, even put on a striptease. A low rent "Britain's Got Talent" without the disingenuousness brought about by a TV camera, boring with future performing contract drillbit. Though I always stood with the video function poised on my phone. Fingers able to swiftly slide along to the speed dial number of a taxi firm. Lest my purpose be rumbled among these impromptu improvisers keen to retain the one night only aspect of their star turn under the stars.

Now that so many premises have all-night licensing, The Marathon has forsaken its elliptical lunar charms. Economic retrenchment means it only opens during the day, through some strange moonlit metamorphosis becoming a burger bar for the post-clubbing crowd at night. In daylight's muting of overhead garishness, the congealed grease on the tiles is clear to see. The dirt under the counterman's fingernails as he wields the tarnished long knife in his bespattered apron. The threadbare ambience unravelled, transmuted into the reek of cheap stale beer, charred meat and grease. The scratch and sniff aromatherapy of our former frivolity. Tempus started its engine once again and tapped its foot impatiently. I moved on.

25 comments:

Laura Eno said...

Awesome...I loved this! So many great lines here and I could feel time moving on.

Eric J. Krause said...

Very cool story! Enjoyed the descriptions throughout!

ganymeder said...

Your prose reads like poetry. My favorite line...
>drawn by the flames licking from the rotisserie like solar flares.<

Carrie said...

Perfect snapshot. Stunning wordsmithing.

dijeratic said...

A great piece that puts you right in the place - I can smell it all, I've been there and the sense of something like despair, the 'people watching' which is so distinctive of your writing - the life of the place, yet surrounded by rot.

I love this:
Some forlorn lonely hearts eclipsed from life and a sprinkling of nocturnal lunatics, drawn by the flames licking from the rotisserie like solar flares.

Eclipsed from life - beautiful line. Beautifully rendered.

Diandra said...

I always have to concentrate hard to read your writing. This may be why I hardly ever comment, but I like it.

alisonwells said...

I loved the line 'To while away small, inconsequential hours, stretching them to ludicrous brittleness.' Fabulous writing as usual. I think you could have lost a few lines here and there, the lattice grill in the third para and the aromatherapy in the last for example, just to save getting bogged in too much metaphor. All beautiful phrases but the ones left would shine further if there were slightly less I think. Great atmospheric piece.

Tony Noland said...

This was wonderfully written. The sense of place was lyrical, so much so I could almost taste the olives.

Sulci Collective said...

You're almost certainly right about the 'lattice' line- it itself screamed at me to put it out of its misery and remove it, but I the Torquemada of language didn't heed its piteous cries...

Laurita said...

Reading your work is like drinking good wine - you want to take it a little bit at a time and savor it. Each line is so skillfully constructed. I love the mood this one created.

Circumnavigate is one of my favourite words. It sounds so...precise.

Elijah said...

"Lucifer's gaudily glinting Hell"

What a ridiculously vivid description. Fantastic.

Pamila Payne said...

This was a very thick slice of life piece. Lots of details and great atmosphere.

Aislinn O'Connor said...

Love this! So vey atmospheric you can almost taste the food... not to mention re-experiencing being one of the students stoking up in a Greek restaurant, also in London, ahead of challenging assignments (and being "volunteered" by my companions to dance for the customers in case we couldn't pay the bill!). An excellent story, brilliantly told.

Deanna Schrayer said...

Woot! I didn't have to look up any words this week - so proud of myself. :)
How interesting that we both used the word "spit" in our stories this week, albeit in a very different fashion.

Wonderful descriptions as always Marc.

V.R. Leavitt said...

Gorgeous prose!! I was starving for the first half at the talk of pita and hummus. Beautiful descriptions. Love how you truly put us there, at the place with all the sensory images.

Virginia Moffatt said...

Kind of sad, that a place with such emotion and meaning, became a burger bar. But that's London for you! You capture the transience well.

Marisa Birns said...

Marriage proposals, religious conversions, fights, philosophical discourses - life jammed packed and lived in a night.

Viva your language! No cliches here, or if there are, they are properly disguised. ;)

Mark Kerstetter said...

"A better class of well-oiled sclerosis." -Funny! I also liked that some found God under the fluorescence while others tasted fire and brimstone in the lamb grease. Ever get drunk on words?

Sulci Collective said...

every damn day of my life Mark. I have a silver hip flask of words in my pocket with me at all times

Linda said...

Great story, Marc. Loved the 'better class of well-oiled sclerosis.' The words you use, and the way... yep. Love the ambience. Peace...

mazzz in Leeds said...

Absolutely oozing with atmosphere. I was bowled over by a wave of sadness at the cafe's unfortunate metamorphosis. I love that kind of place (whether Greek tavern or not) and I'm now determined to find one. Cough up, Leeds!

Mari said...

You like big words. I can relate to that. ;)

Valerie said...

This is just on the right side of purple prose. The atmosphere was palpable; one of those stories where the setting is a character. Makes me want to go hang out at the hookah bar by my house. Nice work.

Danielle La Paglia said...

You have some incredible phrasing in here. I felt like each line needed to be absorbed separately.

I loved this one in particular: "Some forlorn lonely hearts eclipsed from life and a sprinkling of nocturnal lunatics, drawn by the flames licking from the rotisserie like solar flares." Nicely done.

Matt Merritt said...

I love him sneaking around on the side trying to steal video of the madness!

Wild, frantic and fantastic atmosphere. A nice ride.