Written by Bodhi Jet Atkinson
I take a deep breath; my jaw tightens and shakes ferociously as I exhale. The MDMA has kicked in hard. “Red lights indicate doors are secure!” The lyrics to this familiar tune, sung festively by an American woman that’s sat next to me in a black cab, is both jarring and painful. Firstly, it’s just a bit tacky, isn’t it? It’s an Arctic Monkeys song called ‘Red lights indicate doors are secure.’ which references a sign that’s in all UK cabs.
Secondly, the album that song belongs to, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, became the soundtrack to a very tumultuous relationship, one in which I represented the male constituent. Our fights would dance back and forth to the jaunty riffs and echo like the bad backing vocals of youths making sense of the world.
Before I started dating Rachel, I was a horrible little boy. I toyed with her over and over; I slept with her cousin, tried sleeping with her friends (a particular daring feat considering I look like a foot). I strung her along for years and without a hint of remorse.
For Rach, this created some serious scar tissue that I can only hope will one day heal. In her tear-soaked words, “It changed me to my very core.”
I did eventually fall in love with Rachel. You can’t imagine what it was like to live like that; to lay next to your regret every night, and like the blinding glare of the morning sun, waking to it every day. Still, we loved each other very much.
Anyways, so yeah, this girl and I are sat in a black cab. She is, thus far, unnamed, but very beautiful. She looks like she belongs in a film about Brooklyn in the Roaring Twenties. Her mouth is exaggerated by the contrast of pale skin and deep red lipstick. Her hair, done up big and curly. Her green dress seems to constrict where I want it to release and release where I want it to constrict, just to tempt whatever eyes may wander over the petite body underneath.
With a cheeky smile she makes a move for my hand, our fingers interlocking. The soft callouses on her fingertips and the hardened skin just below her palm, blueprints for a life completely separate from the story I’m telling you. Her hands are tiny - she feels so delicate.
My hands grip hers, and she notices them trembling, and my eyes shaking from side to side - the MDMA hasn’t worn off whatsoever.
'You okay?' She murmurs, clenching my hand a little tighter. She’s very kind, this girl thus far, unnamed. She probably deserves a lot better than someone like me.
The red light from the aforementioned sign is brighter than ever and washes over us both. This seat is so uncomfortable. It’s my lower back; my spine can’t seem to slip into place. Squirming, trying to get comfy, but comfort is a luxury that’ll never be afforded to me, not in this state. Maybe never again. My arms gain weight with every second that passes, I feel myself start to hunch, shoulders lurching over and around my chest. The muscles that once yearned to stretch, to be set free, are now retreating, constricting, and screaming in a chorus of surrender until they force me to coil up in the foetal position.
The fluorescent light emanating from the sign punctures through my peripheries. The painfully memorable riff that I can’t seem to stop from playing in my head, and the Unnamed Girl’s weak hands all prompt a strong surge of guilt. I said stuff like, “I'm not looking for a one night stand” and, “I was drawn to you the moment I saw you.” What the fuck is that? Who says this stuff?
My heart is thundering up against my bony chest. The cab takes a wrong turn, and of course, I say nothing. Men confront these situations; little boys just let the cabbie ring out the extra fiver onto the fare.
“Red lights indicate doors are secure” is floating around in the cab. I turn to The Unnamed Girl with the intention of telling her to shut the fuck up, but she’s not singing... I whip my head around towards the window hoping the world outside will bring back my peak. The terrace houses eventually all melt into one big blur as we zip past them then sink away entirely until all that's left is doors. Slamming my eyes shut to stop the nauseating sight - leaving just the imprint of the skirting, like seeing the outline of the sunburnt into your eyelids after looking up at it for too long.
I draw a breath, slowing my heart rate, slowing my mind, trying to ease my soul. Where is Rach? What is she doing? Who is she fucking? Is it doggy-style? Or is it some crazy position she’d never do with me?
Could I run for it? Jump out of the cab? I want to race back home, race back to Rachel.
I almost go for it, but the red light was showing and red lights indicate doors are secured.