March 2023

Back to Issue 13


By Jane Downing

The door-bitch gave them a quick up and down and nodded them in. Harriet found

herself aggrieved that they were dismissed as harmless so easily. You get to a certain age and

you get written off.

They pushed their way to the back of the club, Harriet and Toby and Simmo.

‘I’ll get the first round in,’ Simmo shouted. He disappeared into the heave of Friday

night patrons gathering for the headline act.

There was a black vinyl bench against the back wall, patched in places and empty near

the worst jagged hole that caught on tights and itched against thighs. Just enough room there

for three. Toby sat down without consulting Harriet. After ten years together it was

indicative. She sat down beside him and craned her neck towards the stage. The banner above

read Comedy, then something in smaller letters Harriet could not make out. She didn’t ask

Toby to read it for her. They sat in a bubble of silence within the crowd’s racket.

‘It was such a bum-fight I got a whole bottle and a jug,’ Simmo shouted when he got

back. He had a bottle of wine under one armpit, a jug of beer in his right hand, and in his left,

three pot glasses stacked and tottering. He unburdened himself onto the closest table before

pushing into the last gap on the vinyl bench. Harriet moved to make room, her thigh rubbing

against his. In the squeeze she could feel his hand briefly against her cheek. Not her face one.

She cracked the seal of the bottle and watched the glug of sweet yellow fill a pot. Toby

poured the beer for him and his best mate. After a few gulps of Moscato she was hot so she

stood and did a slow strip of scarf and jacket. No-one watched. An MC had taken to the stage.

The lights dimmed on everyone but him.

‘Let’s give it up for all you good folk who’ve made it through the cold to join us


The crowd roared. Toby put two fingers to his lips, gave a shrill whistle. Harriet hated

when he did that. It said: hey you, look at me.

The crowd settled. This was what the club called ‘the entertainment.’ Harriet wondered

why no-one else seemed to see how gross it all was, this bloke on stage with his long line in

penis and arse jokes. She’d never sat around with her girlfriends laughing about how funny it

was to get their vaginas out in public. Maybe we should, she thought, but only to distract

herself from the jokes. Pubic hair caught between the teeth? Fucking hilarious according to

the braying crowd around her. She had another pot of wine. While everyone else was

thunderously applauding the diarrhea anecdote, she poured herself a third. It carried her to the

end of the set and the lights coming back up. People started talking, people talking over

people talking.

‘I need a slash,’ Toby mouthed, pointing at his crotch. He took the empty jug with him:

his shout this time. Everyone had the same idea and the bar was swamped.

Left on the vinyl bench with her boyfriend’s best mate, Harriet closed her eyes. They’d

known each other so long she didn’t feel they needed to be sociable. But Simmo leaned his

head over close. She couldn’t hear what he said. So he put his mouth directly on her ear. She

felt his beery breath on her cheek – her face cheek – as he spoke. ‘What did you think?’ he


She had to do the same to be heard – she leaned right in, mouth to his ear. ‘Too many


She leant back, he leaned in for his turn. ‘Never too many penises.’

She felt something wet and firm on her ear. ‘Did you kiss my ear?’

When he bent in again it was more of a lick than a kiss.

And, she asked herself from a dispassionate distance, why shouldn’t she appreciate a

man licking her ear? After ten years off the market, anyone finding her lick-able was

flattering. But. He was Toby’s mate. She leaned in and bit Simmo’s ear. Not a sexy nibble, a

real carnivorous bite.

Simmo flinched. Spoke. ‘If we weren’t in public I’d lick other bits too. When you took

off your coat, your shirt buttons pulled and I could see your tit.’

Harriet was not one given to revolt – if she had to examine her motivation for what

came next she’d blame the wine. And her age. And the door-bitch’s dismissive look.

The three emptied pot glasses of wine did do most of the talking for her. ‘And if we

weren’t in public I’d take your penis and I’d…’ Harriet couldn’t quite bring herself to say the

word lick. She could see nothing except the bristles on Simmo’s cheek. He didn’t pull away.

‘I don’t know why it’s called a blow job because I wouldn’t blow, I’d suck.’

The very thought made her gag, and she burped, only it sounded, in their private cavern

within the raucous bar, like a moan. She’d heard about those 1300 sex-line women doing the

ironing while they pulled punters off with their rising words. Her words had never brought

anyone that much excitement. Where had her life gone?

‘And I’d squeeze and I’d suck and…’ Her vocabulary failed. ‘I’d suck and squeeze and


So much for revolt, so much for transgression. It wasn’t even the ugliness of it all

putting her off – the monotony of it already bored her. There was ironing piling up at home.


‘Suck, squeeze.’ Life sucked. Life squeezed out of her. And yet Simmo’s thigh was shivering

against the rhythm of the Cold Chisel track blasting over the crowd.

The song died mid-line. The lights snapped off and the patrons became shadows,

cutouts of themselves.

‘Let’s give it up for the man you’ve all been waiting for,’ insisted the MC and the

crowd gave it up and Harriet heard Toby’s shrill wolf whistle from over by the bar and

watched the shape of Simmo bring the last of his beer to his lips.