The man sighs as he pulls on his well-worn boots, cinches his long coat tight around himself, remembering the last time he received a hug. Shaking his head to clear it, he slugs out of his small apartment and into the bitter cold London streets. He begins to drag his feet forward as he wonders if he’d locked the door behind himself, realizing with a sense of disgust that he wouldn’t care if anyone were to rob him. He has nothing to lose in there. His valuables live in the thrift shop.
The long, cracked streets are heavily littered. Buckley’s dark hair hangs like a curtain as he watches his boots drag and scrape through the neglected detritus. As he approaches his shop, he lets his heavy head fall back as he gapes at the shop’s worn banner flapping in the relentless, howling wind, fighting against it with vigor. It seems to be waving in greeting to him. The windows to the shop are grimy, and scraps of ripped notices and advertisements are plastered along them. Closing his eyes, Buckley shoves his body against the heavy door and jiggles the key in the lock, letting the musty smell permeate his brain and fog his mind.
“Hey everyone! Buckley’s back!” Buckley gives a start as the room erupts with noise. Greetings, shouts, and the occasional disappointed groan fills the room, spreading a tingle of warmth throughout his body. He feels at home here. He feels loved.
“Well spotted! Have a good weekend?” the man called Buckley teases, for he knows there’s nothing to do besides furiously scrubbing at the layers of dust and dirt that cling to every surface. But they can’t exactly clean, can they? He shrugs off his coat and feels it slide to the floor with a heavy thump and he can’t help but think of how depressing it looks. Like a man dropping dead. He suddenly isn’t too keen on removing it from the heap on the dusty floor.
“Buckley, baby? Buckley ol’ pal?” a rather worn pair of bell bottoms swaggers up to him, like a shirtless ghost trying to impress a person they fancy at a disco. “I think today is my lucky day, you know. I’m gettin’ some good vibes.”
“Oh yeah, Michael?”
“Completely. Like, I’m back in style, man! I’m vintage, you know? Earlier today, I totally saw someone walk past the window over there,” he points his dusty pant leg at the opposite side of the shop, “and guess what they were wearing?”
“Oh… I haven’t a clue… Bell bottoms?”
“Yes! They were totally funky, man. Completely groovy. Needless to say, they were nicer than I am…” He takes a shaky breath. “Anyway, like, like I feel like I’m gonna be bought today, you know? Full price!”
“That’s great news, Michael! Right on!” Buckley chuckles, heart suddenly bursting.
“Right on, baby! Right on indeed!” Michael turns away, and Buckley swears he sees a hint of the Hustle as Michael’s back pockets sway left and right, heading to a pair of vibrant yellow platform shoes.
He should have expected it: a gust of cold air followed by the sharp clicking of heels on wood as Buckley’s heart speeds up – or slows down – he can’t tell. The clothes hang limply once again and their faint and worried murmurs soften. All he knows is fear as his feet take him to the peeling counter and his face plasters a smile on itself and he hears himself force out a broken, “Hello madam, how are you?” He clears his throat.
The woman in red pushes thin hair out of her face, raising an eyebrow as she evaluates the store. She looks as if she’s smelled something rancid. “Don’t pull that ‘madam’ crap on me” she sniffs, looking down her pointed nose at him. “Do you have any bell bottoms? I won’t find them in this mess…”
That’s all Buckley remembers hearing as his ears were stuffed with the sounds of rapid and anxious whispers. How could I not have seen this coming? They really are back in style – they’re vintage, after all. “Of course…”. Drifting to the sole pair of bell bottoms, he feels distant. It’s as if he’s watching himself from outside of his body – watching himself break down. No, no no no no! Absolutely not. Buckley’s thoughts swirl around him and threaten to take him down. He feels the soft and worn fabric of Michael with trembling hands.
“Buckley, just tell the woman to buzz off. Listen, I know I said today was my lucky day, and I totally called this,” he shook with a nervous chuckle, “but this woman is givin’ off some bad vibes, man… Just- Please…” Michael whispers, his voice like a whimpering dog, “Don’t, okay?”
“You know I have to!” Buckley hisses through clenched teeth. “This is out of my hands, yeah? The store’s already losing money. Every sale is one more meal on my table, Michael. You have to understand.” He looks back at the woman who is roughly sifting through a bin of t-shirts. The horrified whispers of each one she tosses aside tearing through him, sending a jolt of hatred through his body. Can she not hear them? Can she not hear their terror?! “STOP!” Buckley’s voice rips through the air like a knife. “Please, please stop! Why would…? Can’t you- can’t you hear them?”
“Hear what?!” The woman whips around, eyes narrowing.
“The sodding clothes!! Look, I’ve got your bell bottoms. Please… Please just pay and leave. We don’t want any trouble.”
“Of course! I mean, no… I mean…”. Buckley viciously shakes his head. The fog doesn’t clear. “Oh piss off! We,” he shoves Michael at the woman, “don’t want any trouble. Ma’am.”
She takes a livid step towards him like a lion stalking its prey as she reaches her talons inside her large leather bag. In it, Buckley catches a glimpse of a white document. Does that say… Divorce Applica– ?!
She coughs. His head whips up, sunken eyes meeting hers. “Oh, fuck off, you crazy bastard,” the woman spits. “No one’s been talking,” she shoves some money in Buckley’s hand, “and I’m leaving”. The woman stomps out the door, clutching Michael in her bony hand. Buckley, left open-mouthed and spluttering, stands paralyzed by the piercing cry of his friend that is slowly fading and becoming more desperate.
“Holy crap! Can you believe it?”
“Oh God! Michael! Oh God!”
“Buckley? Buckley, are you alright?”
“Oh my God! Buckley!”
His head is spinning, a whirlwind of frustration as the world is disintegrating and falling through his fingers. Surely the woman was having him on? Crumbling to the floor, Buckley begins frantically tugging at his hair. It’s not real. They’re not real. It’s never been, it never will be. The voice in Buckley’s head taunts him, dangles him, pulls him as taught as a rope, a relentless war between himself and sanity. No. He forces himself slowly to his feet, legs shaking and eyes flitting between articles of clothing. His friends.
“Hey now, Buckley,” a frilly pink blouse reasons, “it’s alright. You’re alright, yeah?”
“Bloody hell… I’ve never been, have I? Alright, that is.” His legs feel weak as he reaches for the blouse. It hangs limply in his hands. His head whips around, searching for his coat still in the mangled heap on the floor. Dead. Like a dead man. His legs give out and he scrambles toward his coat, hot tears stinging his eyes. Dead.
When his tears and choked sobs begin to lessen, Buckley notices the store is eerily silent. He can’t form a coherent thought well enough to figure out when the talking must have stopped. It could have been minutes ago, it could have been hours ago, it could have been lifetimes ago. Looking around, face wet with tears, he realizes, I have to get out of here. Buckley closes his eyes and yanks on his coat, desperately trying to forget the last time he received a hug.
Written by Tess Gordon