Hot Coco Item: Excerpt with Author Carolyn Mathews

Fiona and I showed our membership cards to the cashier at the Blue Parakeet as we paid, but they’d expired, so we had to wait for her to make out some new ones. While we were waiting, I became aware of a tall, slightly hunched figure at the other side of the lobby, smoking a cigarette. Slim to the point of skinny, he was wearing a white ruffled shirt and leather waistcoat with tight black jeans and ankle boots.
Taking a cigarette from my pack, I walked over to him. As I got closer, I could see how black his hair was and how it curled slightly at the nape. His face, with its deep brown eyes and olive skin, was framed with the requisite longish sideburns. He looked slightly foreign. When he saw me approaching, he reached into his pocket and took out a Zippo lighter, adorned with a maple leaf.
My hand shook a little as I put the tip of my cigarette to the flame. I wasn’t sure why. I’d only wanted to get a closer look at him.
‘Thanks.’ Embarrassed at my shaking hand, I blamed it on the weather. ‘I’m freezing.’
He looked me up and down as if wondering how anyone could be cold dressed in as many layers as an Eskimo.
‘Don’t worry. One dance and you’ll soon warm up.’ There was nothing in his accent to suggest anything more exotic than a Greater London Borough. ‘You come far?’
I felt myself blush, hoping he didn’t think I was a country bumpkin, ‘up London’ on a rare night out.
‘We’ve just come back from Australia, so we’re feeling the cold.’
‘Yeah,’ he said, laughing, ‘that’s quite far.’
I blushed again. ‘No,’ I replied, emphasising the word as if talking to a stupid person. ‘Tonight I’ve come from Earls Court.’
He was beginning to look interested. ‘That’s a place I’ve always wanted to go. Australia, that is. Earls Court – I can take it or leave it.’ He paused to check I was smiling, which I was. ‘You’ll have to tell me about it.’
This sounded promising. But first there was something I wanted to ask him.
‘Did you ever play at the Green Oak?’
His eyes gleamed with surprise.
‘Yeah. We used to play there now and again.’
‘I remember you and the Blue Jays. You’re James Jay, aren’t you?’
He still looked a little taken aback.
‘Yeah. We had to change the name, ‘cos there was another group called the Blue Jays.’
I’d seen the poster by the door as we’d come in – James Jay and the Jaylers. It was a terrible name. He must have read my mind.
‘Rubbish name, but people remember it. And we get a few laughs when we do our last number. I come on wearing a prison outfit with a ball and chain and the lads wear prison warder caps. Then we sing Chain Gang.’
‘Really? This I must see.’
‘We’re not doing it tonight. It’s not that sort of a gig. This is a bit more mainstream. You know?’
‘How disappointing.’
I made a sad face and he laughed.
‘How come you recognised me, anyway? We’ve smartened up a bit. It was jeans and t-shirts back then.’
‘Don’t you remember? We went out a couple of times.’
The look on his face was priceless. It wasn’t true, of course. The words had slipped out almost unconsciously, but I was enjoying the effect it was having. He was scratching his head trying to remember me.
‘When was this, exactly?’
Fi appeared with our new membership cards and stood waiting to be introduced. It was a welcome diversion.
‘This is my friend Fiona.’
He nodded his head in greeting and looked back at me.
‘Remind me. What’s your name?’
‘Christ. I think I’d have remembered a name like that. What’s your last name?’
‘Pan-fry. What d’you get called at school? Frying pan? Andy Pandy?’
I smiled thinly, trying to look as if I hadn’t heard it a million times before.
‘Something like that.’
Our discussion was cut short by the appearance of a tall lad with long hair, telling him it was nearly time to go on. James Jay said he’d be there in a minute, and his friend shouted okay and went back into the club. He walked nearer to the street door to get rid of his cigarette butt, and paused, staring out. I wasn’t sure if our dialogue was over.
Taking Fi’s arm, I headed for the door leading into the club. I certainly wasn’t hanging around like a groupie to see if any more crumbs of conversation would fall from the table. He was extremely good looking, so I had to follow my rule and treat him cool, letting him make the running. If there was running to be made.
Oddly enough, I’d always found the opposite to be true of the not so good-looking ones, who could be attractive for different reasons – quirky personality, good sense of humour. Make a fuss of them and they were putty in your hands. But James was definitely in the top ten per cent on the phwoar scale and had to be treated accordingly. This category, by virtue of physical superiority, had no lack of female attention so were much more intrigued by a girl who didn’t fawn all over them.
We’d just reached the entrance when he called out to us, ‘I’ll buy you a drink when we finish our set. See you at the bar, then. Yeah?’
Scarcely turning my head, I answered, ‘Yeah, see you then,’ and Fi and I disappeared through the door.


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