Eve’s through two and a half bottles of bad import and two mediocre-ish bands, a point at which she usually considers going home and then decides to stay anyway because she needs music, even badly played music, after a day spent reading books in silence.
She takes another drag from the bottle and absent-mindedly strokes the table, wondering how long it’s been here. It’s covered in grime that goes back to at least the 1980s, she reckons. London shows the world a polished steel-and-glass face these days, but the cellars and back rooms of her pubs are still full of dirt, smoke and character. Deep down all the cities are the same. Eve should know, having passed through ten of them in the last ten years. You can write, read and review books anywhere as long as you've got a working internet connection.
A distorted, dissonant chord cuts through the chatter and Eve turns her eyes back on the small stage. The musician who’s on is tall, his face hidden beneath a mass of black hair. He’s wearing black all over, dress trousers and a leather jacket with nothing underneath.
“I’m Adam,” he says flatly. “This is 'How Much More'.”
“Well, hello there, Adam,” Eve murmurs under her breath.
His jacket starts sliding across his chest in rather interesting ways as he begins to play, but Eve stops noticing it after four bars. He plays with his eyes closed, swaying in time with the music – a slow, intense finger picked piece with interruptions that unsettle Eve every time she thinks she’s latched onto the groove of it.
Someone near her shifts uncomfortably in their seat, someone else coughs awkwardly. The piece goes around in a circle and won’t let them escape, and Eve watches him wondering how someone so young can be in this much pain, pain that’s too big for words.
When he finally stops playing there’s a tense silence. Some people look at the person next to them, not quite sure what just happened.
Adam opens his eyes and one by one people start clapping. Eve applauds too, raises her hands above her head and catches his eye. She’s been to enough gigs to tell the difference between fake eye contact and the real deal, but he actually flinches like she’s physically touched him. He turns it into a shrug to get his jacket back in place, which may fool the rest of the audience, but it doesn’t fool her.
The rest of his set is just as beautiful as that first piece, but less intense. Either that or the audience is keeping up with him, Eve isn’t sure, only thing for sure is by the third piece they’ve relaxed enough to nod along and finish their drinks while he plays instead of staring spellbound.
He murmurs a “thank you,” into the mic after his last piece, takes off the guitar and walks off the front of the tiny stage, passing right by Eve’s left elbow on his way to the bar.
Part of her wants to reach out at that point, to grab him by the lapels of his stupid jacket with both hands and tell him that. was. amazing, but she’s learned the hard way that people don’t appreciate that sort of thing, so she settles for following him with her eyes. She expects someone, anyone, to go up to him for a manly hug or a well done, mate, but nothing, no one. He passes through the crowd like he’s surrounded by an invisible ring fence.
She touches his shoulder when he’s on his way back, says do you want to sit here.
I, no, yes, I mean, my guitar, can I first, yes.
Of course, she says, I’m not going anywhere.
He looks at her like a deer in headlights and she thinks, oh god, was that too much already.
He comes back, beer in one hand, guitar case in the other and a smile clinging to the corner of his mouth in spite of himself.
You’re really good, she says.
Please don’t ask me to play in your band, he says, his hand hovering over the table halfway through setting down his drink.
I’m only here to listen, she says and raises her hands.
Well, that’s alright then, he says, with almost tangible relief in his voice, and sits.
Talk to me, she says.
About what, he says.
Anything you want. You. Your music. Why I haven’t seen you play before. Why they decided we like terrible beer.
He rolls his eyes. I know, right, he says, bloody Heineken, like we can’t make beer in this country that doesn’t cost a fortune in air miles.
She’s not sure how to respond to that so she takes a sip from the bottle.
Anyway, he says, I don’t do audiences. You know Ian, he’s the guy who organises this thing.
She nods. Of course she does, having come here every fortnight for the past three months to take in the musical underground of the city.
Well, he says, he wouldn’t stop bothering me about playing here, so this was the only way to get him to shut up.
She searches his words for the fake modesty, the hipster pretence but there’s nothing there, it’s all genuine ‘I don’t want to be here.’
I think he should bother you more often, she says anyway, like she hasn’t noticed.
He necks his bottle and grimaces. Anyway, need to get going, nice to meet you though.
She puts a hand over his, says, how are you getting home.
He looks at her with raised eyebrows. Night bus, he says, stop’s outside the door, it’s not that far.
Do you want some company while you wait?
Five minutes later they’re outside at the bus shelter. It’s March but there’s still a bite to the night air, and Eve can see Adam shivering in his ridiculous outfit.
Didn’t you bring a proper coat?
I’m fine, he says. I always feel bad because we complain about the cold but meanwhile the planet’s heating up. We’re such a failure as a species.
There’s no levity to his tone, just genuine distress. She looks up at him as he leans against the Perspex wall of the shelter, and it’s a small stretch from that to reaching out and touching his face. It’s either that or she’ll slap him, shake him by the shoulders and scream at him to notice how beautiful this moment is.
She half expected him to flinch like he did before on the stage but instead he leans into her touch. When she pulls him down and closer he doesn’t resist.
His chest is cold to the touch but his lips are warm. There’s a soft thud from the guitar case against the wall of the shelter as he turns his whole body around and into the kiss, his hand landing somewhat awkwardly on her hair.
It scares her for a moment, the way he opens himself up to her fingers on his skin, her mouth on his. A minute ago she wanted to turn him inside out, but she didn’t expect he’d be this willing to let her do that to him.
They’re shaking when the kiss breaks.
That was nice, he says, his hand catching hers.
We can do this all night, she says, but I wouldn’t mind somewhere warmer for that.
They end up doing exactly that and not much else, although they do manage to shed some clothes and fall into Adam’s bed together.
Sorry, he says, guitar picks, it's like they breed when I'm not looking.
Well, good to know something in here is having fun, she says, and leans over to stop him talking.
She wakes up to Adam finger picking a piece on an acoustic. He’s sitting on the sofa in a dressing-gown that must have belonged to his father, or maybe his grandfather.
When he’s finished she slowly walks over and kisses his forehead. If she leaves her number he’ll never call, so she asks him for his.
I didn’t know people still had landlines, she says. Let me know when you’re next playing. If.
I can play for you any time, he says, getting the door for her.
Not the same though, is it? Her hand brushes the sleeve of his dressing-gown, then his fingers.
No, it’s not the same, he says, and the door clicks shut.