It wasn’t like he couldn’t remember. Thick grey that hung inches from his nose, stroked the pavement so there were no edges, the giant ball sinking into a sea of it. Coloured like the one they used to bounce across tarmac and never let him at, he’d never quite catch it, what they were shouting. It was much colder there. Carl suspected it had something to do with the purple ones, this brain-fuzz, a chocolate tang that made him feel like he was only watching, with some sizable effort.
Floyd was hyper and constantly wired, spun like a plastic wind-up that was jammed. Except, even him, after those would mellow out, stop talking his broken, made-up noise, he’d simply slip into an extra’s role, slump back and watch the others. When they were all on it, the protagonist became a piece of matted string, a half chewed straw with salvia trails, a vibrant colouring of piss down a wooden leg. Enough to stare.
Yes, it wasn’t like he didn’t remember, he just didn’t go outside that much anymore, mainly he didn’t have the energy, things got distorted, the ball and the tarmac for example, they didn’t fit with the rest. White grains pouring from sacks like spilt open guts and thick close air, quick words that sounded like symbols, slurred together with all that tepid, sticky Soju. It was a hot grey. The other felt like cool green. That’s how he saw it. Sometimes he’d be on the verge of hearing what they were shouting. Before he’d wake, it twisting out in foreign.
Floyd was the only one who spoke to Carl, the only other non-Korean. He spoke to everyone but no-ones language, just his own ninety percent nasal snot, ten percent tongue, always chasing any tail on heat. Floyd’s given name was Sunja, meaning ‘meek and mild’, no shit, but Brian who gave out the names, who laminated the menus, was ironic.
Carl’s given name was Baekdu, the highest mountain in Korea, shortened to Bea, inspiration, a female name. The girls went crazy on the off chance of catching his tail, Beaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa, they shouted it in their pigtails, skirts above the thighs and K-POP T. Shirts, making sounds, BEAAAAAAAAAAAAA. Carl had named himself Carl, not that he ever needed to refer to himself, but still. And Floyd he’d named Floyd because he’d also been given a female name and to Carl that was the sound he was often trying to make through his rumpled, dark skin, flecked with tiniest strands of grey.
Carl did remember things, it wasn’t like he couldn’t, but he only had a bit of room inside his brain and he got lethargic, liked to sit between four particular wooden legs, watch the tiny pieces of light make patterns in the same order as routine cruised on. He was an old timer, white with brown across one eye. He watched the long and short, toy and sized, by breed and brand but he didn’t subscribe to any of that. Carl and Floyd were outcasts. The new-bees, the just-passing-throughs, the ones who always tried too hard to impress, Carl ignored them all while Floyd made snot and pushed them away.
Especially, Carl stayed away from sticky fingers, digging nails, little hands, always pulling and patting firm, then shrieking some obnoxious spilt-hair pitch. The knack was to be invisible, only half here, never around when Brian took them out, sinking into the floor like quicksand. Like the ball inside the grey.
Carl suspected that he hadn’t always been like this, but there was enough to contend with in here, inside he didn’t have time for outside anymore. The smell of tower-cream iced-drinks took over, the purples ones, the blue ones, they got mixed up, caught fragments of non-Korean conversation, the occasional English. “This place is fucking weird man, people come and drink coffee here but the urine gets in your mouth.”
Carl stayed hidden, stayed inside his dreams, didn’t want to rise to the chaos, didn’t have the drive, only running on smooth tarmac, after the orange ball that moved up and down until it became a blur.
“How’s it going?” The voices above him were speaking, legs around his table, his hiding place and he heard them flickering inside his head. “How’s it going, now you’re off the meds? You know what you need, right? One of these little things, better than any of that.”
What Carl heard, and he couldn’t explain it, sounded just like cool green, sounded like a colder green. He opened one eye to a slit. The four legs were around the wooden four, scuffed jeans and moving trainers, closed in around his sleep.
“Just put one inside your jacket.”
When he thought, when he tried to remember, it seemed like Floyd had caused the commotion, that maybe theirs was the only language that spinning-top spoke, that he actually understood. He liked to jump the tables, onto jeans, knocking, upsetting the drinks, running circles around for treats that tasted, to Carl at least, like tissue, clogging up their systems, less shit for Brian to clean. But maybe he was smarter than all of that, his timing, as he jumped above Carls head, knocked the sticky coffee to the floor and onto the lap of the cool green voice.
The human with the shaved head, tuffs of hair like a hairless Kahala, a Lancashire Heeler, kicked Carl violently, ejecting him from his dream, making him run from the safety underneath. “Shit man, I didn’t see that one under there, I’m sorry,” He was talking at Carl, “I’m sorry…” he meant it.
The lanky one, an Irish wolfhound in the glasses, now had Floyd on his lap and was patting his head as he sprayed snot erratically about.
“Oh, I am so sorry sir,” Brian appeared, apologising profusely in his broken human-English. “This one is so fast and always making trouble. And Bea is, we say, nun-e boiji anhneun. I am so sorry Sir. American sirs.” Brian bowed. “I get something to clean up this mess.” He bowed again lower.
The lanky one with glasses was petting Floyd as Brian left to get a cloth and some more of the purple ones. Turning to Carl he said, “Bea?” he looked unhappy with the name, “Does this place depress you?”
Carl wasn’t sure how long he’d been here, the time he’d been hidden, sticky fingers and hot grey, always in the shadow, always under the tables. Still, no one had ever spoken to him like this. He was sure of it. Cool green.
“Okay, quick, let’s do it now,” the lanky one was saying. “Let’s go.”
“We can’t leave this one,” the hairless one replied, he looked at Carl. “Look at his fucking face. Look at those eyes.”
It wasn’t like he couldn’t remember. He remembered blurry buildings that were blocked tall, identical with vanishing tops, hot grey, the haze that stung up his eyes. Floyd was inside the jacket and Carl, too big to be hidden, was suddenly being bundled outside between the legs, running, sprinting fast. Carl was suddenly lost in the smell of other things. He turned to see Floyd above him inside the jacket, he winked, or was it just his itching skin, too much of it, heavy breath and a fuzzy-brain?
But Carl was outside and suddenly he remembered.
Tarmac and a ball.