Everything was familiar to him ... It was well-loved, like the spine of a book read dozens of times.
Content warning: alcohol
“Pass us the Jimmy,” Miles said, squeezing past Chloe, gesturing at the Jim Beam bottle behind Anna—Anna rolled her eyes and retrieved it for him.
“Dude, how many times do I have to tell you to stop calling it that?” Chloe complained. She poured a beer.
“As long as we both work here, it’s Jimmy,” Miles replied. He served the next customer.
He was conscious of the growing crowd at the bar of The Banana Split, but everyone was friendly, and for every few unfamiliar faces, there was a regular waiting to shake his hand or say hi. He loved the bar—they all did. It was a small dive which had graduated from being a regular watering hole for Miles and his uni mates, to becoming his primary source of income. The walls were adorned with dim neon signs of the Sailor Jerry tattoo, a portrait of Hendrix, and a print of Jay-Z taming a crowd; it was comfortable working at a place like this. Everything was familiar to him, and everything was familiar to the regulars. It was well-loved, like the spine of a book read dozens of times.
A gin and tonic went out; the corresponding tenner came in. Miles looked up at the DJ—Chloe had ducked out of the bar to have a chat with him. The DJ, Val, waved and smiled at him. Val had been around for pretty much as long as Miles had, and for each of them The Banana Split was something of a second home. They had shared so many memories, drinks, and more, that any Saturday either of them was missing was never quite the same. On weeknights, Val was busy with other gigs—but on Saturdays, they were all part of the furniture.
At closing, Chloe and Miles did a bathroom check. Typically, every surface but a square metre of mirror was covered with stickers of bands, DJs, and independent labels. That night, Miles couldn’t see his own reflection. He and Chloe began scratching off the stickers, spraying them with vinegar, and tossing them into a big black bin liner between them. He peeled off a bright red one that’d caught his eye: Mudpie Records. With a jolt, he remembered it as the company Val was signed to. It had a different label now, more punchy, less cartoonish. He felt a pang.
Chloe noticed him grow quiet. She took a glance at what he was holding.
“You know, you should play a set again some time. You’re really good, dude,” she said.
“I’m too rusty,” Miles replied, “I haven’t touched my decks in months now. Been too busy with work.”
He flicked the sticker away. He looked back at the sea of labels, bands, artists in all their colours and typefaces and identities and passions, and in the space he had just cleared with the removal of Mudpie, he saw a sliver of his reflection. It was gaunt and tired.
“I miss those gigs. I wanna see Val play at other places. I want to see all my friends from the old music scene. I never really get to anymore,” he went on.
“I know the feeling, dude. I haven’t watched Carlton play in about a year. They’re finally winning,” Chloe said.
“Fuck the Blues,” Miles said, but he had a small smile on his face. Chloe hit him on the arm.
“You know what. One night, you and I should take the night off. We watch the Blues beat the Cats, then we get fucked up at a techno club. How good does that sound?”
“Dude, I love this place, but no chance we’re both getting a night off at the same time. Also, there is no conceivable world in which Carlton beat Geelong. I’m sorry, but you’re deluded.”
“Maybe you should let go of this place a little, Miles. It’s just a job.”
Miles woke the next afternoon at four with a blinding headache and in a state of complete exhaustion. Knockoff drinks with Val, Chloe and Anna had lingered well into the daylit hours. He wasn’t completely sure, but he thought he remembered staggering into his front gate as a group of schoolchildren walked past with their mothers. He winced.
Work was in two hours. Anna had spared him the early open at five, for which he was endlessly grateful; but as he considered getting ready for work, he felt the meagre minutes of time to himself stretch uncomfortably thin. Miles looked over at his decks, dormant and dusty in the corner of his room, and felt his headache twinge anew. He thought of what Val said to him when they had finally sat down for drinks: just come along, you’ll fit right back in.
He reached for his shoes and felt a slippery surface on his sole. Looking down, Miles saw a single, shiny red Mudpie sticker stuck there. Failing to pick it off, he pulled his shoes on. For the first time, consciously at least, he felt the walls around him begin to close in.