“It’s official. Lesbians are filthy,” Tetchy Tommy said, shaking his head. He bent down and picked up an empty plastic cup, filled with cigarette butts and a slightly pink liquid substance. He shuddered at what that might be.
“Wear some gloves, mate. Safety first,” Oliver said, surveying the massive amount of discarded Dixie cups, food wrappers, and gum that littered the arena.
“Butterfly Boudoir. Wha kind uv name is that?” Tetchy Tommy scoffed.
“A sexy name for a bunch of sexy women,” Oliver answered.
“Bollocks. Nothin’ sexy about a bunch of carpet munchers what can’t play their instruments, mate.”
“Oi. The boss lady’s givin’ us the eye. Shyte, here she comes.”
Cynthia Paul skipped down the steps from a side section of the O2 Arena and walked around with a clipboard in her hand, occasionally checking off something on her list.
“Tommy. Gloves,” Cynthia gestured putting gloves on. She dropped her clipboard.
“I hate this sodding job!” Tommy yelled loudly, at no one in particular. He put a pair of gloves on and continued to sweep the arena floor just fast enough not to appear dead.
The heads of a few other stadium cleaners turned slowly and stared at Tommy for a moment before continuing with their work. They didn’t pay too much attention to Tommy’s outburst because Tommy always yelled the same thing after every concert.
Oliver smirked at Tommy and shook his head. Cynthia did the same. The task of cleaning up after 20,000 fans trashed an arena was daunting, and Cynthia understood Tommy’s frustration.
Cynthia lit a joint and handed it to Tommy. He took it and smoked as he worked. Oliver also lit a joint, as did about half of the others that were working. Permission had been given.
Oliver paused and leaned on his broom, gazing at the cleaners in the stands. One person in particular caught his eye.
“Cyn. Who’s the old geezer up there? And what the hell is he doin’?”
Cynthia looked up where Oliver was pointing. Her shoulders slumped a little and she sighed loudly, shaking her head.
That’s my dad, and he’s barmy.”
Jimmy Paul had been a rock legend fifty years ago. Copper Jet was his band, one that was still spoken of with reverence by rock musicians. It all came crashing down twenty years later. Jimmy’s drug use and suicide attempts put an end to the band.
Five years later, Jimmy was out of money. His wife left him, and their daughter, Cynthia. Father and daughter went to live with Jimmy’s sister, who became Cynthia’s de facto mother and Jimmy’s de facto caretaker.
Jimmy sat in his bedroom all day long, strumming an electric guitar with no amplifier. He wrote unintelligible lyrics. He ate peanut butter and water biscuits.
Jimmy Paul and Copper Jet faded from the public’s mind. Def Leppard and Queen took over.
Jimmy Paul had long fingers and a still-deft touch. He tossed cup after cup onto each other, each one smoothly settling on top of the previous cup until he had a stack of thirty cups. He then took them apart and did it all over again.
“He does that at home, too. He can flick cards into a pot without missing. Left handed and right handed, mind you.”
Oliver whistled appreciatively.
“Sure, mate. A very marketable skill,” Cynthis scoffed.
The cleanup was progressing slowly in the stands. Chairs had to be cleaned first, then the seats had to be collapsed so that the floor could be swept. Most of the cups and wrappers had to be picked up by hand because brooms couldn’t corral them easily underneath the seats. Gum was embedded in the seats and on the floor and had to be scraped from the surfaces.
Oliver bent down and picked up a silver flask. He opened it, sniffing carefully. Nodding, he took a drink and handed it to Cynthia. She sniffed it also but declined a drink.
“From Lisa to Callie, with love,” Cynthis said, reading the inscription out loud.
“Sweethearts, then,” Oliver said. Cynthia handed the flask back to Oliver.
“Oi! Tommy!” Oliver tossed the flask to Tommy, who grabbed it in a smooth, easy motion.
“The boy’s got skills. Who knew?” Cynthia said.
Oliver didn’t even pretend to sweep in front of his boss. He continued to lean on his broom.
“Yeah. Big footballer. Top prospect until he blew out his knee.”
“I never knew that. He always seemed like just another kid trying to earn a few pounds for dope and pints.”
“That’s exactly what he is, boss. Coulda been a huge star, though. Now he’s just another burnout.”
“Like my dad.”
Oliver looked at Cynthia quizzically.
“He was…somebody back in the day. Too many drugs did ‘im in,” Cynthia said, shrugging.
“Yeah? An old hippie?”
Cynthia paused before speaking.
Cynthis eyed Oliver thoughtfully.
“Come with me. I’ll show you what I deal with on a daily basis,” Cynthis said, striding purposefully towards her dad. Oliver was out of breath when they arrived.
“I have a stitch in my side,” he complained.
“Suck it up, mate,” Cynthis sat down and watched her dad for a moment before speaking to him. She had learned to let him get used to her presence before asking a question of him.
“Dad. I want to lose weight. Any ideas?”
Jimmy Paul continued to toss cups on top of each other. Once he had enough stacked together, he stopped and turned to his daughter.
“Pumpkin! How nice to see you.”
“Dad? Losing weight. How can I do it?”
The man paused briefly before speaking.
“Easy. Cut your hair, climb to the top of a mountain, and take off all your clothes.”
Oliver made a choking sound. Cynthia explained.
“You weight less with less hair, and when you move away from the gravitational pull of Earth. The clothes thing should be obvious by now.”
“Dad? This is Oliver. He wants to ask you a question,” Cynthia pulled Oliver forward.
“Ask him anything. The more mundane the better,” Cynthia whispered to Oliver.
“Er…yes…well. I er…I want to get rich. Any advice?”
Jimmy Paul finished stacking another set of cups.
“That’s easy. Find a rich woman with nymphomania genes and marry her.”
Oliver blinked. Cynthia laughed, kissed her dad on the cheek, and made her way back to the floor. Oliver followed, muttering to himself.
“Your dad’s barmy.”
“I told you that, mate. My life’s been like this for twenty-eight years.”
“Oi! It had tequila in it!” Tommy held up the silver flask before stuffing it in a back pocket.
“He’ll sell that for a couple of pounds at the pawn brokers. And you know what else he does? He picks up all the joints on the floor and takes ‘em back to his flat. The ones he don’t smoke here, that is,” Oliver said, shaking his head slightly.
The arena was almost clean. The cleaners proceeded to slow down, wanting to get more hours in. It wouldn’t do to be hard working and efficient.
“My dad,” Cynthia said, “has about fifteen lucid minutes a day. You never know when it’ll happen. Every so often, I catch him when he’s normal. I once asked him what it was like, being a big man with lots of money. He told me that everyone wants Paradise but no one wants to take out the rubbish.”
“And was he lucid?”
“Dunno, mate. Doesn’t matter at the moment. We have paperwork to do.”
Oliver followed Cynthia to her office to deal with the mountain of paperwork that accompanied cleaning up a 20,000-seat arena. The labyrinthine halls that they traversed always made him feel slightly claustrophobic and he was glad to get into a proper room.
They were silent for almost an hour as they busied themselves with filling out forms and checking off boxes. Oliver hated the bureaucracy of it all but he appreciated the extra pay.
Oliver finished his last report and leaned back, rubbing his neck and closing his eyes tightly, hoping that the figures dancing around in his head would go away. He looked at Cynthia; she looked very different when wearing glasses. Like she didn’t have a barmy dad who drove her nuts.
“Why aren’t you married, Cyn? You’re cute. Good figure. Almost pleasant when you want to be. You’d make some woman a good partner.”
“Sod off, wanker,” Cynthia said, laughing.
Cynthia took off her glasses and gazed at Oliver, a slight smile tugging at the corners of her lips.
“Never knew how to find the right person until tonight,” she said. Her eyes crinkled in amusement.
“I’m gonna take my dad’s advice. Find a rich woman with nymphomania genes.”
Oliver laughed and lit a cigarette, passing it to Cynthia before lighting one for himself.
Cynthia sighed, pursing her lips so she wouldn’t start laughing.
“Yeah, mate. Just gotta narrow down the field a bit. Too many to choose from.”
“Maybe your dad isn’t all that crazy, then.”
The parking lot was empty as Jimmy, Cynthia and Oliver exited the arena, making their way to the subway. A chilly wind swept through the area, portending rain, a not-unusual occurrence for London in April. Jimmy Paul wore a leather jacket with too many zippers.
Cynthia wrapped her coat tightly around her. Oliver, being less prepared, suffered the wind with a light jacket and a stoic expression.
“You know,” Oliver said, “that flask. That’s a love story, innit? I mean, a symbol of love, and it’ll end up on some dusty shelf in some dark corner of a pawn broker’s establishment. Makes you think.”
“Doesn’t make me think, mate. My mind is on getting dad home and climbing into bed. I’ll leave the philosophy to people like you,” Cynthia said, smiling at Oliver.
Jimmy Paul stopped. Cynthia and Oliver turned to him. He had a lost look in his eyes, as if he had just heard a siren’s call but was unable to follow.
“Love often suffers an ignominious death. Just ask my daughter.”
The rest of the journey was conducted in silence, save for the soft sobs of guitar legend Jimmy Paul.
Cynthia threw her coat on the sofa and helped her dad get out of his jacket. He was humming to himself, moving his hands as if he were conducting a symphony.
“Yes, pumpkin. I call it ‘Worshipping the Marshmallow Steering Wheel when Summer Is Upon Us.’ The important part is when the steering wheel melts in the sun. One of my best, I think.”
“Sounds great, dad. You hungry?”
Jimmy Paul’s face lit up.
“I am! But I want something completely different tonight. If we have it.”
“Sure, dad. What do you have in mind?”
“I think I’d like some peanut butter and water biscuits!”
Cynthia smiled, despite the overwhelming sadness that roared through her body.
“Let me look, dad. We may have it.”
Cynthis trudged to the pantry and turned on the light. Amid the assorted tins and myriad packages of food were seven jars of peanut butter and five boxes of water biscuits. She wiped a tear from her eye and took down one of each.