by Gavin Ritchie
Kirsty Lightbreath makes people laugh for a living. She stands up in front of small crowds at the Third Eye Comedy Club four days a week and tells them about her life. It isnít all true, what she says; who has a life thatís constantly funny?
When she was six she thought sheíd die of poisoning after licking the rose of her fatherís watering can. What the hell had she done, he told her, it was full of weed-killer. Weed-killer, Kirsty. You could die. She survived. When she was sixteen, she discovered travel and her father financed her twenty-eight trips to Amsterdam before she got sick of it. One of her boyfriends said that what she was doing wasnít really travelling. Kirsty told him, of course it was, she didnít live there, did she? She didnít tell him that she knew a man who did live there.
At twenty-five Kirsty thought sheíd discovered forgiveness when she was reunited with her mother. In other news, sheíd forgotten all about the man who lived in Amsterdam; heíd married before her last trip over (they did that in Holland: marry at the drop of a hat), and she didnít want to see Amsterdam again. Besides sheíd fallen in love with a man sheíd met at university, but who lived, then, mostly in Prague. His name was Stilo, and he got people drunk for a living.
Kirsty and Stilo spent the millennium celebrations together in a tent by a dark Scottish loch. There was literally no other human soul near them for over fourteen miles the whole night. She remembers running out of breath with Stilo, chasing an umbrella that had blown away through the forest, aiming torches at it. Her cheeks ached from smiling and her heart thudded so hard she had to look down at her chest, to check it hadnít come flying through her rib cage.
Then Stilo held her. She was bursting with excitement, but he blabbered something like, ëThe thing is, we never leave this place alone; weíll always take our lovers with us.í
ëDragging them kicking and screaming,í Kirsty said.
Kirsty and Stilo moved to Prague. They had a dog called The Boss, an American Bull Terrier who roamed the tables of Stiloís bar. Sometimes Kirsty and Stilo called him TB, which worried the occasional patron and cost them seven hundred and fourteen Euros over all the time they were together.
Then, one weekend, Stilo met some bitch; he said they didnít do anything but talk, but Kirsty still cut him from her life. When Stilo told Kirsty he hadnít wronged her, she told him heíd sinned in his heart. At the same time, she made a gesture like stabbing herself; she almost laughed.
Kirsty wouldnít forgive him. But, boy, that girl was convenient; Kirsty was so tired of Stilo, couldnít believe her luck.
When she landed back in Glasgow, she laughed so hard she hiccupped; then she broke down. Kirsty realised her time was running out and sheíd never meet Stilo again. She felt marred by all of her battles and her Sunday morning avowals, their too late words tumbling like rice paper.
Kirstyís favourite film is Eternal sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and on days when she has nothing else planned she likes to listen to R and B on the radio at top volume and to clean her rented flat.
Stilo Milovat was born in Prague, after the Russian occupation, before Glasnost. His parents were lucky to be alive. Apart from the five years Stilo spent studying in Glasgow, heís always lived in the Mala Strana, in the shadows of the Old Royal Palace and Petrin Hill. He makes a living selling disabling drinks to people who willingly come back to his bar for more. He likes the phrase ëalways and forever,í it feels like being in love, even when it is too late.
Stilo liked Bruce Springsteen for a while ñ Kirsty Lightbreath liked him too, she told him. Stiloís favourite Christmas was in 1987, three months after his father was released from prison. The snow outside was dry and blinding and his father wheeled into their flat a German bicycle called a Lazer. It was silvery blue and Stilo still remembers the green paper his father had wrapped around the bikeís seat; Stilo didnít ëunwrapí his gift but kept it decorated until the paper turned to fluff and fell off naturally.
In his twenties, Stilo listened to a British radio DJ called Arthur Bouchez and learned to speak English and love jazz. His favourite place in the world then was the Lucerna Music Bar across the river from his family home, in the dark winding streets of the old town. His mother had grown up there. He bought a visiting pianistís leather jacket in the Lucerna when he was nineteen. Heíll wear it, now, ëtil it falls off, naturally.
From the moment Stilo saw Kirsty in the studentsí union, Glasgow University, he knew he was in love. He even felt history shifting. Stilo never told Kirsty what he was thinking. This is what he was thinking: ëAlways and forever.í
Two years from graduating, Kirsty and Stilo hatched a plan to celebrate the age of the new Millennium, alone and away from the city, over the hills and by a Loch of legendary beauty. When the Third Millennium began and distant skies glowed with crackling lights, Stilo took a photograph of Kirsty. He keeps it, even now, in his wallet. Kirsty, in a white coat and hat, looking eternally pensive, her narrowed eyes and screwed nose, her forehead tight. Stilo sees it: Kirsty realises too late the immortality of moments like these.
When Stilo opens the bar now and The Boss snuffles in, he winds open the windows to let out the bite of cleaning product. He dreams of Kirstyís tough little mouth and her soft white skin. He forgets exactly what happened, he just knows he can never forgive himself. The Boss pads between the table legs tapping the floor with his nails.
Stiloís favourite film is Band A Apart, and on days when he has nothing else planned he likes to walk the paths of Petrin Hill where he and his little bike once whizzed like lightning.
It is winter in Glasgow, two thousand and one. Kirsty and Stilo are sitting in the darkness of a film theatre; Kirstyís holding their ticket stubs for The Last Picture Show inside her pocket. Stilo may be with her but she is inside her pocket, thinking. The place is packed and a large man is sitting in the seat next to Kirsty. She tells herself the man has sad eyes, and they are sad. Theyíre so sad and bright, and heís alone.
When Stilo looks around the auditorium, he sees many couples together in the strong shifting lights. The lights move so fast itís as if the faces are all under water. A lot of the couples are close to each other, looking as if they are in love.
Stilo peers into the shadows for Kirstyís hand. He needs to hold her. Everyone is quiet. Onscreen, the wind blows and the camera pans slowly left to right. Stiloís hand floats blindly from his space to Kirstyís. In the movie a car backfires, broken and old. If this were a western itíd be gunfire, but itís not, this is Glasgow and itís a love story, a heartbreaker.
Kirsty feels Stiloís arm pad across the armrest into her space. This is really happening, she tells herself, My God. Her thoughts are so loud she canít concentrate on the film, where old men berate a couple of highschool kids for something. It looks as if the kids couldnít care what the men are saying; theyíre young and they act young. They walk on springs.
The large man next to Kirsty rustles something. Kirsty closes her eyes and fills her lungs hoping for a fragrance exotic, but the theatre is dusty and thereís a dampness clinging to everyoneís clothes and the manís just opened crisps, something like chicken. Kirsty imagines talking about chicken flavoured crisps at the club; who the hell has chicken flavoured crisps any longer? Didnít they, like, go out with the CND and deeley boppers?
She feels Stilo pressing on her hand. She grips the tickets harder and harder, moves down inside her pocket. Her hand. But his, too.
Why is this happening; why is it so hard?
Theyíd run through a forest when everyone else was in the city. They were together, alone, in love, so in love, but the moment he made her laugh it was already a memory. An illusion. A scene from the past that couldnít be held; everything was. Heíd thrown his arms around her, though she was already disappearing. Her hair was stuck to her face like gashes from a bear claw.