The swimming pool was on fire. A body rose to the surface, bobbing up and down like discarded cigarette stubs.
‘What do you think?’
Jenny glanced from the mobile phone to its owner, a bloke whose voice sounded like nails scratching on the insides of a coffin.
‘Coronation Street has gone right down the tubes. Now bugger off before I poke your eyes out.’
He slithered away as she returned to her drink. It wasn’t the most glamorous of boozers, evidenced by the dead rat under the table peering at her.
Her eyes flickered like lights in a haunted house as she nudged her phone closer to the sweaty beer bottle, its condensation dribbling onto the wood, sighing as she turned her attention to the card before her. The thumping bass of the music had been cranked up to an ear-splitting eleven, drowning out all other sounds and providing a welcome distraction from the dull throb at the back of her skull. Jenny touched the chain around her neck, feeling the dragon symbol on the ring.
She’d had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn’t it.
Jenny took a deep breath, her nostrils flaring as she inhaled stale pizza, sweat, and cheap booze. She ignored the man sporting a serial killer haircut as he glanced at her between feeding the slot machine. Her fingers traced the grooves of the table, her nails clicking against the obscenities scrawled in the grain. She focused on the card, locked on the image of a scabby cat standing in a police cell, its face twisted into a scowl as it held up a sign that said: “21 Today.” Behind it, two drunk dogs, fur matted and eyes glassy, were having sex.
She read the inscription inside.
Happy 21st, Jenny. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t!
She slammed her hand onto the table, curling it into a fist. The card fluttered in the breeze of her movement, and she snatched it up, crushing it in her fingers. She’d been getting unsigned birthday cards for ten years, popping up like clockwork at every orphanage and care home. Even when she escaped the system, they still found their way to each squat and dodgy hotel where she stayed. Despite their persistence, she’d never figured out who the sender was. She tore the card in half and dropped it on the plate with the remains of the burger that had tasted like used cigarettes. She peered out the window at the club across the street, the glittering neon sign a promise of the joy to come.