At the time, I didn’t really think about it. I was young. Weren’t you once?
At some point, everyone has had a morning when they wake up and regret what happened the night before. They turn over and see something quite unexpected lying next to them, something that looked different when they were addled by booze or drugs and now seems two thousands shades different in the morning sun.
But your regret will pale when you hear my account. You may have been through a hangover at best and a minor embarrassment at worst, but nothing that can’t be solved by scrambling together their clothes, trying to squeeze out through the catflap or living room window when you can’t work the sodding bolt on the madam’s front door.
But you were just being a kid. Doing childish things to childish people. Nothing sinister happened. You didn’t wake up in the same bed as I did.
For fuck’s sake, I’ll start from the bloody beginning.
I joined the Royal Navy in late 2010, going out with them on several overseas missions. Preventing fights from breaking out, stopping terroristic pirates (not that I ever got to) and providing “security at sea”: all that jazz. I also got a great Facebook profile picture standing at the helm of a Type-45 Destroyer. So that’s something, I suppose.
On one particular and fateful mission, I was shipped out with a crew to Port-au-Prince to build “international relations” between the Haitians and the British in the wake of the dreadful earthquake that shook Haiti to its foundations. We came in to offer support, with several generals posing for pictures for local rags, everyone looking serious and the offer of help from overseas being repeated over and over until your ears stung.
I was at a bit of a loose end and so had nothing to do. This was a mission of just politics and military fraternising. Nowt to do with a new recruit still with tags on his boots.
As I remember it, it was Jerry who put forward the idea, saying that the Port-au-Prince slums had some of the best bars in the world. I took one look at Steve and we nodded. Sure, why the hell not?
So Steve and myself were to understand that “best bars” meant either nice-tasting drinks or smart bartenders who knew their facts even if they weren’t particularly well-attired, as well as pleasant scenery.
Of course, he meant they were filthy, water-damaged, falling apart, and full of people on pills, on needles, on women, on Dasher, on Cupid. You get the picture. That prick Jerry meant seedy.
I stayed for a single warm beer that seemed to come in a glass that had only ever been washed when more warm beer had been poured into it. It had a thin crust of dirt around the rim as well. I just tried to drink it at an angle.
“So what do you think, Carl?” asked Jerry, grinning.
I didn’t think anything, really.
Well actually, that’s not entirely true.
I thought about calling Jerry a useless spaz.
Before I could, however, my gaze fell upon a young woman sitting at the furthest end of the bar, underneath a rattan fan full of holes that should have given up the ghost years ago. She was a blonde of about nineteen and gave off this aura of coolness. Calmness.
After my second dirt-beer, I plucked up the courage to walk past her and get a closer look on my way to the gents. In the toilet, several snaggle-toothed people tried to sell me incense and wooden tribal cuttings whilst I was urinating. I am not joking: the place was worse than Egypt in terms of street sellers and crap-vendors.
On my way back, I noticed both Jerry and Steve had left without me, potentially lured out by the throngs of sellers, drunkards, and dumbass tourists. This was the middle of summer, the very peak of the season.
The bar was all but empty, having seemingly emptied in the space of two minutes I’d been using the bogs.
And then that woman, that woman with a strange radiance that I couldn’t quite explain, turned to smile at me. It seemed to make my skin crawl, but in a way that I didn’t particularly mind it doing. she patted the bar stool next to her. Twice.
I was about to walk out of the door. I mean, things seemed to be going good, but I didn’t know how to speak Creole. What would I have said?
“I speak English, you know.” she said, as if reading my mind.
I sat down. I talked to her.
She was funny, charming, and so very interesting. I couldn’t tell you about a single thing she said to me because I don’t remember a word of it.
And yes, I had a few more dirt beers. I asked questions and they got more personal and we kept the conversation rolling surprisingly smoothly and succinctly and I left with a small piece of paper in my pocket with her address marked roughly on my very tourist-y map that I’d bought two days prior.
It was only the next day when I woke up worried. Something was wrong with her. Something had been definitely wrong with her.
I kissed her midway through our conversation, but, you know, really kissed her, and I’d noticed a green tinge on the corner of her mouth, a strange fuzz that stood out from the rest of her face.
Two weeks later, we sailed back to the mainland, with neither Jerry nor Steve wishing to talk to me, telling me that I’d disappeared and they’d scoured the entire bar for me.
I wasn’t too concerned. I was lost in my own thoughts. It was something about the way her mouth tasted, as if she had an ulcer within her mouth, because she tasted of that bitter coppery taste you get from iron. But also for some strange reason, I tasted plant-matter, or some kind of soil. After our first initial kiss, she seemed to visually panic, as if she’d done something wrong, and reached in her pocket, fumbling with a packet of chewing gum. Whilst doing this, two more full packets fell out of her pockets. I didn’t really think anything of this at the time. Halitosis?
You have to remember that I was really quite drunk.
It’s fairly important that you remember that.
I brushed it off until a week later, when I was brushing away at my teeth and noticed a strange jade patch in my mouth and went to my GP expecting something bad. Herpes. AIDS. Either the Gon- thing or the Clyd-thing that nobody could ever spell. After examining it closely, he ascertained that it was not an STD. In fact, he’d never seen anyone with the condition.
It cleared up a week later, but I still went to see specialist doctors about it, just in case of a flare-up.
But no matter who they were, where they were, or how many years they’d spent in the field, no doctor knew.
Eventually, after a cold non-dirt beer in a pub in Belfast many years later, I sat down with Jerry for a catch up we’d been long awaited.
I told him about the condition and laughed it off, but noticed him becoming slightly quieter as the night went on. Eventually, after fifteen minutes of trying to pry an answer from him, he finally broke and told me that he knew of the condition and he saw it all the time in the patients that he worked with.
I was thankful, but that wasn’t to last. I knew he’d changed jobs in recent years after a spat of unemployment after leaving the Navy.
He told me he’d become a mortician.
He told me that it was perfectly normal for a cadaver to grow fungal rot underneath the gums and lips. Unlike a black virulence or a blood red glob, the green only creeps in when the owner of the house has put his property to market, apparently.
Nobody alive had ever been found with oral fungal necrosis, apart from grave robbers of the night.
I felt sick, immediately leaving the small tavern, but I got about two alleys away from my old friend before I hurled most of my guts into a brown dustbin.
I went back there, I don’t know why.
The bar was still there, but the barman claimed he’s never known anyone matching my description of her,
Pulling the old map out from my belongings I’d travelled with, I set off across the island to find the location the lady had marked all those years ago.
Going down a particularly muddy dirt trail, I squinted at the map underneath the vast leafy canopies, leading myself down a small winding lane, towards the “X.”
The lane ended at a small cemetery.
Charlie Chitty is a currently unpublished author from Cheltenham in the U.K. He has performed short pieces at Flasher’s Club, a local short story open mic club in his town.