I used to work in a piercing parlour. That’s no lie. I've never had anything pierced myself, but there was something about being allowed to stick needles in people for money that I found oddly satisfying.
One time a blonde girl came into the shop. This didn’t strike me as unusual, because it was a very popular hair colour at the time. She was kind of pretty, I suppose, if you’re into that whole perfect face and hair thing, but when you looked into her eyes you could see there was nothing going on. I know you're not supposed to judge people by their looks, but when that look is as blank as a cheque that doesn't even exist, you're probably right to reserve a little judgement.
“What can I do for you?” I asked, assuming she was just going to get her ears done, just like so many women before her. She didn’t seem the type to get anything weird or exotic like a chin bolt.
“I’d like to get my soul pierced, please.” she said. I smiled with my mouth, but not with my eyes. I could tell that this girl was going to be a pain.
“Um, we don’t do that kind of thing, I’m afraid.” She looked puzzled, like I'd just asked her to solve sixteen sudokos .
“You pierce stuff here, right?”
“Yes” I replied “we do, any body part.”
“Then I’d like you to pierce my soul. I can go somewhere else if you can’t”. I was working on commission at the time, and I didn't want to get into a debate on the existence of a soul, so I thought I’d humour her. I picked up the gun and began making buzzing noises around her head.
“There you go. All done. One pierced soul. ” I told her.
“Please don’t patronise me, Alex.” she said looking at my name tag “I’ve come to get my soul pierced, not to look like an idiot. Can you do it or not?”
“One minute”. I told her. I ran upstairs to the manager’s office. The door was open, so I didn’t bother knocking. The smell of vodka and sweat hit me as soon as I stepped in. He was sitting in his chair taking the coloured stickers off a rubik's cube and placing them where they were supposed to be. “We've got a girl downstairs. She wants to get her soul pierced. I think she might be mental. Do you want me to call the police?”
“Blindfold her and bring her to me” he said.
“Go downstairs, put a blindfold on her and bring her to my office.” I did as he said. The girl didn’t even ask why I was blindfolding her. It's that kind of go-with-the-flow attitude that will ruin this country. I sat her down on the red swivel chair in the middle of the room and caught the scent of petrol on her neck.
“First time?” my boss asked her.
“Then you know what to expect?”
“Yes” she said. She sounded nervous, but excited. My boss closed the thin, cheap curtains and walked over to the filing cabinet. From a chain around his neck he pulled out a key. From the other side of the room it looked like it was made of lots of tiny bones. If I had to guess I’d say they were probably mouse bones. It seemed a little theatrical. He opened the drawer and pulled out the strangest thing I have ever seen. I can’t even begin to describe it, so I won’t.
“Hold her down” he said.
“Do I have to tell you everything twice?” I stood behind her and grabbed her arms tightly.
“What are you? An idiot? From the front, from the front!” he yelled. I swung the chair around so that she was facing me. I could smell her breath. She was drunk too. My boss walked up behind her and began chanting something in what I thought was Latin, which surprised me, because I was pretty sure that he couldn’t speak Latin. It might have been Cockney though. I hadn't lived in London very long. He he held the strange object above her head and plunged it downwards, stopping an inch away from her skull. She flinched. He twisted it. She screamed. He twisted it again. She began to shake. He started again and her screams got louder. I didn’t know if they were screams of pain or ecstasy. He repeated the procedure over and over for what must have been ten minutes. It didn't seem like an appropriate time to say that I was supposed to be on my break. I couldn’t take my eyes off the shivering girl. The screams were becoming deafening. “Take off the blindfold. Take it off” my boss shrieked, like a cartoon villain.
I looked up at him, but it was like looking at an x-ray through heavy rain. The whole room was spinning. The only thing in focus was the object being twisted. I undid the blindfold and looked into her eyes. For as long as I live I’ll never forget what I saw. Where once was nothing, now was everything. I saw war, I saw famine, I saw the first flowers of spring, I saw universes come and go, I saw The Beatles, I saw the first man on Mars, I saw the last man on Earth, I saw the garden of Eden covered in snow, I saw laughter, I saw unpaid taxes, I saw Hell freezing over, I saw Heaven turned to dust, I saw the first series of Big Brother, I saw Jesus throwing dice, but there was one thing that I didn’t see: me.
The room stopped spinning and the screaming turned to silence. The girl got up, gave me fifty quid and walked back down the stairs. She seemed happy enough. I handed in my notice at the end of the day, went straight home and had a drink. I checked the £50 in my wallet: It was Mononopoly money. And I’ve been drinking ever since.