The Tip Jar depicts the greasy and dark world of rural Spain on Christmas Eve where women in search of a good time instead find fear.
At the beginning of the night, we’d had almost all the money we had taken from the tip jar (we’d only bought a pack of cigarettes after buying the bus tickets to the city). I don’t know why I smoke. I hate the smell and how the smoke stays in my throat like it’s stuck (I think I do it because Sol does it and also because my mother would hate to see me do it). After buying the cigarettes from the machine of El Hoyo, a seedy bar near the bus stop (the waiter’s hairy hands changed the coins into notes and Sol stored them in one of the small compartments of her wallet), we were headed for the city. We’d gotten drunk at El Hoyo with the money from the tip-jar many times. The waiter smiled and asked us where we were going (he had black eyes, black hair and tanned skin much too naturally tanned to be Spanish). We didn’t know the names of the clubs so we made a face to tell him to mind his own business. We went outside the bar to smoke a cigarette. Sol had said that before getting the bus we should order a drink at the bar. It was a tradition. I gulped mine down even though I didn’t know what it was (neither of us knew what it was. Some random spirit mixed with watery cola). I’m usually such a slow drinker, even with water. But I was thirsty, and I wanted to get rid of the rest of the funny smell of the smoke and drown the tiny smoke particles that were clinging to my throat. I think I was nervous, like whenever I left Lencreña and the mountains behind and came to the city. We liked to pretend we were city girls and we put on airs and acted self-important, sticking our bums out while we walked (like cats do, in a state of nature) with our noses stuck up in the air but always holding our glittery tiny handbags tight as if we were sure someone could emerge from the darkness and snatch them away (we clung onto them like would never let that happen).
We paid for another drink after the first one (we had missed the bus so we had to wait for the next one). The waiter asked us if we were from around here (that was his pick-up line). He probably sensed we were kind of tipsy already because he’d seen us so many other times (he’d been working there ever since I can remember). His mother was sick, everyone knew that. Probably that’s why he’d been working while the rest of us were still in high school. My mother knew it (my mother gossiped with the mothers of the kids from the neighbourhood). His mother used to own La Gallineta but they didn’t gossip with her mother because she wasn’t like the rest of them. I remember going there to buy sweets (my mother would let me spend a euro on gummy bears). Sol didn’t because she lived with her Nana in the mountains. He didn’t play with the other kids outside even though he must have been our age. If he did come outside from La Gallineta he’d stand by the door and smoked a cigarette, looking down on us like we were wasting our time running around. He was working at El Hoyo when we went to buy cigarettes after classes during high school. It was like he was always one step ahead (except now, now he looked very old and tired, like he had lived a whole life).
He said he thought we looked like lost girls in the city and that pleased Sol so much she had tried to order a Mojito even though she knew they didn’t make cocktails at the bar. I think she liked him because he was playing along with the whole out-of-reach-city-girl story. Sol said: we’re going to the city. She said Lencreña was dead, whatever that meant. He said when the mall opened near town that had been it for small business and waited for us to agree but Sol just hummed softly. He said he’d come with us if we liked, he could get off now just then so he could come with us. Sol shrugged like she didn’t care but we let him walk with us to the bus stop. He said his name was Marco Antonio but we could call him Marco but everyone in town knew his name anyway, like us. He said he knew of a place we could go to. We waited outside the bar for him, sharing a cigarette. When he came back he was wearing a leather jacket and he’d left his apron behind. His leather jacket was old and not shiny, like it had been worn for generations. He had a friend that worked in a club in the city and he could get us in for free. All the bus ride he sat next to Sol and played with the Sequins on her top and Sol gave him looks but let him do it. I sat behind peeping at them through the space between the seats, a bit dizzy.
Our bodies shivered all the way to the club, shaking until the sequins came off our party clothes and the dirt of the city flew around almost enveloping us. El Paraiso had a lot of stairs because it was an underground room and inside there was a long shiny counter, (shiny from the liquids spilled from the drinks poured from the inexperienced young hands of a barman that smiled and looked at us for a very long time but didn’t ask for our number, or say anything cheeky. He was friends with Marco and they greeted each other with a handshake and smiled a sort of secret barman smile that meant something only the two of them knew and for a minute they looked like they were evil twins). Sol handed me two ten euro notes and I paid the smiling barman and put the change back into the wallet. He winked at me while he handed me the change. We both thought the money would last as long as the night and we had slipped through the dark gates of the underground club like Alice in Wonderland with the endless cloth wallet in Sol’s pocket. We did this more and more times (pay and drink and pay and drink) until there were fewer and fewer notes inside the wallet.
After a while Sol offered to buy Marco a drink. He held her from behind, pressing her body against the counter while she rummaged inside the wallet and pretended not to be noticing his tongue licking her ear. Did she like the hairs of his long black beard tickling her? After paying we walked to the dance floor together with the drinks in our hands, spotlights blinding us with red and green colours, feeling wobbly, stretched out bodies spinning around ours. The bodies were pressing against us, damp skin and damp clothes that were sticky like syrup (the kind you had to lick it off your fingers). Marco Antonio danced between us, with his back to me, facing Sol. His butt kept bumping against my womb, pressing me against the crowds of sweaty people. I spilled the drink I was holding, all over his back (which was already damp with sweat and he didn’t seem to care). I was getting even dizzier than before: the muddy (with alcohol and sweat) almost-invisible floor seemed to be twirling to the beat of the music. Marco was whispering things in Sol’s ear, or licking it again and she mouthed something at me, pointing at her drink (I could barely see her with Marco Antonio’s wild embrace around her). She passed me the wallet and I slid through the tall twisting bodies trying to reach the counter and left Sol and Marco behind me, lost. The smiling barman was there and he smiled a wide smile at me again. I ordered and asked him where the restroom was. He came with me and opened the door for me. He was carrying empty glasses he had collected along the way, making an attempt to clean the room where all those bodies were dancing on mud and glass from other glasses he hadn’t yet managed to collect and had shattered to pieces at the dancefloor. I thanked him. The handle was shiny, his forehead was shiny (it had tiny drops of sweat racing all the way down to his bushy eyebrows) but his crooked grin was stuck on his face like he’d just been told a joke. I waited for him to move away from the door. His black eyes were looking straight at my glittery top. He stretched his long skinny arm towards my glittery top and said something I couldn’t hear with the music. He reached it with his knotty hands and jingled the sequins. His hand was shiny and dirty. I looked at it while it moved around me, making me dizzier, playing with the silver sequins. He pushed it further and I could feel his fingertips running over the borders of the top. I looked behind me and spotted Marco wiping something from his beard and Sol making her way towards me through the crowd. Was this the plan? Should I follow it so everything goes accordingly? Was it also Sol’s plan, even though she kept pushing Marco’s hand away from her butt every once in a while, but letting him lick her ear, his tongue sticking out from his hairy black beard like a poisonous snake leaving the nest? I threw up a little on the barman’s hand and on Sol’s sequined top.
What’s up with you? she said (she was now next to me). She said something else but her voice was drowned by the music and I could only see her gesticulating in the air, making me dizzier. She pushed the barman away and we walked past him and went into the toilet where the beat of the music was still coming through, but fainter (we could hear our footsteps splashing on the floor tiles).
Marco took his dick out in the middle of the dance floor, Sol said. I bit him and scratched his face.
I started throwing up again in the bathroom sink (I couldn’t think about the waiter’s damp hand on my chest any longer with clarity).
We shouldn’t have spent all the money (the other girls didn’t know we had stolen from the tip jar). The other girls were older and no longer girls because they had more responsibilities. We didn’t have responsibilities because we didn’t have much (no children, no husband, no adulthood). Was that why we had filled our handbags with little rocks? Sol grabbed my hand (it was sweaty partly with my own sweat and partly from the drinks that had splashed my body). We ploughed through the seas of wave-like people, holding hands, until we reached the gates of El Paraiso and ran up the stairs to breathe the air of the cold city (the city that had tried to snap its fingers right in front of our faces but we hadn’t let it). I think I saw Marco, thrusting his body against another girl, licking her ear with his wiggly tongue or maybe whispering. We had to get a taxi because there was no other way of getting back to Lencreña in the middle of the night. Sol let go of my sticky hand (we were almost stuck together; it made me think of the syrup again) and we waited in silence at the dark threshold of El Paraiso. When a taxi arrived, Sol showed me the wallet: empty. There was nothing left in the tiny compartment.
That jerk, Marco Antonio, must have stolen what was left, she said.
We only had five euros left (we gathered the coins from the pockets in my jeans). The taxi driver was on the phone. He said that he was going to drop us off, head home for breakfast, and call it a night. I don’t know if he was telling us specifically and was waiting for an answer or he was just murmuring for the sake of it because we were quiet.
It’s Christmas Eve, he said. Really? Was it? He said he wasn’t working any longer tonight. We were quiet. How could it be Christmas Eve already? Christmas Eve looked like, felt like, smelt like any other night.
He was pissed off when I told him we had only five euros left but it was too late anyway, we were already in the mountains. I picture his eyes, again and again, framed on the rear-view mirror, making me feel guilty (was it because that was who I really was, a reckless little fool that had forgotten it was Christmas Eve? Was that what everyone thought?). We could only see his eyes in the rear-window mirror but I could tell he was pissed off because of the way his eyes pierced mine in the darkness of the taxi and it made me think of a murderer burying our young bodies in a thicket in the mountains.