“I just want to see you in every element,” Lola says breathlessly, grinning as she links her arm with mine.
That, of course, meant getting senselessly stoned. We’d already done everything else of lesser reprimand together. Including getting drunk, despite being barely fourteen when we’d last seen one another.
It had been my last night in the country. On Lola’s enthusiastic suggestion and against my parents’ wishes, I trudged over to her house for one final gathering. It was a night invariably laden with the contrived and overblown sentimentality that hangs over adolescence. Because we’d been dispatched to different schools after Year 6, we had few remaining mutual friends of any significance. So, ever the socially astute one, Lola instead managed to bring together a snatch of those we’d been intensely close with in early childhood. There was Benny, a charismatic Filipino, Bret, a brooding sliver of a boy who (at the prerogative of his immigrant parents) divided his time between Poland and England, and Eliza, a demure but ditzy acolyte to Hollywood – though you couldn’t really blame her, her dad was a noted director there. The five of us were in many ways an anachronistic congress, a rag-tag crew drawn out of a benign and largely forgotten past into uneasy coalition, under a pretext so outlandish it assumed an air of unreality. Who the hell moved to Australia, anyway?
That night had been a damp one, October’s final rasping breaths. An anaemic mist hugged Lola’s pebble-dashed house in which we sat, dogged by a paradox. As typical housebound teenagers, we were beset with a heavy ennui. Yet, given the specially earmarked occasion, we were simultaneously imbued with an energy, galvanised by the inexplicable, palpable feeling that something big was meant to happen. That was probably why Lola eventually brought out the alcohol – something illicitly solid to mark the occasion. She’d smuggled the beers out of her dad’s stockpile, some cheap import from Prague that she assured us he wouldn’t miss. So we spent the night clandestinely suckling on the bottlenecks, our drunkenness giving us the mettle to puncture stretches of awkward silence with crude jokes and prickly gossip. It was a bit pathetic – trying to start something new when everything felt long-put to bed, like jump-starting a car long ago consigned to the scrapheap. Not long after, warm and bubbly with drips of alcohol, we fell into shallow sleep.
As we trudge down the sodden road, I decide to dredge up my recollections of that night with Lola. I doubt it’s maintained a foothold in her memory with the interceding four years. I am wrong.
“And speaking of Benny,” she says gleefully, after expounding upon her own version of the aforementioned events, in which fearlessly rebellious teens cause an exciting ruckus and have the night of their young, unformed lives. “Did you hear what he’s been getting up to? No, I don’t suppose you would have. Well, my mate at York says he has become the biggest slut! Hooks up with anything with a pulse, apparently. Can you even believe it? Benny! I can’t.”
Prickly gossip. I say nothing. She intuits my reservedness and quickly changes tack. From carnality to cannabis. “The guy I know is only around tomorrow morning for a pick-up, so no getting too drunk tonight, eh?” she ribs. “Do you have ten quid for it?”
“Brilliant! I hope that’s okay? I’ll buy you a couple of drinks tonight, obviously – you’re my guest! My Australian guest! Though we probably won’t need them, Iso’s usually got stacks for pre-drinks. That’s hers over there,” she says, gesturing towards a squat terraced house, barely distinguishable from others in the row.
Ducking inside the house is like tumbling down a rabbit hole. The main doorway, a flaking proscenium archway, is scarcely big enough to fit through. It belies the true gargantuan scale of the building. The shabby exterior is an iceberg, a trim prop concealing a labyrinthine, a hive of endless corridors and rooms laced together by countless numbers of students. It reeks of cheap cologne, cheaper alcohol and incense.
Iso is nice enough, a somewhat gangly girl whose taut face is framed by a harsh blonde bob. She ushers us into her own room, and after perfunctory introductions promptly proffers a drink of a hue that matches her hair. ‘Devils Piss’: a lurid concoction of soft drinks and acerbic spirits. It is an apt label.
We fall into intoxication. We stumble from house to club. Our leaden feet scrape first along cobblestones, then splintered tarmac and finally the dank, sticky floor of the nightclub: a shorthand guide to mankind’s progress, brought to you via the ground. At the club we dance (or try to) to maddening music, ringed by people clad in mere scraps of clothing – the desperate desire to forget the achingly long British winter outside. A desire that lurches into delusion: it is feverishly hot. The place is a sweaty fortress; perspiring palace walls a fierce rebuke against the frigid January night just beyond the hulking metal doors.
“I need to throw up,” Lola announces. She twirls away, winking out of sight under maddening disco lights. The jowls of an electronic thicket swallow her up and in her place, they toss up Iso.
Iso is nice. Spurred by drink and a common link, we talk ceaselessly. Alcohol is our vessel for navigating the turgid waters of sociability, Lola our oar. She asks me what Australia was like. I say that it is pretty nice. I ask has she ever been? She says no she has not. She says she wants to. I say she should. She says she really liked Neighbours. Babble.
“I really like Lola,” she slurs.
“Well, I would hope so!” I say, laughing dismissively.
She stares fixedly at me.
“No. Not like that. Like, more than I like Neighbours. Different like. You know?”
I knew. I didn’t know. What could I say?
Home now. Lola embraces the pillow, almost as tightly as she had Iso when we dropped her off. I sat on the sidelines, ensconced in the plum-black taxicab. Iso stole a furtive glance at me before tottering drunkenly into her warped house. Will I see her again? Probably not. I fold into myself, and onto the bed.
“What a shit night,” Lola moans. “Where did everyone go? It’s only 3 and we’re already home… Jesus.”
“Totally,” I assent. But was it totally? Lola looks contented enough after all.
In my tilted mind, the night takes on strange profundity. Significance seems couched in its insignificance. We lie there, entwined in blankets and bathed in a bulbous bluey-gold glow (neon-tinged starlight spills though a crack in Lola’s outer wall), and I feel enrapt by a pleasant echo. Quite like the feeling I had had four years ago, except now it is buttressed by a solid foundation of experience. Then, like now, we drank, we danced and absolutely nothing of note had happened. But is the mere feeling that something is meant to happen – or that it will eventually – now enough to sate us? Standing on the precipice of something deigned Very Important no longer carries the frustration it did in adolescence, now it is daunting. It creates a feeling of finitude. That this is it, rather than just a stopgap on the way to something better. Perhaps peering over the edge of that precipice is all we need now.
Lola mumbles absent-mindedly. “Oh. I really need to tell you something. Something important. ”
The drunken slew of reverie stops.
“Okay, so I’m sort of on a health kick – I know, I know, I’m a complete wanker. Anyway, tomorrow… when we smoke, and I’m hungry “ – she stifles a yawn – “I need you to make sure I only eat Edamame beans. There’s a box in the fridge. Keep me away from the bloody Snickers. Will you remember?”
“Course.” Edamame beans? I stifle a laugh.
She notices and smiles, her face smooshed against the pillow. “It’s going to be great. So much fun. I’m really glad you’re here, you know.” She reaches out to lightly brush my arm.
“Me too.” I am.
“Tomorrow. Weed. Edamame beans,” she mumbles into the pillow. She closes her eyes. I roll over.
Fucking Edamame beans. I smile to myself. Always looking to tomorrow. Always waiting for something to happen.