We finish up our drinks then head out into the cold gloom of the British evening. Corgi is directing us using a map on his phone, and leads us in the wrong direction three times before I snatch the phone from him and lead us the wrong direction twice. Larry ends up loading his own map, and in a matter of minutes we arrive at the right address.
It’s a terrace house with a small, gravel front garden that’s overgrown with weeds. I can already hear shitty rave music pumping out through the windows and wonder how much the neighbours currently hate our host. Then again, it was a street of mostly student digs, so a quick invitation to anyone close enough to be disturbed might be enough to avoid trouble. It’s what a courteous person would do. Frankly, I’d just tell anyone with a complaint to go fuck themselves, but then, I don’t like people and people don’t like me, so the issue of social gatherings never really became an issue.
Larry goes to knock on the door but I stop him.
“Jesus, dude. This is a young woman’s party. What’s she going to think when she looks through that little peeper there and sees your ugly mug. She’ll be like, ‘Why is there a bald forty year old paedophile knocking on my door? He must have the wrong address. I’m eighteen and the nursery is on the next street over’. Let Corgi do it. He radiates pity.”
“I’m twenty four.”
“Look, birth isn’t kind to all of us.”
“Why am I friends with you?”
“I always assumed it was because nobody else wanted to be.”
We are interrupted by Corgi giving the door a polite knock. I shake my head disappointedly.
“Corgi, you hear that deep bass music, right? That thing that sounds like a giant spider that’s high on acid and is trying to toss off with all eight arms at once? Your love taps aren’t going to cut through that. Be assertive!”
Corgi gives me a look of uncertainty then knocks slightly harder.
“No! Like this.”
I saunter up to the door and slam my forehead into it with enough force to make the frame wobble, repeating the action three times in a row. I can see stars, and a dull ache tells me that it had probably been really painful. Still, I can hear someone on the other side of the door. I step back and allow the full force of Corgi’s puppy dog eyes to dominate the scene.
The door opens and a woman stares at us. She is pretty unremarkable. Brown hair, brown eyes, a few years younger than us. It’s clear from her expression that she has no idea who we are, and, to be honest, I realise that I have no idea what Tink’s brother’s girlfriend’s cousin is called, let alone what she looks like.
“Madaline, happy birthday!”
Toto greets her with a characteristic smile that somehow seems genuine. I don’t know how he does it, but somehow Toto’s smile is like a Swiss army knife of emotion without ever seeming to change.
“We are Johnathan’s friends. Here.”
He reaches into the plastic bag he had been carrying and passes her a bottle of almost fluorescent pink liquid.
“Are the Miller brothers here already?”
“Yeah.” The girl nods as she accepts the alcohol, returning Toto’s smile drunkenly. “They’re in the kitchen. Come on in.”
She steps further into the house and beckons us inside. The place is already packed tight with people, the smells of sweat and alcohol hanging thick in the air. Sex, drugs, and uninspired auto-tune. I’d forgotten how much I hated student parties, but then free alcohol is free alcohol.
Madaline pointed us in the direction of the kitchen. She returns to the living room where she immediately begins to swig from the bottle Toto had given her. I watch her thrust her body around in a rough approximation of dance. I see a little part of myself in her, and have to shoot down the sexual innuendo that pops instantly into my head. It’s in the eyes. In far too many of the eyes around the room. They don’t want to have a good time. They just want to escape their own meaningless lives for a few hours. It’s like an anaesthetic. Numbness is always preferable to pain.
It isn’t hard to spot Tink. The kitchen is tiny and Tink is a good foot taller than almost everybody else. His younger brother, Tommy, or Po as I like to call him when he isn’t around to hurt me, is standing at his side. Po is five years his junior, but is already a tank of a man. Give it another few years and he’ll have outgrown his brother, which is exactly why I try to stay on his good side.
I ignore them for a moment as I make a b-line to the fridge and pull out a few cans for everyone. I hand them around. Then, my act of charity done for the day, I begin to drink.
“Have you guys heard the good news?” Tink asks us as we try to find space to stand. He knows we haven’t, and if we had we wouldn’t have listened, but Corgi feigns interest and spurs on the conversation.
“Tommy has passed his training. You’re now looking at one of Her Majesty’s finest.”
We offer a round of congratulations and raise our drinks in Tommy’s honour, not that we needed the excuse. Tommy nods his head at us and smiles, but his eyes always seem cold. I can never get a read on the kid. I can’t help but feel that he looks down on us, and honestly I can’t blame him. He’s got brains, looks like a Greek god, and has a solid career path planned out. His dream of being a soldier is about as far from our drunken, petty lives that you can think of. And it isn’t a dream anymore. The kid is going places. The places he’s going are active war zones though, so who’s really the fool?
That said, Po’s a sound lad. He never minds when we tag along to events, and he buys me the odd drink. Tink almost worships him despite being the older brother. I think he sees the shit that everyone else is sinking in and knows that Po has the best chance of escaping it. Maybe it’s too late for Tink, but he’ll move mountains to keep his brother’s head above the torrid brown waters.
“So I guess you’ll be heading off soon?” Larry says. “On to bigger and better things.”
“Yeah. I’ll be leaving next month. Probably won’t be back down here for a while.” Po answers in his usual slow, methodical tone. He offers us a small smile that doesn’t seem to fit his already intimidating features. “You never know, I might come back and find some of you being productive members of society. Though I’d hoped for that when I went of for basic training.”
“Mate, you went to Richmond, not Narnia,” I tell him dryly.
“Forget all that,” Corgi begins. “This is cause for a celebration. Let’s drink to Tommy’s future, and party it up as it might be the last chance we get for a while.”
It’s rare, but once in a blue moon, Corgi does speak sense. I drain my drink and return to the fridge for a refill, but the only cans left are some indie dark ale. If things get desperate then they’ll do, but my tastes are generally sweeter.
I slip through the crowd in search of a more favourable drink and spot a few bottles of spirits on a table in the cramped living room. The music is physically assaulting me almost as much as the tightly packed mass of swaying bodies and thrashing limbs. It takes me far too long to cover the short distance to the table. At least the selection of alcohol makes the effort worth it. I reach out for a bottle of Jack but someone else beats me to it.
I trace the offending arm up to the smug face of the birthday girl herself. It takes me a few moments to rake my brain for her name. Madaline. That’s the one. She takes a big swig straight from the bottle then hands it across to me. Despite everything, I don’t usually have my drinks neat, but I wasn’t about to back down and be beaten by a younger woman. I follow suit and drink deeply, maintaining eye contact the whole time.
“So who are you again?” she asks as I drink.
“Me?” I start, trying hard not to gag. “I’m nobody. Going nowhere. Doing nothing. A leech hanging onto the charity of young Po.”
“You know, big guy with a buzzcut. Tink’s brother.”
I realise I’m getting nowhere. More alcohol is needed for this whole socialisation malarkey. I match the thought to the deed and take another drink of whisky and point through to the kitchen where Tink and Po were clearly visible over everyone else.
“Them two lanky cunts. The younger one is Po, er, Tommy. His lass knows you or something. The little fat one is Corgi, the scary black fellow is Toto and then the one who looks like he has a restraining order on him is Larry. To be honest, you don’t need to know, or remember, any of them.”
She laughs then stares at me with that strange intensity that comes from far too much alcohol.
“Your friends all have weird names.”
“Well, they’re all weird people, to be fair.”
I shift uncomfortably under her stare and have another swig before offering her the bottle. She takes it and starts drinking.
“I like giving people names,” I say absently. “It’s like with pets, isn’t it. Names give a sense of ownership or something. They’re utter fuckups, but they’re my utter fuckups, you know?”
God, what am I saying? The alcohol must be hitting me harder than I thought. All that sentimental shit is a sign that the very immediate future will contain vomit and blackouts.
“They’re good names,” Madaline laughs, oblivious to my dread.
“Bollocks they are,” I snap. “Tink is a big fucker who was wearing a purple shirt when I first met him. I thought he looked like Tinky-Winky from The Teletubbies. His real name is Dean. How Tink stuck I’ll never know. Corgi is called Chris Wolff and wanted to be called Wolfie, but I’ll be damned if that little shit gets such a cool name. He’s small, fat, and overly excitable, so sticking with the canine comparisons, Corgi was really the only pick. Toto’s name is even worse. He’s called Alexander Campbell, but he’s black, and so is Dorethy’s dog in The Wizard of Oz. Then there is the song Africa by the Band Toto. He isn’t even African. The bastard is of Jamaican descent. All of the names are awful.”
Madaline seems genuinely amused by my ranting. Poor girl. I blame the cocktail of poisons she’s been drinking. She hands me the bottle back then steps closer to me, almost tripping over her own feet in the process.
“I like them. How come you never gave the other a cute nickname? That Larry?”
I blink at her slowly, my mind trying to process her question.
“Larry is his nickname.”
I think about it for a moment.
“Huh. I don’t actually know what his real name is. I never asked. He just looked like a Larry.”
“You don’t know his name? How long have you been friends?
“Er, six years I think.”
This was apparently hilarious. She drapes herself across me as she laughs, as though she needs my body to keep herself standing. I’m barely standing myself. It affords me a nice view down her top, which I quickly try to ignore. She notices my glance and tries to grin seductively. It comes off more goofy than sexy, but then I’m in no position to judge. I smile back and she gives me a subtle little flash of her chest. It’s as subtle as a sledgehammer in reality, but I’m not complaining.
“This’ll be a big mistake.”
I consider her response and shrug. She isn’t wrong.
“Well, when you put it like that…”
Next – 5.