[This is a story I wrote years ago for the Homepages anthology. I've been meaning to put it up here for a while, and considering that I was at a kick-ass mansion party this weekend, courtesy of Drop Everything, this seems like as good a time as any.]
We’re barrelling down flights of stairs in a four-storey lean-to, bouncing off walls and half- or three-quarters off-balance, me on the back of this mountainous bastard of a drunken arms dealer with a jug in one hand and knee-deep in London Dry empties, whiskey sloshing everywhere, six tons of his rusting hulk of a laugh vibrating off disintegrating plaster and a hundred faces screeching past in every stage of disarray, and every torn dress and skewed mirror and rotten floorbeam is the shade of a man I will always and forever be too sober to hold a candle to. There are bonfires outside, the smell of the wood seeping around the windowframes, sparks launching up and outwards, the whole motley crew out there drawn to him too for their own sorry reasons. What he gives to them, I do not know.
It’s spring where we are: the sky was black when I stepped off the boat but it was impossible not to feel it in the air, the last-stretch coldness, the frost on the grass giving way. And a look in the eyes behind the beartrap of a grin I’d been led to expect, something like the beginning of the hunt… enough to make me sprint through second, third and fourth thoughts inside of ten seconds, but all other avenues were gone and empty and if I intended not to follow this through I might as well not have started.
I’m on my back by now, the ceiling swaying a gentle dance above me, some red-faced and sweating girl giggling and saluting and sliding down to lay her head on my shoulder, holding a cup of rum to my mouth and breathing into my neck, both of which developments I deign to accept with stylish and unimpeachable grace. The Soviet is off down whatever mess of corridors, MORE GIN hitting off the rafters and even louder than the music, MORE GIN and for everyone’s sake I hope he finds it. Her name is Ilona and she’s whispering hers or someone’s story in my ear, whispering to no one in particular, her fingers digging into my lapel, pulling me in like it’s the most important thing going but shushing dreamily when I try to join in, and I strain my neck and see her eyes closed and this smile on her face you could dream about for the rest of your life. The soundtrack cuts down further and the walls are bouncing out, erratic, and there’s a sweet and gorgeous darkness at the corners of everything that seeps in and around and makes things seem smoother for whatever few seconds I’m still there and awake, and the last thing left before it closes in completely is the warmth and the smell of her and even though it’s not what I came for it seems like I could do a lot worse.
She’s gone by the time I wake up, eyelids fighting every step of the way and my pulse hammering at the bottom of every limb. She’s gone, and god knows which part of the wreckage she dissolved into.
The whole place is silent, which means the Soviet hasn’t woken up yet. I know well enough to leave before he does. I’ve heard enough stories of bullets in walls and fists in eyeballs and that’s not a storm that seems worth weathering.
There’s a hill near the house, the ends of a bonfire spitting halfway up and bodies lounging, and it seems like the place to be. Which is to say, whatever state of mind I’ve bullied myself into, it makes sense to be here, the sun a white dot in the sky and the air freezing regardless, strangers I never bothered to meet making themselves at home and still no sign of the one I did. And no sign of the one I came for… who is still at the back of my mind, and how stupid I was to think I could shake him. But the sun is up, and some shape in my gut that I forgot about years ago is threatening to start cracking open, and more than anything there’s this idea in my head that nothing is over and there’s tonight to look forward to. There is always tonight.