I hadn’t heard from you since Wednesday, the morning before you flew to Copenhagen. You’d messaged me while I was at work “Are you free at all, can I give you a quick ring?” I was the only one in the office and Jen, my manager was in a meeting. “Yeah, go ahead.” You proceeded to tell me your fears about whether you would make your connecting flight from Stansted to Bordeaux. “I’ve left it very fine and I’ll be checking in a bag.” I’d talked it through with you and reasoned that since your flight from Denmark was so early in the morning it was unlikely to be delayed, plus you had four hours to play with in Stansted. “Yeah. Yeah, you’re right. It’ll be fine.” You’d started to list some of the things you still needed to do before heading off, and ended the call.
Afterwards you sent me a photo of yourself in your suit with the new shirt you’d bought, a white floral number. “What d’ya think?” In the fitted suit you looked like someone else- older, more serious. The long, toned body, normally swaddled in a woolly jumper and loose jeans, was picked out. “You look UNREAL.” The last thing you’d said was, “Thanks”.
Now I was walking into town on Friday night, for pints in Neary’s, then techno in Tengu. Neary’s was a pub off Grafton Street I’d never been in until a week before, but was now promoting as a summer meeting spot, mainly down to the fact it had a few tables outside that got sun until late. It was still warm, a gorgeous evening coming to its end, and as I walked down Fenian Street I could see the sun, fat and orange, half hidden by the dental hospital, the sky around it stained hot pink. My outfit was a bit of a departure.
Instead of a soft, flowing shirt tucked into jeans, I had on a tight, short skirt and boots, plus a shiny black top I’d bought that day. I’d gotten my hair cut earlier in the week and I had mascara on. I looked hot and I felt excited to be heading towards town, my friends and dancing. It’s partly to pass some of the ten minutes I had left before I reached Neary’s that I started recording you a voice note. But I also wanted to share my jubilant mood with you.
I told you about the sunset, the warmth, though not my outfit or the details of where I was going, and said that I hoped you were having an amazing time with your friends and that you were going to totally nail playing fiddle at the wedding.
Two drinks in at Neary’s, sitting outside with Conor, Rachel and Nessa, I took out my phone to take a photo of a snail we had collectively noticed climbing up the side of a plant on the windowsill. It moved with impressive speed. You had texted me back “Thanks! I having a great time! I love Copenhagen”. There was no need to reply, the “I having” told me you were already fairly on it, so I put my phone away.
A few hours and several dabs from a bag later, I went upstairs to the bathroom in Tengu. It was hot in the crowd of bodies and I felt sticky but good. We’d been dancing and chatting shite to strangers since midnight. Now, checking my phone while I peed, I saw it was 2.37 and it seemed time to update you. As fun as the downstairs antics were, I wished you were there. To get to know my friends better and to see me around them, in my element. We mostly spent time with your group where I was an outsider trying to establish myself. “Sounds class, in Tengu. It’s turned into a very gurny evening.”.
I came out of the bathroom, and as I passed him a guy standing near the top of the stairs called to me, “You look like Amelie Lens”. I stopped beside him. He was cute; tanned with dark hair that fell into his brown eyes. “I don’t know who that is.”
“She’s a DJ. Look.” He took out his phone and googled her, then held the screen towards me so I could see the photos coming up on screen. A very thin woman, with dark hair and eyes and sharp cheekbones. “Oh, I don’t look like her. I mean she’s very pretty, but I’m nothing like her.”
“You are,” he said, meeting my blue eyes. “You’re very pretty”.
“Thanks”, I said stepping back from him. As I did, he said, “My friends and I are going to an after party near Stephen’s Green now, do you want to come?” I stopped again. I hadn’t planned on a big night. I’d been half thinking of catching a train home to see my parents the following day. I hadn’t been near them since the last bank holiday. My friends didn’t know the offer had been made, and I could have just walked away. Of the four of us, I was probably the least likely to take it up. But a voice in my head said, “Go! You’re always letting what you have to do tomorrow decide what you do right now.”
While I considered the idea, he showed me his phone again, a video on screen this time, panning across a crowd full of people dancing in a dim room, coloured lights falling across them to the rhythm of the techno track I could just about hear, up to a DJ booth I couldn’t see anyone behind. “Looks cool. I’m out with friends, can they come?”
“OK, I’ll go and see if they’re up for it”.
He took my number, only then did we exchange names, his was Al. “I’ll text you when we’re leaving.” Seconds later I got a message, “Hi Amelie 😊”. I went back downstairs and found the others outside in the smoking area, pupils huge. “I just met this lad outside the toilets who knows about an after session. Would you guys be up for going?”
A few minutes later we were outside, introducing ourselves to Al and his friends. They were a mix of ages, mostly younger than us, and from abroad, Turkey, South Africa, Spain. After weighing up whether to hail taxis, we started to walk. On the way, we called into the 24-hour Centra on Dame Street to get cash for the door and whatever we wanted to buy inside.
I fell into step beside Jorge, from Alicante, got talking to him and as we made our way up George’s Street, a couple of younger guys, sensing we were going somewhere besides home as the closing bars around us emptied their contents onto the streets, asked us where we were headed and if we knew of anything open. “Ah come with us,” Rachel said without hesitation.
We picked up a couple more people this way as we passed the junction with Kevin Street. It felt nice, a troupe of pied pipers drawing in strays just by walking a little faster than those around us. Eventually Jorge noticed we’d lost Al, the only one who knew where we were going and stopped to call him.
He’d gone ahead to talk to the guy he knew on the door and sent Jorge directions that brought us down a side street to a row of Georgian houses. Al was waiting on the curb and pointed to a house a few doors down. On the bouncer’s orders, only two or three of us could go in at a time. Conor and I went first. I paid his entry as he’d been handing me drugs all evening. The man in a red woolly jumper who took our cash pointed us towards a staircase and once Rachel and Nessa had paid in, we went down to the basement.
The floor was covered in grime but I didn’t realise until I was taking my boots off several hours later. Downstairs was busy, the scene similar to the video Al had shown me. There was a five deep queue at the bar, which was at the far side of the room, past a crowd dancing in looped movements to the pulsing tune. Rachel and I left Conor and Nessa to queue for drinks, not before we each took another dab from Conor’s bag, and nudged our way into the crowd. We found Al and some of his friends who had come in after us, and he made his way around the circle to me. Leaning in, he asked, “Do you want some coke?”.
“I’m ok,” I said. I didn’t want the shrillness of coke confusing the soft high I was getting from the MDMA. I also didn’t want to take anything from him while he was still under the impression that I was single.
“Ok. Well do you want to come upstairs with me for a cigarette?”
“No thanks.” He cocked his head, frowning and I looked into his eyes. “I should be clear. I have a boyfriend”.
“Ahhhh”, he shook his head then but smiled. Like for a moment me rejecting him couldn’t have made sense but now there was a reason he could metabolise. “Ah, ok. I understand. “He left then, for a bump or a smoke or both and the rest of us kept dancing. There was a tall guy, dancing near us, pretty out of it but doing nobody any harm. He leaned in towards Rachel and I. “Is this not class?”
“Yeah, it’s pretty good”, we returned. Kept dancing. A few minutes passed and I felt someone very close behind me, then hands placed on my shoulders. I shifted forward. Again, this time hands around my waist. I reminded myself how high he was and turned my head to him as I stepped forward, “Could you please not do that?” But Jorge and the others had already seen. The group had shifted away from the guy while Jorge came and planted himself between us, so I could move in the same direction, into the middle of the circle.
He turned to me. “Are you ok?”
“Yeah, no worries, thanks.”
We got back to dancing and after a while Jorge said in my ear, “You’re a good dancer, I’ll give you that.”
I smiled. “Thanks. The trick is to not think about it or give a fuck.”
“Ah so you just dance like no-one is watching?” I laughed at that.
“Can I kiss you?” he asked.
So, he hadn’t heard me tell Al. “I have a boyfriend”.
“Oh, are we doing that?”
He thought it was a line. I didn’t mind you not being there anymore. I shouldn’t have to prove your existence to this guy. I looked around, Rachel wasn’t on the dancefloor and suddenly I felt like getting off too.
I went in search of her and Nessa. I found them in the toilet, which was visible from the corridor as there was a massive hole in the door where there should have been a pane of glass. Nessa and Rachel were blocking the space so a woman with long wavy hair could pee in privacy. When I came in, they did the same for me and from outside, two more women asked if they could come in. While they took turns peeing and Nessa and I once again covered the open space in the door, we got chatting.
Everyone was gurning a little and we were all extra interested in one another. The smaller of the two girls, Charlie, said she felt a good energy in here and asked us our star signs. When we told her: Cancer, Pisces and Sagittarius, she started to nod. “Yeah. Yeah, that makes sense.”
“I’m a Taurus rising”, I added. Not knowing what that meant really, but thinking it might be relevant. The four of us moved into the hallway. We stayed there, for what felt like hours, talking about how we’d ended up at the rave, our jobs, what Dublin used to be like and what was going to happen if rents didn’t somehow magically drop.
“Are ye single girls?” Charlie asked. “I’m not”, I said.
“Oh”, Charlie turned towards me, “What’s their star sign?”.
You’d told me that on our first date, and when I asked you what Scorpios’ deal was, you said, “Well, raw sexual power”. That was a bold move. I don’t remember anything else you told me about Scorpios after that. But it made me curious, so I’d read up on our compatibility.
Apparently, Scorpio and Cancer make a seriously good sexual pairing. And that’s what I had found so far. A year in, and I was still just as impatient to be naked with you whenever we met up, as I had been that first night. “Oh, a Scorpio? Really?”.
“Yeah. He’s a Scorpio. He’s great”.
“I don’t know,” she said, “I just find Scorpios can be really temperamental, you know? Plus, Scorpios, when they turn on you, It’s brutal.”
I felt like I had read this exact description of Scorpios in Allure, or some other online magazine, whenever I was scrolling to see if you and I were a good match after that first meet up and decided she was repeating from the same article, rather than speaking from experience.
“Aw I don’t know; I have two Scorpios in my life and they’re both really sensitive and kind and creative”.
“That’s fair enough,” she said. “They can be.”
At that moment she caught sight of a guy with a beard who seemed to have been looking for her. “Sorry Matt, I got talking to these girls in the bathroom.” She introduced us, and I suddenly felt like this was the time to go dancing again, so I caught Nessa’s eye and tilted my head towards the main room.
“Will we get back in amongst it?”
Inside we found Conor and Rachel dancing with some of our strays from earlier, the cute young Australians who’d first approached us.
“Do you want half a yoke?” Conor asked me. I thought for a second. I hadn’t taken a pill in a while…but it was hard to pass up the chance. He’d already bitten into it and was holding the remainder, pink and tiny, towards me. It’s only half. I thought. It mightn’t even do anything after everything else.
I took it and swallowed and he passed me his drink to wash it down. About ten minutes afterwards, I took my phone out and seeing the time, 6:38, I suddenly just wanted to be home. Looking around the room I felt like all the good juice had been squeezed from the night already. Nothing new was about to happen. I ordered a taxi and told the others I was heading on.
Getting out of the taxi, I realised I was only coming up from the little bit of yoke. I’d already been acting strange in the car, rubbing my hands up and down my tights, looking out the window as if I’d never seen any of the streets we went down before. I’d caught the taxi driver’s eyes in the mirror and he didn’t look too delighted to have this space cadet as a passenger.
The rational part of my brain panicked. Why had I left the others? I was just alone and high now. But that concern couldn’t override the feeling of my chest floating upwards and the desire to spread my hands out and touch things with my fingertips. I half ran, half skipped to the door of our building and up the stairs to the flat. It was empty.
Francesca and Darragh were spending the weekend with Darragh’s parents in Galway. My bedroom door was open, and sunlight was pouring in onto my bed. I walked past to the living room and sat on the couch. I could feel my mouth contorting and twitching, it had been a long time since I’d taken anything that made me gurn that much.
I took out my phone and laughed at my face in the camera. I took five or six pictures as my lips and cheeks moved involuntarily and the photos made me laugh even more. I was having a good time. I hooked my phone up to the speaker in the living room and put on a playlist I made in January when you were being kind of a dick.
“Fucking catch”, It’s called. I took my boots off and started to dance, sliding around in my tights on the wooden floor, the curtains open. I thought about the start of the night, walking into town in the still warm summer sun and the turns it had taken since.
A while later, I’m not sure how long, I got into bed and tried to sleep. Flat on my back, on my side. Duvet on and then kicked off. It wasn’t coming. Even with the curtains shut it was bright enough to read in my room. Around 8.30, I started to feel low. I wished you were there again. This is exactly the kind of moment when I’d been single and regularly recovering from raves that I had wished to be in a couple. Now I was, and you weren’t even there.
“What is the actual point?” I asked myself. “No, you’re being unfair, It’s not his fault he happens to be away this morning”. I knew it would be hours before I could hang out with anyone and being by myself was making it impossible to ignore how slowly time was moving. I text you “Hey. Feeling a bit ropey, could you give me a call if you’re free”.
You wrote back, “We’re all busy here. Rushing to get suited and booted and head out for the wedding”.
“Yeah, I figured it might not be a good time. Have fun. Just feeling a bit edgy/shook here cos I haven’t slept.”
I texted a few people to see were they about today. The problem with deciding not to go and see my parents was that now I had an empty weekend ahead. Mark had a friend visiting, and he had asked me to go out to Howth to walk the cliff path with them, but I wasn’t feeling up for that. Though maybe in a while I’d change my mind.
Since the sleep ship had clearly sailed, I decided to get up and shower. It was hot in the room, even with the curtains closed, and I felt like some direct sunlight might do something for my serotonin. The normal joy of morning, waking up hungry and pottering around making breakfast, was absent along with my appetite. I did force down some heavily buttered toast so I could take a couple of Ibuprofen. Again, as you know, on an ordinary day I’d be stopping mid-bite to exclaim how great toast is, but this was purely functional eating.
“Even food don’t taste that good,” I sang to myself, smiling in spite of the dread. When I’d cleared the dishes away, I got into the shower and let the water run down my head. I’d only washed my hair the day before, but I felt like it was holding onto all of the sweat from the past twelve hours.
When I was dressed, I put my wallet and a bottle of factor 30 in my little backpack, and headed outside. I didn’t know where I was going to end up, but headphones on, I played the John Prine song you’d shared with me a few weeks before, “That’s the Way That the World Goes Round” and turned on the song radio feature so that Spotify would follow it up with music of a similar mood. Upbeat acceptance of life’s lows as well as highs was what I needed to hear.
It was still only coming up to 11am, and nothing was giving me joy. It was going to be hard to pass this day. By the time the next track on the list had started to play, I was turning onto that little path by the Dodder near Lansdowne Road. I didn’t know it, but I recognised the voices, and then heard the chorus “How lucky can one man get”, followed by this gorgeous instrumental. And somehow, I remembered that I am lucky. I wasn’t alone. Ok, so nobody was free to immediately come and hang out with me early on a Saturday morning. But I had so many friends I was able to ask. I had someone I loved.
I was alone now, but that only felt terrifying because I’d had too much fun the night before, and I would feel like myself again soon. Then another song I’d never heard before, The Swimming Song by Loudon Wainwright came on, and the opening bars were just so buoyant and beautiful I forgot I was in a chemical hoop for a couple of minutes. I wished the other people strolling along the boardwalk could hear it.
At this point, I hooked around to the left and took Newbridge Avenue to head toward Sandymount, thinking I’d walk out to the coast, but then I got a message from Nessa. “Are you awake? I’m in bits. Rachel’s asleep on the couch. Don’t be on your own. Come over.” I was saved.
I walked back to mine to grab my bike, and listened to the Swimming Song on repeat all the way to Nessa’s flat in Terenure, bouncing out of the saddle to every loud strum of the banjo. People in the horrors should be prescribed Loudon Wainwright and John Prine I thought.
I got to the estate where Nessa lives with Helen. You’ve never been there but their place is great. It’s a duplex flat and they have a little yard outside that they’ve put a fire pit in, which was great last summer when we were all supposed to be meeting up outside. I went to a lot of parties in that garden while you were away.
As soon as I saw Nessa, (and Rachel, who was now awake and sitting up on the couch telling us about some guy she’d managed to shift, changed her mind about and escaped without any of us even noticing the night before,) I started to feel better. Appetites now returning, we walked to the deli up the road to get rolls, and then got straight back into the soothing dim of Nessa’s living room where we watched an episode of Peep Show, before deciding it was actually too bleak for our fragile mental state and switching to the American Office.
Hours later, while we sat in comfortable silence eating takeaway, I said to Nessa “You know, if you’re with someone and you love them, but you don’t think It’s something that can last… Like maybe it’s something that has two or three years in it, but you just don’t think it can go the distance. Is it ok to stay in it and see it out to its natural end? Or is that stupid, like should you cut your losses and finish it?”
Nessa considered this, probably wondering where this slightly pleading question had come from. “There’s just no way of knowing”, she said.
I cycled back from Nessa’s, listening to the Swimming Song again. During the day, Aoife had written back to one of those desperate texts for company I’d sent out, to say she wasn’t about today but that she’d love to go for a swim tomorrow. I met her early the next day and we spent the morning chatting. First in the water, after jumping in at the Forty Foot. Then over coffee in Sandycove.
On the way home, I bought groceries. Back at the flat, I cleaned the bathroom and started on a pie for dinner. Felt better, but still uneasy that I hadn’t heard from you. I’d told Nessa the night before, I didn’t expect to until Monday, when you’d be traveling all day and have some free time. I knew you were with all your friends and wouldn’t be focused on your phone. You aren’t someone who has it out to take pictures. All your friends were there. Besides me, who would you be texting? But you did have me to text. And I’d told you I wasn’t feeling great.
I woke up on Monday to a message from you. Sent at 6:40. “Just about to head to the airport. Phone is gonna die soon. Hope you’ve had a good weekend. I’d love to talk to ya soon.”
Great, that was all I needed to know. We would talk soon. Maybe once you were through security and could charge your phone. Or when you landed in London. I texted back that I was heading into work, but that things were quiet. So, you could give me a shout when you had battery.
I got to the office before 8am and while my laptop was loading, I went out to the bathroom to brush my teeth. Sometimes I wait to do that at work if I need to get out of the house quickly. Today had been like that. I’d been rushing to make it in early, so that I could leave on time for a gym class.
At the sink, as I gently scrubbed my molars, my gaze unfocused, I had this sudden fear there was something wrong in your message. Why did you want to talk to me? Had something happened at the wedding? I imagined you running into someone there, a person you hadn’t seen in years. An old friend, someone’s sister, or even someone you had hooked up with before we got together and something happening. You were calling to tell me that you’d realised you wanted to be with them, whoever they were, because they were already part of your group of friends and it made more sense. I wouldn’t be able to convince you otherwise.
I shut my eyes and shook my head. You are being ridiculous. He said he’d love to talk to you. That isn’t exactly suggesting a heavy chat.
Around quarter to ten, you called. You asked me how my weekend was and I chattered happily about Friday night, the come down, being rescued by Nessa and Rachel. I told you about the Swimming Song. How it had saved me while I walked along the Dodder and helped me enjoy the sun and know I was going to be ok. “I think It’s now my favourite song.”
“Oh, send it to me,” you said, “I need something like that to cheer me up right now. Feeling very shook.”
“Ah, ok. How was the wedding?”
“The wedding was good, yeah. Very Danish. Irish people losing the run of themselves.” Then a pause. “Alice…This is really hard to say.”
I knew then. You weren’t going to break up with me from departures in Stansted, so it had to be. “What is it?… What happened?” Silence. “Just tell me.”, I said, my voice hard.
“I kissed someone else at the wedding. An old friend.”
Staring at the wall opposite the windowsill, I felt like I should react in some way. Cry. But I didn’t feel sad or even angry then. Rather, it was like I’d gone through a door that had disappeared behind me, and now I was stuck in this horrible place I didn’t want to be in. Still on the phone to you.
“How could you do that to me?” I asked but didn’t actually want to know. There was no answer you could have that would give me any way back to where I’d been before. “I don’t know, Alice I’m sorry I was so drunk, I…”
“Like, at the wedding? In front of people? In front of your friends?” For some reason, that aspect was the part to bother me. I wasn’t thinking about you flirting with someone else or leaning in towards them. Yet. You had humiliated me in front of those people I’d spent months making an effort with, getting to know. “Yeah. Well yeah, they saw us kiss. It was…”
“Wait. They saw you kiss? What else happened? Did you sleep with her?”
Another few seconds where you said nothing and then. “Yes. Alice, I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I can’t believe…”
I hung up. Sank down until I was sitting on the carpeted floor of the office and stared forward. In my hand, my phone started to buzz again, your name lighting up on the screen. I ignored it and went to Spotify. Put on the Swimming Song. And for some reason what I was thinking as it started to play, is that I am someone who tells people my story too easily. I’ll confide in almost anyone if they want to know. But you used to call me mysterious. There are so many things about me you don’t know. That I never told you. Because you never asked.