Home > Just Last Night

Just Last Night
Author: Mhairi McFarlane

After

You were alive again last night.

I wake up with a small startle at sudden consciousness, and lie still in the dark, my brain scrabbling to reassemble reality. It wasn’t a nightmare – and I’ve had plenty of those – it was just another world, exactly like this one, but with a dramatic difference. Your presence. Your presence, which I took for granted.

In this place, we were cheerfully organising a skiing trip, sitting at a school desk, while next to a busy motorway. The cars thundering past made the table shake but neither of us were bothered. How about Switzerland? you said. We had plans.

I imagine our messaging, me telling you about it later this morning, entertaining you on your commute. You always replied within minutes.

Hah you’d never go skiing, Eve. ‘Why would I willingly travel to a very cold place and do any sort of sport and call it a holiday? Who looks at a very steep icy slope and thinks, I know, I’ll put things on my feet that will make me fall down it faster?’ And so on.

IKR! Obviously my subconscious is trolling me. Also: why are our dreams so interesting to the dreamer and so boring to everyone else? Is it because we’re so impressed we created a story, but for them, the plot has no stakes?

Yes and double dull points for the people who think it’s amazing if it’s a surreal one, as if your dreams are going to be logical. ‘I was staring at the goat but oh my God, then I realised, the goat was ALSO ME.’

That sounds pretty cool, tbf. Goat transmogrification beats skiing any day

Argh, why didn’t I walk 2 mins further to Caffé Nero, I am such a lazy sod, even the Starbucks flat white is a filthy sweet kids milkshake. Pint after work?

Pint after work! x

I miss you.

I hate inventing you, scripting your lines, instead of having the original. I’m what my mum calls, acidly – because I could do a good impression of her second husband – a natural mimic.

But the ease with which I can conjure you up, it feels like a curse. A parlour trick, but it’s ghoulish, a parody. It’s like waltzing with a mannequin.

I push down under the warmth of the covers, listening to the rain pelt the roof outside. I’m enough of a Goth to relish a downpour when I’m not required to be in it, and it’s a good one: really heavy, splashily wet, earth-soaking, you can hear it pinging off the leaves. Only insomniacs, milkmen, the dregs of club nights and early-shifters will know it happened. It’s a secret we’re sharing while the rest of the city snores.

My heart skips a beat as the curtains move. Roger slithers in the window and mews indignantly. Someone threw cold water at him from the sky, when he was busy staking out rats, having fun.

By the light of the side lamp you bought me – ceramic, in the shape of a toadstool, a Disney toadstool with white stalk and red spotted cap (‘As it is a poisonous mushroom, so will twee home accessories be deadly to your hopes of getting a boyfriend.’), I see Roger settle at the end of the bed, his fur in damp peaks.

Someone once said to me birth was the most ordinary and extraordinary thing you’ll ever experience, simultaneously, and death is the same. The fact of yours sits there, implacably, being so banal and so mind-blowingly strange at the same time.

It will always be like this, I have come to realise. The ache is permanent, it must be accommodated. It’s part of my body now.

I keep waiting to get past it. To ‘move on’, to absorb it, to set it aside, to make sense of it, to process it. For it to be, somehow, ‘behind’ me. What next? I keep thinking, with a pain in my stomach like it’s been slit open. And – there is no next, stupid. That’s the point. Someone has gone, forever, and you have to stop waiting for them to come back. Without realising it, you are stuck on pause, as if their not being here might change.

This is what I never knew about loss – it’s also about what you gain. You carry a weight that you never had before. It’s never behind you. It’s alongside you.

‘Forever’: people say it in wedding vows all the time like they understand what it means, but actual forever is fucking huge.

 

 

1

 

Before

‘We’re going to win tonight,’ Ed says. ‘I can feel it. I can smell it. I could slice it like a frittata. The air is thick with the odour of our imminent victory. Breathe it in, my bitches.’

He pretends to scent the air, like a Bisto kid.

‘Are you sure that’s not Leonard?’ Justin says. ‘He had chilli con carne for tea. Got up on the counter and had his face in the saucepan before I could stop him, the berk. He’s been blowing off in spicy beef flavour ever since.’

‘Maybe victory smells exactly like mince and kidney beans working its way through a very small dog’s digestive system,’ I say, as Susie says: ‘BLURGH.’

‘How would we know how it smells, after all? None of us have ever been successful,’ I say, directing this at Ed.

‘Speak for yourself. My GP said my haemorrhoids were the most prominent he’d seen in thirty years practising medicine.’

I guffaw. (This is a standard joke format with Ed; I assume his bum is fine.)

I reflexively reach out to pet Leonard, who has his own chair, sitting atop Justin’s coat, protecting the upholstery.

Leonard is a ‘Chorkie’ – a Chihuahua crossed with a Yorkshire Terrier. He has beady eyes peering out from under a comical fringe of grey-white hair, spiky in the middle like he’s had Paul Weller’s Mod cut, bat ears, and a lopsided little grin, full of toothpick-teeth.

He looks, as Ed says: ‘Like an enterprising cartoon rat doing some kind of stealthy cosplay as a canine. We’ve been infiltrated by a rodent master criminal.’

Leonard, an omnivorous eater and troublesomely impromptu urinator, is one of the loves of my life. (The rest of them are around, and also sometimes under, this table.)

‘You say we’re going to win this quiz every week, Ed,’ Susie says, worrying at a beer mat, shredding it into a pile of soft cardboard shards. ‘And we are always fucked by the same five determined men in Lands’ End packable anoraks.’

‘Describing my best holiday in Wales, there,’ Justin says. Justin is a self-proclaimed ‘tiresome show-off and performative middle child’ and one of the funniest men you’ll ever meet, but you absolutely do not go to him for good taste.

The quizmaster’s voice booms out, cutting through conversation, like the Voice of God:

‘Question TEN. Who is Michael Owuo? Who is, Michael Owuo?’

The usual seconds of post-question hush fall.

‘Is he … the Labour MP for Kingston upon Hull East?’ Ed whispers, faux-earnestly.

‘Seriously?’ Susie says.

‘No,’ I say, rolling my eyes, and Ed taps the Bic Biro on his lips and winks at me.

‘You three do know who he is, right?’ Justin says, doing a double-take. ‘UGH. So we are the millennial cast of Last of the Summer Wine.’

‘Did he play the villain in the last Bond?’ I ask, and Ed says: ‘YES! “Doctor Pardon”. What was his gimmick again?’

‘He had diamanté ear grommets,’ I say. ‘And an evil Zimmer frame, with tinsel wound round it.’

Ed laughs. I love the way he laughs: it starts in his shoulders.

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