For Dorothy Parker
I play that Sia song while I get ready. You know that one where she sings ‘Baby I don’t need dollar bills to have fun tonight’ and when you sing it really loudly and you’re wearing lipstick it kind of feels like you don’t need dollar bills to have fun. Though you bought the lipstick with dollar bills, at least credit-card dollar bills, which are kind of imaginary until you have to pay them back, and then you remember Sia is probably a millionaire and everything is a lie.
I’m a bit drunk even before I leave the house, which is pretty standard but this time I feel that ticklish feeling in my blood that almost always means I’m going to get so wasted I won’t know what happened from 9 pm onwards when I wake up crusted in the morning. This scares me these days. Not enough not to do it, but enough for me to drink the first five glasses of whatever real quickly so I can block out the fear and get to the fun. Doing that means getting drunk quicker, and blacking out quicker, and means more moss on my tongue in the morning, but I don’t tell anyone that I know what I’m doing to myself. Especially not Gus, who I hope thinks of me as the kind of girl who can always make something out of nothing; the kind of girl who would dance in bare feet on a hill when it was raining in Norway, if she ever found herself over that way.
Gus meets me at the tram stop at ten and we move against each other and the cold metal fence until the 11 arrives. When we hear the ding that means it’s turning the corner he’s got his cold hand under my bra and his fingers are pinching my nipple softly like those sucking fish people let eat their toes in Cambodia. Gus doesn’t really know how to touch boobs. He seems to think they’re a playground with swings and a sandpit or something. I find him sexy enough not to care though. When we get on, that fuck everything feet on seats drinking in public feeling is in the air because it’s Friday night and no-one who has money is at work and no-one who treats their body like madeira cake isn’t doing that right now because when else do you get full up if not on a Friday? Gus turns up the volume on his iPhone and we dance obnoxiously to Prince and I can feel my thighs burn a little when I shimmy up and down and Gus is alive and all eyes and then it’s our stop and everyone hates us as we get off more than they hated us when we got on but I don’t care. Not really.
The party is crawling: front and back popping with people. There are so many that I would never talk to if I saw them on the street because they intimidate me but I’m still almost drunk and Gus puts a longneck in my hand and looks at me and says ‘You’re so much fun’ and I feel like giving my insecurity an eviction notice, almost, though I know I won’t tomorrow, and I talk to my friend’s friend James about his dead-worm jewellery sculptures with Gus’s hand curling in and out of mine and nod in all the right ways as the beer wraps its tentacles more tightly around me and the room fizzes. I am fun. I like being fun. It’s not often a girl gets called that.
Later Gus snorts speed in the gelati-coloured bathroom with a girl called Hannah who I know definitely hates me. Hannahs always hate me, though they rarely show it except with the slight lifting of their eyebrows that happens when I speak. When he comes out his eyes are sequins and his pupils are asking for third helpings at dinner and I don’t like the way he grabs my arm. It hurts and he’s got his other hand on the small of Hannah’s back—smaller than the small of my back, which isn’t really small at all—and she looks like I’d hear her purring if I stood close so I shrug him off and dip down towards the courtyard, down the hallway that’s lined with records as if music is everything, which it is when you’re 20 but not 33 like I am, and I swing into the laundry and grab the least memorable bottle of champagne because Gus is cheating on me anyway and all that matters now is the bubble I want to find myself inside.
Gus finds me in the courtyard before I can pop it open under my jumper to hide the noise. He cups my chin and pecks my nose and I like him again even though he probably kissed Hannah in the bathtub just as the speed made waves in his veins and I don’t do drugs, just lots of booze and nicotine. I can’t help looking sad and I imagine my eyes are sagging and he whispers in my ear ‘Give us a smile’ and so I force it, and then it’s stuck there on my face even though I’m 33 and I stopped smiling years ago and maybe I’m fun but this party isn’t and my bed is calling out to me for once despite the alcohol in my bones.
At 5 am on the 11 home I let Gus sleep on my shoulder because there’s nowhere else and he snores. It’s not even funny. I look out the smeared tram windows and see the commission flats standing so tall and so proud among the Friday night vomit patches and empty cans and because I do this sometimes—imagine I could be anything—I wish I was a tall proud building too.