She thinks of herself as a plain sort of thing. A fluffy brown cardigan droops, hanging off one shoulder, piling as it is worn close to the thread. Her mousey brown hair, cascades haphazardly from the top of her head. Two silver bracelets adorn her wrist revealing an awareness of some need for ornamentation so as to stand out from the competition. She is looking, trying to decipher the woman standing on the other side of the room, trying to find in what detail her greater attractiveness lies. What is it that lifts her up above. She studies her with stabbing, picky looks. How can she obtain what this woman seems to poses so easily, effortlessly? She looks her up and down with her head tilted to one side evaluating, analysing her shape, scrutinising her form with every consideration etched into her face. Eye balls dart up and down hungry for every detail as she assesses, compares and judges. She looks around the room her frown slowly easing from her forehead. Her body sags a little to one side and becomes lost in another thought for a moment then glances back at the woman and sighs before moving off to talk to some one, anyone.
* * * * *
She has had a few too many drinks and when a old acquaintance offers her a joint, ‘What the hell’, she thinks and takes three long, deep drags before passing it on.
* * * * *
He walks from room to room trying to find someone he wants to talk to. Conversations start but he has little to offer in response or much interest in trying. His thoughts are full of the Play, he looks for similarities in the details of each room, in clothes, in faces. He looks to find something familiar but dreads finding it. He drinks, he is here but not here. He looks for the party of the Play in the party of the now. It is like looking for the mirror in the mirror.
* * * * *
She is quite drunk now and a little stoned. People that she had never met before seem strangely familiar, conversations echoed back at her from another time or place. It is like watching a film that she had seen before. She feels nostalgic for the moment that she is in. The music that plays, the way the light bounces off the shiny wallpaper and that awful retro coffee table pushed against the wall for people to bang and scrape their shins on. Everything feels known to her but new. There was something strange about the party that she could not quite put her finger on. Then there he is at her side. ‘This is just like the party in the Play isn’t it? Just like it’.
‘It is look at that coffee table’
‘Don’t start all that, please I said I would look at the book tomorrow’
‘Get it out now look, I’ll show you’ he reaches for her bag. She spins away instinctively. Could he be right? Fear creeps across her back and pinches at the nape of her neck.
‘Stop it, you are freaking me out’
‘Just read this bit, you’ll see. It’s the same, exactly the same’
‘Your acting crazy again. I don’t like it.’
‘Just get the book..’
‘No!’ She feels the need to leave, everything had become quite unpleasant. She was flushing hot and cold and everyone seemed to be peering at her out of the corner of their eye, then looking away suspiciously when she caught their gaze. She needed some space and time to think and he was not giving her either, always bringing their conversation back to the Play. He smothers her with attention, blocking her from the relief of others. Forcing her to engage with him alone when she needs to dilute him with others. She snaps at him. ‘Look, just leave me alone I’m going home’. There is a tense volley in urgent, hushed tones at the door. A grabbing of coat sleeves and pleading eyes that she shakes off refusing to meet them with her own. He is the last person that she wants to be with, scaring her with his crazy theories and all that weirdness about their lives being dictated by a play. She rushes out onto the street. The book heavy in her bag. She does not want to read it and was already dreading having to discuss it with him. She needs space. She totters off, rather unsteadily up the garden path and alone into the night.
He had felt like following her but shook the thought from his head knowing from experience that it was better to leave her alone at moments like this. No point in arguing. Had they argued? Was that the argument from the Play? He feels a tightness in his chest as his breath quickens to a shallow and light rasp. That was it then, there was no way to change anything he was strapped into this trajectory. There was no escape. He takes a step back towards the party followed by another then turns and walks towards his destiny.
* * * * *
He wanders around the party drinking anything available, drifting from conversation to conversation unable to muster enough interest in anything anyone said. He had his own problems and she had not helped. At least she was going to read the book now, well she said she would but he doubted it. She thinks I am crazy, perhaps I am. What do you think? He finds a bottle of vodka and takes a swig. It tastes of nail polish remover. He feels a chemical burn in his throat as he suppresses his gag reflex. A plain looking woman stands alone by the window girlishly biting her fingernail before gulping down a mouthful of red wine and dabbing her mouth with the back of her sleeve. She looks lost. Frustrated at his inability to define his own future and apparently unable to control his own life he takes another swig of vodka and crossed the room.
‘Hey, who do you know here?’ She jumps at the sound of his voice and glances to her left as she starts to speak. Her fingers play with the top button of her cardigan. She talks quickly without pausing for breath.
‘The Host. We went to uni together, years ago now. We lost touch but bumped into each other a month or so ago and he said I should come to the party. I don’t really know anyone here.’ A laugh pops out with the last word, she shrugs her shoulders and bobs her head whilst raising her eyebrows.
‘Well I’m pleased to meet you’ he offers his hand.
‘Pleased to meet you too’ she smiles a little shyly looking up at him from under her brow and taking his hand dips into a mini courtesy.
‘We used to play football but we kept losing.’
‘I didn’t know he played football. I thought he was more the watch it on the sofa with beer and chips kind of guy’
He laughs turning his chin to his shoulder and stroking the back of his head. ‘Well he talks a good game but his motion was a little impeded buy that spare tyre that he carries around.’
‘Don’t be mean’ she pushes his shoulder and turns to the coffee table behind her taking hold of a bottle of wine by its neck. She tops up her glass then showing the label to him says ‘Want some?’
‘Yeah this vodka is vile’ He takes the bottle and motions to the sofa with it. ‘Shall we grab a seat?’
They talk, their conversation is interesting and they laugh from the belly more than once. Eyes catch each others eyes and indulge a look that lingers a little too long. The sent of her perfume is new and it excites him. She holds his gaze now as she speaks. His heart is pounding and he has butterflies in his stomach. His head is full of pop, crackle and static. She touches him lightly on the arm, agreeing with a point, nodding ‘Yes, yes’ A bolt of electricity shoots from the point of contact, down his spine and straight into his groin. Was he going to kiss her? Was that what he wanted to do? He was pretty sure that she would kiss him back, but would she? Here it comes then, this is it the beginning of the end, as written in a Play signed, sealed and delivered on the wet lips of a stranger.
* * * * *
She was unsure of where she was or which direction she should turn. It felt like there was a main road ahead so she stumbled a purposeful zigzag towards it. The pavement rolls recklessly under her feet to the beat of her clip clop heals. A car passes, she keeps her head down, looking up to see it’s four break lights flare momentarily before it pulls out of the T-junction. How she wished she was in the warmth of that car being driven home in cosy dashboard light. She stumbles sideways and sinks into a hedge. It is hard to get out again. The damp, prickly twigs and leaves give way when she pushes against them scratching at her hands and wrists. She sinks back into it and rests a while. The street light sparkle is caught in every tiny drop of water resting on each twig and leaf. The infinite web of detail catches and keeps her spell bound for am epiphanic moment that she recognises but cannot quite articulate with the blunt, drunk words that slop around her head. The world stops spinning for a moment then it sloshes back and forth before kicking back in with a gut wrenching lurch. The wet prickle is far from the pillow she desires. With a massive effort she braces her left foot against the little wall at the hedges base and straightens her leg, rolling out, lurching forward again towards the end of the road. She settles back into a rhythm again watching the horizon line jump around like a frog in an upturned box. After an age and a half she reaches the end of the road just as the night bus thunders past in a loud jumble of red and gold light. It rocks to a halt a hundred yards down the road. She starts to run, arm raised shouting ‘Wait, please wait’. People are getting on but not enough of them. Why did they get on so quickly? ‘Wait, please’. She pumps her legs up and down quicker but they are restricted by her tight skirt, her bag swings around her body throwing her off balance and banging against her hip, her ankle turns, her heal snaps and she is pitched forward meeting the pavement with skinned knee and palms. The bus indicates and pulls off. ‘Wait, please wait’ the words drip from her wobbling bottom lip and drop, unheard into the gutter. She hauls herself up and removes her shoes looking hopefully back up the road for the next night bus. There would not be one for another thirty to forty minutes but she keeps glancing back as her sorry figure limps towards the bus stop and the dubious comfort of a slopped bench on which to rest her buttocks. She sits in a daze for a while thoughts swimming around her mind, a white wine soup. She becomes board and pulls the book of the Play from her bag. Flicking through it, peering at pages, act titles flash before her eyes until she sees Act 7 – The Party. She reads, dismissively at first. The words will not come to rest on the page, there is two of everything and they dance together. She closes one eye and is able to focus. There were definitely similarities between the words she was reading and the party she had just escaped. The lighting was not mentioned, a retro coffee table was mention in the stage notes but there was no specific description. Snippets of conversation were very familiar it had to be said but then had not the same sorts of things been said at the same sorts of parties all over the place since parties began? She arrives at the scene where the heroin flees the party after a paranoid episode convinced that everyone was looking at her, judging her. Her nose is now nearly touching the page and her brow nearly joining it there. Her face wares a concerned expression, a doubt rises in her chest, her fear was not being abated by reading the Play. The doubt seems far from benign. She turns the page and begins another Scene, one that she had not been present at in real life but remembered from the play. The main character is kissing, fumbling and engaging in behavior far from what was acceptable for a man in a committed relationship. Why was she thinking like this? Did she really think that the Play was about him, them? Why was she indulging such illogical thoughts? It was his fault, him and his stupid ideas and paranoid delusions. He had infected her with them. The bloody Play, stupid bloody boyfriend and his stupid bloody affair. She rips out the pages she had just read and throws the book across the street. It skids across the tarmac and splash lands in a dirty puddle. She glares at it then catches the friendly orange light of a taxi appearing at the corner. She stands and trying her best to appear sober hails it. She gives his address and sinks into the sanctuary of the warm cab as it pulls away.
* * * * *
He throws caution to the wind stands and leads the woman by the hand into the spare room. A kiss, a fumble with handfuls of wool and crushed blouse. Grabbed buttocks and wet hungry tongues. His heart beat pulses pure electric, excitement through his body. The nape of his neck tingles under her caress. Their groins, gnash and gnaw through denim. His erection constrained in tight pants, uncomfortable and hot. Her hands pull at his shirt then wind up and under. Unable to find a satisfactory place to rest they wind back and forth, too urgently, too desperate. Cold little hands snag, unfamiliar against his body. He pulls his head away bumping it a little too hard against the wall behind and exhales deeply. He pushed her away and tries to think of a way to explain. She was just beginning to form the ‘W’ of a question as he rolls away, against the wall and swings open the door. Then he is gone into the night, escaping into the dark, into the rain.
* * * * *
She tells the taxi to wait, outside his flat clutching torn pages from the Play. She folds them roughly in half then half again before shoving them through his letter box. She kicks his door the spins around and strides, drunkenly dignified back to the cab into which she falls and gives her own address.
By the time she arrives at her front door she is already crying. There is a lump in her throat, a bad taste that she can not swallow. She fumbles through her bag scratching her scrambling fingers on it’s contents. She grasps her keys but pulls them out of her bag too quickly. They fall with a cheerful jangle to the floor. As she bends forward to pick them up she spills the contents of her bag. Her finger tips scrap on the misjudged distance between the dropped contents and the concrete floor. Braking a nail in the process she rises to quickly, carelessly and bumps her head on the door handle causing her to curse and kick over the plant pot that sits outside to welcome her home. She prods around the key hole with her key for what seems and eternity of misjudged distance. Steadying herself by leaning against the rough brickwork she closes one eye and tries again and misses again, scrapping up and off the metal surround of the key hole. She exhales and allows her head to fall against the door. The wood is cool and wet against her face. She rests there for a while her eyes closed, her neck bent, her back sagging. There is a falling feeling for a second before she opens her eyes, bracing her knees. Her eyes roll up at the sheer tedium of it all. Pressing her palms against the door she pushed herself upright again. The key slots home, turns and the door swings open on a cold, dark flat.
She flicks the kettle on and swings the fridge door open. Ramming a hand full of olives into her mouth she chews noisily before breaking off a chunk of cheese and dipping it in some hummus. After devouring that she unscrews the lid of the peanut butter and plunges her fingers into the jar covering them in the stuff, removing her fingers and licking them clean. She staggers into the living room and points the remote control at the television staring down its sights like a sniper. Her head wobbles from side to side, one eye closed her arm raised level. She presses the power button with her thumb and slumps back into the cushions. Her jeans are too tight she release the button letting her tummy spill out. Kicking off her shoes she lies horizontally, her head resting on a cushion looking at the moving colours and shapes on the TV screen.
* * * * *
He runs down the street, towards the T-junction that she had earlier staggered towards. His heart pounding. Blood pumped in his face that was reddened with both the embarrassment and effort. He wheels around the corner only slowing when he notices the bus stop. He stops and with hands on his knees and wretches into the gutter. Having finished vomiting, with watery eyes he looks up to see a book lying face down in a puddle, drowning in dirty water. With horror he recognises it as the Play that he had lent her earlier that evening. The pages are stuck together. It had been knocked a few times by passing car tyres, it was very wet and a couple of pages appeared to have been torn out. Pages that are now somewhere else, disconnected from the main text. Did they mean the same thing when read in isolation? Perhaps if he tore up all of the pages he could rearrange the text into a more pleasing tale with a happier ending. He held the soiled book at the end of his fingers before dropping it into a plastic bag pulled from the depths of his coat pocket. Brown water runs around the creases in the blue plastic. The book cover clings to the bag in a dark patch. He gives up on the bus and stumbles on through the damp early morning. As day breaks a cock crows in the distance. His head throbs. He moves forward, saving himself from falling on his face with each step, but only just.
There are two torn pieces of paper waiting for him when he gets home. They lie on his doormat, accusingly. All though he cannot make out what the text on the pages say he recognises his own handwritten notes in the margins and knows that they are from the Play, from the book he had lent her. He knows what they contain before he picking them up. His stomach sinks and rolls, the blood runs from his face and he begins to shake. The thought of her reading these pages tore at his heart. The image of her holding these pages and knowing that he had been unfaithful to her was almost too much to bear. The irony of the situation did not escape him, he had proved himself right only to lose what he valued most.
He sends a text “Do you want to talk? I will not sleep. Please call me. I love you”. As he thumbs in the last words he begins to sob, then cry. His body buckling, he folds onto the sofa his shoulders shaking with each gut wrenching sob. Tears run down is face. He flashes with frustration and anger. He punches the cushions and kicks out at the thin bastard air before collapsing again into a pathetic helpless, sobbing, fetal ball.
It is a good ten minutes before he emerges. Uncurling and wiping his snotty nose and tears on the sleeve of his jumper. He lies the book open at the wettest pages on the windowsill above the radiator. Some pages cling and dry together slowly. He tries to prise them apart with little success, tearing paper and pealing off the text in places leaving partially obscured paragraphs with chunks of the text missing or damaged. He flicks through the chapters speeding towards where he felt he was currently in the Play, after the party, needing to look and remind himself of what happens next. He wants to talk to her about the Play, the party and the pages she posted through his door, pages that were written by someone he had never met but that described so accurately his deceit. It was not long before the grizzly close of the Play, that chilling scream and horrific screech of metal on metal, and therefore not long before his collision with the end.