She wasn’t drunk when she left the party.
Well, she was. Though you wouldn’t know it.
She’d drunk when she talked to the boy with the hair about his ‘project’.
She’d drunk while nodding patiently to the woman talking. The one with the eyes so big and watery and penetrating that they looked right through her and out the back of her head.
She was drunk by the time the man from the underwriting department leaned her against the sixteenth century priest hole. When she felt his erection pressing through his trousers. When she decided not to take him up on it.
And as she stumbled out onto the gravel drive stretching beneath the endless September sky, she had drunk some more.
The party still tumbling out of the windows behind her. It didn’t seem much bothered by her leaving. And that sky so big and so shot with stars briefly fooled her, as they always do, into thinking she was the lead in her own story. That in all the emptiness, somebody was watching.
She stood alone in the cool air, smoked a cigarette, and heard the crunch of taxi on gravel. She leaned towards the driver.
‘Are you mine?’ she asked.
And a moment passed in the darkness.
A voice had stuck to her from the glow behind.
She looked around. ‘It’s not…I’m not…’
He wore a suit, and was dishevelled and blurry. And close now. He smelt like white rum, menthol cigarettes and fabric softener.
‘Which way are you going?’
‘No way! Me too. You wanna share a lift?’
‘We’re not. I don’t think it’s the same way.’
‘Ha. That’s right, let’s go.’
‘No, I don’t think-‘
‘Why are you looking at me like that?’
He swayed in the moonlight. He looked momentarily like a sailor lashed to a mast in some old engraving, punished for some unknown sin. It wasn’t moonlight, though. It was the security lights that bathed him in a milky electric balm. And the beams were filled with bugs.
‘Like you’re going to eat me,’ he said, and smiled wider and wider until the delicate strings of spit dangled between his lips like fairy lights.
The car door thudded behind her, and the rabble of the outside was silenced with a pop. That car smell. That inside taxi sound.
‘Good party?’ the driver asked without moving.
‘Nothing like a good party.’
‘You know it!’
She wasn’t really listening. Instead, she was searching for her phone in her bag. She probed tampons and hair grips and receipts, all had shaken off their original packaging and bloomed dustily in the dark.
‘I don’t really get to parties much any more.’
Finding her phone, she squinted – narrowing her drunken eyes to differentiate the darkness of the letters from the pulsing of the light. He hadn’t texted. She scrolled to their last message, and paused briefly to feel the end of the thread, to balance it between her tongue and teeth. It was just an emoji.
It was the monkey with the hands over his eyes. She had thought it meant embarrassment. Cute embarrassment. See no evil. She hadn’t realised. She could see it now.
The car pulled out of the drive and the party retreated until it was just somebody else’s light and sound. The driver’s air freshener swung, lolloped, beneath the rear view mirror and it must’ve only been ten seconds or so before it felt like she’d never been anywhere else at all. Back and forth and back and forth. Behind it, the glass windscreen. And behind that, a deep stretch of inky rural darkness.
The radio was on, but only just loud enough to hear. Carly Simon? Yep, Carly Simon. She remembered in from car journeys to the Chinese take-away with her dad.
She pulled a twisted tube from her pocket. And leaned forward. She could hear his breath, even above the roar of the outside.
Looking at his hands on the wheel, she noticed how tanned and leathery they were, or rubbery rather. A thick, natural rubber. The type freshly tapped from deep in a rainforest somewhere, and left out in the sun to thicken. He looked like a prop, she thought, like a carnival dummy
The roads she had recognised were gone, and they were deep in the rhythm of black trees whipping past the windows like a zoetrope, like they weren’t even moving, just in motion. The spaces between the silhouettes had a blueish glow from the stars, or the moonlight on the clouds, she couldn’t see them long enough to decide. Sometimes the dark is dark enough that it starts to look light again.
‘You want a smoke?’ She couldn’t see his face. Not all of it. But he must have been around fifty. Here she was offering a Marlborough light to a silhouette with big rubbery hands.
‘Don’t think so, love.’
‘Um.’ She put her phone down. ‘Is it far from here?’
‘Where you heading?’
‘Don’t you know?’
‘I just take the pick-up address, love. But I’ll take you wherever you tell me.’
‘I thought I called someone.’
‘Nope.’ The light from the radio, still playing Carly Simon, was picking up his wiry white chin hairs. ‘Not me.’
‘Oh, I see.’
‘So, we’ll just carry on then shall we?’
She cracked her window and the breeze rushed in to remind her.
‘Yep, I guess we’ll just carry on.’
Hope William is a writer and artist living and working in East London.