As usual, I was the last to arrive. I came bearing gin, popcorn and tremendous amounts of energy; greeted by whoops of welcome on entry, my supplies were soon ravaged and my tardiness forgotten.
It was all technically legal – at least it was for Florrie and me, being the eldest and eighteen in almost every way. Although there is a big difference between technical legality and actual legality; numbers wise, we were compliant, but our interpretation of “outside” (the Robsons’ basement) was dubious and definitely of the more imaginative variety.
I have always loved staying at the Robsons’ house – apart from when the family are going through one of their vegan phases and dinner looks like some vegetables wearing thoroughly unconvincing meat costumes for Halloween. The smell of the place alone is enough to stir up ancient, dust-coated memories and resurrect a childlike euphoria I thought I had long since abandoned. The basement is half glass and half finished, with occasional wires poking their inquisitive heads through the walls like bright, tropical eels. Its emptiness is full of electric potential; that room could be anything you wanted it to be, just for the night. The wooden floor was bare apart from a circle of mismatched garden chairs and a sun lounger; it looked like the set of a low budget chat show, or some kind of support group where people chorus “we’re here for you” every time someone finishes speaking. Maybe that’s exactly what we were, the four of us, at the end of the day – a support group. Maybe that’s all friendships ever really are.
Elinor, who had the face of a Norse goddess and the vanity of a sea slug and, thanks to her Swedish heritage (something of which she was constantly reminding us), looked like a reincarnation of a long lost ABBA member, appeared to be whisking egg whites in the far corner – sometimes it is better not to ask. They tend to explain eventually, so why waste your breath in the meantime? I banished thoughts of salmonella to the distant horizons of my hypochondriacal mind and delved into the crisp bowl.
It took approximately three cocktails – one of which was an alarming shade of blue that looked like Nature was shrugging her shoulders, as perplexed as I was, and warning me that whatever was in that glass, she’d had nothing to do with it – and one hour for the words in my mind to start slipping out without permission, like rebellious teenagers breaking curfew or sneaking out the window to meet their college boyfriend in the middle of the night. Not that I’ve ever done either of those things, or ever will.
Mary, a sensible girl with an earnest face and an endless supply of brilliant stories who was fairly new to the group and doubtless thought us all mad, was telling a complex story about a failed robbery involving a wrench; I misheard this as wench and told them so. This image (along with the alcohol now working its merry way through our bloodstreams) was enough to crack us all up, and we stayed that way for the rest of the evening. At some point some innovative, adventurous soul produced a speaker and it was a matter of seconds before we were clearing the chair circle or chat show set or whatever it was to the sides of the room to make space, and then my hips were doing things I have only ever practiced within the confines of my room. The glass walls acted as mirrors, and we watched ourselves, assessing our own moves and, in my case, being rather delighted with them. I tried to tell a story at one point, hollering the odd sentence over the music, but nobody was listening and so I just shouted out the punchline, skipping over the part in the middle, and kept right on dancing.
The purpose of the night was not to get drunk, which is good because I certainly didn’t. I was tipsy at most, occasionally cupping the top of Elinor’s head and marveling at how round it was – I stand by everything I said with regards to that head; that girl would look wonderful bald – but not much else. The purpose of the night was to be together and feel vaguely normal, and to give ourselves a taster of what summer would be like, and this we did rather well.
Somewhere between 10 and 11pm, the room became a furnace, and I rushed out into the black abyss that had swallowed the Robsons’ back garden in search of a cold surface to rest my burning face on. The stone patio served this function rather well, and suddenly we were all out there, moonbathing in the April night, not talking or doing, but for once just being. A handful of sparsely scattered stars had managed to penetrate Edinburgh’s light pollution and we noticed them for the first time that night, although they’d been there all along, these same stars, bearing silent witness to our lives. Will they remember us once we’re gone? I know in theory such a thing is impossible, but I hope with every fibre of my being that it is not, and every ounce of childlike wonder that still occupies my soul – a tenant that I am starting to suspect may never leave, despite the eviction notices time throws at it – cries out that they can and will remember us, bearing testimony to our brief, flickering lives long after we’re no longer here to entertain them or crane our necks up to notice them or dance wildly around our friend’s basement as if we don’t care and never will that our time is short and the stars are few and a time like this may never come again. That is what this inner child whispers to me and, just for a moment, I believe them. I believe.
And then the night ends, and the parents pull up in cars outside like parole officers, and we promise each other that we will do it again soon, maybe next week, maybe sooner. But each of us knows, with the certainty of the stars, that we never will; tonight is over, dead and buried, and whatever we do next week will be a pale reflection of this original. But the stars will never forget this night as they blaze into eternity, and I can say with the utmost certainty, on all our behalves, that neither will we.
Cover image courtesy of lisbokt via Flickr