The taxi turns onto the embankment, and there is the sun rising up out of the river, glazing the water pink and silver. I lift my head, my hair against my bare shoulders enough to set my skin tingling again. I squeeze Paul’s arm, and he squeezes mine back. I’m not tired even though we’ve danced nearly non-stop, apart from the half hour he was wrapped around the French guy with the Elvis lips.
There gets to a point in nights like these where we don’t need words any more; we follow each other’s energy, up, down; taking a break to sit and drink a beer together, waiting for the right music to carry us back up. Our dancing forms our conversation as we orbit each other, pulling the crowd around us like gravity, and people stare and wonder if we’re a couple. We’re still up there now, feeling loved, lucky, invincible. We marvel in silence at the dawn as it creeps along the river, turning glass and steel and stone into gold.
The cab turns at the bridge and we head south through the sleeping city towards Paul’s flat. We’ll carry on dancing around his tiny living room, or wrap ourselves under a duvet on the sofa and smoke while we relive the night; the people we kissed and talked to and danced with, the music and the sound system, whether it was as good as last weekend.
Hey, why don’t we walk the rest of the way, I say, and Paul grins yes. I tell the driver to keep the change, even though I don’t get paid until next Friday. I don’t wait for a reply, running to catch up with Paul. You hungry, I shout? Nah, me neither.
We turn the corner of his street and he’s straight up onto the roof of a rusting yellow Volvo, hands in the air, swivelling his hips and dancing the same dance he’s danced all night; the one I want him to dance forever. I whoop up at him, mirroring his moves down on the pavement.
Parked in front of the Volvo is a motorbike, a big silver and black beast. Paul springs onto the seat and manages half a pirouette before it topples, and he jumps clear as it crashes to the ground. We freeze and clap our hands to our mouths, then try to heave it upright but it’s hopeless, it weighs a ton. I catch Paul’s eye and that’s it, we’re doubled up laughing.
Next along is a flashy black 4x4, but as soon as Paul’s foot’s on the bonnet the alarm goes off. He carries on over to a little silver hatchback so old it doesn’t have an alarm. He reaches down to help me up. You’re nuts, I say, I’m not getting up there!
He dismisses me with a swish of his hand and spins and struts to an imaginary crowd in the road, suntanned arms making his vest look even whiter. He wears a new one every time he goes out, wouldn’t be seen dead in the same one twice. Paul O’Malley, you’re bad for the planet, I yell, chasing him as he skips off the car and down the street. I’m the best fucking thing that ever happened to this planet, he shouts back over his shoulder.
I pause for breath in front of one of the terraced houses, coughing from the pack of cigarettes we’ve smoked. The car alarm rises and falls; all it needs is a bassline beat and I could dance to it. Someone at the front window bangs on the glass and I wave and shrug. I’m searching my pockets for any cigarettes left when the front door opens. A woman in pyjamas, a grizzling baby on her hip. Ten years older than me perhaps, but they may as well be light years. She’s dancing her own peculiar dance, dipping and swaying to keep the baby in perpetual motion. Her eyes are wide and staring, but not like ours; something desperate in them, like a taunted animal’s.
Would you shut. The fuck. Up, she says, through clenched teeth. Please, she adds, jamming the baby onto the other hip, I only just him got him to sleep. It wails louder. Oh, sorry, we’re just… I want to explain that we’re on our way home, that our night hasn’t finished yet; that we’re feeling golden, like the morning.
The baby’s face is one big red rash, wet with snot. What’s the point of trying to explain? I’m about to turn and go but something in her expression holds me there by the lopsided front gate. We face each other across the short tiled path. I can see past her to a kitchen draped in laundry at the end of the narrow hall. I watch her scan me, my sequinned trainers and torn tights, the glitter and mascara that’s probably smudged in black rings underneath my eyes. Does she see I’m determined I’ll never be her? At first I think it’s envy in her face. But it’s scorn in the curl of her lip, tinged with something else I don’t try to name.
A small current of cold travels through me and sends a ripple through the fabric of the night, or the morning or whatever it is now. The car alarm is just a loud noise; warning, laughing, relentless. Whatever I was going to say is lost, and the woman shakes her head and closes the door.
Where is Paul? I want to mimic her demented dancing with that snot-covered baby, and hear him laugh and say that’ll never be you though Kat, imagine!
He’s at the end of the street, leaning against the shutter of the corner shop below his flat. I get the moves ready, but when I reach him he’s slid down onto his heels, a streak of grime on his vest. I turn and look back at the empty street. I can’t tell from here which is the house with the lopsided gate. The dawn sky has whitened into a pale layer of cloud. Come on, Paul, I say. Let’s get indoors, watch some trash TV.
ANTHEA MORRISON has an MA in Creative Writing from Royal Holloway University, and has had stories published online at The Londonist, Notes From The Underground, and Reflex Fiction. Her story ‘You Have What You Want’ appeared in the print anthology Words and Women: Two in 2015. She was the winner of the Margaret Hewson Memorial Prize in 2015, and winner of the Finchley Literary Festival and Greenacre Writers Short Story Competition in 2016. You can find her on Twitter at @antheamorrison