The party was in Sydney, in an apartment full of people I didn’t know. Beautiful people, funny people, smart people. A friend, Penny, had dragged me along. I do remember what I was wearing. I’ll always remember that, I suppose. Earlier that year I’d found, in a charity shop, a green-and-black-checked vinyl trench coat with a pointed collar and a neat belt. Inside the vinylI sweated like the inside of a car, but it was worth it. I had a little skirt on underneath, and green pointed boots. I kept drinking, waiting for someone to notice me, to speak to me, to find me funny, or interesting, or to like my careful green trench, to notice how witty it was, how ironic. But none of these things happened.
Penny stayed in the kitchen, running her hand down the arm of someone called Jeff. She tilted her head back and laughed, revealing the long line of her throat. That head tilt, that laugh, that hand slipping easily down a muscled arm: I couldn’t do it, couldn’t quite understand it. When I tried, the laugh came out broken, the hand too firm on the arm, the head was thrown back so fiercely that I could hear my own neck crick. I’d watched it right through high school but even now, at 20, I still couldn’t understand it. It looked like a performance, all of it – the hair flicking, the gathering in giggling groups, the coded language. But I’d somehow missed the rehearsal notes. I’d brought cheap wine, shared with Penny. She’d brought me. As an audience? As the plainer friend? She was a girl who’d got the rehearsal notes.
The wine went quickly. I perched on the sofa, smiling mysteriously with my lips closed over my crooked teeth. I’d read, in Rolling Stone, a description of a famous woman, the muse to a musician, who could stand alone in a crowd looking completely calm, completely contained. Sometimes I stood in front of my mirror, experimenting with looking contained, mysterious. If I was lucky – mysterious enough but approachable enough – I might get to be a muse.
Sometime after midnight, I emptied the second bottle and trip-trapped to the kitchen. Penny was tangled in Jeff, her mouth swallowed, her hands on his neck. I stood in the doorway and waited.
After a while, Penny turned her head to me, eyebrows raised, and said, “What?” I said, “I think I’m ready to go.” “Then go.” I opened my mouth to say, “I don’t know where I am, or how to get home,” and then I closed it again. I felt for the folded notes in my pocket. The party was on the outskirts of town. The party was full of strangers. But the stranger who was dangerous was not in that room.
Outside, the air vibrates with the wetness of spring. Lights blur in and out of focus: cars, streetlights? I can’t tell; can barely tell which is the sky and which is the road. Both are black, shining with the reflection of a plump moon.
Nonetheless, I’m sober enough to think this: I need a taxi. It will no doubt use the last of my week’s wages, the small amounts I eke out daily. But still. It’s hard for me to inhabit my own skin, now, looking back at this staggering, arm-waving girl. Sometimes, now, I see them on the street, girls like me, barely able to stand, and I want to, it’s true, wrap a cardigan around their shoulders, take them home to sleep it off, to sober up. I cannot look at these girls without a rush of fear. I can barely look back at myself, at my shiny coat, my green boots, my bare thighs pimpling in the cool air, my ridiculous faith that the world would take care of me.
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