Rise

She laughingly flexes her arm muscles as a sign of the shape of progress to come. It’s less than a week since she stretched her worrying thoughts alongside those of two of her compatriots on the shapelessness of their security and status. One child born in Northern Ireland, another in Poland. What will become of them? What if my parents are ill? Will I be able to visit them and return here to my own family? We are afraid. Everyone is afraid. We feel we will never be good enough. But what can we do?

Well, she can triumphantly flex her arm muscles in celebration of summoning fifty other women with the same question marks bearing down on them. To a two-bedroom terraced house on the fringes of affluence they gathered after bearing down hard on the like button to an invitation from one on behalf of three. They shine like the lighter versions of themselves they’ve been missing and smile at me. I trot home to miss my friends in ways that nothing will ease but a dose of sleep and sleeplessness.

Jenny

A few years back, I received an email from a bloke I hadn’t thought about in while. One I was supposed to meet ten years ago but didn’t. “Remember me?” ran the subject title. It took me a second. A nanosecond.

I had been a fugitive from heartbreak for a few years and getting tired of being on the run. I’d got lucky and fell in with a lively crowd attached to the job I took up. Jenny sat cross-legged at the neighbouring desk. A good sign. It was inevitable we would soon meet on Saturday afternoons for hangover parties to slump over coffee, despair at the state of our singlehood, and expertly decode one another’s star sign from the paper.

Then, one day, the dreaded inevitable happened. She broke with self-pity convention to suggest we do something about this terrible state of affairs (Munch Scream). A woman of her whim, she flung herself into the world of web-dating and set my comfort zone on fire with her inexhaustible optimism and candour at the state of my “aura”. Not forgetting the fact my dress sense was beginning to resemble that of an “orthodox Muslim”.

Under pressure, but unable to come up with a profile, I settled for hiding behind a few lines quoted from a favourite song. A cunning plan that would guarantee a non-response, or separate the Pink Panthers from the Anthill Mob.

I got one reply. He was funny, self-assured, with a great taste in music (obviously), a passion he converted into a living by writing about it. It was the height of Summer and our early attempts to meet were thwarted by family visits and pre-arranged trips elsewhere. Gradually our lives became a backdrop to our emails so that by the time Autumn came round the shine had gone off my nerve.

He’s happily hitched now with two kids of his own. It would be another year before I could brave it over the threshold of my charred comfort zone into the trust of another.

Jenny is still sitting cross-legged somewhere. Switching between umpteen languages on the phone nestled under her chin as she frantically rummages around looking for the phone she’s holding. I imagine it’s one of the many reasons her fella fell for her. And some other pair of eejits will be slumped at our old table tomorrow.

Kitchenstool blues

Another Friday, another restless afternoon battling a hankering that only comes knocking at the height of warmth and winter. One that creeps up to ensnare its victim on a Thursday evening; when the proverbial tie comes undone and the decompression has begun.

There are weaker moments to follow when it will catch its prey fully aware. The last meeting endured. The last phone-call made. The last email sent. The last scan of next week’s diary advertising the hardships to dread with all the force of Ken Dodd’s tickle stick. The last slam of the door shut till Monday.

It’s Friday. It’s the first one in gets them in. The first clink of the glasses mid-air. The first joke cracked. The first yarn spun.

For some of us, it was always that moment between the last sip of the first, and the first slip of the next. With our lip to the precipice of bonhomie and break-through. To The Present. It could be a long way down but we were willing to risk it. Just the one…time of the week to let it all go.

Why did the chicken cross the road? To get to the pub to see his mates. To blather and belly-laugh his way into the here and now. In the one place where you’re judged by your character and ability to hold your own, not the letters that trail your name. Where one person’s laughter is the background to another’s loss. Where bosses are skewered on a stream of consciousness. Where no-one is conscious of time passing.

Our relationship with drink goes a long way down, but we know a charming tour guide of the soul when we hook up with one. And though long broken up, the longing can still come knocking, as loudly as ever.

Just the one… fleeting thought of a pint leads back to the last sip of the first, before the first sip of the next. Freeze it there. To before I moved away and waved goodbye to my people. Before other people started drinking. In. Their. Houses. Before wine became a hobby before ending up as a personality trait. To Friday.

To The Pub.

*raises cuppa*

Sláinte

Preview: Thursday 11th February

The  cosmos returns tomorrow with another dazzling line-up that promises to deliver the usual swag-bag of fist-clenching crackers. First up are The Managers. The elusive group make a rare appearance for one of their tumultuous live performances. Expect plenty of baseline data and drumming of fingers.

Going forward into the afternoon The Two Loud Fuckers Upstairs have been kicking off recent appearances with a parade of tracks from their Greatest Hits album. The duo is currently working on new material with Do You Fancy a Wee Tray-bake with Your Tea? getting a test-run last week. They’ll be followed by dilettantes Some Pair with an abundance of catchy frivolous pop including new single Look At The State of Yer Wan (Eye-roll).

Hyperbole springs eternal when it comes to the description-defying M1. Few resist the charms of perennial crowd-pleasers such as All Pile Into Apple Green, I Must Have That Cigarette Lighter With My Child’s Name On It, and the mournful Burger King It Is Then.

In the ten years since Friends Reunited got together, they have been thrilling each other with special requests. How Much Did You Lose This Week is a dead cert for the encore before the headline act responds to their self-consciousness with a carefully crafted lack of any. AKA Róisín Murphy.

She was brilliant, probably.

The mommy dialogues

“How’s  it going?”

*Yawns* “Am fucked. Exhausted. Up again last night”

“Have you tried the star chart?”

*curls lip*

“Seriously, give it another go. We’d the same problems with Aisling”

“And did it work?”

“No. Well, she just grew out of it eventually. I used to do the supernanny thing as well and put her straight back into bed every time she got up. Exhausting though”

*Yawns*

“Or you could just switch beds. Our Róisín’s two were in and out of their bed till they were seven. Kevin just went to their room”

“Have done that. Turfed her Da out. At least everyone gets a night’s sleep”

“Exactly. And it doesn’t last forever”

“And it’s not like it’s interrupting any major sex sessions”

Ten second pause

In unison: “That only lasts five minutes anyway”

Pact full of new trains

She watched her friend’s train pull away with an odd mixture of hope and hassle. In a way it was the ideal parting that left no time for ever-increasing goodbyes to work their way up to the size of a tumbleweed that they’d have to awkwardly hug around; but ultimately disappointing that there wasn’t enough time to hug at all and pay homage to her brilliance with snotty tears and rambling.  There is no greater compliment. Her friend has a supernatural knack of transforming her tiny house into that little bit more of a home whenever she visits.  Just by being in it. Like an open fire everyone warms themselves up against. And that sort of magic transcends earthly description. But thank her, she did. And for pushing ajar the doors of their pasts and helping release some unwelcome residue back into the psychological wild.

Even her wee one continued to grieve her absence all week. She would lie up on her parents’ bed and look out through the window forlornly declaring that she missed her, as an apropos of staring into the middle distance. All very film noir until the thumb was popped back in the gob. She’s so wonderful with her, and the little one only revels in her rays of good humour that detonate her own in return.

It’s now day three of their new healthy living pact but she’s feeling the benefits already. She got such a fright when she stepped on the scales that it knocked the hunger pangs clean off her. They must’ve skedaddled a right distance, even in their grossly unfit state, as there’s no sign of them re-appearing. Not even for a sneaky Curly Wurly, or a muffin, which is closer to the wholesome home-baked goods end of the confectionery spectrum and other misinformation for which she also has a fatal weakness.

No, make no mistake, she thinks, (She stole this from a colleague as it sounds a convincing opener. But then she also once believed that female police officers couldn’t carry guns during PMT) this is a novel shift. Less the temporary euphoria of her usual new beginnings of yore, than a recognition of a change of enemy. She teared-up on the scales but hasn’t looked back since. She drove home, past the petrol station she had eyed-up on the way over, counting up every pound as a self-inflicted stab-wound on her worth. So whatever way she’s managed to reconcile emotion with reason, she’s already feeling lighter, and willing to plod the long road back to health.

Fear not, she emphatically has no notion of defecting to the evangelical side, and vows to continue scoffing mildly at the group talk while clapping a little too enthusiastically at John shedding that four pounds. “Round of applause for John, everyone”. Come on. That’s still pretty impressive whichever side of the sneering fence you’re sitting on, she thinks, forgiving her stray into high-fiving territory. She also thinks there’d better be serious whooping and hollering for her next week. It’ll be like re-writing school history. Take that, Sr. Gabriel! Two fucking pounds!

No, she hasn’t surrendered the compulsion to find the comedy in everything. But sometimes the jokes aren’t funny anymore, not even the one about her Jack Charlton comb-over; and no-one laughed at her crying. Just wait till she gets that half-stone pink certificate and then they’ll all see who’s the loser.

Muckers

Smack bang in the middle of a belly laugh, interrupting myself to correct a detail in her version of the re-telling of a yarn involving some hi jinx the pair us got up to; pausing to get the odd passing in-joke it might take me a second to remember.  Short-hand chat, one finishing the other’s victories or injuries, euphemisms we forget that others can’t ever remember.  Fighting passionately over the most trivial things (whether it’s better to wash dishes with or without detergent (it was a stressful time); I AM better at reading maps; you did NOT say that etc.); flitting to the most indulgent excesses of praise volunteered for on behalf of the other (“you’re amazing at y”, “you’re fucking brilliant at x”). Giggling at how we both bagged coloured-in versions of dreams, the outlines of which we had devoted hours to drawing (“he’ll be quiet but he’ll get you”; “you’ll have four, three girls, one boy”). Wondering. Reading the silence. Interpreting wrongly. Righting it with a hug. Not going home just yet. Yet knowing that’s where we each belong now. Too far from one another. Too many missed laughs between us; too few opportunities to be ridiculous; and always feeling all the lighter for it. The raging range of destinations that only a session with a best mate can lead to.

********

In response to a ten minute writing prompt from me feathered aul mucker, Wee Blue Birdie, with the topic “Where would you rather be right now?” Feel free to grab and get gabbling with it.