I fox-trotted over to Lola’s on the twelfth of February with a pocket full of drugs. I didn’t know what she’d want, so I bought a grand selection off my dealer and took them all with me for her to peruse.
‘Ooh, quite the selection!’ she enthused, bowing her head over the various pills, baggies and tabs I’d spread over her desk. ‘MDMA, 2C-B, acid – what’s this one?’ She picked up a baggy containing four blue and white capsules.
‘4-HO-MET-,’ I replied with confidence. ‘It’s a hallucinogen. It’s like shrooms.’
‘Exactly like them? I love magic mushrooms.’
‘More visual, I think. I took it on a night out in second year and I thought the club I was in was the inside of a submarine.’
‘Do you have weed too?’
‘Well, mister Gunn, you have outdone yourself. You know what?’
She walked over to me, grabbed me forcefully by the waist and stared directly into my eyes.
‘I think we should take all of them.’
‘All of them?’
‘MDMA, 2C-B, acid, 4-HO-MET, weed, a few drinks – it’ll be wild!’ she trilled, and spun round onto the bed.
The house was on Manor Park, near the top of Redland Road where the hill almost flattened out on its way to the Downs. For some reason it seemed much bigger than it really was from the outside, towering over us with a full moon shining down like a scene from a gothic novel. It was a crystal clear night and unusually warm for February; the stars were all watching as indifferently as they usually do.
The party was just ramping up by the time we got there; the windows were flashing with lights and music pounded the earth all around it. A group of boys hung around on the street outside smoking a joint in between quiet flickers of conversation, next to a couple who were sitting on the garden wall with a bottle of vodka by their feet. A bouncer stood at the door letting people in.
‘Don’t worry, I put you on the guest list,’ Lola assured me as the bouncer checked our names and we swanned inside.
There were people everywhere, drinking out of tins and plastic bottles, trying to talk to each other over the boom of the music. The floors had been covered with what looked like several layers of thick clingfilm, which was just as well as drinks were being spilled and cigarette butts thrown in every direction. Knots of people lined all up and down the stairs and front corridor while others tried to squeeze through the mass; as I watched, a boy squealed with feigned delight and a girl kissed him impulsively.
At the foot of the stairs, Lola turned to me and pulled out her various pills. I followed suit and we swallowed them all together.
‘Lola!’ cried a girl. Lola was momentarily consumed by a great wrap of glittery arms.
‘Dani! So good to see you! How are you? Dani, have you met Charlie?’
The girl Dani looked up at me with the most impossible grin on her face, as if she was trying very, very hard to look a host.
‘Yes, yes, I think we have met,’ she said. ‘Weren’t you in Badock in first year?’
I confirmed that Badock was indeed the halls I was in.
‘I think I remember you from – oh, I’m not sure, but I’ve definitely seen you around the place. Are you Charlie Gunn?’
‘Why, yes, that is absolutely most certainly who I am.’
She paused, giving me an odd stare as if she’d just remembered something.
‘We’ve seen each other about the place,’ she concluded. She turned back to Lola. ‘How are you, darling? Come out to the garden, Steph’s out there with – do you know Felix Tether-Mason or Sam Hardly or any of those boys?’
I realised with an unpleasant flutter that these were Elliot’s friends from the Drogue night. We were following Dani to the back garden before I could think what to do.
The two girls hugged while I stood awkwardly behind once again. How many people did Lola know?
‘Lola, this is Felix, Sam, Pete-‘
‘Nice to meet you,’ they all said with that excited potential that young men experience in the face of an exotic girl.
‘And Charlie Gunn-‘
‘Charlie Gunn?’ said Sam in an alert voice. He stared at me for a moment. I wilted under his gaze.
‘Alright, mate,’ said Pete with an apprehensive shake of my hand.
‘How lovely to see you boys again,’ I said with more confidence than I felt, bolstered by the alcohol. ‘How have you been since last we met?’
They seemed to look at each other without actually doing so and I knew I was up against it.
‘Yeah, good mate,’ said Felix. ‘What happened to you that night at Drogue? You and Margot just disappeared?’
‘Yeah, we were all wondering where you two had gone.’
‘I, err… We went for a dance, I think. Then the… Drugs kinda got to us and, I think I took Margot home in a cab then just went back to mine. I mean, I went back to mine. I left Margot at her house. It’s a different house to mine.’
I glanced anxiously at Lola, who was watching us with an attentively blank face.
‘That’s what Margot said happened, to be fair,’ said Pete to the others. ‘Elliot wasn’t too happy about it though.’
‘He might be coming later,’ Sam added ominously.
‘What an amazing party,’ Lola sang to Steph and Dani. I knew she’d done it deliberately to cut off the conversation and, frankly, I couldn’t have felt more grateful.
‘Oh, thank you! We spent so much time on it-‘
‘Do you have any idea how much money it cost us?’
‘No – how much?’
They looked at each other to evaluate whether to tell her or not.
‘With the bouncer and everything – actually, I don’t want to say.’
‘Let’s just say parents had to help out!’
‘Say no more,’ said Lola with a raised eyebrow in my direction.
‘Who’s that rank girl over there?’ said Pete all of a sudden.
‘What? The ginger one?’
‘Yeah. Didn’t I see her on Embarrassing Bodies?’
‘Brutal!’ The lads all laughed together.
‘That’s a horrible thing to say!’ said Dani faux-derisively. Then she herself turned her head to see. ‘Which one?’
‘That’s Lizzie Hardwright,’ whispered Steph, leaning conspiratorially in towards us all. ‘Apparently she had a pregnancy scare with Max Olesen-‘
‘Max Olesen!’ laughed Felix in hushed tones.
‘Who’s Max Olesen?’ queried Sam.
‘That’s that kid who used to wank ten times a day in halls.’
‘Oh, yeah! Eurgh!’
‘At least he found someone he could put it in,’ said Lola jauntily, and the others all had to silence their laughter as the poor girl in discussion was barely two yards away, standing with a friend and staring silently into the dancing crowd. I was a bit worried by this, though – if they knew what I did in my spare time, I dread to think how they would talk about me…
Scared of the conversation, I glanced around and evaluated the scene – but my eyes lighted on something rather surprising. From the darkness lingering on the other side of the garden fence, there came a leg, which was followed by two hands, a head and a body. All of a sudden a scream rang out, and another person followed the first. They were two men, and they were obviously homeless.
‘What the fuck are they doing here!?’ decried an ugly voice.
A great hubbub arose around the two men as they stomped over to where several drinks bottles had been left out and started to help themselves.
‘Dani! Steph!’ hissed a girl I recognised from halls (had I tried to sleep with her?). ‘Who the fuck are they?’
‘Get rid of them!’
‘Um, excuse me,’ said Steph to the two homeless men. Her ringing, upper class accent sounded absurd. ‘Please could you – um – please could you not? Could you leave please? This isn’t your party and you’ve just gatecrashed-‘
The men had found a near-full bottle of wine and were taking turns to swig from it while completely ignoring her.
‘Oi!’ shouted an enormous, square boy.
This time they looked up.
‘You heard her. Get out!’
‘Wossa matter?’ said one of the men, his waving slur telling us all he was already drunk. He had a gentle West Country accent that rode a coarse, rasping voice. ‘Nuffing wrong with us bein’ ‘ere is there?’
‘You can’t just break into other people’s property!’ barked the boy in a thick, sloping public school voice. A few more boys had gathered round, ready for a fight.
‘Well, ‘s not your property, is it!’ said the other one. ‘’S the landlord’s!’
‘No it ain’t!’ said the first. ‘’S her parent’s probably!’
‘Either way, ‘s not ‘ers!’
‘It doesn’t matter whose it is,’ said Steph, ‘the point is that it’s not yours-‘
‘So you’re the daughter of a millionaire or summing, and you won’t even share a lil’ bit o’ the party with us?’
‘No!’ growled the square boy.
‘Go on, jus’ a lil’ bit o’ wine…’
‘You got plenty ‘ere!’
‘I’m not the daughter of a…’ began Steph, but her sentence dried up abruptly.
‘We won’t be no trouble, honestly…’
‘She asked you to get out, so get out!’
With no further cues to come, the gang of boys laid into the homeless men and dragged them kicking and screaming into the house.
‘’S not fair!’ one of them was shouting. ‘All we want’s a bit of a party – we ain’t been to a party in years!’
‘Jus’ a lil’ bit o’ wine!’
One of them briefly managed to get away, but the boys laid into him and smacked him to the ground. When they carried him off, there was a spray of blood left on the ground where he’d fallen.
‘What did you make of that?’ said Lola as chatting voices returned.
I was staring at the blood the man had left behind.
‘How old do you think they were?’ I said.
‘I don’t know. Fifty? Sixty?’
I felt the Bad Place kick into life.
‘I can’t believe that can happen to people…’
‘It can,’ said Lola. She was staring hard at me.
‘What if it happens to me?’
‘Maybe it will, Charlie. We all run the risk of destitution, loneliness and despair. That’s what can happen in this world. That’s the deal you didn’t know you struck when you were born. And there’s nothing you can do about it. Now,’ she began in a sprightly tone. ‘Shall we peruse the manor?’
Before I knew it, she’d taken my arm and was guiding me into the house. I cracked open a tinny and drank greedily from it to try and tame the Bad Place back into silence – but then, just as we had reached the top of the stairs and were exploring a room that had been filled up with plastic balls like a children’s ball pit, everything began to feel a little funny.
‘I think I’m coming up,’ said Lola with a grin, and promptly threw herself into the ball pit where she scattered plastic spheres around with a fit of giggles.
I was about to join her, but my feet were rooted to the ground – a tingling, burning sensation was erupting in my stomach and shooting down to the ends of my hands and feet. As I watched, the image of Lola swimming in the ball pit started to become more and more vivid, as if god had just turned up the clarity on reality and everything in existence was becoming more and more rich to the eye; but this only lasted a second before a tremendous thundering exploded inside me somewhere and a catastrophic nauseous swirl came pulsing out –
I stumbled back but lost awareness of my feet, my feeeeeett had vanished into a gorging black gorgeee canyon and I was leaning against the wall and only the papeoasj[o perimount tip topppypyp of the ttop awas fihinqloj lcichnemaaknm;[POK[PL
OOOOOOOOOOOOOHHHHHHHHHH HEEEEELSFBP MEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!
Screaming stidlyyylmrs I wentent finto the bathroooomm andnt there was augh boiiyyyy I scremd OUUTUTUTHUT MEAlknf WAAAAAAYYY
Everything vanished; for a moment, there was an absolute and perfect blackness.
Was this it? Something thought. Had I died? If this is death, it isn’t so bad. It’s rather roomy.
But then, piece by piece, reality began to seep backwards into me, and my senses slowly gathered that there was music, then that I was holding something, then that there was a wall in front of me. No, it wasn’t a wall, it was… A toilet.
‘Gunn! Gunn! What the fuck do you think you’re doing!?’
I twisted my head around. There was vomit in the toilet bowl. There was also vomit on the floor, and on the shoes of the person behind me. I thought about getting up, but a wave of weirdness surged through my body and everything I looked at seemed to ripple. I felt sick again.
‘Gunn! You gonna pay for this, you freak?’
It was Elliott. I’d been sick on Elliot’s shoes.
‘Terribly – terribly, sorry, old bean,’ I gurgled, trying to get to my feet. Everything was waving very, very hard.
‘Do you know how much these shoes cost?’
‘Oddball, old sport, how many finance were they? I can spare you a few sickles but I haven’t any galleons on me just this parsec-‘
‘What are you spouting? Fuck this, get out of my way. I was about to piss before you came in.’
‘Jolly good, old horse! Yes, it is all rather goshanninny, isn’t it…’
I stumbled back onto the landing and tried to get my bearings. That was a door, and so was that, and that’s a door… What was a door? Oh yes, I suppose it was this one.
Lola was lying giggling amongst the balls and I fell in and joined her.
‘How do you feel?’ she asked, but she started laughing too hard for me to reply so I just stared at the ceiling where a disco light was surfing about.
‘Grandiose,’ I replied. But did I actually say something or did I just think I’d said something? HELP!
‘It’s brilliant!’ she cried before succumbing to a second attack of hysterics.
Everything felt very strange. The room was full of people (I think), but they were all looking away. As my eyes trundled over the plastic balls, patterns formed before me –
‘It feels like – like –‘
‘Like we’re whistling on syrupy silver goulash through a galaxy of gorgeously gurgling conundrums?’
‘Exactly. How did you know that was what I was going to say?’
‘Because we’re intimately connected, Charlie Gunn,’ she said, rolling over and kissing me on the mouth.
‘I don’t think I’ve ever been infinitely connected with someone before.’
‘Actually, I think it feels like we’re in a play. Shall we be in a play?’
‘Like a stage play?’
‘Yes. Do you want to be in a stage play?’
Charles: (From stage left) Why not?
Lola: (Standing upright) Oh, how gorgeous! Oh, Charles, what spankingly good fun this is! I shall be ever so excited to show off my gown at the ball tonight.
(She spins, twirling her gown about her while Charlie looks on admiringly).
Charles: You’ll be the sparkle in every admirer’s eye. You’re like a diamond with a spinning wheel headball that rolls whereso’er it wishes.
Lola: Quite! Oh, how marvellous, how simply, idly, tenturripitously marvellous! Shall Miss Annabel be in attendance?
Charles: Annabel Turner? I certainly should hope not, given on what’s on not that Your Dear Charles has had an encounter with such a woman in prior hours.
Lola: An encounter? My dear Charles, you mean you courted her, didn’t you?
(She appears apprehensive).
Charles: My dearest Lola, the truth is I have indulged many a lady, hither and thither on the tide.
Lola: Oh, Charles, you are such a ladies man. Any sensible girl should find herself in your power.
(They kiss tenderly.)
And, after all, it is all about power with you, isn’t it?
(Enter Harriet and Robert, clutching martini glasses to their hands and laughing tremendously. Harriet is wearing a gown, the opulent, ornamental aesthetic of which she wears with some self-consciousness. Robbie wears an evening suit lightly as if he is unused to it. They are both drunk).
Harriet: Oh, goodness, Robert! If it isn’t our wonderful friends Charles and Lola!
(They all kiss in greeting).
We were just about to take a wander about the ball pit. Would you care to join us?
Charles: I believe we were going to partake in a dance –
Lola: No, Charles, right now we shall do what I want, and I want to peruse the ball pit.
Robert: He looks as if he’s not used to taking someone else’s decisions!
Charles: I must admit I am not.
Lola: (Laughs) All men want is to be independent, but they know they can’t do it.
Harriet: A most incisive truism, Lola.
Robert: Let us wander about the ball pit.
(They stroll about the ball pit, making insightful observations on life, the universe and everything in it, then after a turn make their way into the other rooms of the house).
Charles: I must say, I feel ever so remarkably happy, my love.
Lola: I quite agree! It’s like walking on a life of endless rays.
Charles: And you look so beautiful, my dear-
Lola: I know.
(She turns to face him).
You look beautiful too.
Charles: You scare and intrigue me.
Lola: I know I do. And you… well. I shouldn’t care to say.
(They jump up on a table and Charles chases Lola around the room).
Charles: When I look at you, it looks like you are spinning through outer space, all these shapes and stars flying outwards from your body…
Lola: Your head is akin to that of a bird’s – a peregrine falcon, or a bald eagle!
Charles: You’re a shimmering, sherbety piece of Daisy daylight, both light and dark like the moon and made of a thousand tastes.
Lola: You’re a confused young man who has no better way to ascertain his position and direction than to thrust his hedonism into every young woman who crosses his path.
Charles: However did you know?
Lola: I’m fantastically clever. Now – shall we dance?
(They enter the ballroom dancefloor, where a thousand other couples dance in perfect unison with each other across an opalescent, interstellar, neon-tiled space. They are the stars of the ball, shining like the epicentres of a galaxy, and as they dance the universe bends in their direction to show what profound force they carry when they are together).
Charles: How remarkable it is to think, my dear, that every human in this room carries with them a life that is as confusing and complex as our own.
Lola: Remarkable, indeed, darling. Why, look at that one.
(They look at a boy on the dancefloor and his internal thoughts show themselves before their eyes. It’s as if the boy is acting out what his mind thinks about. He puts on a suit and holds a briefcase).
See, he’s afraid of going into working life.
Charles: And worried about whether he’ll do better than his school friends.
(A woman glances at him from across the room and a flicker of hope within him turns quickly to depression).
Lola: And he only likes women who approach him first. How novel.
Charles: And this girl over here –
(He gestures to a girl dancing nearby).
She’s pulsing with anxiety – she’s picturing herself being born and then dying…
Lola: A classic.
Charles: I think I recognise her… And if I did anything at all, it will affect her life somehow…
(A web seems to appear around her, representing all aspects of her existence. He reaches out and touches it, sees the ripples spreading throughout her reality and stands back in faint awe of what he is capable of).
Lola: Did you sleep with her, Charles?
(Charles stares in horror as he realises that he attacked this girl two years ago).
Charles: A turn about the gardens, don’t you think?
(Lola looks at him searchingly).
Lola: Very good.