Sunday, 30 June 2013

63. Flamingo-pink hip flask

It is 8.30am on Saturday. Amanda and I are sitting on a bench in the park, sharing vodka out of Amanda's flamingo-pink hip flask. We have not yet been to bed. We are admiring the floral clock.

"What are those little shaggy orange flowers?" asks Amanda. "They're pretty. They'd make a good cover-up." (Amanda has a anatomically correct tattoo of a vagina on the right side of her ribcage, just above her hip. It's so detailed that when the light hits it the right way it looks real. She got it when she was 20 and now regrets it.)

"I don't know," I say.

Amanda takes another swig of her vodka and looks sideways at me.

"How are you?" she asks. "I mean, after the whole weird thing with that guy."

"Okay," I say. I look down at my shoes. Scuffed grey satin, diamante buckles. I notice one of the stones has fallen out of the left buckle. I'll have to figure out where to get a replacement.

"You don't seem okay," Amanda remarks. "If I may say so."

There is a weed growing in the gravel by my left toe.

"In fact, you seem pretty unhappy."

I'm not sure what to tell her. I open my mouth to speak and realise I will listen with interest to whatever it is I have to say, because I'm not sure what it is.

"I'm never sure whether I'm doing well or losing my mind," I say. "I mean, at any giving point in my life. When I sleep with someone like Chris, is that progress because I'm getting over my issues, or is it a kind of self abuse? When I have flashbacks and nightmares, when I feel anxious all the time, is that necessary because I have to work through some feelings or is it a symptom of the ongoing degeneration of my personality? Am I getting worse, or better? How much of this is to do with Matthew, and how much of it would have happened anyway? Have I  got schizophrenia?"

"Probably not," says Amanda. "You don't have any of the symptoms, and it generally comes on in the late teens to early 20s. Which, my dear, we are both well past these days. In fact, we are heading towards vintage status."

She offers me the flask. I take it. The vodka burns the back of my throat for a moment and then settles. I like the taste of neat vodka. It feels clean, antiseptic, as if it is disinfecting me.

"If you look on a long enough time line," I say, "things are always getting worse. Entropy is the prevailing force and eventually everywhere in the universe will be dark and the temperature will be absolute zero and there will be no living things left."

Amanda groans. "Don't fucking say things like that. I'm on a come-down."

"It's okay," I say. "You'll be dead long before it happens."

Amanda stands up. Her black ostrich-feather boa falls off on to the gravel. 

"Right," she says. "It's freezing and you're freaking me out. We are going back to my place. Now. I have tea, central heating, sofas and duvets, weed, chocolate cake, and every series of Buffy the Vampire Slayer."

This does sound attractive.

"Can we watch some of series three?" I say. "I like the Mayor."

We start walking.

"Did I tell you I broke up with Alex?" Amanda says, casually, as we leave the park. She doesn't feel casual about it.

Amanda doesn't find it easy to talk about her feelings. I've been aware that something was bothering her tonight, but she clearly didn't want to tell me about it so I left her alone until she was ready to talk. She's ready now.

"No," I say. "What happened?"

"It's hard to make connections, you know," she says. "One meets people and hopes that it could work, but a lot of the time it doesn't. It isn't easy for people."

"It's hard for the freaky people to find love," I say. "Sure is."

"Yep. It's hard enough to try and get with someone you like anyway, without wondering what's the right time to say 'Hey! And guess what else is up with me?'."

I giggle. The problem of when and if to bring up Matthew is one I regularly wrestle with.

She drinks some vodka.

"Pisses me off," she says. "You hear all the time about how it's cool to be different and everyone wants to stand out. You and me, Alice, we've got "different" coming out of our asses here and all we get is grief. There are days when I think how easy, how sweet it could be if we could just be normal. Just be...I don't know. Never have to think about how you come over. Just walk into a pub without wondering whether this is the night you're going to get raped and stabbed up because you've challenged someone just by existing."

She pauses.

"It's been four years since I met anyone I liked that much," she says and the sadness in her voice makes me feel like crying myself. I reach out and take her hand. 

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