Northwords Now Issue 38

The FREE literary magazine of the North

Ann Marie’s Party

by Martin Russell

We’ve been invited to a party, you said, by Ann Marie, do you want to go? It’s her fortieth, she wants us both to come. I wasn’t sure. We’d only recently split up. Should we be going out together? It might confuse people. Come on, you said, so I said okay.

It’s in this hall in the country, at Cawdor, you told me. But there will be a bus to take us there. It goes from some hotel in town. I said I’d meet you there, once you could remember the name of the hotel. You were looking forward to it. I was too, although I managed to feel my usual degree of anxiety.

On the night, you wore that lovely dress patterned with red roses. I said you looked great, and that was the truth. You said I looked smart, and that I’d obviously made an effort. I had.

We had a drink at the hotel and chatted to some friends of Ann Marie. Everybody seemed to know her, which, I guess they would. We all said what a laugh she was, and what a trooper. Then a double-decker bus drew up. We took our seats on the top deck and soon had plastic goblets of bubbly fizz in our hands. As the bus rocked about, drinking it wasn’t easy, but we persevered. I could get used to this, you said. You seemed to be in the party mood.

We arrived at the hall, me feeling slightly seedy and you positively radiating. You said you had ants in your pants and you had to dance. I told you I had to sing Ann Marie’s song first. It wasn’t the best song or the finest performance in the world, but Ann Marie took it in the right spirit. You were fine, you told me, rhyming Ann Marie with bain-marie was brilliant.

You were having a blast. You hit the whiskey and kept dragging me onto the dance floor for Jive Bunny jiving, Gay-Gordoning, and eightsome-reeling. My usual aversion to dancing had been overrun. You seemed so happy and carefree, but, armed with foreknowledge, I was wondering how long this could last.

I’m feeling sick, you said, where’s the toilet? I waited while you chundered. I want to go home now, you said. I told you I’d ring for a taxi. Wait, you said, walk with me outside.  I put my arm round your shoulder while we breathed in the pollen scented country air, and felt as close to you as I have ever felt. I’m okay now, you said, let’s get our coats.

The two of us in the back of the taxi somehow reminded me of the two of us in our powder blue wedding Roller, when the driver insisted on having the football results on the radio. He got the news he had been dreading; Kilmarnock had been relegated. This man just had the two way radio on with crackling Invernessian voices: ‘Party of four at Mr G’s going to Kinmylies.’ There were at least three Christmas tree shaped air fresheners hanging from his rear view mirror. I was hoping the acrid scent didn’t make you feel sick again. Past talking, you leaned on my shoulder and closed your eyes.

When we reached what used to be our bedroom, you’d gone all unarticulated like a rag doll. I got you to stand with your arms in the air while I unbuttoned your dress. You flopped onto the bed and I wondered what to do. After wondering, I got into the bed beside you, to protect you against the demons of the night, and to nurse you if you needed nursing.

I woke at some point in the wee small hours, and heard you making soft noises. I sensed you were dreaming about fairies and elves. I felt your breath against my skin, and thought; we’ve been here before, but why are we here now? The bed, you, the room; everything was so familiar.

In the morning, I wondered how far this might go, but settled for a wee cuddle. I made some tea and brought you a glass of water and a Panadol. It was strange being there in the house with no children. They’d be back around ten, you said. I felt a bit guilty about being there, and said I’d need to be making tracks. Thanks for looking after me, you said.

Afterwards I wondered what had happened. It seemed that you had been the damsel in the rose print dress, and I had been your knight in tarnished armour. A while later you asked me if I thought that night might have been the start of something. I said I thought that it was neither the start nor the finish, but more like a kind of Christmas truce in our little war of attrition. Like singing ‘Silent Night,’ and playing thirty-two a side football in no man’s land. You just looked puzzled.