Francis buzzes the front door. The two of you wait outside for a while. He buzzes again. You lift the shopping bag that dangles from your wrist and switch hands. Letting it hang against your thigh, you can feel the condensation from the cold beers inside it. You’re about to pull out your phone when the door makes an electronic buzz and goes ‘clack.’ Francis shrugs and pushes it open.
You get the same feeling in here as in Francis’ tenement; same stone smell, same echoes. Sticky walls. At least you won’t have to deal with the stairs, since this flat is on the ground floor. A very 80s beat pulses through the crack under the door. The walls around you act like an amplifier, and as you look up you can almost see the stairwell spiralling the sound up to the ceiling, directing it to the doors of every other flat on the way up. You’re sure the other tenants are grateful for it. There’s never a need to knock, here, of course – Francis pushes on the front door and it swings open, with nobody to answer it. You make a remark about the door still being unlocked after all these parties, about how any random could just come straight in off the street, and Francis laughs.
‘Well, what are we, then?’
The hook of the song hits just as you walk in, and you can hear a few people singing along, but more people are talking over it in the hall. It’s a good song, but the verse isn’t made for parties; it’s very introspective stuff, full of questions. Talking heads. You remind yourself to listen to it again some time. Francis leads you through the hallway. It’s narrow and dark in here, and you step over some legs, and a pizza box, and follow him. The whole place just like you remember, at least as far as the atmosphere goes. Everything’s everywhere, and there’s a very natural sense to all of it. Ordered chaos. It’s an ecosystem all of its own, and everything is about as clean as can be expected. It’s a party flat. There’s custom in the air. A noble tradition, stretching back years. It’d be horrible to live here.
There’s a cheer as you round the corner into the living room. Lots of people are crammed in the space, as always – not very many you recognise, but you expected that. New faces, old rooms. Everything is flashing lights and vibration and warmth – you can’t see a lot immediately, but you can feel the beat of the music through your feet, and it travels up to thump in the pit of your chest. These are big, heavy-duty speakers, the kind you see crammed in the back of neon coloured boy-racer cars. The bass is incredible, it shakes the mixer bottles on the table, making little ripples dance inside them. Heads nod and windows shake in time. Thin blankets are draped from the walls, like tapestries. Everything is surrendered to the sound, even the conversation. The lyrics keep going, more spoken than sung, and you tune into them.
You may ask yourself:
‘Well…how did I get here!?’
Francis pats you on the shoulder and wades in, doing the rounds, back-slapping and high-fiving a few half-remembered faces as the chorus starts. You lean back and watch everybody. They’re all so young. It’s a snapshot of university life, resplendent with red plastic cups and snapback caps. Two people are already asleep on the sofa. Groups of girls gather in circles, laughing altogether, all as one. A guy wearing sunglasses stumbles in from the bathroom, stinking of weed, and kneels at the stereo, a huge altar of dials, and turns the volume up. The music fills the room now, and everywhere you look hands are shooting up, fingers outstretched to the light dancing across the ceiling. You wrinkle your nose. As you scan the room further, you realise that there’s even fewer old faces than you expected. Francis has the benefit of still keeping in touch with these people, but you’d be hard pressed to name even a few of them. It’s been far too long, you think, looking over the heads. Only two years, maybe a year and a half. How could that seem like such a long time? Everyone sings, and you can’t help but join in, in a half-voice, half-sung.
Letting the days go by,
Let the water hold me down,
Letting the days go by,
Water flowing underground…
Maybe this is a party song, after all – one of those ones that sends people nodding, grinning, tapping their feet – and maybe it’s tongue-in-cheek, but there’s a fondness there. You nod along and decide that, yeah, it’s the kind of song that comes on at just the right time, and gets greeted back like an old friend, just for that one perfect moment. Right now, you feel more like a B-side. You look over at Francis. He’s speaking loud in people’s ears, over the music, pointing at you, turning back. It’s weird seeing them talk without hearing any of it. The people nod and smile and wave, and you nod and wave back, looking for somewhere to sit. There isn’t anywhere. Francis beckons you over, pulls you in for a couple of handshakes. You get hugged in and patted on the back by a lanky guy with a guy-fawkes beard, and a greasy guy in a leather jacket give you a solemn nod. Francis tries to introduce them, and after getting him to repeat their names a few times over the music, and still not making them out, you nod and pretend you heard. You wish you hadn’t brought your jacket.
Turning, you see Francis gone. You turn again, but people are coming and going all around you. It’s a jungle, and although you know this place, know the room well, you can’t find anywhere to sit or stand properly. Clapping Guy Fawkes on the shoulder, and returning the solemn nod, you step away. If you could find somewhere to leave your jacket, or a fridge to keep your beers cold, you could maybe try and enjoy yourself. There used to be a space behind the sofa precisely for coats, back when. You look over there, but no luck.
The living room doubles as a kitchen on your side, so once you orientate yourself inside the swirl, you turn away and put your drinks on the countertop for now. You take off your jacket and fold it over your arm, listening to the refrain of ‘once in a lifetime…’ Maybe the song’s right. It doesn’t look like Vicky’s here. It isn’t her scene, anyway. It certainly isn’t yours. Who brings a jacket to a house party in July?
You feel a pat on your back. Some guy is looking for a bottle opener. He raises his eyebrows, at your red face, your things and your carrier bag, mouthing the word ‘y’awrite?’ You smile and shake your head. He points at the jacket and gestures down the hall. You can’t hear what he’s saying but you still turn and look. Someone’s written ‘CLOKEROOM’ on a bit of paper and stuck it on one of the bedroom doors. Just as you remember. You nod, hand the guy the bottle opener he missed, and duck out of the room to safety.
© Luke Macdonald