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68. The London Cloud Museum 70. Ten/Ten

October 9th, 2020

a pool without water

They arrived in the early evening with the sun tucked just behind the hill which rose out of the countryside like the lonely hump of a camel, sleeping amongst the trees. Passing nothing for miles they grew excited at the prospect of being out of the city, and the night bearing down upon them with a ravenous glee. Four of them in the car. Shotgun had been called, and Saorise now controlled the music, taking requests from the floor and turning up the volume for the ones she liked, skipping the ones she didn’t after a minute or so. In the back Rob and Tim discussed their plan of action, to the soundtrack of groans and laughter from Claire, who kept one eye on the road, and the other on her phone in its holder, their little blue arrow making its winding way amongst the blocks of grey and green. She checked her rear view. ‘Your neck itching?’ Tim had been tugging at his collar, a long red rub line marked on his neck. ‘You can’t complain,’ no sympathy from the front, where Saorise had been moaning about her heels from the second they’d left Dublin. ‘These things are killers,’ she shouted, banging the feet of her shoes together with a loud clack that made them all jump. ‘Fucking— What the fuck— Saorise.’ ‘Sorry, but come on look,’ dragging out the last word. She was sitting right down in her seat, her legs up, rubbing her feet and wincing at the sores that blistered up in the short time she had strutted about, the queen of her living room, much to the admiration of her mother and boredom of her little brother. ‘It does actually looks quite bad.’ For Tim, some sympathy in the back, from Rob who had witnessed the last minute shirt buying fiasco firsthand, his own suit in a bag slung over his shoulder, the two boys running around Dublin in search of a white shirt. ‘Have you never needed one?’ ‘Nah.’ ‘Not even for the Debs?’ ‘Borrowed one, didn’t I?’ In fact, he did still have the shirt from three years before. It was on the floor of his bedroom at home where he’d scrunched it up and thrown it in frustration. ‘You were right,’ he grunted to his mum downstairs, as he stormed out the front door for the bus. She went upstairs and stood in the doorway of his room, her jaw tight, eyes clouding. Dunnes was closed, H&M out of white shirts. ‘Who runs out of white fucking shirts?’ Zara Men, where all the boys bought their unusual, yet presentable jackets. ‘They’ve got thirty… Do you know what size you are?’ ‘No.’ ‘How do shirt sizes work?’ ‘Dunno.’ ‘Oh, here we go. What are you? Medium? Large?’ ‘Dunno. Large, probably.’ ‘I have to get Large for the arms, Medium’s arms are always too short.’ ‘Yeah?’ ‘They should do long arm shirts for slim people, like, you get long leg trousers. What’s the difference? Oh, Extra Large? Do you think…’ He had trailed off at the look on his friend’s face, ‘Yeah,’ muttered Tim, making his way to the dressing rooms. Better to be embarrassed now than later, he thought. Rob watched him go, concern biting his bottom lip. He should do something, or say something. The boys had all agreed that something needed to be said, that if one of them needed help they should band together. Around a table in the Longstone they’d discussed the situation at great length, talking in the serious tone they used when something really real was happening. The usually jovial tone switched to something which more resembled a war-council as the effects of their comrade’s recent hardship were weighed. ‘Is it alright?’ ‘Not too bad.’ A small smile, a hint at what the boys had been chipping away at in their own ways. ‘You’ll look great mate,’ with a cheery smile. It’s nothing, he thought. If I can make it nothing, then it’ll be nothing. Rob changed the subject. ‘Is Jack coming?’ ‘He’s got a nine am tomorrow.’ ‘So do I.’ Disappointment from the driver. Rob wasn’t in the mood. ‘Yeah, but you’re not drinking.’ ‘I might a bit.’ ‘Please don’t get us stuck out here.’ ‘Alright, calm down.’ Saorise chimed in, ‘Can you not with the domestic.’ ‘Don’t, Saorise,’ from Tim. ‘Just saying.’ ‘This isn’t a domestic.’ ‘Can you change this song?’ ‘I’m serious, it’ll be grim, like, at two or whatever.’ ‘I’ll only have a couple, and it’ll be over what, like, five hours?’ Rob looked out the window. ‘I guess.’ It was quiet in the car for a while, the blaring music somehow doing very little to cover the awkwardness. Rounding a bend a break in the tree-line revealed the hill rising up out of the woods, silhouetted against the lowering sun. The friction was smoothed for a while by the excitement of, eventually, all four occupants and the wild rumours they’d heard building up to the night. The day had been a weak attempt at concentration amongst the rumours spreading around the party, which was the talk of the town. Someone said that someone was going to be there, someone and someone talked about outfits, groups gathered to discuss everything from music to food to location. It was like a mini festival was taking place and the party invitees were on the exclusive guest list. Those uninvited listened and gritted their teeth in envy, and those that weren’t going for reasons beyond their control shouted and railed against the universe, coursework, family dinners, lack of funds, their job rosters, and the general bad timing that was inevitably someone else’s fault. On arriving at the designated address the four were greeted at the end of a long gated-driveway, flanked by stone statues of some grizzly looking creatures, and a small gatehouse, where a woman stood with a torch. Upon identification she went into the building and presumably flicked a switch of some sort, because the large, iron-railed gates began to swing open. Excitement was buzzing in the four as the car rolled along the tree-lined gravel, a palpable anticipation in the air. Saorise was quiet, Claire drummed her fingers on the wheel. In the back Rob and Tim shared some raised eyebrows. ‘This is pretty…’ The driveway rattled on, the noise of the large gravel rumbling away under the music that seemed oddly upbeat for what was turning into quite a solemn moment, the four of them swaying along under the canopy, a light glowing ahead of them, the promise of something other, some escape from the world they were leaving behind.

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