It had all started at the kind of student house party where rambling discussions about the nature of time and the universe don’t usually start until after the pubs have slammed their doors and the brightly-coloured pipes have finished bubbling. If anything, the party hadn’t even really got started yet.
Despite the shining array of bottles on the table, there were only three people there. John was sitting back on the sofa with a can of lager, his leather trenchcoat carefully folded over the armrest. Fran was fiddling with the iPod dock and muttering something about a battery. Laura was sneakily inspecting the house’s DVD collection – which was, to put it politely, just there for show. For starters, there wasn’t even anything remotely resembling a DVD player connected to the TV.
As Laura nervously cracked open a pristine new bottle of blue alcopop and poured some of it into a bright orange plastic cocktail glass that had obviously been left over from a Halloween party, she thought that this party reminded her of a horror movie office block a few seconds after closing time. A theatre at three AM. A….
‘This party is dead.‘ Fran said, between jabs at her iPod. It remained resolutely silent.
‘Yeah.‘ Was all that Laura could think to say, the swirling mass of metaphors in her mind refusing to settle on just one description. She took a sip of the blue liquid, it tasted like a comic book artist’s impression of a stick of bubblegum.
On the sofa, John took another swig of lager before nodding solemnly. The party was, indeed, dead. Laura giggled: ‘So, is this a wake or something?‘
‘It would be if I could get this …. ing thing to work properly.‘ Fran’s sentence was interrupted by a loud crackle of static from the dock. ‘What the hell? It’s switched itself to radio mode. Anyway, Steve burned me a CD of these MP3s from the 80s. Proper goth club stuff. Would be perfect for a wake.‘
‘And..‘ John took another swig ‘.. where the bloody hell is Steve anyway? Last time he texted me, he said he’d be here.‘ Carefully setting the can down on the wine-stained carpet, he rustled through the trenchcoat for his phone. It had one of those flame pattern shells that was all the rage five years earlier. The Game Boy-yellow LCD screen showed that there were no new messages, just a pixellated background picture of a skull. Best four quid I ever spent, John thought as he looked at it.
Fran jabbed at the iPod again. The loud radio static was like something from one of those grim TV dramas about military interrogations. Finally, with a shrug, she pulled it out of the dock. The room was, fittingly, as silent as a tomb once more. Laura took another couple of sips of the sickly blue fluid and gazed regretfully at the industrial-sized bottle of vodka next to the curtains.
With a series of quiet bleeps, John flicked through his contacts and then held his finger up. The sound of ringing echoed through the room. Ten seconds later, a prim voice said: ‘The number you have tried to dial is not currently connected. Do you wish to leave a message?‘. John hung up. Does anyone ever want to leave a message?
Fran walked over to the table and picked up the vodka bottle. Pouring some into a faded promotional coffee mug that must have been one of those unwanted heirlooms that never gets taken away when students leave, she said : ‘If a party happens and no-one shows up, does it make a sound?‘
Laura smiled: ‘Probably not, but it’s probably more fun than clapping with one hand.‘
Silently, John held his arm out and clenched his fist quickly. A faint clapping sound echoed. Fran raised her eyebrows. Laura rolled her eyes and said: ‘We’ve all seen that episode of “The Simpsons”.’
‘I haven’t.‘ Fran said, taking a swig of vodka. John grinned and clapped with one hand again. Laura tried to join in, but couldn’t quite get the hang of it. John tried not to laugh as he muttered: ‘Takes practice, you know. I’ve been training for five…‘
‘Bet you have.‘ Laura laughed politely, before an uncontrollable torrent of laughter rushed forth. ‘It’s probably your… strong arm… too.‘
Everyone’s laughter rose like a flurry of violins and then faded away gracefully. For a few seconds, the only sound was the sloshing of vodka and the slurping of lager. It was, Laura thought, like waves crashing on a stony beach. Like the gentle sound of a fisherman….
Before she could come up with the perfect metaphor, John raised his can and said solemnly: ‘A toast. To the party that has died. Let us drink to it’s memory.‘
They toasted. With a mischievous smile, Fran said: ‘Ah, but can a party actually die if it never actually started in the first place?‘
As Laura gnawed on this complex conundrum and found that it tasted slightly better than the blue alcopop, John leaned over and rifled through his trenchcoat for a small plastic bag. Fran raised an expectant eyebrow. John sighed: ‘It’s way too early for this stuff, I know. But, if we’re going to start talking philosophy…‘