Awake in London for four days
The final instalment of a fictional tale from the depths of the weekend – from overpriced espresso martinis, to one much needed epiphany.
A fictional story from the weekend. Same time, same characters, different place, come back every week. Catch up here.
In the sunken stickiness of a sunlit Uber, I’m inspecting the dirt under my fingernails. This is the last Uber of the night – that is, the seventh Uber of the third night – and by night, I mean it’s 3pm on Sunday afternoon – and this grime is all I seem to have left. That, and the sheen of the alcohol sweats.
We’ve been out since Thursday and in the course of this long, messy evening we’ve scooped out every atom of joy we had shaking around inside, like someone’s been in there with a pumpkin carver and shaved off all the pulpy stuff that makes you alive. As expected for a final, dramatic scene, we’re all here – me, Lacey, Maya, the boys and even Fizz – but nobody’s said anything in the last half an hour. There’s a loud, aching silence that fills the car, like the emptiness in the pit of your stomach when you’re hungry – which we are, we just don’t know it yet.
Jack hates silence. “Yo boss – you got an AUX cable?”
Our driver’s already pissed off – Jay just tried to slip him twenty pounds to let him smoke out the window, Risky’s doing loud, gurgling blocked-nose bumps in the backseat – but Jack is used to getting what he wants. “Boss – AUX? Lace, I beg you play some tunes.”
Lacey’s got her head in my lap. “Jack I just played for five hours straight – can you actually allow me?”
He laughs – fair enough. We sink back into silence until we make it to the pub. Hopefully this will revive us.
It’s a “nice pub” – all Molton Brown hand lotion and £8 small plates – so Jack goes straight to the bar and orders 14 espresso martinis – two each, ’cause they take half an hour to make and he has the patience of a sinner.
Jay takes one sip and screws up his face in disgust. He hands his glass to Jack. “Bruv, take these back.”
“Believe they’ve got raw coffee in them.”
I don’t need to take a look to know that he’s referring to the little coffee bean on top.
“Bruv…” Jack can’t contain his laughter. “You’re not supposed to eat it.”
Jay frowns. “What the fuck are you supposed to do with it then?”
“It’s decorative, darling,” offers Fizz gently.
“How can something cost 10 pound and 10 per cent of it is just decoration?”
No response – as ever, he’s got a point. “I’m not a dickhead you know.”
“We know bro.” Jack gives him a reassuring look and then looks around, bored. “Shots anyone?”
Risky’s already handing out keys under the table and Jay’s busy with his bean, so I offer to come with.
“You alright mate?” asks the bartender cautiously. It’s a tone I know too well.
“Yeah I’m cool thanks bro.” Jack doesn’t even look up. Just flicks through his notes, places two on the bar. “Seven tequilas please – the gold one. Reposado.”
The bartender’s not giving up. “How you feeling mate?”
Jack looks up now, with a sigh. “How am I feeling? Fresh as a daisy mate. Fresh as a wilted fucking daisy.”
Sometimes I wish I could write down all the things Jack says. I also wish we could go somewhere – anywhere – without an element of hostility. Just once.
Back at the table, Risky has downed his second martini and stood up to leave.
“Where you going? I just got shots.”
“Nah man – I’m done. I got shit to do today and I’m not tryna drink and drive.”
Everyone laughs. Again: we’ve been going since Thursday.
“Nah I’m being serious,” he says, with an earnestness that’s almost endearing. “I got a new motor. Little Merc. I’m not tryna write this one off.”
It’s at this unfortunate moment that the bartender reappears. “Sorry guys, but we’ve had a few complaints –”
Before the poor guy can even get his words out, Risky – never a fire to play with – kisses his teeth, petrol on his tongue. “Man was tryna leave anyway. Some dusty pub.”
I can tell he thinks he looks like the big man – legs spread apart, crotch-forward, LV belt front-and-centre – but he’s got a snail trail smear of white snot across his cheek that isn’t doing him any favours.
The problem with being friends with these lot is that you can’t explain to every civilian you come crashing up against that deep down, you’re actually good people – it’s too much of a mouthful.
So it’s somewhat inevitable that five minutes later – espresso foam still settling on our top lips – we’re outside in the cold again, “temporarily suspended” from our favourite pub. There’s a new, crueler brightness outside.
The sun sets without fuss on the slow walk back to Jack and Risky’s estate. Risky sulks off on his own towards his and the rest of us head back to Jack’s.
Fizz has never been here and looks quietly thrilled. She’s always with us these days and though she’s still a posh little pixie, she’s also started to drop her Ts and use the word “bare”. This is what makes London so special – the crashing of human traffic; the crossover; the clutter.
“Do you have access to the roof?” she gasps, looking up at the block. “Please can we go up – there’s a scarlet moon tonight. Remember that night at the warehouse, Jay?”
Jay raises an eyebrow and laughs dismissively, almost rudely – his way of blushing. Jay has the emotional intelligence of a teaspoon and I have a feeling he’s not even aware of how he feels about Fizz yet.
We shuffle into the living room, find our spots. Jack hands out comfortable clothes like after-school treats. Lacey throws on a Honey Dijon mix while Maya sets up this YouTube video on the projector: a timelapse of flowers blooming in slow motion. I’ve watched these flowers bloom a thousand times.
I prepare a platter of toast in the kitchen while Lacey attempts to cut limes with a butter knife.
When we come back into the room, it’s already thick with smoke and though there are all these bottles on the table – Courvoisier, Jose Cuevo, a 2‑litre bottle of Sprite – nobody seems to be drinking. Fizz is handing around a bowl of water – Jack rarely has any clean cups – and banging on about staying hydrated.
Jack is hunched forward, mid-story, shoulders speaking for him. “Remember that one squat in Greenwich – in the old theatre? That was a mad one.”
“Proper. When we were up on the balcony!”
“And Maya was doing her little performance and that.”
“With the tangerines?”
“Yeah – and me and Jay were shouting out of that gramophone.”
“Don’t you mean a megaphone?”
Jack looks sideways at me. “Yeah whatever, same thing.”
Everyone laughs. Sometimes it feels like we collect memories of good nights out like pieces of fruit – fat, juicy and lovely at first – that we keep taking bites out of, no matter how brown they’re getting, no matter how old.
Hours pass in fuzzy detail. The throatiness of Jack’s laugh, like a spluttering engine; the boxer-punch of his aftershave. Jay mash-up in the corner, eyes at half-mast, mug of brandy untouched at his feet. Maya’s hands quivering over the iPad.
Lace sat back on the sofa like a queen, all soft eyes and a slow smile. “Anyone fancy a tea?”
“You got any alternative milk?” asks Maya.
“What’s alternative milk?”
“Milk that’s not from cows. Like almond, or oat.”
“How do you make milk out of oats?”
“I’ve got some of that Alpro stuff,” says Jack, proper gassed as though he’s personally discovered it. “Almond – it’s banging. Jay you should try it.”
Jay laughs. “Nah I’ll stick to normal milk man – why you lot always tryna make me try weird shit?”
“Trust me bruv,” says Jack in that way of his. “It’s like using baccie in your zoot instead of chip – just gotta get used to it.” I’m impressed by the analogy and make a note to tell him so.
We order Deliveroo from a place called China City. They don’t send any cutlery – not even chopsticks – and nobody can be bothered to wash up, so I scoop up egg-fried rice on the edge of an Oyster card, balance an oily mushroom on the top like the garnish on a canape and feed it to the girls as though we are Egyptian queens. The noodles are impossible to hold on to, slithering off the blue plastic like escaping eels.
Maya’s flicking through the boxes, annoyed. “Where’s my courgette flowers?”
Jay looks up from his chow mein, beard glistening with grease. “What the fuck is a courgette flower? Maya’s out here making up flowers and that.”
“A courgette’s a vegetable, you prick.”
“She said a courgette flower.”
“Doesn’t mean it’s not a vegetable, flowerboy.”
And so on. Alcohol lubricates the joints of our sentences; shit continues to be talked. Time follows its own rules, collapsing in on itself, reassembling just to spite me. At 10pm I am crystal-clear in my mind about leaving by midnight, but when I glance at my phone again – yes, to do a line – it’s inexplicably 2am. How did it take me four hours to drink a cup of tea?
So I come up with a new plan, run it by the girls for reassurance: order an Uber by three, home by half past. Calm. I even ask them to repeat it back to me – as though I’m not the most reliable one among us.
It’s about 6am when I realise I will probably not make it to work. Usually this would induce a deep, creeping, toilet-seat anxiety, but at some point during these magic hours before dawn, everything – my job, my future, basic subsistence – has paled into insignificance. My body seems to have accepted this and I feel a deep sense of relief, as though on a cellular level I already know this will be my last night out in a while. I might as well surrender to it – it’s practically spiritual.
As if on cue, Fizz turns her face to the window and there’s a new warmth in it, a rose gold that brings out the flame of her hair. “Look – sunrise! Are you sure it’s too cold for the roof?”
Lacey’s eyes light up. “Nah, fuck it – let’s do it. It’s so pretty up there.”
Jack’s not impressed. “Lace it’s also fucking freezing outside.”
“Come on dickhead, don’t be boring. Fizz will love it – and we haven’t been up there in months!”
There’s nothing special about this roof – it’s just a flat, square patch of concrete – but it’s dusted in our finest memories and within five minutes we’re dragging Jack’s mattress up the final flight of stairs. Lacey and I turn it over – there’s a sprawling red wine stain that has Maya written all over it.
The boys follow with Jack’s mum’s duvet – sorry, Dina – and every pillow, cushion and cuddly thing they can find. Jack drops his weight in front of Lacey – proper casual – and begins to roll a zoot. When he’s smoked it, he will fall back into her space and before long sink back into her, and he will make this transition seem entirely organic and not engineered at all. These things play out like old films, they’re so predictable – but it’s still lovely to watch, every time.
We’ve made it just in time: the sun rises from deep within the city.
I lie back and consider the night. It’s been a strange one – nothing’s really happened, but everyone’s sort of had it – and I think fuck, maybe I do need a break – maybe we all do. Is Dry March a thing?
Earlier on, an Indian girl told Maya her name means “Illusion” in Sanskrit and she literally burst into tears – the girl hadn’t even recognised her, which somehow made it worse. She’s got a big brand partnership thing with adidas coming up and if she loses it to some Insta-newbie she’ll start talking about Botox again.
Fizz seems to be helping but we can’t keep ignoring the perpetual shadow behind Jay’s face – I might take him for a coffee in the week. Maybe have a word with his mum.
And more than anything, Lacey and Jack need some time alone to work out what the fuck they are.
So yes, maybe a break. Breathing space, sobriety. It’s only a few months until festival season.
“London is always so beautiful from up here,” murmurs Lacey, before quickly rethinking it. “Was that moist?”
“It’s cool, we’ll allow you. Just this once.”
“Nah but seriously though.”
“Can we go back inside now? I can’t feel my toes.”
We shuffle back downstairs – it’s finally time. The residual thrill of the night has disintegrated like coke in a sweaty palm.
Jay makes to leave and in one of those lovely coincidences of life – what Fizz herself would call “synchronicity” – she happens to live around the corner from him in Clapton. They share an Uber.
Maya lives near me and she’s already ordered ours, so I run for a last-minute pee while she heads outside. This is usually the time I’d grab Lace – literally pick her up, gather her scattered belongings, zip up her coat – and we’d all head home together. But when I return to the door of the living room, she hasn’t even moved.
Instead her legs are folded up beneath her and she’s telling Jack why she loves to play music. It’s a speech I’ve heard before, one she’s perfected over the years, and she’s at the part about her first set, when “everything just fell into place, it was incredible,” except this time she uses the word “magical” which she’s picked up from Fizz – and it usually spins anyone, this speech, but I’ve never seen her look so nervous, and I’ve never seen anyone spun so hard.
Jack – the big man, the one and only – has made her another tea – I think he may have even washed a mug for her – and he’s looking at her so intently I could cry.
So even though I know it could be for a while, I don’t say goodbye. I just move quietly out of the room and pull the door to a soft close behind me.