The Leaving Party

All week I was hopped up. I felt like a grinning dog, tongue-lolling my head out of a speeding car window. People kept asking me what I was up to, what was making me fizz.

“I’m seeing my old school friends,” I said.

“I’ve known them 22 years.” I expanded.

“That’s more than half my life!” I exclaimed.

Barely even pressed for details, I was eager to spill the beans. “I’m going up to London.”

Such a rare occasion in my narrow existence.

“Oooh, fancy,” they replied, and I nodded. I knew my face was wrong to keep smiling, I knew my excitement was misguided, but I couldn’t scare it off. I was like a frightened chimp, bearing my teeth in an angry smirk.

The party I was going to was a get together, it was true. But it was also a summons. We assembled on the pavement as the guest of honour descended the stairs. We crowded around her, twittering and tweeting like a pecking pack of pigeons as she sat heavily in her tinsel-covered chariot. We headed to the park, in a procession. Then she stood, took my arm, and we proceeded to promenade. I was on top form, yabbering and jabbering like my life depended on it.

“No questions.” I’d been told. “No solicitous enquiries.”

“No problem,” I said, “I’m the most self-centred person you’ll ever meet.”

But under pressure I felt my mouth getting gacky, my well running dry.

We got back, we sat down. But not for long. Time to perform again.

“Dance, monkeys!” my friend demanded, “Or I’ll haunt you all forever.”

We did as we were told. Dressed up and boogied to Queen, stone cold sober in her living room. What larks for the camera!

Later, I stood by her bed, as she lay, feet raised, head deep in the pillow. I said to her:

“I was trying to explain our love to my girls, this morning. That you are like a favourite pair of old trousers. Just because I’ve had you 22 years and I may not wear you that often any more, doesn’t mean that you don’t still fit perfectly.”

“Don’t you mean old tights?” she parried. “Slightly stinky in the gusset, laddered at the knee? Evidence of all the years of partying and mischief?” I laughed and agreed.

We cuddled, just a beat longer than we normally would, then said goodbye, neither of us wanting the day to be over, but knowing it was time to go home.

It was a lovely leaving party. But on my way home I cried, and the next morning I sobbed, and when my gorgeous friend abruptly left, beaten down by that bad bastard cancer, I cried once again. But through my tears, I was also sure to smile as I thought of Alice. I smiled and I told my face that, actually, it was right all along.

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For Alice ‘Balders’ Baldwin 24 January 1978 – 3 December 2016

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