Anywhere but here
Kendall hasn’t been to a house party for over a year. It’s not her vibe, is what she says when people invite her out. They’re just so boring. None of the music is even any good, and the people are tedious, she’d rather be at home. But Riley wants her to be here tonight, she had no one else to go with, and so here she is. It’ll be good for her to get out and socialise. They don’t have to stay for long.
‘You feeling okay tonight?’ Riley asks.
‘I feel a bit invisible,’ says Kendall, ‘Like a ghost.’
‘Give it another hour or so, then we can leave.’
‘Please don’t leave me on my own.’
Riley waves to a guy in the corner. His chin is speckled with light blonde stubble, and the bones of his knuckles jut out. It takes him a moment too long to register their presence.
‘Oh hey,’ he says to Riley, ‘It’s so sick that you came.’
Kendall knows Jade the new-fashioned way. She’s seen him tagged in countless photos on Facebook and Instagram. He’s friends with Kendall’s old flatmate Nick. She looks around, panicked at the thought of Nick showing up, with his whisky breath and blue eyes like arrows shooting through her. He isn’t here, thank god. Kendall crawls back into her head and yells at herself to calm down.
‘I know who you are.’
‘You’re friends with Nick right?’ asks Riley.
‘Kind of, yeah.’
‘He used to flat with Kendall. Isn’t that crazy? Such a small world.’
Kendall’s eye twitches at the mention of Nick. It doesn’t go unnoticed. Jade’s staring at her like he’s trying to crack the Da Vinci code. She wants to curl up into a ball and stop breathing.
The music is raw and edgy, and everybody’s pounding their heads against the air, like they’re trying to smash it into pieces. The floor beneath them curves downwards every time they jump.
Kendall holds her vodka like a weapon in her hands and jerks from side to side, trying to pretend that she’s enjoying herself. It isn’t good music to dance to, but nobody else seems to have a problem. She shuts her eyes and imagines herself back in her kitchen, dancing alone.
The song ends. Everyone starts to jostle and cheer. She lets the crowd take her. She isn’t ready to be here, with all these warm bodies colliding against her. She wants to go home, before things get really bad.
Riley leans in to say something Kendall can’t hear. She repeats the something twice before finally pointing towards the back door and making a smoking gesture. They wrestle their way out. Jade’s waiting at the edge of the crowd. He touches Kendall’s waist as she walks past and she wants to pick him up and throw him out the window.
They sit around the bonfire and smoke a joint. Another guy sits across from them, drawing swirling patterns into the dirt with a long stick. She thinks about asking him whether they mean anything, but she doesn’t. She doesn’t even get as far as asking his name. She can’t move. She’s stuck in a fishbowl and she’ll never get out. Her eyes follow along with his patterns. They’re rhythmic and flowing, almost sensual.
Jade fills the silence with his own observations, while Riley takes a few languorous drags on the joint and passes it back to Kendall.
‘That kind of experience,’ says Jade, ‘It makes you really reflect on what you want… It’s like I’ve been living my life in fast forward… I need to slow down, you know, it all needs to slow down…’
The words appear before her without context. Kendall latches onto them before they dissipate. Everything needs to slow down. She’s receding from the bonfire: there she is, from behind, the tattoo of a moon in the crest of her neck, and there are Riley and Jade sitting next to each other, and there’s the guy drawing patterns, over and over. They’re all talking to each other, then to her, then they stare into the flames. She tries to reach out for them, but a thick piece of glass gets in her way.
‘Are we going to find the answers do you think?’ Kendall says.
‘The answers to what?’
‘I… I dunno… I can’t remember… What were we just talking about?’
They’re all staring at her now. They can see inside her mind.
GET OUT OF HERE GET OUT.
‘Dude,’ says Jade, leaning back, ‘I’ve got no idea what I was saying. This shit is really strong.’
They all laugh. is she doing something wrong?
(no) she’s not even moving
but what if— she did move or say something crazy
without noticing it? what if
the weed is making her lose control of
her body and forget everything? what if
this isn’t even real and she’s stuck in some parallel reality
she’ll never know what happened tonight ? what
if this is the past and she’s already dead?
‘Beautiful,’ says Jade. She thinks he might be looking at her, but she hopes he’s not. She still can’t move. She clasps the bottle in both hands like it’s a bouquet and she’s a bride about to walk down the aisle.
They’re sitting on the floor of a bedroom, maybe Jade’s. There’s a poster of Blondie on the wall. A group of girls in miniskirted girls do lines through rolled-up five dollar notes. They lean against the desk and their skirts ride higher up their thighs, and then they jerk their necks and sniff. Riley fingers through Jade’s records and hums her approval.
‘Ah, dope,’ she says on repeat on repeat on repeat.
Jade pulls out a jam jar from the desk drawer. It’s the kind of jar that grandmothers keep their homemade marmalade in, and it’s full of weed, stuck together in furry clumps that almost look alive.
(do you think that it’s safe? seems strange to
have it sitting there in a jam jar??)
She wants to reach out for Riley and pull her into the hallway so she can tell her all the things she’s thinking. But that’d be inappropriate.
Jade handles the buds with precious care, then rolls a long, meticulous joint.
‘Who wants to go first?’
(oh no not again (no) he’s trying to kill me)
Riley takes two long drags, and Kendall shakes her head and doesn’t say anything.
(be cool you’re not freaking out
you’re fine act fine (no)
don’t let him know you’re scared)
She passes the joint to Jade. The room smells like old wood and fresh mould. He clasps her fingers tightly in his own — don’t touch me — then releases her and takes two short puffs.
‘Nick’s off the rails,’ says Jade. ‘He’s such a fucking sick bastard now.’
‘Wait why’s that?’ says Riley
‘Didn’t you hear what he did to Stace?’
The joint blazes close to Jade’s fingers. Kendall hopes that they get burned.
(it was a bad thing he did… there was music
coming from the room next door his hands…
i keep trying to forget it his whisky
breath those eyes (like arrows?)
his smell of sweat i keep trying to forget it
but every party it’s the same fear
and sometimes i fear
i won’t forget his body above me —there!—
i’m trying to forget
i just want to be okay).
‘Babe,’ says Riley. ‘Are you all good?’
‘I’m good.’ She’d forgotten she had a voice. It’s so weird, to have a voice. It’s so weird, that she’ll never really know what her own voice sounds like.
‘I’m okay,’ she says again, then lifts up her arm to prove that she can move.
Time will keep her from slipping away. Time and music. But there’s no music in this room, just the thudding of bass from far off in the lounge, and the sound of Riley and Jade talking. The miniskirt girls are gone and now some other guy with bleach blonde dreads is sitting on the foot of the bed, next to Jade, nodding along with everything he says.
From inside the fishbowl, everyone is distorted, distant. She can feel Jade’s eyes on her collarbone, but she’s making an effort not to look at him.
Stop looking at me and why
the fuck did you grab my fingers?
You all good? Riley asks. This might be the fifth time she’s said it. Kendall stands up.
Bathroom, she says loudly. The dreadlock guy looks up, concerned at the sudden burst of noise.
Can you hear me Riley through the fishbowl?
She’s in another bedroom. There are patches of red wine on the carpet, and the girl with dangling green earrings is shaking salt into the marks.
‘Rubbing salt in the wound, haha,’ says Kendall.
The girl’s dark eyes are on her.
‘Ha-ha,’ she says, in slow motion.
‘Does it work?’
‘It’s a household hack. I saw it on YouTube.’
‘Sounds like a fun place. I mean, helpful isn’t it?’
‘I guess,’ says the girl.
‘I’m Riley’s friend.’
‘I’ve met you before,’ says the girl. ‘I’m Sam. I live here.’
‘Riley’s my friend.’
‘You already said that.’
Sam looks at her like she’s unsure whether she’s real or not.
‘Can you show me to the party?’ says Kendall. ‘I seem to have lost it.’
They’re sitting on the kitchen island, dangling their legs off the edge. Kendall passes Sam her vodka and they each take turns wincing as they drink. Now that they’re sitting so close, she notices that Sam’s long green earrings are connected letters that spell out the word AMEN.
‘Are you religious?’ Kendall asks.
‘Your earrings. They say amen.’
Sam laughs, and when she does she throws her head all the way back. Kendall’s never seen anyone do that before.
‘Na, I got them from this shop in Thailand, called The Pink Pussy.’
It’s Kendall’s turn to laugh. She’s floating downstream on a large magnolia petal and she feels wondrously, absolutely fine.
Sam rolls a cigarette. They light it up. The door is open, and the room’s already filled with smoke. The fridge is strapped into an alcove with black duct tape, and keeps bouncing, like it’s desperate to escape.
‘Crazy fridge!’ says Kendall.
‘I was thinking the same thing!’
The vodka bottle is empty. Kendall puts the last of the cigarette into it and they watch it burn to a nub.
‘Do you wanna go outside?’ Sam asks. Their fingers have met in a sort of tangle on the small space of bench between them. Kendall’s lost track of time. She tugs her hand away and laughs.
They climb a tree in the backyard. Kendall doesn’t climb trees, but Sam does, and Kendall’s forgetting everything. She can see everyone from here, and no one can see her unless they were to look up. Sam’s talking about photography.
‘It’s so radical, when you think about it,’ she says, swinging her legs. ‘I mean, imagine a time before photography, and staring at a lattice window or a hat or something and thinking, I wonder if I could have this image, this thing I’m looking at at this very moment, to hold as an object forever. It just blows my mind.’
‘It’s so much to think about,’ Kendall says. ‘It’s like time travel.’
‘I know,’ says Sam. ‘It’s like stopping death.’
Their hands are together again, and it looks so beautiful that she wants to take a photograph. There’s a silence between them that stretches on. Sam’s staring at Kendall’s lips, and Kendall isn’t scared at all.
‘I like tonight,’ she says. ‘I didn’t think I’d like tonight.’
‘I’m not a party person,’ she says.
Kendall stares down at the bonfire. The guy with the stick has turned towards the bushes and is slashing them violently.
‘It’s not my vibe,’ she says after a while.
‘You don’t need to tell me anything,’ Sam says.
‘There’s just this guy… an old flatmate…’ Kendall stops. ‘I used to go to lots of parties.’
Sam squeezes her hand and then lets go. She swings down from the tree and lands skilfully on both feet, then holds out her hand again.
‘Dance with me,’ she says.
The band’s still playing. Kendall nods along and sways in an interpretive way that makes her feel like coral in the current. Everyone’s in their own little fishbowl, dancing. No one but Sam can touch her.
She moves to the front of the crowd, where there’s more room, and she can see the band. They’re all skeletal and have red around their eyes. The singer clutches the microphone like he’ll die if he doesn’t. Droplets of his sweat land on Kendall’s face. She feels cleansed. Sam’s arms are around her waist, and she’s kissing her neck, and Kendall doesn’t care if anyone sees.
(Only it isn’t Sam. It’s that guy Nick and his whisky hands
—or breath, whatever— doesn’t matter
what he smelled like it matters what he did—)
‘Are you okay?’ Sam asks. Kendall doesn’t reply. She shakes her head. She just wants to have a good time.
(‘Dance with me,’ he said. I don’t want to
dance with you…)
‘Kendall? Are you all right?’
‘I need to find Riley.’
‘Riley’s my friend.’
They make their way out. Sam pulls her through the crowds as the people grow closer together, squashing her in. She needs to get out. Find Riley. She needs to check if she’s okay. Where she is. She shouldn’t have left her there. In that room. She should’ve stayed.
‘Kendall,’ Sam says. ‘Are you alright?’
Everybody’s jumping. The floorboards moan. Kendall’s head is swimming from the alcohol. She feels like she’s been blindfolded and sent to fumble in the dark. She plunges through the sludge of people who cling to one another like they’re drowning. Sam’s voice still floats around her, ‘Kendall? What’s wrong? What happened?’
She’s at the edges of the fishbowl now, she’s almost out.
There are too many doors. Kendall can’t remember which is which. She feels like Alice from that movie about Alice. She opens a door and it’s Sam’s room. She opens a door and it’s someone else, vomiting. She opens a door and it’s empty.
Behind the final door, Riley’s splayed out underneath the Blondie poster, and Jade’s on top of her. He’s got his pants half-off, and her clothes are floating around her weirdly. She looks like a rotting hibiscus flower. He’s got a tight grip on both of her wrists. Jade glares at Kendall, and Riley gives her an absent look like she’s asleep with her eyes open.
Sam pushes past and says, ‘What’s happening?’
Kendall backs away.
Afterwards, she’ll wonder why she didn’t stay. That would’ve been logical. It would’ve been kind. In the moment though, she panics. There’s a voice inside her head yelling: GET OUT OF THERE GET OUT.
She sits on the roadside, smoking. Her knees are grazed. A green bruise blooms on her shin and the smoke scrapes painfully against her throat. Sam wanders down the hillside to find her. They don’t say anything to one another, just pass a cigarette shakily back and forth. Her mouth tastes like metal and dirt. She sees Blondie in her mind’s eyes, pouting. Sam asks her if her knee’s alright, but Kendall just sits there, smoke rising from her face, watching the light above the pedestrian crossing glow orange and fade, over and over.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sinead Overbye is a Wellington-based writer whose work has been previously published in Starling magazine. She was an MA student at the International Institute of Modern Letters in 2018.