After Party by Hannah Stevens

The dark is fading now, becoming less dense, and birds stir in the trees. The grass is strewn with beer cans, cigarette ends and empty bottles of wine. Kylie shifts in the deckchair. Her neck aches: she must have fallen asleep. It’s still cool and the air is damp, though already she can feel it’s going to be another hot day.

Kylie sits up and stretches out the crick in her neck. From beside her feet, she picks up her pack of cigarettes. Her glass is still half full. The bubbles of the cava have flattened, but that’s okay. She swirls the liquid and takes a sip.

The silver smoke from her cigarette coils and vanishes above her. 

Most people have left, but a few stragglers remain. The party began to dissipate maybe an hour ago – Kylie isn’t sure. She checks her watch: four thirty-five. She vaguely remembers Doug leaving. It didn’t seem to matter by then that she didn’t know anybody here. They were drinking and talking and everybody was friends. Doug had introduced her to his friend and then soon she was talking to somebody else, and then somebody else again. And the drinks were coming and the cocaine was being shared and it was just fun.

She inhales deeply, finishing her cigarette. Then she drops it to the floor, snuffing it out with her foot. Kylie stands. She doesn’t want to leave just yet. Not if she doesn’t have to. Her flat is empty. Sunday is always too long and too quiet, so why rush back? She scans the garden to see who’s still around.

There’s a couple huddled together under a green gazebo. She watches for a second: they look at each other with unfocussed eyes and then kiss. Maybe not them; she doesn’t want to interrupt.

She remembers the hot tub further down the garden and is sure, if there’s anyone left, they’ll be hanging out there. She picks up her empty glass and begins to walk across the grass. There’s a table full of bottles and she checks a few to see if they’re empty. There’s a Cava bottle that’s almost full and she can’t believe her luck. She swipes it from the table, leaving her glass. Nobody will care about etiquette now.

The hot tub is at the end of the long garden, nestled in the overgrown shrubbery. She’d laughed when they arrived and Doug’s friend had pointed it out. It just seemed ridiculous. And funny. She’d joked that she should have worn her swimming togs, though she probably wouldn’t have climbed in anyway.

Kylie weaves her way towards the hot tub, noticing a woman in there on her own.

‘Hello,’ she calls, ‘I think we’re just about the last ones standing.’ The woman in the hot tub looks up. Her eyes are vague, in the way of someone who has been up all night and maybe even longer.

‘Oh, hey,’ the woman answers. ‘Good party.’

‘Yes,’ answers Kylie. ‘So, do you live here?

‘I do,’ the woman replies. ‘I’m Sally.’ Sally bobs in the water, looking upwards. ‘I think it’s getting light now, isn’t it?’

Kylie nods, pulls up a chair and sits by the hot tub. She swigs from the Cava bottle and offers it to Sally. ‘Want some?’

Sally fixes her eyes on the green bottle and tries to focus. 

‘Sure,’ she says and she raises her arm to take it, which looks thin when she lifts it out of the water.

‘Why don’t you get in too?’ she asks.

‘Oh, no, I won’t thanks. It’s kinda too late now. I’ll probably have to go home soon.’

‘Well, there’s no rush,’ Sally replies, ‘I have nothing to do today but stay drunk.’ She laughs, but in a kind of absent way, not quite meaning it. Kylie doesn’t laugh and takes another drink.

It’s light now and she notices, really notices Sally’s pale skin beneath the bubbling water. She’s thin: all angles and gaps and crevices, even with the water softening her body’s silhouette. Sally lifts herself onto the plastic seat of the hot tub, exposing her shoulders. She picks up the can of beer from behind her and takes a drink. 

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Kylie notices that her arms are the same width all the way down: all slenderness and sinews. She must be ill. But too thin whatever. Her skin is wet from the water and Kylie can see the fine, white-blonde hair that covers her: wasn’t this some kind of attempt by the body to keep the internal organs warm?

‘So how long have you lived here for?’ she asks.

‘About a year now, I think,’ Sally says. She slurs her words. But then so probably does Kylie.

‘Are your housemates nice?’

‘They’re lovely. Very non-judgemental, you know? It’s a live and let live kind of house.’

‘That’s good,’ replies Kylie.

‘Yeah,’ says Sally, ‘I’ve been in some terrible places, you know. But this one is fine for now.’ She looks towards the house and makes a small gesture with her hand. For a few seconds they sit in silence. Kylie takes another drink from the bottle. It’s almost finished now and she wonders if she should leave.

Steam rises from the hot tub. Sally closes her eyes and begins to slip below the surface of the water. The bubbles obscure the view beneath the surface but Kylie thinks that Sally’s eyes are still closed. And somebody who’s had that much to drink probably shouldn’t be in a pool by herself. She stands and waits another second. She isn’t sure if Sally meant to do this or if she has passed out or fallen asleep.

How much time has passed? Maybe too long. Kylie leans over the edge of the hot tub and reaches for Sally. The water is warm, like a bath.

Sally is light, especially as the water takes some of her weight, and it’s easy to lift her above the surface and back to the air. Sally gasps and opens her eyes.

‘Are you okay?’ Kylie says. Sally stares back at her and doesn’t respond. She knows she will have to lift her out of the tub now and wonders if she’ll need cajoling to go inside. She probably needs to sleep. And Kylie herself suddenly feels tired.

Sally makes a noise, but it isn’t a word. Her eyes are still out of focus, but she fixes her stare on Kylie and smiles before she closes them again.

‘Okay,’ says Kylie loudly, ‘it’s time to go inside.’ She’s surprised at the authority in her voice. And then she’s surprised that Sally listens to her.

‘Yes,’ she says, ‘it is, isn’t it.’ Sally stands and Kylie thinks of new-born foals taking their first steps.

Sally’s bedroom is dark, in spite of the morning. The curtains are drawn, though they’re not hung properly and gape in various places. In spite of her small size, Sally leans heavily against Kylie.

‘Okay,’ says Kylie, ‘let’s get you into bed.’ She picks her way carefully over the debris of Sally’s room. It reminds her of squats she’s seen on TV: the floor covered by scattered clothes, books, empty pizza boxes. There are no sheets on the bed, just a stripped duvet and a single pillow with no cover.

‘Just here,’ Sally says, gesturing towards the bed as if Kylie didn’t know where she needed to lead her.

‘Let’s get you out of your wet clothes first,’ says Kylie. She sits Sally on the bed and tries to undo the tied straps of Sally’s bikini top, but the knot is too tight. ‘Lift,’ she says, ‘this needs to come over your head.’ Like a child, Sally lifts her arms. Next Kylie takes off Sally’s swimming bottoms. As she takes them down, she notices a tiny rose tattooed just below the knicker-line. She glances for a second and then looks away. It’s pretty and tiny, like her. Sally is on her back now. Kylie sits on the edge of the bed and reaches across her for the duvet.

‘You could join me, you know,’ Sally slurs. She catches hold of Sally’s arm. ‘I mean, why not? It would be nice.’ The subdued light in the bedroom makes her look younger than she probably is, and her tiny frame makes her seem so vulnerable. Kylie looks away, scans the bedroom floor. There are sweet wrappers – way too much food for a woman who is clearly starving.

Sally clears a patch of floor close to the bed and places a couple of blankets she finds on the back of a chair. Then she lies down. Sally says something else from her bed, but Kylie can’t quite hear what it is. She lifts her arm and searches for Sally’s arm through the bedclothes.

There are sounds of life in the street now, cars being driven, front doors being slammed. Soon Sally is breathing slowly, her breath smooth and even with sleep. Kylie closes her eyes. Sally’s hand feels warm in her palm.

About The Author

Hannah is a queer freelance writer and teacher with a PhD in creative writing.  She’s published short stories, flash fiction and creative non-fiction around the world. Originally from the UK, she is currently based in Sofia, Bulgaria. 

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