How Do You Make Lady Gaga Cry?
Poker was a decent reason to leave the house. I had sat on the sofa since I’d moved home from England, watching reruns of Friends and not answering phone calls from my own friends. I felt we’d outgrown each other. Tonight, if the conversation dried up, we could talk about who was losing at poker, use it as a gateway to rehash old conversations. We only bet coppers and silvers, so nothing much was at stake.
Splutter drove us out to his parents’ holiday house in Portrush. It was on that long road connecting Portrush to Portstewart that looks down along the sea front. A storm was due, blowing in from the Atlantic. The force of it could only be felt as we reached the coast. If I’d known I might not have bothered coming. When Splutter had parked up in the drive, the wind pushed the car door closed again as I opened it.
‘If I’d reversed in, this would’ve snapped the doors off,’ Splutter said.
In the house, Splutter, you, and I sat in a triangle at the round table, while Chris and your new girlfriend sat in the living room. I hadn’t spoken directly to you in months. The last night out I’d had with everyone was New Year’s Eve in Belfast. I slept in your room while you were supposed to be in Donegal. I had found a list you’d made yourself, on a page ripped from an old homework diary of all things, things you wanted to accomplish this year, month by month. Quit Class A Drugs was the first one. You’d written it as if to be read by someone else, even if it was only your alter-ego. There were no locks on the doors in that house in Belfast, so maybe it was meant for one of the others. Either way, I was confident you hadn’t written it to be read by me. Even though ‘Follow the Drugs’ had been one of our sayings in school. We hadn’t exchanged as much as a text during the previous year. Tonight, you didn’t want to break that habit. I’d said hello when I got into the car, but all you did was cock your head. You didn’t even introduce your girlfriend, who called you a pig and introduced herself. You laughed at her calling you that, but it didn’t seem like you were sharing the joke with me.
Now at poker, we spoke to Splutter or we spoke to the table. Check, call, raise, fold. I’d been drinking more than you, so I was the first to break, mentioning when you won a big pot with a good bluff and another big pot with a lucky straight. Two in a row, so early in the game. Stutter won though. Cleaned us both out then offered to play with matches. You stuck one in your mouth. The cowboy affectation suited the Morricone scores that soundtracked the evening.
When I won Splutter’s matches, I offered to let him continue with coins. He didn’t want to, and you didn’t laugh. My best joke of the night.
In the living room everyone smoked dope except me. I got passively stoned though. Every giggle became a joke I couldn’t understand and struggled to recognise if it was at my expense: a reference to something I didn’t realise about myself, or a way of underlining how we’d barely seen each other in recent months. Maybe everyone else was only talking to me out of politeness. My fuzzy head struggled to invent new ways we could be around each other and discover how the other people we’d become could now be friends.
Dan arrived from Kelly’s nightclub with a girl, Amy, who’d been a few years below us in school. She didn’t talk and they didn’t stay long. He said there had been a crash on the way into Portrush. The road was bunged with the police and the ambulance and the backlog of cars. No one was hurt, but the car was a write off.
Dan whipped out some crushed Pro-Plus that he was passing off as speed. Splutter gave the game away in front of Amy. Dan, in a huff, left with her, heading on out to Portstewart. If they’d been going in the coast home, I’d have joined them. Instead, I locked myself in a room and slept.
The next morning, waiting for my head to solidify, drinking coffee with your girlfriend, while we looked out to sea, watching an army of invisible elephants plant their arses in the waves, we ignored the one in the room with us. I struck a match and blew it, just to give my mouth something to do, warm my lips. Your girlfriend, whose name, I couldn’t remember, played with her hair, and told me you’d told her we’d been best friends at school.
‘That was then. This is now,’ I said, for something to say. You didn’t react.
‘This was then. That is now,’ she said, underlining the nonsense that had fallen out of my mouth. I wondered if she was doing an impression of me.
I leant in for a kiss, hoping the resulting slap would dislodge something. The walk back to town, through the dying storm, would be worth it, if only because I would have made you look straight at me, open your mouth, and use it.
Gerard McKeown is an Irish Writer Living in London. His work has been featured in The Moth, 3:AM, and Litro, among others. In 2017 he was shortlisted for The Bridport Prize and selected for Penguin Random House’s WriteNow scheme.
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