Monday, May 4, 2020

The Audience Adventure - Day 16

Emma woke up Sunday morning with a fizzy, excitable feeling in her stomach. She lay for a few minutes in her bed looking forward to what the day had to offer. It felt like such a win, because not only was it going to be a good day, but it had had the potential to be a truly awful day. So, the quality of the day measured as a differential between how bad it could have been and what it had turned out to be was immense. Emma congratulated herself silently for not only having a good day to look forward to, but for having come up with such a technical and intelligent way to measure the goodness of the upcoming day. 

Her week could have been so dismal… she could see it playing out in typical Emma fashion in her mind:

First she saw herself that Monday morning texting Theo the second she woke up. She cringed at the memory of how much she had wanted to send it, and how she had bounced off to work that day expecting a reply at any moment. The tiny cinema screen in her mind showed her herself offending Fiona in the shop that day and spending hours up to her elbows in black mould down in the stock room. Like a sad Christmas Carol she imagined how bad the week would have been if Jack hadn’t been there to cheer her up Monday night. Firstly, she thought about the text messages her mother had sent her that night. She’d not noticed them on the walk home with Jack; she’d been distracted and chatty. But in her vision of the worst possible version of her week she pictured her phone buzzing on the sofa and herself grabbing it in heart thumping hope only to have her excitement dashed when she saw her mum’s name on the screen. Then she saw herself trying to make it up to Fiona the next day without the confidence of Jack telling her she was in the right. Poor Fiona would never have Simon’s phone number. The week dragged on in Emma’s mind: Wednesday with no text from Theo so she had a microwave meal for one. Thursday: Still no message so she’d bought herself a Wuthering Heights dress. Friday: in a desperate bid for any attention she’d had her hair cut into a bob…

Emma shivered and shook the imaginations clear from her head. No. No thank you. The week had not been like that. Because she had friends now. True, Theo had not made contact but it had not been an official Worst Week Ever because there had been her people around to pick her up.

Fiona, Anja and Emma had hit it off immediately in the shop. Emma was so surprised that Anja liked them and their company. Anja seemed so cool and together; it baffled Emma as to what she liked about her and Fiona’s unique brand of scatty loser. But, like them Anja seemed to. Emma and Anja had hyped Fiona all day Tuesday until she felt fully brilliant about herself ready for her drink with Simon that night. The drinks had gone fantastically… Fiona had sailed into the shop on Wednesday absolutely glowing and refreshed.

“It was nothing like being with Norman!” She’d breathlessly told Emma, “He was so focused and interesting and we just talked and laughed. I felt so relaxed. It was amazing.” Emma had expected to feel cruelly cold jealousy at Fiona’s date tales because her phone was still staying stubbornly silent, but Fiona’s joy was so innocently pure that Emma managed to keep her sadness to an absolute minimum. Anja had popped into the shop on her way to the dinner shift at her restaurant and caught up on all the details. Fiona and Simon were all set to go out again Saturday night. This time for a full dinner.

On Friday, even though the trial was only supposed to be one day, Anja came back for another test run of the hot chocolate in store. She was pretending it was to see how things went on different weekdays but Emma was pretty sure she wanted their company. Anja was horrified to hear that Emma still had not heard back from Theo but when Emma provided Anja with a list of 14 separate things she had thought up as excuses to text him again, Anja threatened to push her down a flight of stairs if she so much as touched her phone. Emma felt like her ribs didn’t need any more assistance in being permanently painful and so vowed to herself that there was to be no follow up contact.

Emma had learned through Anja that the technical term for what was happening to her was ghosting. This, apparently, did not mean that Theo had died but that he was not responding to her message after having initially shown interest. The fact that there was a word for it actually made Emma feel a bit better. It wasn’t just her; it wasn’t her fault. Also, the term applied to his behaviour and not hers. This had to be a good thing too - it meant he was the one behaving in a way worthy of comment and not her.

At the end of Friday’s shift in the shop, as Anja headed off for the busy Friday night in her little restaurant, she mentioned that she never worked the Sundays there. Fiona and Emma also had Sundays off because the shop was closed. Delightedly the three of them made plans to see each other and Emma invited them both to her flat. She halfheartedly offered to cook and then made fluttery eye contact with Anja whilst offering the alternative of just providing her kitchen should someone else want to cook and Anja laughed and agreed to cook for the three of them if Fiona and Emma provided the wine. It was agreed and Emma felt riotously happy. People! Coming over to her flat!

Oh god. People coming over to her flat. Saturday morning and evening were spent hastily adding things to the flat that she thought people who took notice of their surroundings and/or regularly had people over, might have in their living space. She purchased a plant and some books. Then she returned the books in case either Fiona or Anja asked her about them and she had to admit that she had not read a single one of the books in her house. She’d been on the verge of panic ordering an entirely new set of kitchen knives and saucepans when she’d caught hold of herself and tried to picture Anja’s response to her dilapidated kitchen equipment. Try as she might she couldn’t conjure a version in her imagination where Anja judged her or cared. The cursor hovering over the next day delivery button was left ignored as she went to bed Saturday night ready to have her friends in her house and to feel no panic about it. She went to bed hoping that her new plant would sincerely convey the message to her new pals about how overjoyed she was to have them in her home.

At 8:07pm Emma slid heavily off the sofa landing with a bump on the floorboards. She was laughing so hard she couldn’t pull any more air into her lungs. Fiona was already on the floor over by the window; wiping mascara off her cheeks and honking loud gasps of laugh out into the room. Anja lay across the arm chair with her knees pulled up against her chest howling at the ceiling in merriment. Emma just couldn’t have stopped laughing if she’d tried. It was a physical force taking control of her body and ripping through her muscles. She was completely incapacitated and didn’t mind a bit.

They were around four bottles of wine in already and dinner was cooking merrily away in the kitchen. Anja had been in and out of the kitchen for a good hour upon arrival adding various things to various pots and each time she’d come in and out through the door Emma had smelt wafts of aroma teasing her nose and stomach. She was extremely excited to taste Anja’s cooking not only for the quality but also to soak up some of this excess wine. The three of them let their laughter die down; aftershocks getting fewer and further between as they giggled and provoked each other back into spasms.

After a few minutes Fiona sat up and looked blearily at them, “Do you know, this has been one of the best weekends of my life?” She said, and then promptly burst into tears. Emma laughed in surprise at the sight of a sniffling, giggling Fiona and crawled across the floor towards her to give her a hug.

“Don’t cry!” She said, dabbing at Fiona’s hair and trying to suppress the laughter that was threatening to come back in case Fiona didn’t take it well. Fiona was sort of laughing herself though, at least Emma thought she was, it was amazing how indistinguishable laughter and crying were after a certain amount of Pinot Grigio. Or perhaps they just always were.

“It’s good crying.” Fiona insisted, “First I had such a lovely time with Simon last night and now this is the most I’ve laughed in ages. What a lovely weekend!” She was off again - beaming and streaming.

Anja laughed heartily at the sight of the two of them huddled on the floor. “You English are so broken with your emotions.” She said.

Fiona’s laughing and crying dried up immediately as she pelted a cushion past Emma and straight at Anja’s middle, “I am NOT English!” She shouted.

Emma was unsure how genuinely offended Fiona was but she never got the chance to find out because just then every smoke alarm in the flat went ballistic. High pitched raging squawks emitted from the hall and the kitchen and a more elegant wailing came from the little cream box on the ceiling in the living room.

“Oh god the dinner!” Said Anja - springing up and opening the door. Smoke came billowing out of the hall and into the living room.

“Bloody hell!” Said Emma, slower than Anja to her feet, and much wobblier when she found them. Anja was already disappearing into the smoke into the hall. “Don’t go towards a fire?” Shouted Emma after her but it came out like a question because she was so unsure about telling someone as confident as Anja what to do.

“It’s not a fire - it’s just burnt.” Yelled back Anja over the din of the alarms.

Fiona was rapidly opening the window in the living room and Emma stood feeling totally useless.

‘Huh, interesting - you have zero survival instincts.’ Said her brain helpfully. There was a loud banging on the door. ‘Answer that.’ She told herself, ‘The can be your job.’ She pulled the door open to see a very alarmed looking Jack stood framed in the doorway.

“Hey Jack!” She said brightly over the cacophony of alarms. “Lovely to see you.” Jack looked extremely worried.

‘He’s such a nice man.’ She thought loudly.

“Emma, what’s going on? Are you ok?” Jack was looking past her into the smokey hallway. Fiona appeared at Emma’s shoulder.

“Hello Jack, small cooking debacle but don’t worry - Anja is on it!” Fiona smiled cheerily.

“Anja?” Said Jack.

“Hallo!” Called Anja, entering the hallway carrying a tray with a huge charred lump in the middle of it that had once been lamb but was now the cause of all their problems. “This is so embarrassing.” She pushed past a now categorically less worried looking Jack and made her way down the stairs carrying the smouldering wreckage that had been their gourmet meal.

“Would you like to come in?” Said Emma, but Jack shook his head. She felt a nugget of disappointment somewhere beneath the fug of wine.

“I couldn’t possibly.” Said Jack, “Not with Elliott upstairs alone. He’ll only dig through the floor in a desperate attempt to get to you. Mind if I go and get him?”

“Of course not!” Emma laughed; buoyant again and Jack disappeared back up the stairs. Anja returned from outside with empty hands.

“I owe you a new tray.” Was all she said before disappearing into the flat. Emma felt the laughter inside her threatening to flood back up through her body and she didn’t feel like her ribs could handle another bout of exercise. She took a deep breath, inhaled a huge lungful of the dissipating smoke and began to cough immediately causing herself far more pain in the chest than the original laugh would have done.

Leaving the door on the latch for Jack and Elliott, Emma wandered through to the kitchen and surveyed the smoking oven and wide open windows.

‘Ah well.’ Was all the thought she could muster and she grabbed another bottle of wine from the fridge and headed back to the living room where she found Anja and Fiona already on the internet and ordering a takeaway.

A furry face appeared around the living room door, and nudged it open wide enough to dash through and dart straight into Emma’s lap. “Hello Elliott!” She said happily, rubbing his head and burying her face in his fluffy neck.

‘I really am drunk.’ She thought to herself as the familiar, dusty, distinctly doggy smell replaced the acrid smell of burned food in her nostrils. She pulled her face back up out of Elliott and smiled up at Jack.

“Jack! Anja, this is my neighbour Jack. Jack - Anja is a chef. Well, not tonight… sorry Anja! My luck is rubbing off on you.”

Anja poked a tongue out at Emma and then stood up to shake Jack’s hand. Emma noticed how tall she was against Jack. She felt an odd surge that she couldn’t quite place when she saw how nice the two of them looked next to each other. Jack with his straight back and confident bearded face and Anja with her pale hair and broad shoulders.

‘Are you jealous?’ A drunken thought asked her suddenly.

‘No! Why would I be jealous?’

‘She’s very pretty?’


That was as far as Emma’s thoughts got as Fiona’s phone was passed to her and she had to try and focus on the little squiggles that apparently made up a takeaway menu. By the time she had chosen a portion of prawn toast, a chow mein, some noodles and a tub of Ben and Jerrys everyone had settled into chairs and the chat was merrily continuing.

Jack, it turned out, had been to Anja’s restaurant several times and loved it. He had a million and one questions for her about cooking and how she had got started.

“That pizza we had was good though wasn’t it?” Emma was alarmed to hear her own voice blurting out into the room.

‘You ARE jealous.’ She thought wildly to herself, ‘You’re jealous that he’s interested in Anja!’

‘No I’m not! How could I be jealous? I set him up with Fiona!’ She argued with herself furiously, the heat from the internal rage was fuelling a serious cheek burn which she was sure could be seen from space.

‘That was before the zoo and the pizza and stuff. You like him!’

The conversation that had been bubbling nicely in the living room had halted abruptly with Emma’s verbal expulsion and the other three were staring at her. Jack rescued the situation, “Yeah, it’s a great little spot that. I took Emma to the Stonehut.” He explained to Anja, who nodded in recognition and the two of them fell back naturally into a conversation about pizza and other little independent restaurants in Bath.

‘You’re jealous.’ The wheedling little voice in Emma’s brain piped up again, ‘You’re jealous.’

“I’m not jealous; I’m drunk.” She muttered under her breath to herself, but drunk she was indeed and she saw Fiona’s eyes flick in surprise to her; eyebrows raised.

Emma forced herself to relax and join in with the conversation. She felt thick tongued and uninteresting though and every time she said something she got the sincere paranoia that the others were just humouring her and waiting for her to finish so they could get back to the more refined conversation.

When the food arrived it was far more than anyone could have eaten and Emma sat with the prawn toast in front of her wondering why on earth someone with a morbid fear of the texture of prawns had assumed she would like them gelled onto toast. She scraped off a few sesame seeds and then quietly fed it to Elliott. He was halfway through his second piece when she got the irrational fear that prawn toast would be somehow poisonous to dogs and she felt like crying.

‘I’m completely unloveable and I’ve killed a dog.’ She thought cruelly to herself.

‘Not at all true,’ said a kinder part of her brain, ‘But you are absolutely smashed and you need to go bed. After you’ve eaten some noodles to soak up the very worst of this terrible day you’re going to have tomorrow.’

She scooped the chow mein into her mouth - feeling better with every mouthful and trying in vain to join in where she could with the conversation by at least making mumbled noises of agreement or amusement.

Fiona joined her on the sofa, “Are you alright?” She asked, seeming to perceive something was wrong.

“Oh yeah,” Emma lied, completely unclear about whether she was lying. She might well have been alright, but then again - something was up. Wasn’t it? “I’m just tired. Bed time for me I think!” She tried a bright smile at Fiona but feared it was wonky and unconvincing.

“Me too.” Said Anja from across the room. “My cab will be here in a moment.”

“I’ll walk you down,” said Jack, “I need to take this one out for a little stroll anyway.” He indicated Elliott on the floor.

“At this time of night?” Said Emma petulantly.

‘Shut up!’ Screamed her thoughts, ‘You’re going to make it really obvious!’

‘Make what really obvious?’

‘That you like him!’

‘But I don’t like him!’

‘Don’t you?’

‘Do I?’

Emma really was tired. Tired of herself mainly and she stood up quickly, thinking to herself that she could be in bed within minutes if she stood up now and made a really poor effort of brushing her teeth. Unfortunately, she stood up with so much impetus that she overbalanced on unsteady legs and immediately sat back down again. The other three laughed and she felt tears prick in the backs of her eyes where usually she would have joined in with the laughter.

They said their goodbyes at the door and she held it together long enough to thank her guests and be a gracious host, but when the door closed on Fiona she turned and slumped her back into it. She eyed the new plant by the fireplace and felt curiously betrayed by it. Her tooth brushing was barely more than a brief introduction of each of her teeth to the concept of toothpaste and her face washing was non-existent. She fell into bed feeling swimmy and disconcerted - unable to put a finger on a single emotion and completely unsure how such a fun evening had turned to such a sour after taste without anything really even happening.


How does Emma solve her hangover the next day?

  1. Exercise
  2. Fried food
  3. Vomiting
  4. Sugar

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