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Spring

Harry Lowther


I browsed sleepily, lulled by the sound of gushing water, nakedness, and a comfortable but unfamiliar bed. A former colleague had a new puppy and 32 people had died in a high-rise fire. The puppy was called Sausage and already had the haircut of a middle-aged HR manager. Cute. I let the screen fade to black as the water clicked off, followed by the abrasive sound of the upright shower door scraping open. The hum of the extractor and the dripping of water and bare feet padding around travelled through the thin wall, before they were followed by Mona herself. Because it was the first time she had come up from England to visit we were staying in a hotel. It had sounded exciting, like for a special occasion, but once we were in the room I couldn’t avoid the fact that I was in a functional yet entirely unexciting space, and that all my possessions were a 15 minute subway ride away, along with my flatmates and a pile of washing I could have looked at while I was waiting. The benefit of a hotel is the guarantee of sex. We’d already got that out of the way, the anticipation leading to the kind of climax that seems to draw energy from every cell in your body, and now I was tired out.


We put music on. I double fisted a can of warm craft pilsner with an instant coffee from the complimentary sachets while she did her makeup, drinking from a lippy stained can of supermarket mojito. I opened a packet of olives and complained about having to go back out.


‘We said we’d meet Rob and Catherine. They’re your friends,’ said Mona.


‘And I can see them any time. This is the first time I’ve seen you in ages.’ One eye was back to the feed as the other watched her go through the long process of straightening her hair. Aberdeen had lost again earlier in the afternoon. A bad run. Nobody was happy about it and somebody had to be guilty of something. The angry men online were getting busy figuring out the details.


‘For fuck’s sake. You’re even worse with that thing than you were before.’ She straightened each part carefully before moving on to the next. ‘It’s my first time in Glasgow. I want to see the sights.’ She made eye contact through the mirror. It was a treat to have a desk for getting ready.


‘The sights? Jesus. Plenty of sights around.’ She looked into the corner of the ceiling as the straighteners attacked a stubborn curl. ‘We’re looking at the university tomorrow. Honestly, it’s the best part. The sights on a Saturday night you’re better off not seeing.’ I had experience. I was on three days off from a bar on Renfield Street, and knew all about it. ‘And we’ll see the painting you wanted to see. It’ll be cultured.’


We sat in silence while I queued up a few more songs from my phone.


‘You know, it’s taken a lot to come here and I just want to make the most of it.’ She was still looking into the corner. My eye followed. There was nothing there. She’d already had a bad journey up. Someone had been sitting in her seat, and instead of asking him to move she had sat on the vestibule seat for half the journey, then given that seat up to an older passenger in the second half.


‘It’s OK, it’s OK. Obviously we can still go out.’


‘Just let me redo my mascara.’


***


The inevitable raindrops started to fall, warm but persistent, as we walked past St Enoch, up Buchanan Street. Mona had wanted to get a taxi in the first place. Walking past the buskers, packing up for the evening, I said there’s no more point in getting one from here. Her makeup was already smudged by the rain, making her look upset, and we were nearly there. She could fix it there, we can get a taxi back. We’ll have fun. I was trying. A show was going in at the Galleries, well dressed people walking up the steps past a few neds, minding their own business for once.


The pigeons looked pissed off about the weather too, congregating in small, mean gangs along Sauchiehall Street, sometimes flying dangerously low for a better spot further along. Cars glistened wet metal reflected in the puddles and dark shop windows. Small groups of people hurried from one side of the street to another, trying to get another drink without getting wet first, faces hidden under hoods, eyes down. We were two more indistinct figures, nearly there.


Mona and I ducked into a doorway so I could check my phone for a minute.


‘Shit,’ I started to say, but I felt her hand tighten on my arm in an urgent way. I looked up.


From the muddled sounds of the wet street, the slow rumble of tyres on tarmac and buried bass, a more anxious noise emerged. Three hooded figures were surrounding another, smaller one as it tried to dodge between them along the pavement. They were hard to see in the dark, up the street, but they were moving with a chaotic energy that was different to any of the other groups, and lurching closer to the gutter.


‘Do you think I should-‘ and then the smaller figure collapsed horizontally into the road, a handbag vomiting its contents past her as the slow traffic stopped and the other three bolted off of the main street out of sight. The woman lay a moment, then placed a hand onto the wet road to lift herself up, silhouetted by the streetlight like a big cat, cornered and scared on the edge of civilization. Mona’s strong hand hadn’t left my arm, but now it pulled again, bringing me out to the street.


By the time we were closer others had already helped the woman. A couple of younger women had got out of a car and were gathering up the spilled purse, a red-faced man talked on the phone and others were talking to her. There wasn’t anything left to do. ‘Mona.’ I said. ‘I’m so sorry, but Rob and Catherine have cancelled.’


***


We went out anyway, into the planned bar for cheap cocktails and fried food. The walls were covered in tasteful graffiti and the staff often left the bar to attend to the latest breaking social emergencies. The food was limp and greasy, and the cutlery flecked with dark spots, but we were paying a premium for the sleazy aesthetic and veganised junk.


A few minutes passed by quietly before our drinks found their way to us. Our masks lay on the table, my plain disposable one and her butterfly design. Mona hadn’t said much since I gave her the bad news, and now she was using her paper straw to try and pin a cube of ice in her glass. At each attempt it would slide away at the key moment like a matador, and with the first sign of a frustrated flurry of blows from the straw it would begin accelerating around the perimeter. I wasn’t sure that the repeated failure was improving her mood.


‘You see the moon,’ I ventured. She looked up. ‘This might be kind of stupid, but when it’s not a full moon, it’s because the earth is between the sun and the moon isn’t it? Because it looks so much like there’s something in front of it, I just started thinking that’s what it was.’


‘What does that have to do with anything? Of course it is, you must have learned that when you were a kid.’


‘That’s what I mean. I need a refresher on this basic stuff. All this stuff that gets taken for granted. Common sense stuff.’ I needed something soon. The adrenaline from Sauchiehall Street had collapsed into a deep well of discomfort.


She used the straw to drink, then put the glass down. The ice had survived Mona’s attacks, but now its time was running out.


‘I don’t know if we should stay out or get an early night for tomorrow. You’re only here for the weekend, I don’t want to waste it. Could be fun just to go back to the room.’


Mona watched as the door opened and another couple came in and approached the bar. The silence was hanging.


‘What are you thinking?’


She raised her eyes past mine and up the tattooed wall. Someone had written ‘I heart-‘ and then the name had been scored out. I wondered who had done the scoring.


‘I’m not sure if I should come back after this weekend.’


‘What do you mean? To Glasgow? Because of what happened earlier?’


Her eyes flicked to me. Then away again.


‘I’m seeing someone in Leeds. I told him I was visiting a school friend. I thought it’d be OK because it’s basically true, and we’re not serious or anything. But this, it doesn’t feel right. I guess I couldn’t really see it clearly before.’


I watched her as she took hold of the straw again. The ice was nearly all gone. It felt unfair that this was being sprung on me and I hadn’t even had a chance to think about it, about whether Mona was someone I should fight for, about what I wanted or who I wanted to be. Not knowing what direction to take or which emotion to feel, I remained silent.


Her life in Leeds was a mystery. I didn’t know who she was when she was down there. I suppose I didn’t ask.


‘It’s not like we’re a couple. We’re two people who have known each other for a long time, and I hope we can stay that way.’


‘Yeah.’


‘I shouldn’t have said anything.’


‘No,’ I said. ‘It’s fine, honestly. So, what do you want to do now?’ The image of the piled up washing resurfaced.


‘I can just go back to the room on my own if you want.’


‘No.’ I thought back to earlier. ‘After what happened I don’t want to leave you walking alone at night. We’ll go back together. We’re not a couple, we can still see the culture together.’


Before we left we signed our names on the wall in Sharpie. Messages written over messages. We had been here.

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