You only went and died. You said you would, but I didn't think you’d actually do it. Neither did Robbie. ‘Remember that time,’ he said, ‘at Heaven, when it was empty except Gina, dancing on a podium in a see-through dress?’
We laughed. Bathing in your glow was our thing, I guess.
But you kept on saying it.
‘I'll come back and haunt you,’ you said one night when we were video chatting. You were out and I was at home wearing my favourite slanket.
‘If you don't start living,’ you said, ‘I'll show up at your house until you do.’
‘Very funny,’ I said, stuffing crisps into my mouth and trying to look like I wasn't watching Netflix at the same time as talking.
‘I'm serious Siobhan, you need to get off the sofa and get out. You only have one life.’
‘One is enough,’ I said, eating more crisps, ‘more than enough.’
‘You're an idiot,’ you said, as you applied sparkly eye shadow, pushed up your bra and pulled down your top ready to hit the town and put everyone else to shame.
‘It's never enough, wally,’ you said, waving, ‘you'll see.’
Then you were gone; it was just me and Netflix and the crisps. Just the way I liked it.
Five minutes later you called back. I could hear the music. The bass.
‘Here's the thing,’ you said. You had to shout to make yourself heard. ‘You used to be fun. Don't you remember how we used to laugh like nothing could ever stop us? Don't you miss it? Don’t you miss me?’
It was only five minutes but whatever you'd taken must have gone straight to your head.
‘Mate,’ I sighed, ‘you're off your face! Go have fun!’
‘I am,’ you said, ‘but you know I'm right. What happened to you? I miss you.’
‘Nothing happened,’ I said, ‘I just grew up. That's it.’
‘That's not it,’ you said, ‘it's not. I know it’s not. And one day you’ll have to…‘
‘Goodnight Gina,’ I said, cutting you off. ‘I'm hanging up. You have fun.’
‘But I won't,’ you said, ‘not without you. It’s no fun without you.’
‘Whatever,’ I said, ‘I'm off to bed.’
And I hung up, pressed play and ate more crisps.
The next day I caved and agreed to meet you. Daytime was still just about OK. I didn’t want to take the slanket off, so I tied a belt around it to make it look like a dress and put my coat over it.
You raised your eyebrow when you saw my attire.
‘What?’ I said, ‘what’s wrong?’
‘It’s a slanket,’ you said, shaking your head, ‘it’s not an outdoor garment. In fact, it’s not something anyone with self-respect should be seen wearing. It’s an abomination.’
‘It’s a blanket with sleeves Gina,’ I said, ‘it’s the greatest evolutionary step man has taken since we stopped walking on all fours.’
At the park we sat on the swings, linking arms as we swung up and then down again.
Your face looked sad underneath last night's glitter and I could see you wanted to ask me again what was wrong.
It was everything. It was nothing.
It was me.
It was bigger than me.
I kept swinging and I think you could tell I didn’t want to discuss it.
‘You can talk to me you know,’ you said as we headed home with our ice cream cones.
‘I will one day,’ I said. ‘I will.’
‘Just one question though,’ I asked as we said goodbye, ’just so I know. What kind of ghost will you be? The poltergeist kind or the nice kind that returns to help?’
You thought for a moment.
‘I’ll be the kind that parties with Amy Winehouse and Kurt Cobain but sneaks up on you in the night to cut up that bloody slanket!’
Then you hopped onto the bus, laughing at your own joke.
I waved and then went home with the slanket to catch up on the TV we’d missed.
We were sitting on the sofa again the day I took the call.
‘She's what?’ I said.
I thought it was a joke at first.
I called Robbie and he said, ‘yeah, I know mate. They called me too. ‘
We agreed to meet in the park. I had to look everywhere for my shoes it had been that long.
‘It turns out she was more ill than we knew,’ he said.
‘It turns out she didn't want to worry us,’ I said.
It turns out we had no clue at all what was really going on.
We trudged around the park. It was a lot less fun without you. The slanket hadn’t even bothered to put its belt on, it felt so sad.
Occasionally, as we walked, I saw the odd speck of glitter that looked like it might once have belonged to you. I resisted the urge to collect them all up and try to reconstruct you speck by speck.
‘Don't worry,’ I said, ‘she'll be back. She said she'd come back to haunt me if I didn't get on and live and well -‘
‘Well, let's just say I think she’ll be back.’
But you didn't come. I waited. I sat on the sofa and pretty much begged you to come and haunt me but you didn't.
I sat and sat and sat just to annoy you. The slanket started to smell. It got really depressed. One night I tried to take it off to put it in the wash and found I couldn’t. Somewhere along the line, we had become one.
We walked in the park and sat on the swings and looked for you everywhere but you still refused to take a ghostly form.
You were starting to really annoy me.
‘Come on,’ I said to you (not out loud, that would be a bad look,) ‘come on. Surely you can manage a little light haunting?’ But you stayed silent as the grave.
(You would have hated that clichéd metaphor. I'm sorry.)
One night I couldn't find anything to watch.
I mean genuinely. I think I had watched everything on Netflix and Disney and Prime and BBC. Really. The slanket was cross. It required a regular feed of distraction.
Ok, I thought. This is it. If you won't come to me, I’ll go to you. I knew where you would be if you were anywhere. Our old haunt.
The slanket didn’t want to go. It knew it wouldn’t fit in at a club. ‘Don’t worry,’ I told it, ‘I can make you look better.’
I found some brooches at the back of a cupboard, festooned them onto the slanket, tied the belt around it and gave it a pep talk about how ‘you just have to be yourself and no one will judge. You just have to try.’ I don’t know if it listened. But it went along with me anyway.
On the way out, I caught sight of myself in the mirror. My plain face appalled me so I quickly applied some glitter, just the way we used to.
I knew you would be pleased.
I sat at the back of the bus with the slanket. You used to call that seat King of The Bus. No one came near. I was the lone ruler.
At the club, I could swear the doorman remembered me and was looking around for you the way men always did when they saw me without you.
I got in and the music was loud, loud, loud and the walls felt like they were shaking.
Everywhere I looked there were people. People dancing, people drinking, people smiling, people peopling. There were so many of them.
But none of them was you.
The slanket wanted to go home. It felt terrible. It felt like everyone was looking at it and judging it and deciding it was ugly and didn’t fit in.
It kept trying to remind me about what happened last time I went out with you and that terrible thing happened with that man.
‘Not now, ‘I told it, ‘We don’t need to think about that.’
Do you remember Gina that there was a toilet cubicle near the bar we used to sit in because it had a shelf behind the cistern, big enough for two to sit and smoke and chat?
Me and the slanket went there.
‘She’s not coming back,’ it said to me, holding me close. ‘You’ve only got me now. I’m all you’ve got.’
I couldn’t tell if the slanket was being a good friend or not. I couldn’t tell anything anymore without you around.
People kept banging on the door, shouting, ‘Hurry up!’ which hurt the slanket’s feelings so eventually, I unlocked the door and went to the bar. The slanket didn’t like that. It doesn’t feel thirst, or anything.
As I stood, waiting for anyone to notice me and take my order, your favourite song came on.
At first, I could block it out by holding the slanket against my ears but eventually, as it rose to a crescendo it was so loud the sound wasn’t muffled anymore, and I could hear it even underneath the slanket’s heavy folds.
I let the slanket go.
I felt my body move almost involuntarily to the song we always used to dance to together.
The song is about Little Fluffy Clouds.
We’ve danced to it in fields. We’ve danced to it in clubs and in your car on the way to clubs and at festivals and in your room and in my room and everywhere.
I realised at that moment that we could always be dancing to it somewhere, if I just let us.
And, at last, I let myself go.
The back seat was taken when I got on the bus but I didn’t mind. I sat at the front and watched the journey unfold.
The slanket was sulking. I ignored it. I wasn’t going to take its nonsense anymore.
When I got home, I knew what I had to do.
I pushed the door open, stood in front of the mirror and ripped the slanket off. It made a massive fuss and tried to cling to every bit of me it could grab hold of. But this time, I wouldn’t let it. I had had enough.
I took it outside to the bin.
‘You smell!’ I shouted, ‘and you’re disgusting and ugly and I won’t let you ruin my life anymore.’
I pushed it down to the bottom of the bin, underneath the rubbish, where it belonged.
As I walked back to the house, I could see the path was strewn with glitter that was sparkling where the street lights reflected off of it.
I couldn't tell if it came from me or somewhere else but I liked the way it looked. It looked like a galaxy waiting to be explored.
In the morning I messaged Robbie and asked him if he wanted to come over.
I could tell he was surprised I had initiated a social activity because he said, ‘yeah’ and next to the yeah was an emoji of a person with their head exploding.
We sat on my sofa and drank tea and Robbie smoked. I put music on. I was wearing jeans and a top and one of your hoodies that your mum gave me when she cleared your room. I felt good.
‘Did you know?’ he asked, flicking ash in an empty crisp packet, ‘that there's a trail of glitter going out your house and all the way up the road?’
‘Yeah, I did actually,’ I said, putting my feet up on the coffee table.
'I know. And one day soon, I’m planning to follow it and see where it leads.’
‘Really?’ he asked, ‘you are?’
‘I am,’ I said, ‘I really am.’
And then Gina, you’ll be pleased to know, I only went and did.