AIDA AUSTIN: "There is definitely something flashing upon her inward eye. I wonder if it is the same thing that’s flashing upon mine"

London, Sunday morning — and my sister, husband and I are lying on the sofa, trying to assemble the pieces of last night’s birthday party . 

I fear we are setting ourselves quite a task; between us we share throbbing temples, raging thirst, an uneasy feeling that we might have had slightly too much fun, one twisted ankle and a leg that’s swollen to twice its normal size.

“My leg was swollen anyway,” my husband says, raising his leg into the air for inspection. “the Achilles tendon is notoriously slow to heal.”

“Not swollen like that, it wasn’t,” my sister says, “and it definitely wasn’t blue.”

“It looks phlebitic,” I say, poking my husband’s leg. “You want to check that out. How did you do it?”

“Dancing?” he ventures.

“Great dancing,” my sister says, smiling with remembered joy. This smile disappears, however, as suddenly as it arrived; there is definitely something flashing upon her inward eye. I wonder if it is the same thing that’s flashing upon mine.

“I remember everyone forming a circle,” she says, “at the end, on the dance-floor.”

“There was indeed a circle,” I say.

“I think I took a turn dancing in the middle of it at some point,” she says, staring at me with such wide-eyed supplication it calls to mind a toddler waking from a half-remembered nightmare and wanting to be told there’s no such thing as monsters.

“You were definitely throwing some shapes out there,” my husband says.

“What f*****g shapes?” my sister says turning to me.

“I think I may have offended someone last night,” my husband blurts suddenly.

He recounts a conversation he struck up with another party guest. I hope that much has been lost in the retelling.

“I need that conversation absolutely verbatim,” I say, for unless I am very much mistaken, things are not looking good right now, for offending.

“I didn’t mean to say that she, specifically, was in danger of running to fat when she got older,” my husband explains, looking all upset in himself, “I meant artisan cake-bakers generally.”

“You knob,” my sister says.

“I’m not the one who fell downstairs,” he says.

“Who saw me?” my sister barks.

“Everyone in the foyer,” my husband says.

She turns to me.

“I can’t remember,” I say, “it’s like we all went down the same rapids but in different canoes.”

“Let’s just try and remember what went on in our own canoes, not each other’s,” I continue.

Silence falls. Our uneasy feeling grows.

“Or better still,” I say, “let’s forget.”

“Wise move,” my sister says, pointing in my direction, “I mean we all saw what happened in your canoe.”

“Why,” my husband asks, “ what happened in her canoe?”

“Nothing compared to what went on in her canoe,” I say, pointing at my sister.

“All I did was dance,” my sister says.

“Yes, you certainly threw some shapes,” my husband says, “before falling down the stairs.”

“Oh for crying out loud,” my sister says, getting up to go into the kitchen, “who wants coffee?”

I follow her.

“You’re my sister,” she says, boiling the kettle, “we always tell each other the truth. What f*****g shapes?”

That image flashes upon my inward eye once more. In a second it will be flashing upon hers.

“Like the shapes Michael Jackson might throw,” I say, “if he was still alive, on a dance floor and had appendicitis.” 


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