AIDA AUSTIN: Unless you’re very careful, Mum says, I think you’re going to be up all night

It’s 8.30pm — and my three sisters and I are sitting at a restaurant table in Bairro Alto, Lisbon’s old bohemian district. 

“It’s our last night,” Sligo sister says, pulling out her chair, “let’s make it count.” “Yes,” London sister says, “let’s mark the occasion.” “Yes,” Devon sister says, “let’s celebrate.” “To my fantastic sisters,” London says, raising her glass, “and a fantastic four days.” “It has been a fantastic four days,” I think, and this is down to the lovely visceral ease that comes from being with three people who not only knew the make-believe monsters you were afraid of when you were little but also know the real-life monsters you’re afraid of now. This kind of sisterhood is a thing worth celebrating. I lift my glass. “Drink up,” says London [bosh.]. “Get it in,” says Sligo [bosh.] “Nice one,” says Devon [bosh.]

9.30. Sligo sister’s phone goes off in her bag. “Mum!” she says [bosh] and has a brief chat. Mum is passed around the table. “Unless you’re very careful.” Mum says, after she has been passed on to me, “I think you’re going to be up all night.” Mum says that if I want to gauge the right moment to bow out, it’s my Sligo sister that I’ll need to watch, then London, then Devon. “In that order,” she says, “mark my words.” I look at Sligo. It’s only 9.30 and she’s already got that skittish horse look in her eye. “She hasn’t shouted, “COME ON YOU ZULU WARRIOR” yet,” I tell Mum, “so I think I’m safe for a bit.”

“You need to bow out long before any Zulu warrior talk,” Mum says. But I can’t concentrate; my steak has just arrived. “I can’t possibly eat all that,” I say, “it’s the size of a large man’s buttock.”

Sligo puts on a princessy voice and says, “ooh, I eat like a bird, I do.” “It’s not that I eat like a bird,” I say. “Don’t be such a cissy,” she says, “just eat your buttock.” “Is that her cackling?” Mum says, “if I were you, I’d bow out now.” “It’s too early to bow out now,” I say. “Better too early than too late,” says Mum. “What did she say?” Devon says after Mum rings off. “Not to let you lead me astray,” I say. “Just have your two glasses and you’ll be fine,” Sligo says, [bosh.] “We’ll look after you,” says London [bosh.] “We won’t let anything bad happen to you,” says Devon [bosh.] But something bad has already happened to my visceral ease. 10pm. My brother calls my phone; he’s in Lisbon for work and was hoping hoping to meet up with us tonight but unfortunately, he can’t make it. I think something’s going on with his visceral ease too. His driver has only just dropped him at his hotel, the Pestana Palace, he explains, but he suggests we meet him there tomorrow morning for breakfast instead. “My arse,” Sligo says, “he’s in hiding. Tell him we might not make breakfast, we’ll have to see what the night brings. Tell him otherwise his ugly sisters are all up for a very high tea tomorrow afternoon in posh Pestana Palace. And tell him to bring his A game.” “That will bring him out of hiding,” I say. 12.30 a.m. We are walking home. 12.35. We are approaching the front door to our apartment when Sligo suddenly veers sideways off the street and into a bar. The movement is seamless. “ONE SHOT!” she says. London veers of behind her, then Devon. In that order.

12.40. “Drink up,” says London [bosh.].

“Get it in,” says Sligo [bosh.]

“Nice one,” says Devon [bosh.]

“TASTY,” says Sligo.

“TASTY” might not be “COME ON YOU ZULU WARRIORS,” but I think it signifies the same.

12.45. I leave my sisters to it.

3.40. I have been asleep for two hours when I’m woken by a terrible racket on the stairs.

It is pitch black in my room. I hear the front door rattling.

The metallic clanking of keys.

Gravelly whispers.

And things going “bump” in the night.

The monsters are coming.

Unless you’re very careful, Mum says, I think you’re going to be up all night


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