It hits around 1am and the bar is heaving, as per. I wriggle through the masses, stacks of glasses wedged under my left arm, balanced precariously, waiting to tumble over from a stray elbow or a wayward backhand.
Kez stands behind the bar, chatting to a woman whose face I can’t see. Classic Kez. He seems to have an effortless ability to make two drinks at once without breaking eye contact with the prettiest girl in the room.
Callum, beside him, is even faster, but more gangly, clumsy even. Probably responsible for half the broken glassware in the bar, but he gets the job done.
I burst into the cellar and heave a sigh of relief, out of sight and out of reach of the hordes of drunken patrons behind me. Lee greets me in the back room with a sly grin and a shot of grog for each of us. Working out the back has its pros and cons: cons that the work is mundane and unfulfilling; pros that you don’t really have to talk to anyone and nobody notices how drunk you’re getting.
“Up for a gaff tonight? Kezza’s got some bird’s number, student party,” says Lee as he tops up my shot glass for round two.
“Sound,” I reply.
Students are always the worst customers at the bar. Their parties? Well, at least it’s not my house.
We charge out of the bar, already a few lines deeps, and into the nearest cab.
“Avondale Road please mate,” Kez instructs the driver.
After a quick stop to pick up more beers than we can carry, we pull up to Avondale and the driver asks what number.
“Fourteen. No, forty,” Kez hesitates, racking his brain for the magic number. “Mate, you know what, just drop us here, we’ll find it.” We pay the fare and get out.
“Where the fuck are we?”
The street is identical to every other street within a five mile radius, worn red brick with attached housing. It’s clear within seconds that Kez’s about as clueless as the rest of us.
“Are we even on the right street?”
Kez shrugs. I crack a beer and empty half of it, not caring that most of it’s missing my mouth and that the four of us look like a bunch of delinquent teenagers, drinking on the streets away from the prying eyes of our mothers.
Not to be disheartened, Kez and Callum bounce from door to door, banging on any one seeming to emit a tiny ray of light, a slither of hope that our night hadn’t gone to complete shit before it had even begun.
They carry on for about ten minutes. Lee and I saunter behind as the other lads get tired, or their knuckles get sore. I shake my head and allow my face to fall into my hands.
My buzz is starting to wear off now. Kez kicks his empty can into the air. It crashes into the darkness and echoes as it hits the floor. The place is silent but for our footsteps.
And a distinctly feminine giggle.
The two girls lead us into the flat, wine bottles strewn over the floor and bunting marked “21” swirling down from the ceiling. Kez doesn’t seem to recognise either girl. I’m pretty confident this is not the party we were invited to. Either way, it‘s well and truly died off by now.
We head into the kitchen and Lee heads for any flat surface he can find. One of the girls looks like she’s left her jaw in the other room. She stumbles back the way we came, I assume to go and find it. By her friend’s reaction, this must be a regular occurrence.
I crack another beer and clock my reflection in the window. Just double-checking mine’s still intact.
As Lee finishes cutting the fourth line, he motions to the girl, questioning whether or not to make a fifth.
“I don’t do that shit,” she replies. Lee shrugs, and retrieves a rolled up tenner from his pocket, before hoovering up his share, and passing the note along. She’s a lot more sober than her friend, and us for that matter, but she doesn’t seem to mind that we’ve just converted her kitchen into a scene out of Trainspotting.
Why exactly she’s invited four strange men into her house at God-knows-what-hour is all a mystery to me. But she seems pretty well sure of herself. ‘Dearbhail’ her name is, apparently. Irish lass. She tells us that it means “true desire”. She was certainly living up to it if Kez or Callum had anything to say about it.
Conversation goes at a million miles an hour as the two boys rally back and forth, vying for her attention. It doesn’t matter that one of them has a girlfriend, and the other is basically married to his ex. This happens most nights.
By now, we’ve been there a couple hours. The sun has started to peek through the crooked blinds and lick at the peeling wallpaper. Dearbhail finally gives in and goes upstairs. Callum follows her and returns soon after. Someone makes a remark about not lasting long. In truth he was up there for all of thirty seconds, before being sent on his way. He doesn’t seem too bothered.
The beers are well polished off by now, every last speck of powder dusted off the kitchen bench. I tilt my empty can above my mouth, trying to catch the last dregs. There’s still four of us in there, but the room now feels decidedly empty. We should probably leave. Except no one really wants to go home.
“Back to mine for a spliff?” Kez suggests.
The mood shifts, the lads suddenly perk up. We’re back on.
“Here, if we just cut through the cemetery it takes, like, half the time.”
We slip through the gates and into the cemetery. It’s broad daylight by now, but early enough that we’re not disturbing any unsuspecting geriatrics stopping by to pay respects to a lost loved one.
Callum takes a gulp of the rum he’s just nicked from the girls’ house, and offers it to me. I had half-heartedly tried to make him return it as we left the house, but it didn’t stop me from having a swig now. I feel a twang of guilt as the harsh liquor burns down my throat.
“It was left over from the party lad, probably not even theirs,” he says, as much for himself as for me.
Whatever makes you sleep at night, I suppose.
“Me nan’s buried around here,” says Kez, full bottle of champagne resting on his shoulder like a baseball bat, also courtesy of our hosts for the night, “just down there.”
We carry on following Kez, until he comes to a halt. I clock the headstone we’re stood before as Kez stares at it absent-mindedly. I can’t tell if he’s on the verge of tears or if he’s just ‘round the bend.
After a moment, he brings the bottle down to rest on his hip and shuffles the cork off, sending a fountain of bubbles cascading over his own grandmother’s grave.
“Pour one out for the old lady, like,” he says as he tips the bottle horizontal before bringing it up to his lips. The bottle gets passed around and we all follow suit, one after the other, until finally the last droplets have trickled out.
We exchange sentiments of “that was lovely that,” or “real nice, really nice” and we wander on.
Back at Kezza’s, the shutters are down and the darkness is comforting. We’ve just about managed to scrounge some tobacco together for a spliff before we each start to drift off.
“What time you in tomorrow lad?” Lee asks as he sparks up.
“Three,” I reply.
Tomorrow is already well and truly into today. I know in a few hours’ time I’m going to fully regret our nocturnal activities. But I know just as well that tomorrow night, we’ll end up doing it all over again.