I text L to see if we’re doing the intercambio, suggesting the usual Sunday afternoon at the alameda, or perhaps a copa tonight in the old town, as Tarifa celebrates Carnaval this weekend and we could do a bit of people watching and practice our Spanish and English respectively. He gets back to me and agrees to the latter so we arrange to meet at the old mudejar arch that leads into the little pueblo.
We’re not at all in the mood for revelry but at least pitching up and enjoying the others in their costumes comprises some kind of participation. We’ve been living very quietly recently and it’s good to take part in these things, especially I think in Spain where festivals and celebrations are given such great importance in a community.
We stroll towards the archway, anticipating the titbits of tasty historical information that L habitually drip feeds us. Tonight they’ll be Carnaval themed no doubt. When we see that his friend, P, has come along it confirms our expectations; they’re both real history and culture freaks. I don’t believe I’ve ever had a conversation with either of them that hasn’t, at some point, involved the Phoenicians.
K often finds herself an amused observer, sitting back as three men who may or may not know what they’re talking about talk about it in broken English or stuttering Spanish. She looks particularly entertained tonight as P launches into a treatise on the links between the menstrual cycle and the lunar one. We’re in a freiduria enjoying some calamares and brotola and the conversation meanders. First it’s something, then the Phoenicians make their usual appearance, then it’s something else, then something else again.
Angel Merkel squeezes past me to use the men’s toilet. She’s wearing Hitler’s moustache. We’re the only ones, in fact, not in fancy dress as we soldier on with the intercambio, surrounded by, eh, soldiers and sailors and any number of clowns. When we finish up we head to the main street to join the crowds there before we go home. The bars set themselves up outdoors for Carnaval so we get a beer on the street and run into some other people we know. They’re dressed up and will no doubt still be here in the early hours when we’re all fast asleep.
L steps aside to speak with someone he knows and we prop up the bar with P. Although it’s a night out for us it’s still fairly early by Carnaval standards but already bustling with the usual mob of flintstones, ladybirds, bumblebees and giant shrimp. The music is booming and I’m enjoying my self; I suggest to K and P that we have a chupito to round the evening off. I let P choose and he chooses whisky. The scotch they bring us is so awful that I can’t, as an Irishman, let it go and insist that we follow up with a Jameson. I open my eyes.
Wait a minute – why am I opening my eyes? I don’t remember closing them. K seems awfully close; she’s breathing in my ear. No sign of L or P. The music has stopped. I know this place; it’s our bedroom. As the penny drops so does the realisation that I am not in good condition. An animal is decomposing where it died, right behind my eyes. I think it may have thrown up in my mouth. Focusing is not only difficult but undesirable. You could cook a pig with this heartburn.
I move away from K a bit; I can’t have anybody breathing in my ear right now – it’s making me seasick. She’s conscious; I know this because I see her lips moving, but they’ve stopped by the time I realise she was speaking to me.
“How?” I ask her. There are some other words as well but “how” is the main one and I emphasise it.
“I undressed you,” she answers. “It was complicated,” she’s laughing now – the husky, maniacal laugh of the recently very drunk. “You fell off the bed.”
“Oh,” I say, but I don’t really care.
“Plus I had to remove your make-up,” she tells me. “I was afraid you’d make a mess of the pillows.”
That’s my K – always taking care of the details. A steady hand at the rudder of good ship Alotofwind, tirelessly…wait a second.
You know that bit where you can’t remember anything and you’re wondering if it’s all gone for good or whether it’s about to start coming back to you in feverish snatches and whether, if it does, it’s going to be a good thing or a bad thing? This is that bit.
It’s the little bag that comes to me first. Squeezed in a crush of bodies and P buying a little plastic bag from a vendor and us all taking a bit of the lipstick in it and plastering it onto our cheeks. I believe we considered ourselves sober at the time – huddled around the lipstick, applying it out of a sense of correctness, K administering hers to her nose.
Later, I seem to recall, there was a pornographic tarot reading from a drag nun. Or it might have been later. The chronology is unclear. A delicious memory now of one of life’s exquisite pleasures – annoying some teenagers with our rowdy behaviour. Beautiful.
“Ringmaster?” I ask, no idea whether I’ve asked out loud or not.
There was a ringmaster. Top hat. He stuck his tongue out at me. So did K. Not a great deal else emerges – just a swirl of colour and music, to be honest, not nearly enough detail to account for a whole night. I find myself smiling through my pain though – there are no mortifying memories of knocking furniture over or incontinence or anything terrible like that.
A series of snapshots. K in the crowd, in my arms, spinning around me, dancing. Red nose, laughing. I think that was mostly it – we danced and we laughed, hard, and I laugh now as I realise that, out of nowhere, we’ve had one of those nights. The ones you’ll never remember properly.
But always remember.
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