Echoes of the universe outside passed, barely perceptible, into the world of their intimacy.
Content warning: alcohol, drugs, injury
“That was fucked. I don’t know how many Christmases I have left in me,” Krissie groaned. “Honestly. How has Milos lasted so long in hospo.”
“I think I know,” Ella replied. Milos went early to the staff drinks to prepare for everyone’s arrival and had a few furphs in the process. Ella looked closer, and noticed the white dusting on his moustache. Krissie laughed. She was already a bit tipsy.
“Having fun Milos?” Krissie shouted across the bar. Startled, he looked over and gave a slow thumbs up, grinning. A post-lockdown December had been unkind to the venue manager. Milos deserved to let loose.
Ella wanted to enjoy her night, but her mind was occupied. Her partner, Sarah, would finish her nursing shift at 9:30, and they would finally, finally have some time together. Both of their jobs were full-on, and time off was getting scarcer for Sarah. It had been an awfully long year, and she was looking forward to a responsibility-free night with her love.
As the evening wore on, the bar became rowdier. An impromptu dancefloor appeared, and strange combinations of staff danced up on each other. Ella found herself swept into a drugged-up salsa with Milos, then a rhythmless ballroom waltz with Krissie. They stumbled into a seat. Ella blearily checked her phone—it was 10:23pm—and then a message from Sarah appeared:
Can’t make it til later. Understaffed cos Jenny called in sick and Ali had a breakdown. Got a couple of incidences. Sorry my love xoxo
Time bled like watercolour; gradually, disorderly patrons were removed. Ella found herself stuck in a conversation with James, who was complaining about his girlfriend—you have a girlfriend too, Ella, you would understand, sometimes they’re fucking… anyway, I shouldn’t say that—before Krissie rescued her. Outside, Ella noticed an ambulance, and felt a pang of worry. She prayed it was not bound for Sarah’s hospital.
Ella did a shot. She went to the bathroom and checked her phone, but was distracted when James vomited loudly into the men’s sink next door. She heard a peal of laughter from a cubicle. She checked her phone again.
Ella found herself at kickons at Milos’s house. Half the remaining staff lay on the couch, including Ella, resting their heads on each other and talking shit, making out, or both. The other half used a mirrored tray Milos had quietly lifted from their venue and one of their $100 note tips as evening-extending apparatus. Krissie swaggered over to Ella and kissed her on the cheek.
“Ella. I am on that much coke. Like, that much coke,” she said, holding her face. Ella smiled.
“Me too, my love.”
“Hey. I fucking love you. We killed December togeth—”
Before Ella could respond, Milos grabbed her, pulling her to the tray. Krissie leaned down.
“Ella! Come here!” Milos called her over. She groaned and joined them.
“Sarah’s coming soon,” she complained. Krissie began cutting up for them.
“You have to be awake for that,” Krissie laughed.
Ella took a moment to stare at her face in the tray’s reflection. She had a flush in her cheeks, bloodshot eyes, and smudged mascara. Had she been crying?
She resigned herself to the line. Milos started cheering, then hiccupping. The night sped up, and the little living room began dilating and contracting.
Then, in a slow-motion shutter-burst of images, Ella watched Milos slip on a spilled drink, lose balance, and collect his head on the side of the kitchen bench. She was conscious of blood, screams, ambulance sirens, and a debilitating wave of nausea. She turned and saw Sarah standing pale-faced on the side of the road.
Ella rose slowly and blinked, and when her eyes opened again, Sarah had her arms wrapped around her. She realised she was sobbing. She watched Sarah’s soft hair turn red, blue, in the ambulance ambience. They were both crying, shuddering, their world reduced to nearly nothing, a bubble-like realm whose firmament hinted at strange and horrible entities elsewhere; where echoes of the universe outside passed, barely perceptible, into the world of their intimacy. Shouts were whispers, lights like shadows; a chaos, an inferno. Throughout it all, Sarah finally in her arms.