The curious one-under
The sick-sweet smell of alcopops and misspent youth hung along the length of Cowgate. Above, George IV Bridge rattled; buses, lit like oblongs, threaded up and down, laden with Friday night Edinburgh. It was 22.45, and Stewart Turnbull was drunk.
Tiny beads of euphoria scuttled over his brain, as he looked up at a warm, lit window or into at a cosy bar. This was the city at its best; the peak of the drink-infused high, when the penetrating essence of booze splayed out, putting colour into every object. Soon it would turn leaden and watery in a morning of existential uncertainty. But how nice this was now. How nice. How brilliant. Stewart spoke the words aloud as he swivelled joyously around traffic light: How brilliant. Quelle brillante. Wie glänzend. Hvor strål… something-or-other.
He almost didn’t feel his phone vibrate against his skin. But feel it he did and, vaguely hopeful that this night could still take an even greater turn, he stationed himself alongside the dank, side-entrance to Greyfriars cemetery. The stairway loomed up behind barred gates, stretching through five litter-strewn steps to reveal silhouettes of innumerable catacombs and graves that seemed to speak sound in shapes: death-death-fabulous-death. Stewart tried to focus on the phone screen. He hiccoughed, and steadied himself. Did he just see that? Again he strained to focus, the iPhone’s coloured glare sharpening and blurring wildly. A Friend request. He touched Facebook. The phone clunked under his uncertain fingers. Oh f-fucksake come on. Social media wrenched itself up, breaking across the surface of the screen like a resurfacing diver. “Stewart Turnbull would like to add you as a friend.” Taken aback, Stewart’s brows furrowed for a moment. His thumb hovered over the strobe-white touchscreen. ‘View profile’. To his astonishment, the image that loaded was of himself. An old profile picture he’d uploaded years ago of himself on holiday in France. He let out a curt laugh. Accept or Ignore.
“Hey Stewart! You al’reet, doll?”
It was Anne. Anne wasn’t the sort of friend you could dodge with a quick excuse, and buried-head-smile. Anne was in for the long-haul. Always.
“We’re heidin’ up tae Buccleuch Street. Karen and others are oot’ fir a shwalleh. Want to Join? Come on, dol, you deserve it. Yer’s been workin’ too hard, the last month, eh!”
A moment passed. Stewart grinned broadly.
“Alright, fine. Just for one, though.” Stewart gave his phone one last look and tapped Accept.
And so, with each step along the glistening pavement, with each turn along sick-scented alleys, past bibulous students in tang-red miniskirts, and with each laugh and quip and gag, curiosity slowly ebbed away from Stewart Turnbull’s mind. And later, as night gave way to early morning, and the first Shuttle Bus edged its way out to the airport through crisp, spring air, Stewart turned over in his sleep, his thoughts oozing through the thick gloop of alcohol. And as the need to pee hit hard, and as he rose with clockwork regularity to the lavatory bowl, the thought of the Facebook notification gently erased from his mind, shuffled off with the infinite agglomeration of thought-detritus we never meet nor feel, and was gone forever.