I leave the warm, bright and hazy air of the pub. The laughter and babbling buzz of voices fade abruptly as the door swings shut behind me and the smell of real ale and sweat is replaced by the cold, stale winter air. Rotting leaves, car exhausts, cigarette smoke and a faint whiff of spicy takeaways fill my nostrils.
An icy, wake-up gust of wind strikes my face and makes me pull the zip further up my chest and the scarf over my chin.
But you were all drunk, you waved me off absent-mindedly and returned to your blokey conversation – space travel, comic books or bacon and eggs… My departure is a mere pause in your ramblings. You will have forgotten I left and half an hour later, one of you will say ‘has she gone?’ and another will shrug, before you get back to worm holes.
But I have had enough – time to go, time to go before I slur my words, before I knock over a full glass of sepia liquid, or fall off my stool, or crash into someone carrying three full glasses from the bar, or the strange moustached man with the red braces tries to talk to me. Before I do something I shouldn’t.
The wind is now whistling and humming in my ears. I have crossed two main roads, my head down, purposeful ‘I’m not drunk and I know where I’m going’ walk. Huddles of people walk past me – a group of four or five girls not wearing enough clothes for a winter night, three men in their 30s who stumble from one side of the pavement to the other, a couple giggling and clinging on to one another. An older man on his own, in a long woollen coat comes towards me. I look down to avoid eye contact. It seems to work and he shuffles past. In fact no one seems to see me as they glide past; it is almost as though I am invisible, or they are not real. A few more people walk by – lost in their own worlds, full of the drink, conversations and hopes for the rest of the night.
The almost-bare trees sway and dance in the wind, like a sea of arms; bits of litter float across the pavement in the breeze; grates gurgle, and the lights behind closed curtains give a hint of those indoors, cosy on their sofas, watching Saturday night TV.
I stride out briskly, quietly – thankful I put on my flat, warm boots. They make me feel stronger, more able than some teetering, clomping heels.
I turn up the hill to my house – my walk seems to have taken no time, I think, as I wonder what my tipsy male friends are doing now.
The house is dark and empty, no light to help me find the shape of the keyhole, so I scratch and scrape around, until it goes in. Then I am alone in the hallway, wishing for a cuddle and a kiss.
I remember days of urgent fumbling, passionate snogs, teeth clashing, desperately grabbing at belts and zips, slamming against the wall, unable to wait to go upstairs, warm bodies, firm crotches…
Instead, I make some toast and flick through the channels.