• Kate Tough

"Kissing Lying Down"

Arriving at the bar half an hour late I point out, “I’ve ended up looking sort of Russian,” and the two of them laugh. The garb is bootleg stretch denims with a dragon design down one thigh, and a silky knit v-neck in fresh wound red – sexy, of a kind, but neither classy nor current. There’s a comment from Alison that she’d forgotten how tiny I am.

I’d got dressed on a wave of overtired mania, after a week spent packing boxes, moving, then unpacking. I insist on champagne. When have I ever done that? But I’ve a home to toast. Am answerable to no-one. And emerging from the subway into gold evening air, the pavements teeming, it was apparent that while I’ve been indoors, Glasgow has been having a moment: a 75 degree hot spell and host to the Commonwealth Games. The bar is wall-to-wall with people making the most of it.

It’s ages since we’ve managed the same bar on the same night. Pouring. Cheers-ing. There’s a bringing-up-to-speed before the conversation turns to men. “Can’t remember when I last reached a third date.” Lianne looks deflated. “They come, they go.”

“At least they come before they go,” I offer.

Tipsy on fizz I put it out there, “Maybe not sleeping with them right away would make them more likely to stick around.”

She freezes mid-glass-lift. This could be the end of the evening.

“If the current model isn’t working,” I qualify, “no harm in reconsidering the model.”

Alison piggybacks my courage, “Yeh, make them work a little, so they appreciate it when they get it.” And we’re all laughing, not because her suggestion was that funny, but because it’s obvious to Lianne we’ve been waiting to say this, and she’s left the pit-bull in its cage and allowed us air time.

Lianne sets her glass down. “Fine, bitches. Can I kiss someone who buys me dinner?”

“Not for a few months,” I tell her. “Till you’ve gauged if he sees you as a keeper.” I am finding myself hilarious.

“If you’re worried his interest is dwindling,” Alison’s saying, “you can get involved in occasional kissing lying down.”

“You told me no sex.” “It’s just kissing. But lying down.” Which is the stage after upright kissing, according to Alison’s gran. “The drawback,” I warn, “is that once you’ve done that, no-one else will marry you.”

The bar doors are wide to the tail end of today’s heat and second-hand tobacco smoke. We’ve been sharing opposite ends of a sturdy table with another group of three but the group has gone; replaced by a guy with the weekend paper spread in front of him. There’s no weighing it up, I simply do what comes naturally and rescue the poor soul – he can’t read a paper on his own, not on a Saturday night. And that’s what I tell him, to bring him in, and when it’s achieved I glance back, head cocked; And that, ladies, is how easy it is to meet men. I excuse myself to the bathroom. When I return a second man has joined him. He hadn’t been a poor soul after all, he’d been a guy waiting for a friend.

Our attention is back on ourselves but we don’t find our rhythm, can’t seem to settle. Alison and Lianne talk towards me while their eyeballs dart. Alison was at the Games’ opening ceremony; she’s trying to persuade us it was better than it looked on TV. Lianne’s having none of it. She’d switched off at the singing janitor.

“My dad’s a janitor,” says newspaper-man.

We haven’t been left alone. I pivot to address the neighbour, and see that two have become three. A third guy’s in the seat to my right.

I’m calling bullshit on newspaper-man. “Is that right? Where does he work?” And he’s laughing.

Lianne’s mid-flow, “…I don’t have Tunnocks in the cupboard and I don’t country dance.”

“Shame,” the new guy replies. “Was going to ask if you wanted to strip… the willow.” From his lingering grin, I clock ‘pished guy’ and chuck in, “Anyone notice that a reeling drunk was missing from that jamboree of all-things-Scotia?”

I don’t do wasted and don’t care for wasted next to me. Booze alone or Class A side-effects? Or just the way his face works – blank, possibly guarded. One ear’s on him, one ear’s for the rest of the table. He’s been away. He mentions jet lag. He’s back to use his vote. He might stick around if Scotland becomes independent but if not, he’s off again.

The guy seated on the end is having to work harder not to be left out. He grabs his chance to play the chivalry card by asking our names, then informing us that he is Keith, the newspaper guy is Sean and the one next to me is, “A total knob”. He’s a man jockeying for top spot.

Noticing that each guy is wearing a washed-out cotton tee with a faded band logo, I flick my head in Keith’s direction. “What’s going on with the t-shirts – they ironic?”

Ironic? Nope. Is your jumper an antique?”

“I was thinking it looks a bit Russian Brides dot com,” I answer, standing up to display the stretch-denim dragon.

“Right enough… pre-glasnost.”

I lean across for a high five, chuckling. I could reel this one in but remind myself that’s not why I’m here. Having just separated, I’m on go-slow in a siding till I’m ready to pick up speed. “S’always a bit hit-and-miss with me,” I explain. “Lianne and Alison have a knack of looking gorgeous all the time.” I’m hoping my friends will jump in and build on this groundwork.

The total knob goes to the bar and returns with a large wine for each of us. Which we’d have declined if asked. The last-orders lights have flashed, and who could drink this much wine in fifteen minutes without vomiting in a side-street fifteen minutes after?

TK offers his glass to clink and I reciprocate with eyes averted, preferring to stay in the general chat. After a couple of minutes I’m sure I’m being looked at, so I turn and mirror his fly-catching face. He doesn’t twig, asking, “What’re you staring at?”

I answer like a ten-year-old, “Not sure, the label’s fallen off.”

Groups have started bustling past our table and a barman’s adding empties to his stack, shouting, “Time up! Drink up!” And in that second there’s a decision to make. Everyone knows it. Who’ll speak first?

“I’ll never manage to finish this,” says Alison, sipping.

“Bring it with you,” says Sean.

“Bring it…” she considers. “Take it, you mean?”

“No, grammar girl, bring, we’re heading to my flat, if you want to join us.”

The barman’s calling, “Do your talkin while you’re walkin, folks!”

“I’m not drunk enough to commit theft,” she says, and Keith tells her, “They know him in here. He always brings, takes, whichever, back the empties.”

“How far’s this flat?” asks Lianne.

“Yards,” TK responds.

It needs only a nano glance between us – We in? Aye, we’re in – and next thing we’re gathering bags and lifting glasses and tripping along the pavement like it’s Ibiza 2003. And it’s not fully dark because in summer, if it’s not cloudy, it never hits absolute night.

If only Glasgow could be like this more often. Too warm for jackets. New people into a gang. Spur of the moment.

We bundle through the tenement’s main door and Sean leads us up the stone stairs. Our quips echo in the tiled stairwell and it doesn’t occur to me we’re waking anyone. Who could be asleep? On the first flight I notice that TK has positioned himself alongside, he is accompanying me up and he bumps an arm against mine. His way of letting me know: claimed.

It bothers me that my response is to feel flattered. I’ve decided nothing, Sunshine. Can’t say his chat has impressed. Maybe he’d have talked more if I’d paid any attention.

Lianne and I sit on one leather couch. Alison, Keith and Sean are on the other. TK’s plugging his phone into the speakers to get the music sorted. When that’s done he takes the seat next to me.

I’m bantering with Keith about bringing women up here all the time, how handily Sean’s place is located and how it’s not too shabby a place. Keith is changing spot, perching on the arm by Lianne, equipped with what he’s about to reveal as his trump card. “Compared to what it was like when Sean bought it,” he says, “it’s a fucking excellent flat. Guess how much he paid. Three bedrooms, kitchen, living room. Guess.”

If I fancied him, I’d want him to win this, but I don’t. And Lianne isn’t fast enough. So I tell him, because I reckon I know. “Sixty-five grand.” He looks at me like he’d assumed it would take longer. It seemed obvious, somehow, from the way he asked, and from where we are: it’s a nice flat but only because it’s had work done. Not a great street. Not something to bid over the odds for in a downturn. He’s stuck for how to keep the to-and-fro going and my attention is drawn elsewhere, the music is demanding comment. “Bohemian Rhapsody? What is it with guys and Bohemian bloody Rhapsody?”

“If it’s a guys’ song, why’s a burd singing it?”

“That’s a woman?”

“Yer maw,” quips Sean.

“Naw, your skanky maw,” TK shoots back, as he walks over to his phone, not that I’d meant for him to check. “S’Pink,” he announces.

“Ah, so, neither of your mothers then.” A fart-in-the-wind gesture for gender respect, but something.

Maybe he’ll find talking less of an effort if there’s only one person to keep up with. I ask what he was doing abroad. He tells me, “Tattoos,” and asks if I’d like one. I examine his slack face for signs of lying and use my instinct. “What were you actually doing?”

Sean answers for him, “Working in a helium balloon factory.”

TK adds, “But I didn’t want to be spoken to like that anymore, so I left.”

Alison cackles. I keep it in. I’m waiting.

“Splitting up with my girlfriend,” he says, “then changing my ticket so I could visit friends in New Zealand on the way home.”

“Nice, you left her to travel back herself.”

“She started a job in Australia. I went over to see if I wanted to join her. I didn’t.”

It happens again with the music: a song I recognise with an unexpected singer. He tells me it’s my turn to check. I tell him I don’t need to. “Johnny Cash doing Redemption Song. Odd gems in your phone.”

“Brother dumped his collection onto my hard drive. S’a voyage of discovery.”

I wish I had something to reach for instead of wine. Alison’s conversation drifts into the gap. “Never get too drunk to floss, that’s my rule.” Party on. I look round to smile at the overheard wisdom and see that Lianne and Keith aren’t here. The gang isn’t a gang. There’s a man and a woman on each couch. That’s the pairs decided. Well, it’s past two in the morning – are we here to debate, or to scratch an itch and go home?

I wonder if Lianne’s alright. Should I knock the bedroom door for a quick, ‘Okay lady?’ through the wood? But Alison seems unconcerned and if Keith had dragged Lianne we’d have noticed – maybe she dragged him.

“Who’s this then?” TK flicks a finger towards the speakers.

“I want to say, the Grateful Dead?”

I can tell from his eyes he wasn’t expecting that.

“Not just a pretty face.” I add a wink.

“Not even,” he laughs, “and that’s with beer goggles.”

“Beer helmet... fiver says you’ve been drinking since yesterday.”

“Try Thursday.”

“Oh mate, you must hate your life if you need to stay drunk for three days.”

“Wouldn’t be drinking if Sean kept anything better but he’s cleaned up.”

“Figures. You’re the sad case still partying when his friends have gone straight.”

And then I become the sad case who starts singing along to a song regardless of who’s in earshot. I’ve no choice, it’s those opening chords. Graceland. The ebullient tone, the skippity pace, and if you’re not careful you could think it’s a cheerful ditty but the chords are telling you something else, they are clawing at fragile scar lines, and whenever that songs starts up (shop, bar, elevator, wherever) I can never move. I have to stay with that song till it’s over.

As I sing TK is silent. Clasped hands on his knees. I wonder if he’s taking the piss but he’s listening, head tilted towards mine. “She comes back to tell me she’s go-one…” The notes ascend, curl and bend over the tappity beat and I don’t care who can hear me put feeling behind the words, “Loo-oosing love is like a window in your heart, everybody sees you’re blown apart…”

When the song finishes he s