A Flash Piece By Kate McCaughey
“Fucking hell Emily, get a move on.”
Bea flicked hair out of her eyes by jerking her head aggressively, her arms full of gin and mixers.
“I’m coming, I’m coming.” Emily’s eyes were on the packets of crisps by the till.
Bea continued to give herself whiplash. “Grow out your fringe, they said, it’ll look classy they said.”
“Ok, I’m getting prawn cocktail…oh, but what if I smell?”
“I’m coming, prawn cocktail it is.”
Bea looked back at Emily. Emily paused and made eye contact with Bea. She gently picked the prawn cocktail crisps out of the basket and replaced them with inoffensive Ready Salted.
Bea gave an exasperated sigh, and Emily beamed at her.
The pair waddled back to their AirBnB, flimsy Morrisons bags threatening a spillage, gossiping about how the city had changed. They had found a modern apartment near the hospital to stay in, with a room each and a small balcony. Emily had been keen to get something cheap and cheerful with just a room to share, but Bea had recently been made a Team Leader at M&S, and wanted her lodgings to reflect that.
The pair had been inseparable since Sarah Richards told Emily she was bad at drawing in Primary School. Bea had actually thrown a pencil case at Sarah, which probably did exasperate the situation, but it also meant that Emily had a friend. For years they immersed themselves in Emily’s art. They adorned themselves in the gaudy floral prints she painted down, and made crowns and swords like the ones in her comics.
In Year 10, Bea went on her first date with a girl. The whole year found out within the week, and whilst most didn’t bat an eyelid, a few groups began avoiding her. Emily used the softest of watercolours illustrating Bea and her date sitting in the high street Costa.
The two unpacked their shopping bags like clockwork, their years of shared student accommodation in their very rhythms. Emily’s almond milk goes on the outside because she never checks the carton before pouring, unlike Bea. The pasta stays on the counter, ready to be boiled soon, but the tea bags go away so they can pretend the apartment is theirs.
They took it in turns to quickly shower whilst the other stirred the pasta. Both in dressing gowns, they ate and watched Saturday night tv. Their movements and reactions to each other were habitual, but in truth, this was their first time together in months. Not long after Bea started at M&S, Emily left their hometown for an underpaid apprenticeship at a children’s publisher. They’d planned countless visits, constantly trying to catch eachother over Christmastime or at a birthday party, but it just didn’t happen. Eventually, they both secretly felt too embarrassed. Bea moved in with her girlfriend, and Emily fell in love with London. Just as creme eggs came back into the shops, Emily got a surprise phone call from Bea demanding she be free for a party weekend the next month.
“Do you think she’s had surgery?” a reality show had glossed over the screen.
“Mmmm...it’s hard to tell. Maybe.”
“They’re just very...present, aren’t they?”
“Maybe they were a present.”
“Are we bad feminists?”
“Probably. Actually, no.” Bea paused.
“We’re just observant. We’re not casting judgement.”
Emily laughed. “You’re observant.”
“What do you mean?”
“You pointed them out. They certainly peaked your interest.”
Bea feigned offence. “True.”
Emily turned to her properly. “So how’s it been living with Clare?”
Bea blushed slightly and nodded. “Yeah, it’s, um, it’s lovely.”
Emily grinned. “Really lovely?” Bea rolled her eyes but nodded again.
“It’s so nice. I want to see it, now you’ve decorated and everything.
Within seconds Bea had shoved aside her pasta and sat beside Emily, scrolling through images on her phone of throws and crockery and types of blinds. Emily noticed a framed painting in their living room.
“Is that…?” She screwed up her eyes to take a closer look.
Bea zoomed in and showed her, proudly. It was the watercolour of Bea and Clare, several years old, hanging over the mantlepiece. A moment passed, both women remembering their closeness in school and uni.
Bea jumped up. “So what are you wearing tonight? What did you bring?”
She fetched her case and brought it over, before flinging it open and pulling items out.
Emily laughed, “How many options did you bring?”
Bea gave a wry smile and raised her eyebrows at Emily. “If it rains, or if plans changed, I’d be the one with the appropriate outfit.”
Emily turned the tv over to a music channel, and they rummaged through each other’s cases putting outfits together. A gin and tonic each, they assembled clothing onto the floor like they were creating stills. The 2D versions of them were ruffled against the laminate every time each woman refilled a drink, or jumped up to dance to a song.
Hours passed, and at midnight, Bea jumped up and exclaimed that they’d missed free entry. Emily shrugged. “We could just stay here if you want?”
Bea looked at Emily as though she’d suggested they go to a football match instead.
“Don’t be daft! It’s cheap as chips anyway. We’re virtually ready, I just need some eyeliner…”
Within the hour, Emily and Bea were in the club, ordering drinks. They were surrounded by university students adorned in glitter and dirty trainers. Bea in skinny jeans and a floral blouse, and Emily in a pinafore, stuck out like two sore thumbs. They were the only ones who’s drinks were over £3, and weren’t knocked back immediately.
They made their way to the dancefloor and stood at the sidelines, watching people dance and flirt in the middle. They moved carefully, avoiding the 21 year olds throwing themselves around to heavy metal music.
Emily leaned close to Bea. “IT HASN’T CHANGED AT ALL.”
Bea nodded and smiled, watching the room and bobbing her head.
“SHALL WE SEE THE OTHER ROOM?”
The room next door hosted ‘Guilty Pleasures’, always playing Shakira or Dizzy Rascal when they were students. As they walked through, an Ed Sheeran song began. The room roared lyrics to Galway Girl. Bea and Emily’s eyebrows knitted together. “Ed Sheeran?!”
This continued for twenty minutes or so; songs from the last 10 years that the women only recognised from various retail jobs they’d snagged as students or post-grads. At long last, when a remix of Sound of The Underground played, Bea and Emily began to loosen up and dance freely. At the same moment, the room cleared, as people took their chance to top up drinks.
By the early hours, Bea had refused to leave a total of 4 times, and the pair were simply swaying in the corner. Eventually, she sighed exasperatedly. “Come on, then.”
They walked down the street, arms crossed. “Well that was rubbish.”
“I’m so annoyed, I thought we’d have so much fun. This was our night, Emily.”
Emily just shrugged. “Can’t be helped, I suppose. Time’s change n all that.
Anyway, we’ve had fun! Pres was great.”
Emily’s eyes lit up. “Do you know what doesn’t change, though?”
“Food after a night out.”
Bea looked up, and followed Emily’s eyeline towards the little pub further down.
The pub was warmly lit, with couples and groups of friends here and there. Emily and Bea placed torn-open crisp packets in the middle of their table, a glass of wine each.
“We’re still cool, though.” Emily nodded firmly.
“We could’ve hacked the whole night if we wanted to.” Bea agreed.
They didn’t feel the need to say it, but both women were just pleased they could actually hear the other speak.
Cover Art by Lizzie Jatwa