late streets hum with the clatter of party-goers, who carry the stench of cheap perfume and cigarettes on their mouths like an oath. they stumble over damp stones, falling into windows and leaving them stamped with sticky fingers and smoky breath. they draw rude pictures in the steam.
the shop owner will stand in the morning and sigh, reaching for the disinfectant. he is used to it, and they all are. the people in bed will jam their pillows over their ears and stuff the window frames with tea towels, cursing the day they signed for a house on the high street. they become accustomed to the chanting and shouting, the whistles and the wailing. they just wish it had been detailed in the small print.
the drunkards stampede. like a fervoured flock, they flounder through the night like werewolves, bewitched and angry.
it is Alfie’s first night. his throat burns and his head rushes, temples throbbing and horizon wavering. he has an older brother, who marked his eighteenth birthday on the calendar in red pen and bought himself a bottle of whisky to celebrate.
‘you’re one of us now,’ he said. his breath stank like smoke and meat gravy.
Alfie feels a sweaty hand grab greedily at his shoulder, as if he were a hunk of bread to be torn off and eaten with soup.
‘Alf,’ drawls his brother. his clammy fingers smear Alfie’s face with dirt from the pub. ‘Alfie… you wanna go?’ he snorts, ratting the phlegm in his throat. Alfie winces at the sound.
‘I could get a girl for ya… birthday…’ his eyes are red and distant, swollen berries sunken into hard flesh.
‘I could get a girl for you, Alf,’ he warbles again. ‘birthday present. from me.’
he slams his fist into Alfie’s gut, in a motion which Alfie assumes was meant to be a sign of affection; the bond between brothers, a symbol of love and brotherhood. but it hurts, and in the morning, Alfie finds a messy bruise yellowing under his sweater. it takes weeks to fade.