Saturday night. The last train home.
The station’s bright and light. The sound of squiffy silliness peppers the air.
There’s no menace, no riotous shouting. No spitting, or pissing, or – you know – any of those ‘I wish I’d gone home earlier’ kind of things.
The train pulls in. My friend from Leeds (I’ve known her 42 years – eek) and Anthro-man and I pile into a four-seater space and relax. Well, mostly.
The evening began at six in the bar at the Hard Day’s Night Hotel. A reunion of college friends. Since then much wine has been taken. And paella eaten.
Conversation between the fifteen of us has roamed around the world, bounced off politics, given religion a wide berth. Struggled back to earth again. And of course we’ve resorted to gossip – but shhh, don’t tell.
The three of us have left the rest digesting – making ready for city hotel rooms or adventures in late night bars.
And so here we are, three old friends, sitting in a metal tube with random, diverse strangers. Alert to intimations of imminent excess – of mood, of danger, or just familiarity.
This being Liverpool, we don’t have long to wait.
The train is blessed by the presence of some very merry people.
A young-ish man with a not-very-hipster beard parades up and down. He’s in a section of the carriage close enough for us to be amused – but also a little worried. Too close for comfort.
He sits on the knee of a woman with pale grey hair. She seems tolerant – and semi-amused – and keeps her hands well away. He tries other knees, as if it’s a game of squeak-piggy-squeak at a little boy’s birthday party.
Soon enough he’s bored and back to wandering round.
But at least he’s quiet, I’ll say that for him.
Unlike the two women – one of them plainly called Mary.
I can’t quite work out their age. Late thirties? Maybe forty or more?
They’re well beyond tipsy and into seriously inebriated – but mobile, laughing and somehow quite charming with it.
Not-Mary runs towards us.
You know how it is with a drunk – she starts off walking as if she can’t quite move her legs, as if they don’t belong, then suddenly they’re sprinting, with a mind of their own.
She staggers past us and slumps, face down, across the knees of two women sitting across the aisle, behind us. Stays there, her bottom sticking out into the aisle.
We’re laughing like drains now. And hoping we’ll carry on being the audience, not the cast.
Then Mary comes steaming down the carriage, chasing her friend.
Two men (with two more not-quite-hipster beards) sit side by side. Opposite – and presumably with – the two young women who make up friend-of-Mary’s human sofa.
Mary flings herself on the knee of the one by the aisle.
And a cry rings out:
‘Mary! Mary! Stop it – I feel defiled!’
It’s hard not to laugh, let’s be honest – and no one can help themselves. We’re all in stitches, the whole carriage.
Mary is sitting on his knee tugging up his top. We can all see his chest – and now she’s rubbing his chest hair.
The two young women who’ve ceased to be soft furnishings are now, amid gales of hysterical laughter, filming the whole thing on their mobile phones.
Is this a flash mob, we wonder? But not for long.
The train pulls into a station.
Friend-of-Mary raises herself.
Sways her way to the door.
‘Mary! Mary!’ she yells. ‘It’s our stop, Mary. Come on it’s our stop.’
Mary looks as if someone’s told her she’s been banned from walking and her legs have been removed below the knees.
She stands still – well, except for the rocking back and forth.
At last, she moves her feet. Stands facing the open doors.
Friend-of-Mary is out on the platform now.
Defiled-man is yelling at Mary.
‘Get out of the train, Mary, it’s your stop!’
But Mary can’t make her brain connect with her legs. (Yes, she does have legs again.)
As the doors shut she rushes up to them and stands, maybe seeing, maybe not seeing her friend laughing helplessly outside on the platform as the train pulls away.
Mary stays put. Topples out at the next stop as soon as the doors split open.
And the man with the beard, the chest hair, the defiled existence, yells.
‘Mary, Mary, Mary. Oh, Mary.’
‘There’s a hole in my heart where Mary used to be.’
Just another night out. In Liverpool.