At ten thirty-five, the energy of the night has slowed, winding down slowly to the oblivion of sleep. It is a weary, satisfied descent. The serenity after the storm.
I hold three empty bottles in my right hand and a tray full of crumbs in the other. I pause to survey the scene, the vacant snapshot of friendship and laughter now reduced to scraps of finger food, scattered plates and glasses, and chairs abandoned at uneven angles. I carry my bounty into the kitchen. Lucas is standing at the sink. He is methodically removing the cutlery from the dish-pile. Cutlery in the sink, plates neatly stacked. Remnants of cake pressed flat between them.
Bottles in the recycling and tray on the sink. “That was great,” I sigh. “It’s a long time since we’ve all been together like that.” Lucas nods. He says, “It must be a few years, at least. Five years, could that be right? I think Tony had just come back from Peru that time. It was when we all went to that holiday house on the coast.”
Lucas runs the water and pours in the dish soap.
“Ah yes, that old house. Moonie’s aunt’s house, wasn’t it?”
“Yeah, that’s right.”
I remember that time at the beach house, the beautiful, open plan bach with a view of the sea and the sky. A long weekend with the old crew, surf and sunsets and the bonfire on the sand.
“That’s the one where Elise thought she saw a shark and then we panicked because we couldn’t find Phil and we made up our minds he’d been eaten.”
Lucas grins and stares distantly into the bubbling sink. His smile widens until a laugh escapes. “Elise and her bloody visions.”
“Mustn’t forget the time she saw Brad Pitt at the sushi train. That was incredible, but I actually believe it.”
“Yeah, don’t you?”
“I don’t know. The blurry photo does look a lot like him.”
Lucas shakes his head and starts shaking and scrubbing the cutlery under the water. I leave the kitchen, pick up a few glasses, bring them to the sink, and repeat. As I move between the kitchen and living room, I remember who was sitting where. Mila had been on the couch by the window while Tony was leaning back on a beanbag. They were talking about their many travels. Tony’s in South America and Mila’s in south-east Asia. Sharing tips on the best places to see and how to avoid being kidnapped and murdered. Two of the most dramatic people at the party. Except for Elise. Elise and her bloody visions. I shake my head and think of her tonight, telling stories from her past year with all that confidence, while her listening friends guffawed and raised their eyebrows at each other.
Andy was the most vocal, calling her out for telling tall stories, even though it did not slow her down for a moment. Good old Andy. He was always good-natured but wouldn’t put up with anyone’s shit without saying something.
The sink is full and I’ve brought in all the glasses now, so I grab a tea towel to help dry the dishes. “It’s amazing that people can still be exactly the same over all these years. Andy’s still Andy. The same guy who used to get detention for contradicting the teachers, even though he was right. And he still does it all these years later. And what about Moonie? She’s the weirdest flipping person I’ve ever met but I can’t say she’s got more or less weird, she’s still just Moonie. We’ve all done different things and gained some life experience, but at the end of the day, we all keep being the same people we always were. I know it’s a negative thing we say, but you know how people say a leopard can’t change its spots?”
“It can, though. Like, there’s probably a dye that could change its spots. So even a leopard can change its spots more easily than we can change who we are.”
“It’s not really changing its spots though, is it? It’s just changing the colour of them, then.”
“I see what you mean.”
I migrate handfuls of dried cutlery to their drawer. The knives, forks, and spoons clatter into their separate compartments.
“But I get what you're saying. It feels like we can only change so much about ourselves and some things are set, like we will still keep being who we are however much we might try. We can change our habits, we can learn new skills, we can get a bit wiser and make more decisions about things that used to feel instinctive. There can be a lot of change, but it’s never enough to become a whole different person.”
Lucas’s thoughts have left quite the impression on me. I will need a few minutes to think about it all. Do I know anyone who’s come close to becoming a whole different person?
“Did you ever meet my friend Frannie? A girl I went to school with who I ran into years later at a networking lunch.”
“No, I don’t think so. Frannie. Blonde?”
“Nah, black hair.”
“She was so withdrawn in school. She always used to sit by herself, didn’t seem to have any ideas or a sense of humour. Don’t know why. Then, when I met up with her seven or eight years later, she was completely different. Fun, outgoing, life of the party. Same name, same face, but barely. She had a different look, with a smile then. Her whole face was lit up.”
“Same name but different face. Are you sure she was the same person?” Lucas asks with one eyebrow raised. “Did Elise tell you they were the same Frannie?”
I chuckle. “I was shocked, honestly. That’s a case of someone becoming a whole other person.”
Glasses away. Now onto the plates. Sodden crumbs rise to the surface as Lucas separates the plates under the dishwater.
I consider, then reconsider. “You know, Frannie might have been the same person on the inside the whole time, just got more comfortable sharing her thoughts and feelings. That could be like a leopard dyeing its spots a different colour. It’s still got the same spots underneath, but we wouldn’t recognise it as the same animal.”
Lucas stops mid-scrub and squints at the tiled wall, taking in what I said. “Woah,” he acknowledges, “that makes sense.” The last plate is rinsed clean and placed on the draining board.
I dry the plates and put them away in the cupboard. Lucas pulls out the plug and we listen to the squelching gush of the water as it spirals down the drain.
We peer together around the kitchen door, surveying the last of the disarray. The rubbish and dishes have been removed. There still remains a dirty tablecloth to be collected, a muddle of chairs and beanbags to arrange, and vacuuming to be done.
Let’s not rush to remove the evidence, I think. It’s fun to remember we had a party.
“That was a great party,” I say, echoing myself from before.
“Yeah, we should that do again sometime,” says Lucas. And then, “we can tidy the rest in the morning, right?”
“Yes. I think we can.”
We silently acknowledge that the party is now over. We have lingered on it for a while, and it is now time to transition to the next phase, that of endlessly hoping to do it again.