Swimming in the Dark by Tomasz Jedrowski



She laughed and held her outstretched hand towards you like a lady. ‘I don’t think we’ve ever properly met.’

You kissed the hand obligingly, playing her game.

I took her by the waist. ‘Are you drunk?’

‘As a sailor. It would be stupid not to be.’ She raised her glass, swayed on her heels.

And then the music stopped. The record had come to an end; the low crackle of the speakers could be heard between the suddenly naked chatter of the crowd. We looked at each other, bemused, in anticipation. A new record was placed on the deck by a gangly boy in green bell-bottoms. At once a string of quick, light beats prepared the room, gathered our attention, ecstatic, simple and single-minded. And before we knew it, Blondie’s siren voice had filled the room, sending a rush through us. We didn’t know the words, not a single one, but we understood everything about ‘Heart of Glass’ – all its elation, its decadence, the pleasure of self-indulgence. We made our way through the crowd to the middle of the room, where we dissolved ourselves in her voice, in its high flight, in the rising and falling melody, in the motif of the beat, the beat that was there from beginning to end and begged to be followed. Our heads spun along with the record. Our bodies became instruments of the song, extensions of it, and we formed as one, dancing in a triangle, swaying from side to side as if possessed. When the song had ended, another one began to play, one just as good and catchy and seductive, and we gave ourselves to it. It was as if someone had taken us all and placed us on a platform on top of the world. We danced until sweat ran down our backs and foreheads and we could no longer catch our breath.

Later, the three of us took a break, filled our glasses, smoked by the large windows looking out over the black expanse of the park. The windows had glazed over with our heat, and someone opened one, letting in the cool evening air. That’s when I saw her. On the other side of the room, talking with a blond boy in a pair of dark sunglasses. She wore a long sequinned dress and her hair was large and frizzy, almost standing up from her head. She was an apparition. Then her eyes fell on you and she made her way across the room.

‘How lovely you could make it!’ She threw herself around your neck as if that’s what it was there for, her flowery-spicy perfume enveloping us all. Her eyeshadow was blue and sparkling like Ziggy Stardust’s. Her eyes came to rest on me. ‘I was watching you earlier,’ she said, speaking slowly as if pronouncing a verdict. ‘Fabulous dancing. And that hair suits you.’ She glanced at Karolina. ‘This must be your girl?’

Karolina laughed with her mouth thrown open. ‘No, just a friend,’ she cried, looking over to me and straightening her face. ‘Just a friend.’

Hania smiled politely, looking at you and then back at Karolina. ‘Well, maybe we can find you someone here – there are plenty of boys around. Janusz, shall we dance?’

You nodded and let her arm slide around yours.

‘See you later,’ she cooed, and you were off.

Karolina and I poured ourselves another drink, on the brink of total drunkenness now, and fell on to a wide soft couch in the corner, where we could see the whole room. The whisky was still good and strong; its warmth went straight from stomach to head.

‘I’m so glad you’re here, kiddo,’ Karolina said, her legs thrown over each other, almost lying on the couch.

‘Me too,’ I slurred. ‘Who invited you, anyway?’

She laughed. ‘Excuse you. Maksio invited me.’ She pointed at him on the other side of the room, dancing closely with a blonde girl in a miniskirt. ‘The sleaze.’

I considered Karolina from the side, her profile clear against the white of the couch. She looked tired, and for the first time it occurred to me that we were all ageing, that we would not be young for ever.

‘But how do you even know him?’ I asked.

She shrugged, looking at the floor. ‘We may or may not have had a fling,’ she said quietly, with a guilty smile.

‘How?’

‘He came and sat next to me on the bus on our way back from camp.’ She shrugged. ‘He knows how to speak to girls.’

‘I thought he wasn’t your type,’ I said, stunned.

‘He isn’t, but I was feeling lonely. Anyway – here’s to all the fun we’ve had at his cost.’ We clinked glasses and took another deep comforting sip.

‘But I thought it was Hania’s party,’ I said.