THE STEPHANIE GLITCH - Part 2
I am still keeping the old versions of these parts on this Substack for those who want access to them, but I’m renaming each one so there is no confusion.
This means some of you will have read this part before. But don’t worry, we are almost at the point in the story which has not yet been published before. We should get there soon.
All through the club cheap disco lights were beaming greens and pinks and blues across the table, turning the air into a symphony of plinks and twinkles. Large speakers punted out some doomy darkwave song, and this intermingled sporadically with the light-sound inside Stephanie’s head. The whole spiky cluster of sensations was finally smoothed down by the scented smoke from the smoke machines, rolled into a glossy marble of sensation that throbbed inside her chest and her head. It all came together beautifully. It always did here, provided the music and the drinks flowed right. It was as if each sensation cancelled out the next, creating something akin to the eye of a storm. It was chaos. It was meditative.
She looked over to Emma, who was ordering yet another round of drinks. She stood out like a sparkling unicorn in a dystopian sci-fi, a rainbow-clad creature in a sea of black leather and spiky hair. If Stephanie’s mother could see them both like this, especially how Stephanie had dressed (black on black on even more black), she would lose her mind. Stephanie smiled at the thought.
She observed the strangers orbiting and chatting, bumping shoulders, and making friends. Even though her clothing wasn’t much different from everyone else’s, Stephanie was worried people would notice her, notice she was a fake. They might infer from some signal in her body language that she didn’t like every single song, that she didn’t even know half of them. The strangers milling around her table should have been her people, antigravity hair and gigantic boots, but even after an hour of idle chit chat and smiles with strangers, Stephanie still felt like an alien here.
“Vodka coke for the alien staring at that tall boy’s head,” Emma said. Stephanie returned to reality, realising now that she had spent the last minute lost in a purple mohawk across the bar.
“Yeah, sorry. How long have you been here?” Stephanie asked.
“On this planet? Nineteen years in June. At this table, watching you astral project? About three minutes.”
“Shit, really? Do you think he noticed?”
“I don’t think he’d notice if you told him to,” Emma quipped. She tilted her head to the boy. He was currently fascinated with an overhead blacklight, which had illuminated his friend’s nail polish and face paint, leaving only floating specks of neon green as she passed into the shadows and became invisible. It became clear that he was very drunk.
“Right,” Stephanie said.
“Were you daydreaming?” Emma asked.
“No, more like, remembering actual dreams.”
“How are they now? You still having those space nightmares?”
“They weren’t exactly nightmares,” Stephanie finished her last drink.
“You know what I mean,” Emma said, sitting down.
“No nightmares, but it’s weird. I keep dreaming of tunnels.”
Emma set the drinks down. “Like the subway?”
“No, like the one at the train station, but weirder than that. Like space wrapped up into a tube.”
“So, the space nightmares?”
“Different this time,” Stephanie said.
“My brain falls out and flies through a tube of stars.”
“Where is it going?” Emma scrunched up her face. “Doubles are too strong.”
“I don’t know,” Stephanie said. Emma could tell the dream had unsettled her friend, so she changed the subject. At the same time, the darkwave song that had been playing faded out into a metal song that neither of them recognised.
“So,” Emma yelled helplessly across the table over the screaming intro, “uni.”
Stephanie looked at the skeleton on the little glass again.
“Seriously?” she took a swig of the drink, feeling its flavour as clouds of colour.
Emma was relentless, and uncharacteristically serious. “Yeah seriously. You actually going?”
“If they take me. It’s a conditional and I’m doing okay so far.”
“Wow. I’d say we should go out to celebrate but, here we are.” Emma gestured widely at the club around them.
“I’d prefer Bowie,” Stephanie raised her voice over a guitar riff.
“So would Jay. Where is he anyway?” Emma asked. “He’s not texted me.”
“Band practice I think.”
“Ah, radio silence.”
“Is that his new band name?” Stephanie asked.
“No, I think their name is Frozen Aisle for now.”
“Frozen Aisle For Now?”
“Just Frozen Aisle.”
“Ah. Well, you never know with them.”
“Yeah, not their best rebrand but I’m sure he’ll have another soon,” Emma said.
“I was a fan of Grannie’s Yarn Monster,” Stephanie replied.
“Me too. It really captured their eclectic vibe. Was a bit too friendly though.”
“Or Evil Sauce,” Stephanie added.
“Frederik’s spaceship fingers,” Emma said. Stephanie grunted through her straw as she drank.
“Yes. That once was fantastic!”
At this point the man loosely affixed to the purple mohawk stumbled past with a few of his friends, hiccupping and waving at Emma, saying brief hellos before moving to the crowd around the bar.
“You know everyone don’t you?” Stephanie asked. She curled her nose at the pinkish smell of smoke machine smoke emanating from the dance floor.
“Not everyone, just enough people to get by.” Emma brushed a curling lock of ginger hair away from her drink and finished it. “You’re going to have to get social by September you know Stephie. I can’t be there to hold your hand.”
“And I won’t be here to hold back your hair.”
“That was one time. I hate rum.”
“Doesn’t matter. I thought you wanted to crash my fresher’s week?”
“Only because I’m not going myself,” Emma explained. “I only want the socials, not the academia. I’ll leave once the party stops. I am allergic to academia, remember?”
“That’s fair,” Stephanie took another sip of her drink, and was briefly distracted by the cartoon skeleton on the old glass. At that moment a beam of green light pierced the air, bouncing around playfully, cutting into the glass. Stephanie felt a distant tingling noise at the back of her mind, as if some ancient clockwork thing just started moving behind her eyes. Some mechanism unlocked and folded itself away in the shadows. Her brain felt cold, like a ruin her consciousness was exploring.
“Migraine?” Emma asked.
“You zoned out.”
“About seven seconds.”
“I’m fine. So, academia,” Stephanie nudged the conversation back onto its rails, hiding her discomfort. She thought of rails and trains, monorails, the whole night club fitting in one giant carriage. The ‘space nightmare’ resurfaced, this time with a monorail track leading deep into the star tunnel. Stephanie shook the daydream away, drowning it with more vodka coke and some light headbanging, just as the music died down and everyone else stopped.
Emma drank some of her own drink, scrunched up her face, then began again, “I get the point of uni, but I mean what would I study anyway? Minimalism, sketch, cubism, surrealism? What’s the point?”
Stephanie got the impression that this question was not aimed at her, but rather the whole universe. She plucked a word from nowhere.
“I don’t know that one.” Emma frowned.
“I made it up.”
“Oh. Sounds cool.” Emma’s previous question lingered in the smoky air. This was one of the rare moments in which she looked confused, overwhelmed by choice. Usually, she was quite happy to do everything at once, but university loomed in the timeline of her life like a fork in the road. She couldn’t go left and right simultaneously without splitting into two people. Or could she?
“You see, I could find stuff to paint or write about outside. You know, like when we went to the caves that time, or the river with Jay.”
Stephanie nodded, “You’re still doing the art exam though yeah?”
“Of course!” Emma replied with fake glee. “I love doing exams that distil creative endeavours into a stream of meaningless numbers.”
“What?” Stephanie raised her voice over an impressive riff.
“I said, I love doing exams that break creativity into numbers and scores.”
“Oh. Sorry,” Stephanie said. Green sea urchins of music soared through the air, and a white and gold coldness cut through from the smell of some overpowering cocktail some strange suit-wearing boy had convinced the bar staff to concoct for him. A cherry-flavoured cloud dissipated in the jelly of Stephanie’s eyes.
“What for?” Emma began again as the music died down, “Even if I don’t use my grades to go to uni, I still want them. It’s like an art prize, but I don’t have to pay anyone to enter and there’s slightly less wankers.”
“It’s an art course,” Stephanie said. “That’s where wankers come from.”
“Not true. Artists don’t reproduce. A steady supply of wankers is due to business studies courses. Those guys reproduce like crazy.”
“Do they tell their wives?” Stephanie asked.
At this point the music was low enough that a nearby table could overhear the conversation, but Stephanie and Emma were too engrossed in their discussion to notice the weird looks sent their way.
“I personally think wankers are a universal constant, so when one dies, the universe spontaneously creates another, like matter out of a white hole,” Stephanie explained.
“That’s a new record for you making a conversation about space,” Emma said. She pulled the straw out of her drink, dropped it on the table and tried to finish it in one gulp. She failed.
“So why are you going to uni?” she asked.
“You’ll hate this. But I want to learn more about the universe, about people, and I can’t do that here. You can make art anywhere.”
“Okay then, make art right now,” Emma teased.
“I have a poem,” Stephanie smiled. Emma was quiet for a moment.
“Getting into physics but hates maths,” she finally quipped. Stephanie stirred her drink.
“Yeah but, maths is poetry. I just don’t know how to read it yet. It’s codified.”
“I like that, codified. Mind if I steal it?”
“Sure. It’s not my word.”
Emma scrunched up her face at the last mouthful of drink. “It sounds like your kind of word.”
“Thanks,” Stephanie said. A cluster of people bobbed and chatted beside their table, carrying what looked like one of every drink that was being served. Emma nodded approvingly at them and one of them smiled back.
“I guess I could paint a student union bar, or a canteen,” Emma said.
“It’s not too late to apply,” Stephanie replied.
“Do a mural somewhere. Paint equipment onto the walls. A Bunsen burner? Never see any good surrealist, or ‘Virtualist’ depictions of Bunsen burners.”
“Why would an art class have a Bunsen burner?”
“To burn the bad art. I don’t know.”
“How about a collage of your student ID, made with chopped up textbooks?”
“Yeah, then I could burn it!”
“No burning things,” Stephanie said.
“Okay, fine,” Emma said. “I’m tempted now.”
“Don’t think you need a degree to make a collage though,” Stephanie said.
“No, probably not. Don’t need college for collage.”
“But you might need a degree to sell it to someone.”
“Yeah. If only five-year-olds could get degrees. Fridge art is a fucking goldmine.”
Stephanie snorted. Her drink almost came out through her nose. She laughed with Emma until they were both weeping, until a song Stephanie recognised started blurting out of the speakers. Stephanie began to move in her chair with the beat. Finally, she plucked up the courage and got up.
Emma looked on in mock shock, nodded, and said “You know this one?”
“I do.” Stephanie sighed inwardly, still batting away the last of the laughter.
“For what reason?”
“Because that’s what humans do, and you’re already doing it. Look.”
Stephanie looked down. Her feet were indeed moving, stomping along to Rammstein.