This week’s Stylist Short Story is The Night by Ava Szajna-Hopgood. A woman reflects on a life-changing night out her parents had during the Great Storm of 1987.
Whenever people asked us how we met, you liked to say we were born on the same day: “The facts don’t matter Suzi, the story is true.” It’s true that it was a Thursday, an autumn night in 1987. The Great Storm was just settling in on the night you were conceived, and the night my parents finally got together.
The four of them are the last on the dance floor at Berwick Working Men’s Club. Big John plays a one-two punch of Stoned Love and Seven Days Too Long, which your dad says makes the night feel like it could go on forever, “No, like it HAS TO,” he shouts, arms split wide above him across the parquet floor. Smoke hangs in cirrus cloud wisps around the bar, the barmaid staring down the last of her punters with her earrings clipped off, arms crossed, cigarette dangling. The windows were boarded up earlier that afternoon, and there are just three cars left in the car park.
The house lights are on, then flicked back off with a cackle from your mum, as my dad assures Big John there’s actually a warm front due in the morning – “The weather man said there’s nothing to worry about!” He apologises again for requesting Tears For Fears after the dance floor got so empty, as my mum tries to pull him away by his elbow.
Your parents don’t live on Lindisfarne yet, so all four of them pile into the Peugeot, back to their cottage in North Berwick, right up by the Scottish border. The wind is blowing the car so much, no one can tell if my dad is swerving on purpose or trying to counter the elements, the road markings whipping out like white cords behind them. Your mum is shouting at him to watch the road. Your dad drops cigarette ash on my mum’s leg as she struggles to roll down the window. Her scarf escapes to the open wind and she pleads with my dad to stop and go back. Your dad covers her mouth with his hand, singing a Frankie Valli song he begged Big John to play twice. My mum bites down on his fingers as my dad beeps his horn in time, the body of the Peugeot careering along the coastal road into a gulf of darkness.
Your dad is determined to keep the party going. As your mum loves to recall, by the time they made it home to the cottage and got the record player on, rustled up martini lemonades and some dented cans of Carlsberg, she was yawning as a hint to go to bed, not to turn the music up. But your dad has found a bottle of talc he’s spraying across the galley kitchen floor now, “A nightmare to clean up!” your Mum always adds.
“Maybe make this one the last, Russ?” my dad shouts from the sitting room, where shoes have been kicked off and glacé cherries spill over the coffee table, aware that the tide will be headed out in an hour, and he’ll be able to get my mum home before her parents are up.
“ONE MORE TRACK, ONE MORE TRACK!” your dad insists, twirling our mums around in the cramped hallway, thankful he’s chosen five whole minutes of Gil Scott-Heron gloriousness to play them out of their final dance floor. Not thinking of how the neighbours next door will sleep through the conga line out into the garden that he insists they start. Not thinking of anything apart from your mum.
Too many bitters and whiskeys deep to consider allowing my parents to leave. Lost to the hail of the rolling night sky and the sparse gravel replacing talcum powder he’s now kicking up. “It’s all about the men showing what they can do!” That’s what he loves about Northern Soul! Lost to Gladys and Dusty and Diana but mostly lost to the way your mum looked, smiled a shrug and looked back at him all night, like she was on the verge of something.