She shouldnít be here.
The party moved around her, shiny men and women having fun, banging into one another, flinging out lines, looking for a connection. The space was decorated for the launch of an ad for Green Wipe Ė the natural, hygienic baby wipe.
Peter, her successful cousin, had brought her here.
It had been a mistake.
Ben noticed the girl, blonde, slim, artfully made-up, drinking red wine in gulps like beer. She had arrived with Peter but he wasnít paying her attention. The music changed to P Diddy, her left foot tapped, her body swayed a reed in a saxophone of people.
She watched the man cross the room. He was casual in shirt and jeans but he seemed a little awkward, as though his largeness belonged somewhere else. P Diddy was replaced by Eric Clapton doing Anything For Love.
Ben reached the girl. Her green eyes raked over him, taking their impression.
"Youíre with Peter, arenít you?" said Ben reaching for a confidence he had not felt since Helen had texted him to let him know she was leaving.
"Yeah." She tossed the word at him. He probably loved Clapton, probably fucked to Clapton.
"Iím Ben," he introduced himself.
"Karen." She spoke her name into the wineglass, to the echoes there.
He asked: "Do you work with Peter?" starting with what they had in common.
"No," came back flat.
Peter had picked her up last week outside Holloway where she had spent three months and her twenty-eighth birthday for dealing cocaine and a little crack. But there was no way to say that here.
He looked disappointed and so needy that she added: "Iíve got my own thing." Too soft a heart, she shouldnít have given him that.
He grabbed it. "Like me, an accountant. On my own, a lone wolf."
A lone wolf, my God how dumb was he?
He hurried on: "Iíve known Pete for years. Heís a good lawyer."
Peter had pleaded her down to six months for possessing twenty baggies of cocaine and five vials of crack. He was that good.
"Heís my cousin," she said to the lame, lone wolf accountant.
"Not kissing cousins?" Ben smiled, teeth and grooming.
Oh, fuck off. "No," Karen volleyed back at him.
He scrambled: "He hasnít brought you around before."
"I was away for a while, I think heís trying to get me back into the swing of things."
Peter was always trying to save her and coming up short. For a bright guy he didnít learn.
She drained her glass of red wine.
"Fancy another?" asked Ben.
Why not? She hung a practised smile on him. "Sure."
Ben was back quickly with red wine for her, a mineral water for himself.
A big guy but mineral water, what a bloody girl.
Ben looked at his chunky watch.
It was worth, Karen knew, more than all the money she had in the world.
"The adís due for its first show." Ben tried to get excitement into his voice, fun. "Prime time," he said.
"Prime," said Karen.
Kenny had used to say that when speedballing: prime. It may have been the last thing he had said, she couldnít quite remember: Prime. And then it had killed him.
She had called the ambulance and the police, which had been a mistake. The ambulance had taken Kennyís body, the police had arrested her. She had been upset, making the wrong choices.
On the TVs dotted around the room a reality show broke for the ad: a perfect couple with a charmingly grubby kid. They used the wipes to clean him. Karen thought of cleaning herself, how impossible that had become. The TV returned to the reality show, people trying to fall in love or win a cash prize or both. She couldnít tell.
"Do you watch this?" asked Ben.
"No." People gagging for fame, no thanks.
"What do you like?"
"Nature programmes." No human involvement Ė sometimes that was best.
"Youíre an outdoor girl?"
Ben was at a loss.
On the TV a young woman was digging in mud with her hands. People would do lots of things for money, thought Karen, and anything for love.
"People are daft," said Ben. "But sheís game."
For him this was an entertainment as it no longer was for her.
She said: "Iím going outside for a cigarette," and waked away from him.
He watched her go.
She turned: "Coming?" she asked.
"Yeah," and hurried after her.
They stepped out together.
Anything for love, that Clapton shit.
She knew it.
Produced for the Hackney Collective by Writer #3