‘I’m Halston. Liv Halston. And … I just … haven’t met anyone I wanted to …’ Liv decides to change the direction of this conversation. ‘Okay, how about you? Some nice self-harming Emo in the wings?’ Defensiveness has made her spiky.

Mo’s fingers creep towards her cigarettes and retreat again.

‘I do okay.’

Liv waits.

‘I have an arrangement.’

‘An arrangement?’

‘With Ranic, the wine waiter. Every couple of weeks we hook up for a technically proficient but ultimately soulless coupling. He was pretty rubbish when we started but he’s getting the hang of it.’ She eats another stray piece of cheese. ‘Still watches too much  p**n , though. You can tell.’

‘Nobody serious?’

‘My parents stopped talking about grandchildren some time around the turn of the century.’

‘Oh, God. That reminds me: I promised I’d ring my dad.’ Liv has a sudden thought. She stands and reaches for her bag. ‘Hey, how about I nip down to the shop and get a bottle of wine?’ This is going to be fine, she tells herself. We’ll talk about parents and people I don’t remember, and college, and Mo’s jobs, and I’ll steer her away from the whole sex thing, and before I know it tomorrow will be here and my house will feel normal and today’s date will be a whole year away again.

Mo pushes her chair back from the table. ‘Not for me,’ she says, scooping up her plate. ‘I’ve got to get changed and shoot.’

‘Shoot?’

‘Work.’

Liv’s hand is on her purse. ‘But – you said you’d just finished.’

‘My day shift. Now I start my evening shift. Well, in about twenty minutes.’ She pulls her hair up and clips it into place. ‘You okay to wash up? And all right if I take that key again?’

The brief sense of wellbeing that had arrived with the meal evaporates, like the popping of a soap bubble. She sits at the half-cleared table, listening to Mo’s tuneless humming, the sound of her washing and scrubbing her teeth in the spare-room bathroom, the soft closing of the bedroom door.

She calls up the stairs. ‘Do you think they need anyone else tonight? I mean – I could help out. Maybe. I’m sure I could do waitressing.’

There is no reply.

‘I did work in a bar once.’

‘Me too. It made me want to stab people in the eye. Even more so than waiting tables.’

Mo is back in the hallway, dressed in a black shirt and bomber jacket, an apron under her arm. ‘See you later, dude,’ she calls. ‘Unless I get lucky with Ranic, obvs.’

She is gone, downstairs, drawn back into the world of living. And as the echo of her voice dies away, the stillness of the Glass House becomes a solid, weighty thing and Liv realizes, with a growing sense of panic, that her house, her haven, is preparing to betray her.

She knows that she cannot spend this evening here alone.

14

These are the places it is not a good idea to drink alone if you’re female.

  Bazookas: this used to be the White Horse, a quiet pub on the corner opposite the coffee shop, stuffed with sagging plush velvet benches and the occasional horse brass, its sign half obscured by age-related paint loss. Now it is a neon-clad titty bar, where businessmen go late, and taut-faced girls with too much makeup leave in platform shoes some time in the small hours, smoking furiously and moaning about their tips.

Dino’s: the local wine bar, packed throughout the nineties, has reinvented itself as a spit-and-sawdust eatery for yummy mummies in the daylight hours. After eight o’clock in the evening it now runs occasional speed-dating sessions. The rest of the time, apart from Fridays, its floor-to-ceiling windows reveal it to be conspicuously and painfully empty.

Any of the older pubs in the backstreets beyond the river, which draw small groups of resentful locals, men who smoke roll-ups with dead-eyed pit bulls and who will stare at a woman alone in a pub as a mullah would at a woman taking a stroll in a bikini.

Any of the new cheerfully packed drinking places near the river that are packed with people younger than you, mostly groups of laughing friends with Apple Mac satchels and thick black glasses, all of whom will make you feel more lonely than if you had just sat indoors.

 Liv toys with the idea of buying a bottle of wine and taking it home. But every time she pictures sitting in that empty white space alone, she is filled with an unusual dread. She does not want to watch television: the last three years have shown her that this is the evening of cosmic jokes, where normally mundane comedy dramas will suddenly, poignantly, kill off a husband, or substitute a wildlife programme with another about sudden death. She doesn’t want to find herself standing in front of The Girl You Left Behind, recalling the day they had bought it together, seeing in that woman’s expression the love and fulfilment she used to feel. She doesn’t want to find herself digging out the photographs of her and David together, knowing with weary certainty that she will never love anybody like that again, and that while she can recall the exact way his eyes crinkled, or his fingers held a mug, she can no longer bring to mind how these elements fitted together.

She does not want to feel even the faintest temptation to call his mobile number, as she had done obsessively for the first year after his death so she could hear his voice on the answering service. Most days now his loss is a part of her, an awkward weight she carries around, invisible to everyone else, subtly altering the way she moves through the day. But today, the anniversary of the day he died, is a day when all bets are off.

And then she remembers something one of the women had said at dinner the previous night. When my sister wants to go out without being hassled, she heads for a g*y bar. So funny. There is a g*y bar not ten minutes’ walk from here. She has passed it a hundred times without ever wondering what lies behind the protective wire grilles on the windows. Nobody will hassle her in a g*y bar. Liv reaches for her jacket, bag and keys. If nothing else, she has a plan.

‘Well, that’s awkward.’

‘It was once. Months ago. But I get the feeling she’s never quite forgotten it.’

‘Because you are SO GOOD.’ Greg wipes another pint glass, grinning, and puts it on the shelf.

‘No … Well, okay, obviously,’ Paul says. ‘Seriously, Greg, I just feel guilty whenever she looks at me. Like … like I promised something I can’t deliver.’

‘What’s the golden rule, bro? Never shit on your own doorstep.’

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