The thing about Karen--although no one called her that, it was always Kaz,
unless she had behaved even more badly than usual, in which case the
diminutive was extended to an
incredulous 'Kazzer!'--The thing about Karen was her laugh.
It characterised her completely.
It came from deep in her belly, a sexual laugh. It was a hard, cynical
hyuck hyuck hyuck,
a smoky, boozy laugh that belonged in a bar, a man's
laugh. Imagine a guy making a too loud assessment of the breasts of a too
young girl and the laugh that would accompany it.
Karen's laugh told you a lot:
she would never buy a drink, she would always be late, and you could lose
in the curl of her finger.
She was a determined hedonist
and told stories of excessive drug taking and
the hapless antics of guys in thrall to her.
These stories were edgier than she knew, reflecting a cold hard light
on her, not the warm flattering light she imagined.
A typical tale concerned an African student, Friday, with whom
Karen was sharing a flat. She had stashed her 'shrooms
in the refrigerator, enough for several trips. Friday, thinking they
were ordinary mushrooms, cooked them up in a stew. Later, found
wandering with excruciating stomach cramps,
and hallucinating, he was hospitalised with a supposed mental illness.
Each time she told the story she was freshly surprised by the notion
that she could have told the doctors what he had accidentally taken,
rather than making a speedy exit. Skyward eyes
told us that people who knew the score
would not make such stupid suggestions.
There was another side to her, though, that most didn't see.
It was in her laugh too; sometimes, fleetingly, she would close
her eyes, and for that moment she seemed so achingly vulnerable,
like a sleeping child.