This is not a story that reflects well on me.
Near the beginning of my Masters degree, a friend from the course called Naomi invited me to a party she and her housemates were hosting. I was living in London and Naomi’s house was in Oxford, so she said I could stay the night.
There were two other people from the Masters course, so I stuck with them because all the other guests seemed to know each other. The three of us found ourselves standing in a corner by the sink, watching Naomi and her friends.
Naomi had made too many vodka jelly shots. They were bright red, and she kept encouraging everyone to drink them so that there wouldn’t be dozens left over.
As the three of us were joking about all the jelly shots, I suddenly noticed that the washing-up liquid was the same bright shade of red. When the other two realised what was in my mind, we egged each other on to do what seemed like the obvious next move. We took an empty plastic shot glass, filled it with washing-up liquid, and put it in a prominent place among the jelly shots. It was a team effort.
The guests at the party were all boisterous and good fun. We were confident they could take the joke. For half an hour, we watched tensely every time someone reached for a jelly shot – and time and again, they narrowly avoided the one we had planted.
Then we took our eye off the ball for a couple of minutes. And a new guest arrived at the party: an eighteen-year-old girl who was not at all boisterous, and who was apparently a bit nervous to be coming to the party at all. As soon as she came through the door, Naomi unwittingly picked up the fake jelly shot and pressed it into her hands to welcome her.
The first we knew about it was an awful screech. We spun around to see that the prank had gone horribly wrong. The girl was spluttering and sobbing, sinking to the floor. Everyone broke off from their conversations and stared in confusion and horror.
“Did someone put something in the jelly shot?!” cried Naomi. My two friends managed to blend into the background and I was left standing there guiltily. The girl ran to the bathroom in tears, with Naomi following her and trying to comfort her.
I was a pariah for the rest of the evening. But because I was staying over, I couldn’t leave. I had to stay there, trying to rehabilitate myself, as people left one by one. It was excruciatingly awkward.
I didn’t realise quite how bad the damage had been until a year later. Naomi hosted another party – and she told me that the girl who’d drunk the washing-up liquid had decided not to come when she had heard that I was invited. It sounded like I’d traumatised her pretty badly. I still feel guilty… And I think of her whenever I see red washing-up liquid.