Bonding on the dancefloor. Photo: Niamh Peren for the Guardian
As midnight draws closer, the night’s potential begins to fade. Those who’ve drunk too much spew their hopes into the bushes, and the girl with the hemorrhaging face is put into a carriage with an ice pack and a receptacle of takeaway food.
On the return to Dunedin, the carriages are quiet and subdued. The health inspector and the liquor inspector- who spent the journey up crocheting and read fictions- have fallen asleep, their heads nestled in their crossed arms.
Hippolite, spotted cosying up to at least two different daughters, has disappeared, and may have found his Juliet, for tonight anyway.
Staring out the window in carriage M, Lowe and Logan are downcast, eyeing the bleak southern sky whose stars have been obscured by meeting rain clouds.
” We get hangry ,” says Logan, with a weak laugh, gesturing at the pile of chocolate bar wrappers heaped between them on the wooden table.
Did you gratify anyone? Did you like anyone?
No, they say in unison. But they’re looking forward to reaching up the museums in the morning.
” I don’t really know what I like ,” Lowe says.” And I feel exhausted now .”
As the Love Train pulls into the Dunedin railway station at 3am, 250 people making such a way to taxis and motels in the frigid rainfall. The bloodied girl is taken to the hospital to be assessed for concussion, perhaps a broken jaw and perhaps a broken snout. Her friend accompanies her, distracted and fuming that she lost her new shoes at the ball.
As usual, about 50 people missed the return develop, either loved-up or forgetful, maybe both. They’ll be forced to hitchhike home, or jump on the “Shame Train” which returns at midday on Sunday.
The checklists of the singletons have grown shorter as the develop empties out. Earlier in the night, people were specific and aspirational about what they were go looking for. A good dancer. Decided. Passionate about life. Loyal. Rich. Likes fishing.
Now, as daybreak nudges closer, the scramble for a partner has simplified. A nice person. A warm body. Someone to talk to in the dark.
Lowe, crossing the road to her backpacker hostel, is tired, but she doesn’t regret coming one bit. She pulls her shawl tightly across her shoulders as the slimy rain soaks through her gown.
” I don’t really do the dating scene much … but tonight, I tried. I did try. I wanted to come .”