The staff of the Indian restaurant were crowning in their contempt. We’d been bowling, straight from work, beers by the lane. Two strikes in a row was a peak at about 7 pints, but then straight down the gutter. A foreshadowing drunk. The others from work went off to eat, but lost, we instead called at the Swan, for 2 nicks of vodka and orange. We arrived late to the restaurant.
I choose the first bottle with a degree of care. The cat will be watching as I drink it, and besides, there’s always a chance that I’ll taste this one.
Pinot rouge, which is a joke to myself, because its black and red, a wine in a sweater which later will be a truth as I drink.
A good first start. The second choice is more difficult. Something fruity, but without the heaviness of a bottle of domestos. I don’t want to clean my teeth until later.
The normals, looking around the shop for something to drink as opposed to numb the dull sensation of their pointless and inevitable decline, choose a four pack.
Ideas are infectious as I grab three more of the same, rabid as my mouth salts inside with the thought of inevitable repetition, killing ninety nine percent of known thoughts, dead.
He sat in the car, studiously avoiding the newspaper for fear of missing her pass. On her way home. It was a good day, and he’d finished work early which gave a nice opportunity to catch up. Always the socialite. Maybe they could have a pint. Or a cup of tea.
The waiting game was relieved to an extent by the radio, but there was only so much inane chatter with which he could cope. Let it go on, let it go off… the sounds of 60s pop faded to nothing as he turned off the radio, snapping into silence unlike the valve sets of the music’s own era.
Twenty four minutes.
That’s not too bad, he thought. She must be due back any time now. Any time. Time was forgetting to pass, in the main, but at least it seemed now that it was getting to the point of coming home. So here he was. And there she’d be. Soon, he hoped.
The sound of a truck horn startled him and he wondered if he’d dozed properly. Had he missed her? Could be. He’d been sat for three quarters of an hour now, and he knew she was nearly always on her way back by now. The window whined as he let it sink and enveloped himself in the stale city air, to keep himself fresh.
And so she was. Walking. Past. No stopping. Perhaps she’d not seen. Perhaps…
He picked out his phone and dialled her number. No reply. Looked at his phone again. There was just the text from earlier. Only now did it seem true.
There were no marks to distinguish the package. At least, nothing out of the ordinary. THat was always key to a successful delivery. He wasn’t there to see the results, but imagined it being opened, an unexpected prize to his achievement. Once again.
At the end of another day, in th equiet off the alleyways, the side streets, and in the ginnels – and in the most lonesome and empty rooms of the houses – the universe unwinds. The noise is like the all the conversations you’ve ever heard, all the sounds of the day, slowly being reversed, out and in again, the sound of a giant’s great slumber. You mustn’t wake the giant, for he needs his rest
Some forget this. And when it happens, the giant deals with interruptions – say, the child who wonders about his parents’ house after they have gone to sleep – with quiet efficiency.
21 days after the first meeting with the Colonel, I found myself astride his still warm corpse, the beaten heart ripped from his chest and held aloft as a cheer leader holds a pom pom. Those about me gave noises of appreciation, but the loss of this once great man made me sick to my stomach, a wretching worstened by the inevitablity of his decline.
Wednesday sees the dustmen powdering the road. The noise of the lorry wakes me and, as usual, I have to run outside to place the bin on the pavement else it will be missed.
This morning it is heavy, and groans as I tilt it towards me and bounce it down the steps.
I open the lid, and look inside, forgetful of what rubbish I have collected over the past week, but confident enough that none of it should be shouting at me.
The bin seems empty to its depth, but darker than normal inside. And deeper.
That’s strange, I think to myself. I can smell sulpher, and the cries when the lid is flipped open seem to be those of tortured souls. I wonder, briefly, whether Guantanamo Bay has been relocated to my wheely bin, but it seems unlikely, as there are no protesters nearby.
No option, then, but to leave it out for the lorry and see what happens. I only half hope that it won’t empty out the contents of hell outside my house, but its a risk that I take, not having yet had a coffee or being properly awake.
The trouble with real life is in its dissimilarity to films, making each day a series of anti-climactic events in a world devoid of a closing narrative.
Up the stairs to the library, and look in. She’s not there. Not that I can see. I’m meant to be meeting her. Secret, like, no-one should know. None of her friends. Or her boyfriend. I don’t know why she asked me here. I have to pretend – what – I guess that we’re just off to lunch or something.
Carry on looking round. By the window, far left. Yes. She sees me, packs her books into her bag, grabs a bunch of pencils and her keys, and walks over.
“Hi Andy.” She stepped towards me. “Oh, have you met,” turning her head to the girl sat at the table. I shook my head. “Helen, this is, er, Andy. Andy, Helen.” I said hello. “Lets go.”
The department was equidistant from the main campus, my house, and her own. We headed away from hers, to the relative safety of where I lived, and the pub opposite. Less chance of seeing anyone she knew. Not that I’d be able to show any affection in public. That was strictly off charter, until she’s sorted out things at home. Always in hand.
Before I’d arrived at the city, I’d been told, the pub had been a place for bikers, and had a reputation as being unfriendly towards the tidal influx of new residents. Although it retained a general gloom, I found the cheap beer, pool table, and generally a few faces that I knew to be quite welcoming.
We hit the pool table.
I was never a great player, although I had occasional beer-induced boughts of inspiration. Nic was about the same. we had a couple of games, winning one each, and laughing all the way.
Having decided not to compete again, we sat ourselves next to the pool table, together on a bench seat that merged with the chocolate wood panelling. I put my arm around her.
“Sorry.” I removed my arm. Stared at the table.
“Someone might see us.”
“The pubs empty.” Looking up.
“And the door is just there. Someone might come in.”
Back to the table again.
“I’m sorry, I know its hard. But you’ve got to trust me. I’m going to sort things out between me and Mark. You’ve got to be patient. At the moment you can’t be seen with me. You know that.”
It didn’t help.
I drained my pint, and went to the bar for another. Sofia was there, a girl from my first year class who I had asked out, drunkenly as that was the only way I ever had the confidence, and who had at least now switched to laughing with me after the two years had past.
“Two pints of Magnet please.”
“You okay Andy?”
“Just great. Just got essays, you know what its like.”
“Sure. I’ve got a couple due in next week.”
“I might get started on them soon. Or it will be another all-nighter.”
I paid for the drinks with more of the graduate debt, and went back to the table.
She takes her pint, thanks me.
“I know its difficult for you.”
“Do you want me to tell him?”
“I can do.”
“You just have to trust me on this. I’m going to sort it out. We just have to.. ..to be patient”
She puts her hand on my leg, hidden by the table.
“You know I like being with you.”
I nod, but I don’t know. What I feel seems irrelevant. At the moment I don’t know whether she really does like me, or whether I’m once again a substitute whilst things are less than perfect.
The pool table nearly draws us back but, having finished the pints, she suggests we leave.
Back to mine.
“I hate the way I visualise it, and imagine the sound, as it goes in and the pain starts to take over, but doesn’t, quite, and the need to recreate the image proper, and this constant battle not to do so.”
The feelings had been trapped inside for so long, and fell out in a rush.
“So what do you do?”
“Drink, normally, and stay out.”
“Does that help?”
“I don’t know. It’s a distraction. I can’t do anything when I’m out. The fight isn’t whether to.. you know.. but whether to go home. And it’s easy to do that bit. Stay out.”
“And how long has this been going on?”
“Since. I dunno. I suppose.. maybe.. since I was..”
“Have you spoken to anyone about it before?”
“I tried. I was at school before. Went to the doctor. He wasn’t interested. Told me that everyone at school worried about their exams.”
“Were you worried about your exams?”
“Don’t take the piss.”
“What about anyone else?”
“What do you mean?”
“Does anyone else know?”
“Uh. Yes. One friend. But he’s at uni, I don’t see him much.”
“And what does he say about it?”
“I told you, he’s away at the moment.”
“But before he went away?”
“He told me not to. That there was no reason. He didn’t understand.”
“Because he told you not to?”
“Because he said there was no reason.”
“You think he was wrong?”
“Of course he was wrong.”
Another pause. They each tried to look the other in the eyes. Neither could manage.
“So what do you want from me?”
“You came to me. What do you want?”
“I told you, I just want to get out. For the distraction.”
“Is that really the best..”
“Its the easiest.”
A ten pound note is passed across.