Walking down chewing-gum strewn streets, the lights in the signs fizz and jam for my attentions. I keep my head down though and just see their reflections on the wet stones, just dim echoes. All I can hear is the hiss of the rain and the horse-shoe clop of my own feet.
I’m drunk. I’m stuck in a uniquely alcoholic limbo. With that final swallow, my mind and body ticked over from pleasantly drunk to incoherantly smashed. I’m suddenly hyper-aware of every footfall. I over exaggerate my movements to make them appear natural and then I realise I’ve stumbled sideways close to the rows of parked cars and into someone’s face. They’ve seen me coming and tried to steer clear and I’ve collapsed into them.
I’m not yet paralytic. I haven’t lost control. But my feet keep losing the pedals. My hand slides off the gearshift. So now there is only two options available. Either sleep it off and chalk up another day wasted. Or continue onwards into oblivion.
On the way, I deliberately choose a cheap shop I’ve never been into before and I pretend to be examining the wines before grabbing a bottle of cider so strong, the percentage number is larger than the brand.
Like that song, I enjoy wallowing in my own pathetic melancholia and I drink and I cry and the rain hides the tears. It doesn’t matter that I’m sitting on a piece of forgotten wasteland – although not by me – sheltered by the remains of an old staircase that leads up over the bridge. To my right I can hear cars flying by, people clicking and scurrying here and there and home. Locked in this open prison, I know I can leave at any point but I remain. Shackled by memory and doubt, I cruise towards oblivion. In my disorganised thoughts, I start to talk to myself to find an anchor point. I’m never doing this again. After tonight. This is the last time. Enjoy it. Pointless, empty words.
‘Have you ever rammed a carrot into your anus?’
I opened my eyes slowly, black curtains seperating to expose the setting sun; a low, dense red orb. My dehydrated skin crackled as I stretched my face and turned to look at her, reclining next to me. Her eyes still clamped shut, she drew her chest out like a pigeon, arching her back and taking a deep breath before relaxing back against the bench.
‘I said, have you ever…’
“I heard you. For god’sake don’t repeat it.”
“Why are you asking me this?”
She smiled. ‘Why are you avoiding the question?’
“No, I’ve never done that.”
She tilted her head slightly and pursed her lips together, hollowing out her cheekbones and casting shadows across that angular face.
‘Have you ever…’
“No, I haven’t”, I interrupted. “Just to be clear, I’ve never shoved any root vegetables, any fruit, any bottles…. essentially, anything that is going through that warped mind of yours right now has not and will not ever enter me, through there.”
She opened her eyes and faced me.
‘Very defensive. But I wasn’t going to ask about that. I was just thinking….’
“Huh, you and all mankind.”
‘…I’m curious what made people do things for the first time, things that we take for granted. Like, someone somewhere saw udders hanging under a cow and thought, I’m gonna suck on those. Someone once sat for hours and hours banging two rocks together to get a spark and start a fire. And a woman, a long long time ago, must’ve looked between her legs and thought, I can put stuff in here.”
I stared at her.
‘….so I was just curious if you’ve ever been tempted to put something up your arse?’
“Because it’s there?”
‘Exactly!’ she grinned, with the patient satisfaction of a professor breaking down the walls of a fool.
I slumped back into my seat and closed my eyes again. After a few moments, I felt her trying to wiggle a finger underneath where I sat so I punched her on the knee.
As I drift back into consciousness, I feel as though I’m hovering on my own stench. My head has been blasted apart by a shotgun. Something is nudging my foot and I’m being watched.
When I finally dare to open my eyes, a small terrier is snuffling around my ankle and an old woman is drawing back from my face sharply, alarmed. Her fear of finding a dead man has been superceeded by her fear of finding a drunk tramp. Possibly violent. Might strangle her and the dog and sell the parts for booze. I’ll walk into that shop again with her false hip in one hand and the dogs fur in the other, dripping with blood and menace, and demand barter. I try and hide the empty, crushed bottle under my arm and she ignores this futile effort to maintain any dignity. Fortunately, because she thinks I’m just a vagrant, her inclination to help dies with my dignity. She hurries away with the dog, who is infinitely more interested in me, muttering something under her breath. The dog is practically dragged away by its collar.
When the coast is clear I try and get up, leaning heavily against the wall I’d been slumped against, and immediately fall down again. I can feel my spine scraping against the uneven bricks and the jolt to my nervous system disables my legs and I go down like a broken cherry picker. On the third attempt I’m up. Aside from the old bitch, and whoever else happened to walk past here this morning and ignore me, no one need know. I climb up the stairs to the bridge, taking in the first lungfuls of fresh, tangy pollution and the clammy morning sun. Everything is dirty blue. The filth under my nails is green and I pick out moss and small pieces of crumbling mortar from the back of my head.
I walk briskly home, unseen along the old ways where no one else goes now. Not even the birds follow me.
She’s on her knees at my feet, bouncing her fingertips off my thighs and singing.
‘I can play the pi-ah-no, I can play the pi-ah-no, the pi-ah-no, the pi-ah-nooooo’
The last one is elongated as I grab her wrists and laugh.
“You are deeply irritating!”
She looks around. She’s thinking.
‘I can play the….’
And then she lunges for my groin, grabbing my package and squeezing it hard.
‘Tuba, tuba, tuba, tuba, tuba.’
“Off! Off! Off!”
I cup myself and I am laughing as she falls backwards. We are both short of breath even though we haven’t done anything except watch a sun go down. Anticipation sucks us dry.
Whilst she’s in the shower, I’m ironing my trousers for the evening. My stomach is already growling. I haven’t eaten all day to make room for this meal. I get so anxious before a restaurant date. If I don’t eat all the food on my plate, she’ll think I want to leave early. That I have something or someone else on my mind. That I didn’t really want to come out anyway. None of which are true. But I know she’ll think that. So I haven’t eaten all day. My hands are trembling from a lack of glucose, I feel faint, and I’m leaning on the board more than I should.
I hear the shower stop, and the creak of the screen door. She pads past the living room door on her way to the bedroom, a towel wrapped like an exquisite robe around her body and another rising from her head in a snowy turban. Just past the door she doubles back on herself and leans into the room.
‘Why is there bits of plants and gravel in your shower drain?’
‘It was blocked with all kinds of shit. Huh. No matter. I’ve cleared it now.’
She gives me a searching look.
And disappears into the bedroom.
I put the iron down and it ejects a hiss of steam that rises up over my burning, red face.