There are only 2 ways to stop us
Sending each other drunk messages:
Quit drinking, or
And I’m not going back to rehab.
There are only 2 ways to stop us
Sending each other drunk messages:
Quit drinking, or
And I’m not going back to rehab.
Image by Christine Renney
I have become so adept at it, the getting close and yet maintaining a space, a divide. It is flat here, a desperate patch without a roof and no walls. Apart from the one I have built and that is sturdy enough and tall. But there is the slightest of cracks and I can see through and if I press my ear against it and concentrate I can hear.
They tend to the old woman, bringing her food but mostly drink. Cans of “Super Strength” lager. One of them opens a can and places it in her hand. If she would allow it, he would help her to drink from it, steadying and guiding her head, in order to limit the spillage. But she won’t be helped and motions for him to back away, which he now does and, at a safe distance, he sits and watches her. He watches the can. She is gripping it but her hold is weak and it is cold and the can is slick.
Bundled in her dirty woollens and, unsupported on the hard ground, her movements are jerky. The can slips between her fingers and the lager, sloshing, froths at the rim. But somehow, tilting and tipping, she manages to hold on.
I think about those old arcade games, the ones with the claw attached to a tiny winch and I remember standing and staring through the glass, frantically turning the little wheel and trying desperately to grab one of the fluffy toys.
Remember that time
when you wound me up
so I tipped my Bloody Mary
over your head
and the celery stick
landed so pathetically
on the floor
by your feet
that we just had to
Remember that time?
then I ordered
another Blood Mary
and poured it
over my own head
and those celery sticks
crunched under our feet
as we kissed perfectly
“You’ve got tomato juice on your trainers.”
“Well, you’ve got tabasco on your tits.”
I haven’t ordered another Bloody Mary since.
“Oi. What colour are my eyes?”
Up until that moment, I had deliberately avoided looking into his eyes.
Eye contact is a connection, and I did not want to be connected to him in any way. He also sort of repulsed me and slightly scared me. I was glad to have somebody to buy me drinks and distract me from my all-consuming misery and self-loathing, but I didn’t want to look at him.
My intentions were good but applied far too late: I didn’t want to lead him on because I wasn’t attracted to him in any way and, like I said, he kind of makes me sick. But I probably should’ve made that clear before I slept with him.
His eyes weren’t nice. They weren’t bright or captivating, they held no sparkle, no promise. They were the eyes that belonged to so many men in this town: a dull and disinterested mix of grey and brown. Plain and passive. Eyes made of marijuana smoke and manual labour. Eyes that belonged to a soul with all the depth of an egg cup.
His eyes weren’t curious or animated like the wild orange marbles that lived in my sockets. His eyes were in a self-induced coma, made dull by a lack of education, absence of ambition and resignation to the type of mundane life that I could not bear to experience even for a day let alone a lifetime.
It was dark in our corner of the bar and my own eyes were vodka-glazed. And I didn’t want to look at him. But a quick glance confirmed my suspicion that his eyes were the same dead eyes that I’ve seen sleeping in the skulls of one hundred tired men before him, and will see in one hundred tired men after him, too.
To be honest, I wasn’t sure if they were grey or brown, and I have an irrational fear of getting things wrong. Which is terribly ironic considering the huge mistake I had made with him a week prior.
“Burnt,” I told him.
“Burnt. Your eyes are a burnt colour.”
“What the fuck does that mean? Burnt what?”
His eyes were the colour of burnt heroin.
They were the colour of scorched silverware, the colour of that bubbling class-A treacle on a teaspoon, the colour of the dried blood in the crook of your elbow.
But I didn’t want to gift him with this powerful comparison so I said,
“Sticky toffee pudding.”
He laughed and said,
“Oh, right! You could’ve just said fucking ‘brown’, you weirdo!”
Everything about him annoyed me. I struck a silent deal between my heart and my brain to stop befriending and humouring total morons. I drained the dregs of my drink and disappeared for a cigarette in the dark where nobody would be able to notice that my eyes were on their way to becoming as dead as theirs were.
I had a flashback of this house party that I went to a few years ago, where I was sitting in the kitchen sink drinking lukewarm vodka out of a Sports Direct mug and talking to a guy who had a portrait of Jack Kerouac tattooed on his right pec and he was gorgeous but a total arsehole, much like Kerouac himself, but this guy looked like a member of the Riot Club, all upper-class-pretending-to-be-middle-class and floppy hair and perfect teeth and skiing holidays and bonkers opinions, and we were arguing about a popular quotation that he thought was Bukowski but I knew it was misattributed and I wanted to punch him in the face but instead he lifted me out of the sink and carried me
through to the front room where everyone was rolling spliffs and fixing CK lines, that’s a mix of cocaine and ketamine that goes up your nose and makes a thousand tiny holes in your brain but it feels like one massive hole right behind your eyes, so we had uno lino por favor and were attempting to speak Old and Middle English to each other because nobody else knew it and it was like our secret but we only knew words like meadhall and shield and protector and riverside and jewels so it wasn’t much
of a conversation, and then the person whose house it was took this big, ugly urn off the mantelpiece and opened it and said, “This is my nan” and he poured out some of her cremated remains onto the table and got a credit card and made a line out of her and fucking snorted her ashes saying that he wants to feel close to her, and we said well, do you? do you feel close to her now? and he yes, yes I do and then this crazy
girl, the kind of girl who looks like she isn’t actually alive because there is so little blood in her drugstream, she weighs about the same as an Argos catalogue and she sold her soul to a man who rapes and beats her in exchange for a gram of speed, like if she were a cartoon she’d have black crosses where her eyes should be, that kind of crazy girl decided to snort some of his grandmother and then some other girl licked her finger and dabbed it in the pile of grandmother and rubbed her bone fragments and burnt skin onto her gums and when she smiled her teeth were greyer than they were before and then suddenly this bloke was racking up lines of his fucking grandmother and people were rolling up notes and receipts and snorting her and it was fucked up even by my standards, don’t get me wrong, I’ve done some fucked up shit but this
was too far even for me, and then I noticed that the blind guy was missing and I hadn’t seen him for a while and I knew he’d dropped a load of acid and drunk 2 bottles of red wine in the space of an hour and had been boring everyone to tears banging on about the Byzantine empire and I know he’s a fucking accident waiting to happen because he lived in my building and once he drank a bottle of bleach and the mental health team asked me to keep an eye on him because I’m chronically suicidal so we had “something in common” which was literally like the blind leading the blind but still I felt obliged as a human being to find him, plus I didn’t really want a death on my hands, and besides nobody else gave a flying fuck where he was so I looked for him in every room and noticed that the front door was wide fucking open and I found him lying out in the street, a few doors down, rolling around in the snow and he said to me, “This is what heaven must be like” and I told him to come back inside but he wouldn’t because he thought I was Mary Magdalene and he didn’t trust Christian figures so I said, fine, fucking freeze to death and decided that I wanted
to fuck the Riot Club guy because fucking him would be the closest thing I’d ever get to fucking Jack Kerouac which is one of my many unachievable dreams so off we went but I had to fuck him with my left hand over his left pec the whole time because tattooed on his left pec was a portrait of Edgar Allen fucking Poe who, as much as I admire his writing, I definitely did not want to fuck because he sort of scares me and not in a risky kinky way but in a creepy uncomfortable way because whenever I think of him I think of him as a dead man and I see him as a corpse, sort of like the crazy girl who was downstairs snorting some guy’s nan’s ashes and screaming I CAN TASTE YOUR NAN AT THE BACK OF MY THROAT!
Fortnightly overdoses and falling asleep in the bath
Ridiculous wine descriptions and tattooed knuckles
Antiseptic and anticipation
Disappearing acts and swapping house keys
Superglue and frozen teeth
A stolen bottle of mustard and an Irish funeral
Forgetting and failing and faking and Fuck Forever-ing
Rusty kisses and missing the last bus
Betting slips and 56 missed calls
Vanilla vodka and the First Casualty of War
Coffin shopping and cryptic crosswords
LSD and the ghost of Keats on Hampstead Heath
Tampon strings and sewing machines
Vape sticks and scaffolding
Tinned peaches and bascule bridges
Hugo Boss shirts and serial killers
A shelf-less bookshelf and ignoring aeroplane safety demos
Swimming to Mexico and believing in angels
3-day stubble, you’re bang in trouble, double up for £1
Pinching each other because we aren’t entirely convinced that we’re alive
Marriage proposals and morphine dreams
Rhetorical questions and infinite eggshells
Spying on the neighbours and eating jam doughnuts with a knife and fork
Lordship Lane and waking up with two black eyes
The United States of Shock and Dismay
Blonde on Blonde and asphyxiation
A pint of daffodils and the view from the bell tower
Blood tests and a ouija board
Perjury and the 4 hour Happy Hour
Grey hairs and burnt toast and wondering what the hell it’s all about
I should have written a novel about her at the time, or a short story at least, kept a diary maybe. A scant-few weeks have elapsed, but already I can sense my mind reaching out for the detail of the past with manipulative hands, twisting the truth with between my fingers to fit a narrative. If I take my pen to paper, I am not convinced that what happened then would be as I document now. It is an immaterial thought; for my hand is not steady enough to write.
I look down into my shot-glass, positioning myself direct above the rim so it forms a perfect circle against the dark-stained wood of the bar. This circle is today, not the past. It is absolute in form, with no distortion of perspective, no aberration in colour, no lies told that I cannot correct with an informed shift in point of view – this is no selective memory, yet. I drain my drink and order several more – I lose count long before I run out of cash -but with each refreshed glass I make sure I look down upon that circle: to remember.
Alex can see I am a mess and like any good bartender she asks after me, the concern on her face genuine, for I am a regular now and we have become familiar of late. I don’t tell Alex about the shit going on my life, because then she would be no different to the others that show interest, be it society-required faux-concern, or genuine. Every conversation with Alex would be stilted and short, progressing in the same way – “how are you holding up?”, “it must be so tough”, “I can’t imagine what you are going through.”
I want Alex to remain my personal escape, and of late I need her to be my imagined infidelity. She lifts her short skirt and lowers her panties, bending forward, supporting herself with her hands against the rough brickwork of the alley at the back of the bar. Her mouth spews encouraging filth as I give her, at her own demand, a severe pounding from behind. But then, even in my own fucking fantasy-dream, I can’t keep up and I slump to the cold floor – breathless, pants around my ankles. Alex straightens her clothing and laughs at me, then picks at the grit in her palms in an absent fashion, as if she has done so many times before; and in my mind she has.
I still wouldn’t swap my imagined failure for Alex’s pity; I already have too much of that in my life. I wake in a puddle of light, soaked in the midday sun and, I think, my own piss. The bedroom reeks like something has died in here, and, as I open the windows wide, once again I wish it had been me and not her. I hold my wedding ring to the window, and in the blinding sun I look upon the perfect silhouette. This particular circle is of the past, and I cannot recall as much about her face today, as I did yesterday.