A Short Story...
I did it again.
Sometimes I get scared being alone with my thoughts. Because I’m not alone. I live in my head with my bullies. I am a bully.
It started well. I should have eaten something though. I should have had some breakfast. I’d had a nightmare the night before. It was horrible.
I felt very pretty in my new dress and I was wearing red lipstick. I liked how I looked, I thought I was looking good. The day went on, I drank red wine. We did the crossword. I wasn’t very good but I got a couple of clues, I was pleased about that. We drank port. We moved tables, sat on the sofa.
I lost control. My brain unhinged itself and starting to process things differently. It started to tell me different things. I was upset. I thought about different things. I slipped into a path I knew well. I was quiet but my eyes glared. I’d switched off behind them. The anger rose again. It felt good. A roaring anger about nothing.
I don’t remember leaving. At home, I would not go to bed. I fought and flung a chair. I finally ate, I played music loudly and made embarrassing phone calls.
Two days later I play it over and over again. An oppressive feeling pounds in my head. Guilt and shame. He says it’s ok and we all do it. I feel a fool. I feel familiar. Time. Time will heal it.
It will be ok, I will forgive myself soon. Let it be sooner. I can’t function as I continue to rage at myself an internal battle. Remain calm, face it, block it out, overcome it, apologise for it. Makes no difference.
I did it again.
A short story.
‘Who on earth would drop a dish cloth on route to catch a train?’ Alan’s mind pondered as he climbed the steps to Barnes Bridge train station.
The light was beginning to fade although it wasn’t much past 2pm, the rain hadn’t stopped all day. Drip, drip, drip. It had given Alan a monster of a headache. The offending article, a sodden abandoned dish cloth, lying bunched up in the crevice of the steps. The question was just another riddle to solve that would ultimately result in a very unsatisfying conclusion were he to devote any time thinking about it.
Alan decides that if the train is delayed by more than a minute then this a bad omen for the visit, although perhaps the dish cloth was the omen, basically Alan knew, with or without a bad omen, today would be totally crap.
As he stands on the platform looking out to space his mind projects him back eighteen teeny tiny years ago to when he had said goodbye to Stephen. He can’t remember the exact day, the memory is blurred and he can’t be sure how much of it he really remembers and how much has been added and edited by his own influence.
He’s not sure if he actually used the words ‘Goodbye’, it would seem unlikely, in fact he’s not sure he said anything at all but instead left the pub without a word, that seemed more realistic. The problem was he tried to block out thoughts of Stephen for a long time and now his mind was hungry for the denied thoughts and memory to the extent of adding extra details in order to satisfy it’s thirst for knowledge. Thoughts of Stephen were increasing and unconscious, they’d drift back into his mind, hours would pass and he’d realise he’d thought of nothing and no one else. The real connection had gone after so much time, even the real stuff he remembered felt false.
At Clapham Junction Alan boarded the bus and fished inside the bag he’d brought with him for his tissues, only to drop them back in again when he couldn’t remember why he’d wanted them. The bag was an old crumpled ‘bag for life’ with little ladybirds on it. It must have been Barbara’s, perhaps the only thing he’s kept since her death.
107 Northcote Road approaches, he slows his pace down a little. The only thing to do is to get his visit over and done with. ‘I can leave in 2 hours without being rude’ he thinks to himself as he checks his watch. He never enjoyed Richard and Irene’s company, they reminded him of his lifetime of married boredom.
Some hours pass and Alan’s back at home, relieved to once again be alone with his thoughts. It occurs to him then when he walked back down the steps from the station he failed to notice if the dish cloth was still on the steps. Alan wants to go back and check if it is still there or not.
Alan settles down for a dinner of cold ham, hand carved from the joint he cooked last week, home cooked chips cooked in the deep fat fryer he’d finally bought for himself on his last birthday, and two fried eggs. Barbara, would always insist that every evening meal must have vegetables, nothing too exotic, it was normally green beans. 30 years eating green beans practically every day, it was an exponentially long time considering Alan’s dislike of them.
After her sudden death, he continued to buy and eat green beans, still stuck in the shopping routine. Not anymore though, he hoped he’d never eat a green bean for the rest of his life.
Clearing up he picked up the dish cloth on the draining board to wash up his plate. A sudden spasm, great pain spread down his arm. So painful that he dropped the plate he was holding, the plate hit the tiled kitchen floor and shattered into hundreds of pieces. Alan barely noticed, the pain was so huge and terrifying to him.
Finally as the intense pain slowly ebbed away, he managed to drag himself away from the kitchen and onto the sofa on the other side of the room. Slowly his breathing returned to a manageable speed and the pain in his arm was gone. The pain had left an imprint on his mind that he couldn’t quite shake, he shook gently.
Minutes tick by and Alan has got himself together but something remained with him, a fear, time running out. At 61 it wouldn’t be unusual for a man of his age to have a heart attack.
Then it dawns on him, the feeling is so bright after the pain he is elated. He could have spent his last day on the planet visiting people he didn’t like, doing boring chores that aided no one. He’d only cleaned the windows last week, why had he done them again this morning? The chores were a way of telling himself he was needed in some way. He wasn’t needed, at all, by anyone. He hadn’t been needed for 18 long and agonising years. He wanted to be needed.
He leaped up from the sofa and went back into the kitchen, he swept aside the debris of the smashed plate with his foot and reached up to the top of the cupboard and took out a dusty bottle of cooking brandy with a few inches of brandy left in it. He took a belt of it straight from the bottle and then another, he giggled to himself, he must look like a desperate drunk, that appealed to him. He finished off the brandy and left the bottle on the side, refusing to put it in the bin despite the bin being less than a step away.
The brandy wiggled its way down his spine and into his toes am made him feel momentarily encouraged, he walked through the flat and into his bedroom, still decorated with floral cushions and a disgustingly twee bedspread. The bed had been expertly made by Alan that morning. He threw the bedspread onto the floor and kicked the washing basket in the corner of the room so it fell on its side and spilled dirty clothes over the floor. He felt a little rush inside him, he felt almost dizzy. What would he do next? He already knew, he knew what he really really wanted to do and if he didn’t act now he would lose his nerve and never find the courage again.
He didn’t need to get dressed but he paused as he passed the bathroom to look at himself in the mirror.. The face was familiar but didn’t seem to be old or young he just knew it as his own. He opened the bathroom cabinet and glugged a little mouthwash. He felt a sudden surge of anger when he remembered Barbara’s comments about his breath.
It was a lot colder now as he waited for the train to take him further west. The brandy had worn off, if he could just hold on a few more minutes for the train without losing his bottle.
He noticed Tony at the end of the bar of The George. Stephen’s brother. His luck spurred him on. Alan and Tony were not friends but they would nod at each other as they passed, Tony was a big man and a heavy drinker. It was late enough in the day for Alan to know that he was high as a kite.
As Tony spotted Alan approach, Alan saw him wince in recognition. He should have done this a long time ago. Before social niceties could get in the way Alan blurted out ‘Where is he?'
Tony looked at him shocked at first despite the booze. The unspoken name, Alan grew stronger, Tony grew weaker. ‘He, don’t drink here no more’ it was as if his actions were in slow motion, Alan got the feeling that were Tony not plastered he would have turned and run and away.
‘He drinks at the Dartmouth now’
Alan nodded. And left Tony in peace without another word.
The last orders bell goes as Alan walks into the Dartmouth Castle, there’s a drumming in his head. He’s made it. The place is still busy and it occurs to him for the first time that he doesn’t know what he’ll do if Stephen isn’t here. He might not be here. The idea that he isn’t is so soul wrenching he wants to cry out. He panics. His mind and heart racing so hard that he feels he might collapse on the floor and die right there.
A warm glow spreads all the way through him, it’s as if he is lowering himself into a warm bath on a cold night when he sees him. He’s looking older, obviously, but he can feel the familiar buzz in his head.
Stephen sees him now, the glint is there, in his eye. Alan might have just popped out to the shops, he feels he’s always been here. He is home. He unaccountably thinks back to the dish cloth he saw this morning. It was another life ago.
He walks towards him. All the things he remembered were true. Vivid memories. Complete joy. He’s almost sick with excitement. He reaches him and he’s grinning, he can’t stop grinning like a fool, an old fool.
‘It’s your round’ Said Stephen.
Anne says that she used to live in London, she asks if she can come and visit me when I’m better. Anne met her husband in London, she says they went to a lot of parties. Anne is going to be a grandmother in a month’s time, Anne says she’s completely ready to be a grandmother. Anne came up to visit me once in Putney, she kept the tube ticket so she could claim it back, she said I was a success story, it didn’t feel like that when she left but I think it’s true now. Anne’s hero at university was Che Gavara, she said she went on many protests at university, she said Che Gavara was very lovely looking, she had his poster on her wall. Anne and I met in a cafe once, she tried to pay for the coffee but I insisted I got it even though she could claim it.
When I first met Anne she scared me, I couldn’t work out why she was filling in forms on different coloured paper, I was suspicious of her. Anne looked very knowing and I wondered what she knew. I gave Anne a hug once.
Anne said ‘I think you should have been told you were loved more often when you were little’. I thought the world of Anne.