I’m going to do it this time, I know I’ve said it so many times before but this time’s going to be the last. I’ve been preparing myself all week. I’m scared, but I want to do it. If I can get past the first two days I can do it. I usually fail after about six hours. This is going to be my last trip to the off license, the last awkward walk back with a bag filled with cans and bottles. The woman behind the counter won’t ever see me again, the way she looks at me with pity makes me feel ashamed, it has to be the last time. If I don’t go through with it, I’m not going to have long left.
It’s one of them crisp, cold December evenings. I can’t feel the cold though, I’ve only got a light jumper on, no t-shirt underneath it. The sweat pours down my forehead, it’s a sticky sweat, thick and sweet smelling, all the booze coming out of me. I’ve tried to cut down to make tomorrow easier but I’m going to have one last bender tonight. It ain’t really a bender, not what other people would call a bender, sitting at home on your own drinking yourself to the point that you black out and will never know what you did.
I’ve still got that Ready Brek glow, where everything feels good with the world. I’ve got the confidence to look people in the eye, I’m not drunk, I just feel right, almost normal. It’s a window you have, it’s small and rarely lasts long but it’s your connection to reality, you feel hunger, sometimes emotion, you act normally, your mind still not consumed by the madness of whatever it is you are drinking. It’s a limbo, the only way out is the terror of withdrawal or the insanity of blackouts. If I could always feel like this I don’t think I’d stop, wrapped in cotton wool for the rest of my life.
The grey blocks of the estate don’t look as grey as they usually do, I wonder how many other people behind them windows live like I do? How many of them are contemplating the same things I am? Will they go through with it or will they fail. How many of them will make it until next year? A red light in one of the windows reminds me of being a kid and having a red lamp in my room, I don’t know why I chose red, perhaps it made me feel warm as I read late into the night. Innocence, you don’t know what’s out there waiting for you when you’re a child, everything is always going to be okay.
The woman in the shop doesn’t pay any attention to me as the bell on the door rings as I open it. I need to choose wisely, it’s going to be the last time. I automatically walk towards the ciders with the cheap labels on the bottles, I can smell it even though it’s not open, I gag, vile stuff, but it’s kept me going the last few years. I won’t miss it, maybe just a small one for old time’s sake, it’s only a couple of quid. I hesitate as I move my hand towards the bottle to pick it up. Fuck it, I can’t spend my last night drinking this shite.
I walk up to the counter with three twenty pound notes in my hand, wanting the woman to look at them, to think he’s got money for once. She still ignores me, why would she care that I have £60 in my hand? I look at all the bottles behind the counter. Why do I really enjoy drinking? Is there actually anything about it that I get any pleasure from?
“A bottle of Courvoisier and a bottle of Smirnoff, please. Oh and 40 Bensons, actually make it 60.”
She takes the bottles from the shelves barely acknowledging me. I give her the money and she hands back my change.
“This is the last time, you’ll never see me again.”
No answer, just a look of confusion. It seems she means more to me than I do to her. I’m insignificant, just another customer, someone whose face she vaguely recognises. Was I always just imagining those looks of pity? The woman who works in the off license has been a person who has been a constant in my life for years, I don’t know her name, I have no idea where she lives, I can barely make any conversation with her, yet here I am feeling disappointed, illusions that there might have been some kind of connection between us shattered. Loneliness, eh?
Walking back from the shop towards my block I try to catch people’s eyes, I want to tell everyone that this is the last time, that they’ll never see me walking back from the shops again with bottles in a bag. They’ll never see me late at night crawling up the stairs, they’ll never see me shivering and shaking waiting outside a shop waiting for it to open. They won’t ever see me talking to myself because I’ve drank so much all sanity has left me. They’ll see me looking healthy, going to get a newspaper in the morning and a can of coke. They don’t give a shit though.
Sitting on a bench on the green that separates two of the building blocks is an acquaintance. He’ll listen to me. There’s a can in his hand, holding it tightly with both hands as if it’s the most precious thing in the world. He nods as I veer from my path home and head towards the bench. He shifts up the bench slightly giving me space to sit down. I can see his eyes on my bag, I know how he feels, that can is his last and he probably has no money, thinks he’s won the lottery, me sitting next to him loaded up with vodka and brandy.
“Not seen you around for a bit? Where you been?”
“I went off the booze, went into some rehab for a few weeks, I couldn’t take it so I walked out.”
“Not managed to stay off it then?”
“What’s the fucking point of giving it up? Life’s shit anyway, all they did when I was in that place was talk about my childhood and all that bollocks. How’s that supposed to stop me from having a drink? Fuck it anyway, I know my fate.”
“I’m going off it tomorrow.”
“Are you fuck. You’ll last a few hours and you’ll be down the off license by the afternoon.”
“I’ve been cutting down, I’ll do it this time. I’ve had enough of it, it’s shit. What the fuck are we doing with our lives?”
“Wait until you start feeling things, you’ll know how I felt then. You going to share that booze then?”
He necks his beer in one go and throws the can onto the grass, looking at my bag eagerly.
“Not today mate, it’s my last little party for myself. Take this, go and get yourself something with it. Have a drink to my success too. See you around, look after yourself.”
I leave him with a £10 note. He can do what he wants with it, he ain’t coming to my last little party though, it’s only going to be me. I wonder if, when I walk past him in the future, will I look at him with pity? Will I even acknowledge him? Maybe I’ll turn into one of them people who see it as some kind of crusade to turn everyone sober. Nah, fuck that, it’s about me, I don’t care what anyone else gets up to. They need to solve their own problems. Time to go home and get ready for my last night of madness.
The block I live in is 10 floors high. I live on the fifth, it’s a long walk up when the lift doesn’t work but I run up the stairs faster than I have done in years. I haven’t had a drink in a few hours now, I feel sweaty but not too bad, the bag is in my hand, it’s a comfort, I know that I’ll be able to have what I want whenever I want it. At the top of the stairs I stop and look out the window, looking at nothing in particular, just surveying the land. I feel a tear in my eye, is it the start of the grieving process? I wipe it away and open the door. Last time I’ll be coming in here with a bag of booze.
I put the two bottles on the coffee table then sit down on the sofa. The glow is starting to fade away, I look back at the bottles, I don’t really want to open them, I’ve never had that feeling before. It rules my life, every single thing I do is controlled by that liquid inside those bottles. I can’t get up without it, I can’t go anywhere unless I have enough of it to see me through the time that I’m outside. I go into the kitchen and take a glass and return to put it down next to the bottles, I’ll wait, I want to show it that it has no control, that it really is the last time.
My living room is sparse, there’s only my coffee table, the sofa and an old television that I bought a couple of months ago. Before that I would just sit here and drink, no television, just me, my sofa, the coffee table and a bottle. The sun is setting, the red glow in the winter sky makes me feel warm, when the next few weeks are over I’ll be able to go out for walks, enjoy the sunset, enjoy all the things that I have forgotten that I enjoyed. I might even make some friends, it’s not that I don’t know anyone, I do, they just don’t want anything to do with me.
I close my eyes for a few minutes, it’s a small escape from the room, when I open them again the bottle seems to be pulling me towards it. I unscrew the lid of the vodka bottle, the cracking sound as the seal breaks, the smell of the alcohol drifting up towards my nose making me shudder. I put the lid on the table and sit back again. It’s like a game, trying to convince myself that I’m stronger than I am, really I am just delaying the inevitable. I sit back up and pour the clear liquid into the glass, I pick the glass up and knock it all back in one go, it’s begun, for the last time it’s begun.
Half the bottle is gone and I am starting to have a fight with myself. I’m trying to convince myself that it isn’t necessary to give it up tomorrow, that I can have one more little party tomorrow night. How is one more night going to hurt? It won’t, surely? Anyway, when I do give it up, what am I going to do? Sit in here on my own all the time, no friends, watching shite television, going for walks on my own, what’s the point in all of that? I won’t enjoy it. I’ll just end up lonely and bitter and with nothing to take those feelings away.
The worst thing about it all is that I’ll never be able to feel like this ever again. I won’t be able to feel confident, I won’t be able to feel like anything is possible. Sitting here with the vodka inside me I feel like I could travel the world or find any woman I want. I can make a great life for myself, I just haven’t made the effort yet, I can if I want to. I can keep it under control as well, I know I’m an alcoholic but I could just become one of them functioning alcoholics. That’s got to be better than giving it all up completely.
I remember them times when I used to go down the pub and spend hours in there drinking with friends, talking about football, laughing and joking, and then we’d go off to some club somewhere or go for an Indian. We’d go back to someone’s flat and carry on drinking into the morning. If I stop, give it all up them things ain’t ever going to happen again. How will I be able to enjoy life? I don’t think it’s possible. It might be a bit fucked up sometimes but it ain’t as bad as I think it is. I can see how I feel tomorrow, if I feel too rough I’ll just have a drink and try again the next day, it ain’t that important at the moment.
It is important though isn’t it? I mean, I’m remembering all the good shit that has happened, I’m forgetting about all the bad times. All them good times were in the past, they ain’t things that have happened recently. When was the last time I went down the pub? It was fucking years ago. The reason I don’t go down there is because nobody talks to me, they all think I am a waste of space, a liability that they can’t take anywhere. What’s the chances of them changing their minds? None, they’ve heard it all before.
Travel the world? Find any woman I want? The only place I am going to be able to do that is here, in this room and it’s all in my head. Some mornings I can barely make it to the shop, dizzy, sweating, sick, retching. Half my teeth are missing, I can’t hold a conversation for long because I forget what I said at the beginning of the sentence. My brain is addled. It’s all just wild fantasies that I’m using to convince myself that stopping is a bad idea. It’s the same every time. I know it’s all bollocks, yet I believe it because I am scared, petrified of the unknown.
More than anything I would love to go for a walk, my head held high, not paranoid because I ain’t sure what I did the last time I went out. Not having to worry that people might be staring at me. I just want to go for a walk on my own to just enjoy it, the simplest of fucking things, I’ll be able to stop and sit on a bench, not having to worry about how I’m going to get enough money together to get another drink, how I’m going to get through the rest of the day. Care free, that’s all I want. I just want it to go away, leave me alone.
The bottle of vodka is gone, the other bottle is still sitting there. I feel unusually tired, normally I’d have the second bottle open and ready to go but my eyes are opening and closing, I’m slipping in and out of consciousness. I know that if I really am going to do it I should throw the bottle down the sink but I can’t find the energy. I want to move my body forward so I can stand up but it’s not responding, I’m half dreaming now. I’ll throw the bottle away in the morning, it’ll be a test of my resolve, a test of whether I really want to do this.
I sit up straight on the sofa, eyes still blurry, the bottle of vodka and the upturned glass is at my feet. My mouth is dry, I reach down to the glass but stop as the smell reaches my nose, I put it back down on the table. I pick up the empty bottle and walk out to the kitchen and put it in the rubbish bin. I take my only other glass and pour some water from the tap and drink it one go and then another. Back in the living room I light a cigarette and notice the other unopened bottle sitting on the table. I’ll throw it away in a bit.
It’s still dark outside, I turn on the television, it’s six. I’ve slept for longer than I thought I would, usually I can only sleep for a few hours before I wake, needing to drink something. The first hour is the easy part. There’s still all that booze in my body from the night before. After that first hour is when it’ll all begin. The woman on the television is talking about eating healthy foods, I turn the television off again, the clock in the corner of the screen makes me feel as though time is passing too slowly, the numbers never seeming to change.
Maybe I should go for a walk? It’ll pass the time quicker, it’d be good to get some fresh air before it all starts. Nah, I’m not going to go for a walk, I didn’t drink that much last night, I’m starting to feel a bit sick already, if I go out and start getting really sick I’ll only have one option. I feel a shiver go through my body, I hold out my hands, they are shaking slightly. The bottle on the table is starting to call me, I knew I should have thrown it away last night. Did I do it on purpose? Do I really want to go through with all this?
Two hours have gone, I’ve checked the television every ten minutes, I’m willing time to pass but it’s going slower and slower. My hands are really shaking now, I don’t want to stand up, if I stand up I feel like I’ll just fall over. No one would find me, nobody would know. Everything in the room has started to take on strange shapes. The coffee table seems larger, overbearing, like it’s going to smother me. When I turn on the television it feels like the people are talking to me, watching me, every word coming out of their mouths sounds loud, echoing through my head.
Fuck this, I don’t think I’m going to be able to do it. It was a good idea, it was the right idea but I don’t think I have the strength. Am I even worth all this? Am I actually worth having a life worth living? I curl up into a ball on the sofa, my knees against my chest, my arms squeezing my legs tightly. My hair is drenched with sweat, I can smell the alcohol seeping out of my body. I don’t have the energy to have a shower, I’d fall over anyway. The bottle is on the table looking at me, willing me to open it. I can still throw it away, but I don’t want to, it’s my safety blanket.
I hear footsteps outside. Someone is coming to get me. What did I do last night? I wasn’t that drunk, maybe I did something another night and now they’re coming. The steps fade away and I breathe again. A loud bang, the next door neighbour doing something. My heart just stopped. I wait and listen out for more sounds on the landing outside but it’s silent. I roll off the sofa and crawl into the corner of the room. Huddled up, protecting myself. I want to turn off the light, it’s burning my eyes but I can’t stand up.
The coffee table has started to change shape. It’s getting bigger and bigger, taking over the whole room. I push myself back further against the wall. There’s nowhere to run. More footsteps, the coffee table goes back to its normal shape. I’m covered in sweat, I relax against the wall and hold my hands out again, they are shaking uncontrollably. This is foolish, there must be another way to do this. I crawl back to the sofa and turn on the television, only a few hours have passed. I turn it off again, the colours are too much.
Just a small drop, just enough to make this a little bit easier. Surely that’s the best way? Doing it like this is just torturing myself. I can just have a few glasses throughout the day and by tomorrow I’ll be able to stop completely, there’ll be nothing left then anyway. I lift the bottle from the table undo the seal and pull the stopper. The smell of brandy makes me shiver, it’s the most beautiful thing I have every smelled. I pour it into the glass, the golden brown colour looks like liquid honey. I put the stopper back on and put the bottle back down. I hold the glass, staring at it.
I’ve made it a few hours. If I can make it that far I can make it another few. You’re not going to make it, just drink it, you’re killing yourself for no reason, it’s there in front of you, you can end it all in a few minutes. And then what? Then nothing, you won’t feel sick, you won’t be paranoid, you can get another few hours sleep. Then I’ll wake up again and go through the same thing from the beginning? No, it’ll be easier. You don’t have to do it this way. I can do it, I can make it. You can’t, you’re weak, you gave up last time, you’ll give up this time. Fuck you!
I put the glass back on the table. I want to get sick, it’s coming in waves and each wave is bigger and stronger, more frightening. If you don’t have a drink you are going to die, you do realise that don’t you? You can’t make it another hour. Just leave me alone! Death might be better than this. It’s okay, all you have to do is pick up the glass and drink and it’ll all be over. I don’t want to though, I don’t want to, I just want it all to go away. It will go away, what is wrong with you? Just pick up the fucking glass and drink!
I pick up the glass and bottle and walk with purpose into the kitchen, I throw the glass of brandy down the sink. I pull the stopper and the smell hits me again. Don’t be stupid, this is your lifeline, anyway if you throw it away you’ll only go to the shop later. It feels as though something is holding me, my arm won’t turn. You will regret doing it, if you think the first few hours were bad, wait until the next few, you’ll end up throwing yourself out the window. I use all my energy to turn my arm, the liquid glugs out and down the sinkhole, I wait until it’s empty and then turn on the tap. I slump down onto the floor next to the sink.
I’m not sure how many hours pass, I keep turning my body, running my hands through my hair, my muscles tensing, painful. I’m convinced I am going to die, at the moment, death would be a better option. I can’t focus on anything, I can’t think properly, all my thoughts are jumbled together into one big mess of nonsense. The only thing that isn’t a mess is the picture of a bottle in my mind, it’s always there. I close my eyes, feel as though I might sleep but jolt myself awake again, if I fall asleep I might never wake up.
I open my eyes, my forehead is still covered in sweat but I can focus. I lift myself up and sit against the kitchen cabinet. It’s bright outside, I reach for the sink and pull myself up. The bottle isn’t there anymore. I struggle into the living room, dizzy and shaky, there’s glass all over the floor. I fall onto the sofa and stare out the window, the blue sky looks warm but I feel cold. I turn on the television. Fuck, a day has passed, I’m still alive. I must have broken the bottle, my hands aren’t cut, maybe I was hallucinating again.
One day. I’ve made it one day. I still feel like shit, but not as bad as I did yesterday. My body is sore, I haven’t felt pain in a long, long time but it feels good, it feels like I am existing, that I am alive. I sit up and then stand up and walk towards the window, I’m unsteady on my feet and still feel as though I will collapse at any moment. I hold the window ledge and look down to the green. That fella is sitting there holding something in his hands. I made it longer than you said I would. I fall back onto the sofa, one day, one day, one day, I’ve got to make it to two. Maybe when I reach seven I can go for a walk. Only six to go.
This short story has been taken from my book of short stories The Unwashed which is available in paperback and on Kindle here. My first novel is also available here.