Spit & Polish

A short Novella…

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SPIT AND POLISH

BirdsFlyingAtSunrise

‘THE ONLY VOICE WORTH LISTENING TO IS THE ONE IN YOUR HEART’

Dan Fante

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ONE

I managed to get through another day at work and as soon as I was out the door I lit a cigarette. My stomach pains were getting worse and the one I was presently experiencing made me feel like shit. I was rotting from within. I could taste it. Over the past ten years I learnt there were only two things that fixed me up; Lucozade and beer. The Lucozade was good for when I couldn’t drink, and now that I was trying not to drink, it was the only thing that remained to ease the pain. I finished my cigarette and entered the closest shop to buy a bottle. Inside, a couple of school kids were giggling and sticking sweets inside their pockets and I marvelled at their skill. At the counter, two old women stood talking to the owner who was oblivious to the feats taking place within his shop, and I wondered whether he acknowledged anything at all apart from gossip and greed. Finally he noticed me and I paid up and got out of there as quickly as I could.

Standing on the pavement outside, I took a hit of the Lucozade and set off down the road. I wasn’t sure where I was going but I kept walking, hoping each step would ease my mood. I had just bought Chump Change by Dan Fante and wanted to read about his fucked up life so that I might feel better about mine. The office I worked in was starting to eat me alive. Shortly after I began my new employment I was presented with periods of down time and little work, so I sat there and wrote the novel I thought would finally set me free. I wrote the book I thought would let me escape, and escape I did, deeper into it and further from reality. But despite the constant doubts and self-loathing and fear, I went on and finished it, and now that it was done, I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t decide whether to submit it or surrender, and the more I re-read and reflected, the more I felt dejection spread. There was no escape. It was shit. I didn’t like it. Apparently other people did, but I didn’t know if I could trust them. So I left it. I tried to forget and ignore it and think of something new and better, something that would resurrect my hope and fill my life with words and worlds once more. But the thoughts were gone and my imagination was shot to shit, so I carried on and counted down the days in darkness, waiting for something to happen, waiting to be awoken from my wasteful ways for good.

After three years of sitting behind the same computer and watching nothing but empty screens, three years of staring straight ahead in silence, three years of progressively diminished desire and passion, I was tired. I was fucked. I couldn’t think. I had no ideas and no knowledge of how and where to find them. Years ago there were too many, and now there was nothing. Absolutely nothing. I was a waste of space and time with nothing but a set of rotten teeth and vacant flesh and bones. There was no hope. There was no hint of happiness from a future formed by ink and inspiration. There was no way I would be saved from the life I now lived and languished in when the words no longer healed. I was a failure and I knew it. For years my father insisted on telling me I was a fuck up and I finally began fulfil my destiny. I hated it. Even in death he continued to be right.

I walked into the park and sat down on the closest bench. I took out the book and stared at the photo of Fante Junior. His face was tough and his eyes angry, and even though I possessed little knowledge of his state or skill, somehow, I recognised him. I finished my Lucozade and began to read and after a couple of chapters I took a break and placed the book beside me on the bench. I rolled another cigarette, lit up, took in a deep breath and watched as a man and a woman ran past me wearing lycra clothes that revealed far too much. I continued to smoke and remembered when I used to go to the gym and had muscles and could run on the treadmill for over an hour. I remembered feeling fit and healthy, and above all, confident and care free. I chose to exercise because I wanted to feel something other than failure and disappointment, but all the training and sweating and panting and drooling was too much effort and stained emotion. So I gave up and the stomach I tried so hard to lose took little convincing to return. It was over. I started to drink again.

I picked up the book and resumed reading. This Dante guy was fucked. He was drunk and derailed and countless other deranged and fucked up things, but I liked him. I admired the brutal honesty of the prose and the power with which they struck. The book was good. I was addicted and didn’t want to stop. The words hit me in the face like empty bottles sent crashing to the ground beside my naked feet. I wasn’t yet sure if father and son shared their style and tone, but thus far I liked them both and it didn’t  matter. I didn’t care. I didn’t want to compare them because to me it made no difference. A good book was a good book and immediately I thought about my own. I didn’t want to think about the old one because it made me angry and despondent so I tried to think about the next one. I looked about me and searched for some form of inspiration, an idea, a glimpse of something untainted by my tongue and touch, but nothing came. Nothing sought my alliance and I questioned why it should. What the fuck was I going to write about? I didn’t even know if I could write anymore, and soon enough I realised thinking about it wasn’t helping. The more my lack of ability and skill wavered in my gut, the more I wanted a drink.

It had been three weeks since I last had a beer. It was a bad idea and I got so fucked that the next day I couldn’t leave the house. The next morning I was sore all over and sweating through my clothes and I knew the only thing that would make me feel better was the precise thing that made me feel like that in the first place. But the reason I quit drinking, or rather, tried to control and limit it, was weekends were increasingly spent in pain and these incidents were spilling out into the week. Going to work with a banging headache and worrying about whether I would shit my pants made me hate the fucking place even more. I didn’t want to be there on a sober day, let alone a day of squandered dreams and time, and being that much closer to walking on beyond the gates or not returning from lunch was something I could not afford. It was a shit situation, but other people had it worse, and I knew this was something I should appreciate and respect, and I did, or at least, I tried.

I read another couple of chapters and smoked a further cigarette or two. I looked at the photo of Dan Fante again and squinted my eyes as if to somehow make him come alive, but he didn’t, and I wondered when I would. I wanted a drink. I was thirsty and he saw it. I reached into my pocket for my tobacco and hid him away into my sack. The book was gone and I was no longer subdued by someone else’s life, I was back to mine and it annoyed me. I started to think. I started to think about loneliness and love and fear of failure. I thought about my parents. I thought about my letters and words and pages. I thought about the fact I was a fucking fraud. A fucking dreamer who did nothing but delude himself. A loser. A cheat. A hack. No one believed I could write a book and somehow live from words and ink. No one. So why the fuck should I? There was no way I could ever write like those I admired. They were the greats. The masters. The rulers of this kingdom I sought to enter, and I was but a shit stain on their arse. A piece of sweetcorn in their turd. There was not a chance in hell I could succeed and rest with them on shelves. It was not possible. Even the devil would not be interested in my soul. My gut was soiled and he knew it. The motherfucker knew it all.

I got up and left the park. As I walked down the street I wondered whether I would have a pint in the pub. Even though I knew I would, I tried to convince myself it was just as easy to refrain. Two nights ago I met up with a couple of actors myself and Tony got to know whilst filming our latest short film. Tony was an old friend and a drinker too. We enjoyed meeting and talking and working together, but I’m sure we enjoyed the drinking more than all the rest.

From what I could remember, the conversation went a little like this:

‘Let me fuckin’ finish.’ I said.

‘Let me fuckin’ finish.’ He answered

‘I was bloody talkin.’

‘No I fukin’ was.’ Tony replied.

‘I was talking first. Let me finish.’ I repeated.

‘No. I’m talking now.’ He slammed his fist down on the table for emphasis and effect.

‘But I was talkin’ before you started.’

‘No!’

‘You’re always bloody interrupting me.’

‘No I’m not.’

‘You never let me fuckin’ finish.’

‘Bullshit.’

‘So let’ –

‘That’s not true.’

‘Let me finish.’

‘No!’

We were sat in a small alcove in the back of some classy wine bar in central London, too classy for us and we knew it.

‘Man, you’re so fuckin’ annoying.’ I said and picked up my glass of wine.

‘Fuck you!’

A waiter came over and poked his hairy little face through the arch. ‘Would you mind keeping it down please?’ He asked.

Without turning to acknowledge him, Tony screamed ‘Fuck off!’ and flung his arm out to wave him away, only as he did, he struck his wine glass and it flew off the table and smashed on the uneven cobbled ground. The sound echoed through our chamber and I peered out to see a dozen faces staring at us and waiting. I stared back at them. The waiter disappeared and we continued to discuss the art of finishing.

‘You’re always fuckin’ interrupting me man.’ I stated once again.

‘Fuck off!’ Tony spat at me.

‘You’re pissin’ me off now.’

‘Piss off.’

‘Just let me finish, for once, let me finish.’

‘Finish what?’

‘What I was saying.’

‘What were you saying?’

‘I was trying to tell you that’ –

‘I know what you were saying.’

‘Stop interrupting me. You’re doing it again.’

‘Doing what?’

‘Interrupting me whenever I’ –

‘I don’t fuckin’ do anythin’.

‘Yes’ –

‘You’re talking bollocks.’

‘No I’m not.’

‘Yes.’ He slammed his fist down on the table once again. ‘You are.’

‘Let me’ –

‘No.’

‘You’re’ –

‘Shut up.’

‘Fuck you.’

‘Fuck you!’

This time two security guards appeared wearing yellow bands around their arms and stood at the entrance to our cave. They stared at us for a moment as we tried to make some sense of their presence. They looked at the smashed glass then back to us and without delay advised us to leave. We did as we were urged and stumbled up the winding metal stair case. The rest of the night faded into obscurity, but I experienced random flashes of Tony trying to start a fight with a tramp for asking if he had a spare cigarette.  The table in the wine bar was booked under the name Bukowski and it seemed fitting the night ended in shouting, threats of violence and being asked to leave by security twice our size and sober. The night hadn’t quite gone to plan and we apologised to everybody afterwards, even though we never really had a plan and our only aim was successfully achieved. Nine bottles of shitty expensive wine on empty stomach’s had that sort of effect. I thought about Buk and smiled at the hope we made him proud. He was a legend, and if people asked who the noisy fuckers were that night, they only had one name, the man and myth living on a little longer.

I contemplated trying to contact my old lecturer from University again but the last time I tried he didn’t respond. I sent him a sample of the latest novel I was working on and he failed to answer. Maybe he was dead. Or maybe my writing was. Either way he was no longer an option and it hurt when I realised I had none left. Previously, I had given some of my writing to family and friends and asked them to read it, to offer me feedback or anything that might encourage me to carry on, but only one person read it and the rest forgot about it and me. But I didn’t. I took it as proof of my lack of skill. I took it as evidence that I couldn’t write for shit, and if those closest to me couldn’t be bothered to read it or thought it was crap and refrained from telling me, how the fuck could I make it? How the fuck could I convince agents and publishers and those that held the power to print? How could I ever possibly succeed in seeing my writing published? The truth was, I wouldn’t. I knew it. I’d long since lost hope of convincing myself, let alone anyone else, but I would keep trying to write, I had to, there was nothing else. If I gave up on that, I would be giving up on myself and there would be no point in struggling with this life and trying to live within rituals and routines that made no sense, fighting urges to spend my money on beer whilst getting addicted to harder drugs and harder beds and faces that didn’t matter. ‘Fuck you all!’ I could scream and proceed to drink myself to death, forget about everything and everyone that ever meant anything to me. My dead parents. My lost lovers. The friendships that fell to shit and everything that disappeared without a trace. It would mean nothing and I would have no reason to hold it all together, to fight this constant battle which I lost and won in variable measure, though the loss appeared more persistent and was harder to endure and forced me to question why I even tried.

Having witnessed my father drink his way into the ground and ignore the love that tried to make him quit, having watched him close his eyes to all but inner dreams of death, I was fucked and I didn’t know what to think and how. My head was all over the place. Nothing made sense. The constant effort to maintain a level of existence that appeared to do nothing but throw up further problems and heartache and pain continued to fuck me up. I kept asking myself, ‘what’s the point?’ I couldn’t see it. I couldn’t identify any reasons not to give up. I had a woman I loved and a brother and uncle and the most beautiful niece who made everything disappear with a simple smile, but it didn’t matter. None of it did. Throughout my life I continued to place greater import on the wellbeing of those I cared about, and most often than not it led to nothing but disappointment and despair, nothing but feelings of embarrassment and shame for trying to do the right thing and being ‘a nice guy’. Fuck the nice guy. Fuck them all. I didn’t want to be a nice guy any more. I was fed up of it. I was fed up spending all my energy on people I increasingly came to realise did not appreciate nor deserve it. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to cope. I never did, and nothing was clearer now. I didn’t know if I truly wanted to throw in the towel and lose myself to drink. I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to fuck it all off and disappear, take what money I had and go away forever, leave all the shit behind and let others get on with their lives with nothing but fading memories of who I was, who I failed to be. I worried so much about letting people down, that now I wasn’t sure if I cared anymore. I didn’t want to be selfish, but I was thinking more and more about whether now perhaps I should. Perhaps I should Fuck it off. Perhaps I should go away and fuck around and drink beer and get into fights and do the things I wanted. The problem was, I didn’t know what I wanted. I never did. The only thing I knew for sure was that I wanted to write, and that was it, nothing more.

I came to where I was to meet my girlfriend and waited by the side of the road. I saw a fine pair of breasts and arse walk past me with a wiggle. She shook it at me. I was sure of it. Then I noticed my girlfriend waiting at the lights on the other side of the road and wondered whether she had seen my eyes focus on flesh that wasn’t hers. She smiled. I was safe. As I watched her begin to cross, I couldn’t help but think she was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen, and every time I saw her from afar I thought the same, I felt it deep inside. She was truly amasing. I was extremely lucky. I didn’t know what the fuck she was doing with me. I was a cunt. I treated her badly and never really made her realise how much she meant to me and why. I didn’t know whether it was something to do with the fact my parents were dead or whether losing the closest people in my life triggered some sort of defence mechanism within me, but even though I never set out or sought to make her cry, somehow, I always did. There was no reason for it, I didn’t mean to do it, but I couldn’t figure out how to mend myself and so I endlessly thought about how much of a fucking bastard I was and how much I didn’t deserve her. I told her. I told her she would be happier with someone else, someone who could make her laugh and feel the way she longed to feel, someone brighter and better, someone other than me. But she stayed. She loved me. I didn’t know why, but she did.

‘Hi.’ I said and gave her a kiss.

‘Hello.’ She smiled. I realised she was with a friend of ours and smiled at both.

‘Hi’, I said to Rachel and offered her a kiss.

‘Hi’. Rachel replied.

‘Sorry for Tuesday night.’ I said. The Bukowski night. I wanted to make sure she knew I was sorry. I was.

‘It’s all right. We all get drunk and act like dicks.’

‘Yeah.’

I remained silent until we got to the pub. I tried to listen to what they were saying but couldn’t give sense to spoken words that passed with indifference. I kept thinking about random things and I couldn’t concentrate on anything specific within or beyond my head. I thought about a new book. I thought I had an idea. Then I thought about something else and forgot about the idea. I tried to remember what it was and thought about something else that lost its way entirely. I carried a small pad and pen in my inner jacket pocket but never wrote anything in it. The times I did take it out to try and get something down, I felt like a fucking idiot. Who was I trying to be? Who was I pretending to be? A writer? Fuck that. I knew it wasn’t true. The only work I ever had published was a poem I forgot the name of in a small print that ceased to exist, and that was almost eight years ago. What the hell happened since? What the fuck have I been doing? I had boxes full of manuscripts and drafts and stories and finished and unfinished novels, but they were all shit. The few I sent off to various people with titles above their names came back without delay and short letters of apologies questionable in sincerity. If genuine, I couldn’t understand what they were apologising for? It wasn’t their fault I was a fake and couldn’t write. It wasn’t their fault I wasn’t worth shit. I spent years working on a trilogy of film scripts for a popular franchise, and when I sent them off, no one even read them. All I received was a letter informing me that because I didn’t have an agent the words could not be read. I could read them and it confused me. I wondered whether the ink had faded from significance, until I realised an agent was indeed the best thing to try and gain. But where would I get one? In the supermarket? Under my bed? Within some dingy strippers club behind the curtains? Behind my curtains? Or in a secluded office protected by steel and glass? Or sat beside me in a pub drinking the same beer and cursing the fall of fortune? I had no fucking idea and knew they wouldn’t be interested anyway. Their days were filled with greater specimens of skill and they would curse me for placing poison on their lawn. Plus, what would I send them? A novel I lost faith in? A set of screenplays they could not sell? An unfinished novel? Another screenplay that was too long and lazy? Short stories that failed to excite? Poems that did not rouse? I had nothing. All that existed was paper with printed words that did nothing but prove the printer in my office worked. That was it, and no matter how much I tried to believe I still had a future and it was worth the effort, doubt and resignation was taking over.

When I wasn’t writing I felt like shit. When I wasn’t working on something that made me focus, I lost it. I couldn’t see the purpose of my existence. Writing made me feel like I was achieving something and offered me a reason to rise from the night and breath what air I could. So when the months continued to pass during which I had not written anything at all, I was angry. I was moody and irritable. There were few things I enjoyed more than writing, and when I couldn’t write, there was nothing. Nothing made it seem worthwhile, not my lovers smile or gestures from her heart, nor a day with family or gatherings with friends. Nothing. Nothing mattered. The only thing I felt was loss. Fear that I was spent. That it was over. I was finished. The worst of it was that I couldn’t explain it. I didn’t know how. I didn’t know how to try and make someone understand what I could not. I couldn’t see how or why they should. I couldn’t see any reason why anyone would give a shit. When I was writing I had my fix. It was an addiction and took over almost every single thought and everything I did. Everywhere I went I could not cease the thoughts and ideas and characters and plots and dialogue and words and words and words, and I didn’t want to. Why would I? But when that was gone, when all the tiny components vanished and the story fell to shit inside and all around me, so did I. There was nothing left. I had nothing to replace it with but emptiness, a dark and stifling pit of blackness that filled my veins with misery and despair.

‘What do you want to drink?’ Rachel asked.

I looked around and realised we were already in the pub. I could hear the laughter and voices circling around me and the din distracted me from my desolation. I tried to decide whether to have a pint or not, but concluded there were more important things to think about, so the words took care of the decision and left me waiting for their return.

‘A pint of Carling, please.’

Part of my problem was that I found it difficult to talk. I was never good at it and I preferred to refrain from involvement in conversations. Not because I had facts to hide or secrets to keep, but merely because I preferred to listen and learn more of things I didn’t know. Not all of it was good, but it was useful in some form or another. Each person possessed experiences I did not, and even if it was shared, their account and interpretation was different. People were interesting. I didn’t like them, but they interested me.

We walked out into the garden and picked a bench in the sun. The two women started talking about various things and I took my notebook out of my bag and placed it on the table, intent on making some progress despite my anxiety and fear of rootless eyes.  I listened to them for a while and looked around the beer garden. Everybody seemed to be in good spirits and the mood was pleasant. The sun made people smile and when the weather was so shit and unpredictable, so were the people, but moments existed when calm filtered through brains and branches.

I took a sip of beer and began writing as the idea re-appeared and I wanted to get it down before I forgot again. Occasionally I stopped writing and listened to the conversation. I rolled a cigarette and smoked it slowly as two more friends joined us. We greeted one another and they entered into the discussion. They were talking about work. I knew as much about their work as they did and I wasn’t sure how to feel about it. I cared little for my own place of work, let alone that of others. I knew it would not be better, I knew it would not be more enjoyable or fulfilling for rarely did people enjoy working, and if they did, they were extremely lucky, or fucking stupid. The subject of work was a dull affair and it upset me that it was such a main component of people’s lives. Most people woke, dressed, and went to work, proceeding on this course until they died or retired or were fired and left to rot. If they retired with a decent pension they could perhaps enjoy the latter years of life, unless illness chose their re-employment, and then there was nothing but pain and darkness. It was a horrible existence, made worse by the fact the Tories were back in power and cuts were being made everywhere as more and more people were thrust into poverty. Taxes would rise. Unemployment would soar. Education would once again become an indulgence for the rich, and the only explicit truth was that the affluent would prosper and the country would faller deeper into shit. The social class system would be maintained and backwards would we go once more, into the future, our future. It was dull and tiresome. Politics didn’t do anything for me. To me it made no difference. They were all liars and cheats. Their lives did not mirror those they were meant to represent and so it was a pointless exercise that permitted the unfit to rule and roost. MP’s in tracksuits glimmering in the camera lens and smiling with their painted teeth that hid a thousand lies. All pretence and no aid in present tense. An ancient hall with rotten laws and Cambridge and Oxford and private school graduates who learnt about real life from the maids that swept away their shit and praised the colour of their piss through fear and hate. It was bollocks. But now there was hope. A beacon of a better time yet to pass. A new man in no. 10. A new man with new words and new plans and old promises that would not be kept. I didn’t care. I was tired of it all.

I wrote a little more and put my pen down. I took a sip of my beer and listened to what was being said around the table. One of the ladies looked at me and asked, ‘What are you writing?’

I wasn’t sure what to say. I never spoke about writing or being a writer because I wasn’t. I had experienced no success and so there was nothing to speak of. It embarrassed me and made me feel uneasy. ‘Just trying to get a few ideas down.’ I said and tried to smile.

‘That’s a nice pad.’ She said whilst looking at the closed notebook.

‘I got it for about four quid in the sale at WhSmith’s. I should’ve bought more, but to be honest, it’s still pretty much empty, so that proves how much writing I do.’ I looked at it and realised that I bought it almost a year ago and it was still full of blank pages. A year ago. Shit. I was a year closer to wilderness and oblivion.

‘It’s nice.’

I nodded and drank some more of my beer. Despite my somewhat distant presence, I was enjoying their company and felt relieved to be among them. It was easy and calm. I looked at them as they continued to talk among one another and realised good people did exist. Kindness had not disappeared and happiness remained something tangible and real. They were proof of it and I considered my own state of being. I was tired of being angry. I was tired of feeling nothing but fear and loss for the way my life had changed. It was not my fault, I thought, and though I tried to force myself to believe there was nothing I could’ve done, it didn’t stop me from continuously blaming myself. It was my fault my mother was left alone with my drunkard father. It was my fault she couldn’t cope and gave up. It was my fault he kept on drinking. It was my fault he died alone. It was my fault my previous relationship ended. It was my fault previous friendships flagged and disappeared into the wasteland. It was my fault I felt more alone than ever. I had good people around me but I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t know how to behave or what to say. It was humiliating and disheartening. I was tired of the pain but it wouldn’t go away. It was always there. Deep inside. Deeper than I knew or wanted to acknowledge.

I looked at my girlfriend and watched her lips as they moved. She loved to talk and done so with energy and passion and conviction in every single syllable. Sometimes I thought she talked too much, but maybe she was compensating for my inability to communicate, maybe she was doing her best to make me feel secure and out of harms delay. I loved her so much and it frightened me. It made me weak and vulnerable and that was something I didn’t want to be. My heart was fucked and I wasn’t sure it could take any more. The thought of fucking up or being fucked weighed me down and held me back. It choked me and restricted any sort of clear breach of sadness and despair. It wasn’t safe. Love was never safe. It was a risk and I had gambled with my heart before, the outcome nearly killing me. But somehow I found my way back and I didn’t know if I was brave enough to do it all again. I didn’t know if I could cope. It was all so complex and made me anxious and jumpy. I wasn’t sure if I could love again. I wasn’t sure if I was dead inside. I wondered whether the events of the past six years had really fucked me up. Was I beyond repair? Had losing my grandparents and both my parents and all those I loved before screwed me up inside? Had it sent me to a place of no return? A place of darkness and barren dreams and loneliness. Had their loss included parts of me? It felt like it. I couldn’t remember how I felt before or if I felt at all. I wasn’t sure if I could ever truly open my heart and risk being wounded again. I felt like I was dying already. I was sure that if another incident fucked me in the heart it would be over. I would be finished.

Having lost my parents at a relatively young age I couldn’t help but feel that I wasn’t going to live long. I couldn’t see any evidence that would make me think I could. I was fucked. I was going to die, and I couldn’t help but think it would happen soon. It made me think about all the things I hadn’t done, all the things I should’ve done, all the things I regretted doing, and soon I thought about the worth of such considerations and what they meant and whether I would ever know or understand. I knew all past events had led to this particular point and contributed to the person that now sat and drank a beer, I knew it was all part of some twisted journey, I knew it was all in the past and could not be changed, but sometimes, sometimes I thought about what it would be like if things could change. I wondered what it would be like if I could bring my parents back. Would I still shout at my mum and swear at her? Would I lose my temper with my father every time he drank another beer? Would I still abuse their love? Would I still be the little shit that never obeyed instructions and continued to let them down? Would I still fuck it all up? Would anything change at all? There was no way of knowing and it hurt me beyond all measure that they were gone. It ripped me apart knowing that I could not talk to them again, that I could not ask them for help or advice, that at every moment from this point on, I was alone. I would never be able to embrace my mother and smell her perfume. I would never be able to show her new things and take her to places she had never been before. I would never be able to taste her spaghetti bolognaise again or feel sick from eating too much of her fishfingers and mash. I would never be able to listen to my father’s shit jokes and shake my head despite the fact they were a little funny and I was largely dumb. I would not be able to have a beer with him or talk to him about women and marriage and kids. I would not be able to ask him how to hold the spirit level and hit the nail inside my head. It was gone. It was all gone and it fucking hurt. I was lost and the only people who could find me were nowhere to be found. The only people who could love me no matter what were dead, and I was not. I tried not to think about these things. I tried to block it out. I tried to carry on and live my life, but the realisation that I would never hear their voice or touch their flesh or make them proud brought an overwhelming sorrow to my heart. If I finally wrote a book that people liked and made it as a writer, who would congratulate me? Who would speak of me to ancient friends with pride? Who would speak my name with nothing but love and tenderness? Who would beat me down if I got too arrogant and became a greater fucking idiot? Who would take action and show me the way? Who would always be there no matter if I fucked it up? I knew the answer. I knew the only person responsible for these things now, was me. But I wasn’t responsible. I thought about all the things that might happen even if I only lived another year, all the decisions, all the situations and unexpected problems. All the good and bad and other shit I couldn’t imagine or control. There was so much yet to surface and show me just how little I really knew, and it scared me shitless. I was terrified of older years and younger strife and a centred life so close to tilting balance with little counsel or forewarning.  But my eyes focused again and I saw before me the woman that I loved. The woman that made things better. She looked at me and smiled.

We stayed there for another hour before the two who joined us after our arrival got up and left. They said their goodbyes and wished us good fortune and told us to take care. I thanked them and returned the gesture. After they left I tried to write some more, but by this point I had drunk too much and my thoughts weren’t making any sense. I had lost whatever inspiration I briefly had, but at this precise moment, it didn’t particularly matter, I felt okay and as close to content my mind could re-collect. I had written about four pages and that was more than I had managed for quite some time. It was better than nothing even though I knew it could be shit, but I didn’t care, it was some form of progress and I was glad of populated pages.

We got on the subject of drinking, probably a result of my behaviour a couple of nights ago.

‘What’s so bad about being an alcoholic?’ I asked. It was the wrong thing to say. It was a stupid thing to say. It was a ridiculously wrong and stupid thing to say, and yet, I meant it.

‘What are you talking about?’ My girlfriend asked.

‘Being an alcoholic.’

‘I know. But what the fuck are you talking about?’

‘I just said that I’m not sure it’s such a bad thing.’

‘You’re talking shit.’ She looked away angrily.

‘Why?’

‘I can’t believe that after everything that happened with your dad you can even say something like that.’

‘Why’s it such a bad thing?’ I asked.

‘Why’s it such a good thing?’

‘Well…’ I didn’t know whether it was a good or bad thing. I was trying to decide.

‘Just cause you’re reading all these books about drunks and drug addicts, you’re talking rubbish.’

‘That’s not true.’

‘I think you should just stop talking.’

I looked at her and realised she was probably right. I was starting to talk shit, only to me, it wasn’t shit, it was something I often thought about. I thought about it every day. It was precisely because of my father that I thought about it. I couldn’t deny that reading Bukowski and Fante and Thompson and Frey didn’t have an effect on me, of course it did, but it wasn’t because of them that I thought about it, it wasn’t because I wanted to be like them and imitate their life, that wasn’t the reason, there was something else. There was no way that I thought being an alcoholic was an easy and comfortable life. It wasn’t, and I wasn’t fucking stupid. I knew the shit life it was, I saw it with my own eyes, I felt it. I felt the desperation of addiction and how it ruined everything. I knew how it affected love and friendship and things that meant so much to so many people. The thing that interested me was the fact it didn’t mean anything to the people who were addicted, meaning was lost and replaced with something altogether different. They didn’t give a shit. They didn’t care. Nothing mattered to them and it was that attitude that made me think too much about it. It was the fact that nothing changed the way they lead their lives. It was this whole ‘fuck you’ attitude that intrigued me. They all had feelings and hearts and minds that struggled like everyone else. They all had problems, everyone did, but everyone dealt with them differently. Some people ate chocolate or went to the gym or valued money more than its material worth, and some people drunk and took drugs and tried to survive the best way they knew how. The point for me was that I didn’t know how, and that was why I thought about it. Everyone had addictions, the only difference was whether society accepted them or not. The only difference was whether your addiction made you an outcast or an MP, but to me the outcast was more interesting. I could relate more to them than I could to the banker with flash shoes and shinny cuff links who was more than likely an addict too, disguised by more expensive tastes and tailors. All were human, but it was easy to forget. It was easy to ignore the guy that sat on the curb begging for money whilst he drank from a can of Super Skol. It was better to ignore him. It was better to walk straight past and pretend the pint you bought in the pub was better in your own belly. But who was he? What made him that way? What made him choose to give up? And what did he give up on? What were these things we were meant to accept and live by? Why were they lesser examples of the human race because they didn’t want to live like the majority of people who paid bills and raised other little fuckers? What made them worse than the couple who married and divorced? Was it not us that gave up? It was all bollocks. It was such a mess. These ‘dropouts’ cared for things and loved things and held things deep within their hearts, they were no different, and why were they ‘dropouts’? What did they drop out of exactly? It seemed they were written off because they couldn’t live like the rest of us, they couldn’t follow the rules, and why should they? What was so attractive about them? Of course these people woke and felt like shit. Of course the drink and drugs made them hurt inside, but it was more than that, much more. They knew hate and fear and loss with tears born from the disappointment of repetition. Simply because they did it didn’t mean they liked it. Some did and some did not. They knew nothing else. They merely wanted to silence all the voices inside and get away, escape to safer places where noise was not an enemy or a fiend. They were not monsters. They still had feelings. They were merely lost, and so were we, only we didn’t accept or acknowledge it and just continued to get on with all the shit that interfered with our humanity. But I couldn’t. I didn’t know how. I knew that being an addict was fucking shit. I knew it was horrible and depressing and dangerous and filled with darkness and deceit. But there was a point in it, at the point of giving up, at that precise moment, where nothing mattered. It didn’t matter what you or I thought, we were nothing, and it was true. We were all nothing. So what did it fucking matter? These thoughts were driving me crazy. It was such a mind fuck even thinking about the mind fuck. None of it made sense. Did you even need to be an addict to say or act or think, ‘Fuck You!’ I wasn’t sure. Was it courage? I didn’t know. I couldn’t remember what courage was. Maybe courage was carrying on? Maybe courage was giving up? Maybe courage was the single mum? Maybe courage was the ability to be strong and brave and act to fuck the consequences. That was it, wasn’t it? Of course it was. But who the hell was that? It wasn’t me. I wasn’t sure what the consequences were let alone whether I would care about them. How could one know? It wasn’t possible. I couldn’t see it. I knew it was a good thing that I had stopped talking.

I sat there for a while without saying anything. I continued to listen and stare at all the various other tables and all those sat around them. The sun was still out but it was beginning to get chilly so I rolled another cigarette and continued to sip at my beer. There was a strange ease and calmness that came with doing nothing but sitting still and drinking. I was rarely able to find the same tranquillity and it was something that worried me. Why was I only able to fully relax when I was smoking and drinking? Did I associate beer with relaxation? If so, could that be why I thought about beer so much? Was that why people drank? To escape the turmoil of their days and find solace in their grasp? To cool their minds and innards? I sat there and considered the multitude of reasons why people drank. I thought about the different people that drank. I thought about the ages and races and faces and sexes. I thought about them all and it made nothing clearer. Why should it? What did it matter? Why couldn’t someone just enjoy having a drink? Why couldn’t someone just enjoy getting fucked? Surely it was their right. Surely it was up to them what they drank and how often. Why should they need to give excuses or reasons to anyone else? I didn’t ask the fucking shelf stacker in Morrison’s why he worked there. I didn’t ask him why he chose to stack custard and cream all day long. Maybe he didn’t have a choice. Maybe he liked custard. Maybe he spread it on his dick and rammed it up cardboard Tracy’s arse. Maybe she rammed the tin up her arse. Maybe she rammed it up his arse. Maybe it was none of my fucking business. My business was something I was trying to sort out, only I was shit at maths. I was shit at sums and calculations and if someone gave me a figure, I traced the outline and opted to believe it. At least I used to.

Drinking too much became a problem to those that didn’t because it impeded on their life, their happiness, their morals and right to live in peace and joy and smiles. The drinkers were deemed selfish and unreasonable and useless and fuckups and wankers and cunts. I knew. I thought the same of my father. But could it not be argued that the sober were the cunts, for surely they were impeding the happiness of the drunk? Were they not intruding? Were they not stepping foot in someone else’s cave? Who was right? Weren’t they all selfish? Am I selfish? A man could go insane thinking about these things, the only remedy I had was that I was not a man. I had a beard and pubic hair, but that didn’t mean fuck all, the things that meant something were in some other fucking language and I couldn’t read the instructions. The labels were upside down and skewed. It was a mess. The point was, I wasn’t as big a drinker as Buk and Fante and Thompson and all the other greats that indulged and wrote of times aplenty. I was nowhere near, particularly if I believed nothing but the words, and why wouldn’t I, I couldn’t understand anything else.

The barman came over and said they were closing the garden. I wanted to carry on drinking. I didn’t want to leave but I also knew that another drink or two would make the difference in how I felt the following day at work. Maybe work was good. Maybe work kept me from drinking too much and going insane, but I felt I was almost there and wasn’t sure what was real. We went back inside, finished our drinks and left. I found myself concentrating on my feet and staring down at the pavement. I rolled a cigarette and proceeded to smoke, almost immediately feeling the rush of nicotine making my steps more unpredictable. We walked a few metres and said good night to Rachel. I apologised again for the other night and she assured me it was all forgotten. I wasn’t convinced but took the gesture for its kindness. She crossed the street and I put my arm around my girlfriend and we continued to walk home. She was quieter than usual but I didn’t think much of it. My mind was out of focus but the breeze cooled my sight and I looked at her to try and work out what was wrong.

‘You didn’t say that I looked nice.’ She said without looking at me.

‘You do.’ I replied, meaning every word. ‘You do look nice.’

‘Just nice?’

‘Very nice.’

‘I thought I should’ve worn the cowboy boots.’

‘Why?’

‘I don’t know, I just thought it.’

‘Oh.’ I wasn’t sure whether the boots or the thought was more important.

‘Don’t you think they’re nice?’

‘What?’

‘My boots.’

‘Yeah.’

‘But the cowboy boots would be better?’

‘No. You look good.’

‘But the cowboy boots are better.’

‘No.’

‘I think they are.’

‘All right, maybe they are.’

‘Then why didn’t you just say that?’

‘What?’

‘That you prefer the cowboy boots.’

‘I don’t.’

‘So you don’t like either of them?’ I was beginning to dislike them.

‘I like both of them.’

‘But which ones do you prefer?’

‘I don’t know, I’ve never tried them on.’

‘Seriously.’

‘Seriously?’ I was trying to understand the gravity of boots.

‘Seriously.’

‘Okay. I think you look good in both of them. One on each foot.’

‘Shut up.’

We continued to walk for a bit and I realised I probably should’ve been serious. I tried, but I didn’t know how to do it. I didn’t think shoes or boots or feet were that important, but I was wrong and should’ve known better.

‘So what did you like about that girl?’ She asked and stared straight at me whilst we walked.

‘What?’

‘What did you like about that girl?’

‘What girl?’

‘You know what girl.’

‘I do?’

‘Yes.’

‘I can’t remember.’

‘The girl at the lights. What was it?’

‘What was what?’

‘What were you staring at?’

‘Nothing.’

‘Nothing?’

‘Nothing.’

‘Bullshit. What did she have that I don’t?’

I wanted to say cowboy boots but I knew this wasn’t a good idea. ‘I don’t know.’

‘Was it the tits?’

‘You’ve got tits.’

‘But hers were big.’

‘Were they?’

‘Yes.’

‘So you were looking as well.’

‘I was looking at what you were looking at.’

‘The tits?’

‘They were big.’

‘I don’t like big tits.’ It was true. I didn’t like big tits. They were largely disappointing.

‘Bullshit.’

‘It’s true.’

‘Was it the arse?’

‘No.’

‘Is my arse not good enough?’

‘I love your arse.’ I did love her arse. It was the first thing I noticed about her. It was the reason for my return to her place of work and a search for words to speak, the only problem I had was that I couldn’t, I never knew what to say or whether she would listen. But eventually she did and I got to touch it.

‘You’re lying.’

‘I’m not.’

‘I don’t believe you.’

‘It’s true.’

And there was nothing. No more words or gestures or hints of something more within the frame. I looked at her and felt pathetic. I was never able to deal with these kinds of situations and conversations. No matter how much I tried to make her aware of the fact I was truly attracted to her, that I adored her entirely, it never worked. I didn’t know whether my method was wrong or the words were unconvincing, but I could never make her believe me. She had the greatest body I had ever seen. She was stunning. She was perfect. She was everything. But when her mind was burdened by disbelief, my attempts to make her see her beauty were inept and ineffective. I could not perform the job of boyfriend to make her feel better about herself and confident and happy. It was my failure. It was down to me she felt like this. I never made sure she knew just how beautiful she truly was. I never gave her the reassurances and reasons she needed to believe in all she was and more. I tried, but it wasn’t enough. ‘Listen,’ I said, ‘You got the greatest body I’ve ever seen. You’re arse is fucking amasing.’

‘Of course.’

‘I’m telling you. It is.’

She didn’t say anything more. She didn’t believe me. We stopped talking and walked the rest of the way home in silence. I could tell her thoughts were weighted and I knew I should say something, but for some reason, I couldn’t. I wasn’t sure how best to try and make her understand. The fear that I would say something wrong and compound the situation even more stopped me from speaking, but I continued to think about it whilst we walked. What can I say? How can I make her realise? What can I do? Why is it so difficult? Is it even difficult or am I just shit at all this stuff? I looked at her and could tell that she was saddened by it all. I loved her so much and wanted to pull her close and embrace her with everything I had. I wanted to show her how much she meant to me. I wanted her to know that it was more than arses tits and hips. It was much more. It was what was inside, beneath the skin and bones. I wanted her to know she had it all. There was no compromise and she was everything inside and out, but despite how much I wanted to do this, despite how much I craved to ease her heart, I didn’t. I just walked beside her, thought about it, and never spoke of it again.

TWO

The following morning I woke with a sore head. My mouth was dry as fuck and I could barely breathe. I looked at my girlfriend while she slept and it should have made me feel better, but I was experiencing difficulty focusing on anything but the throbbing and pulsing of my brain. I kissed her gently on the forehead and tried to get out of bed. Moving my head was painful. Behind my eyes there was nothing but sharp penetrations of discomfort. I didn’t think I had drunk that much but my state was evidence to the contrary. Finally, on the fourth attempt, I managed to raise myself from the bed and stumbled over the mass of clothes on the floor. I went downstairs and filled the caffeteria with fresh coffee and as the flames began to heat the water, I sat at the small table and put my head in my hands. I closed my eyes and tried not to move or think, but when there was no movement, only thoughts remained and so I rose to my feet and opened all the windows. The fresh air hit my dirty flesh, but it wasn’t enough, so I walked out of the front door and stood on the balcony. I leaned over and tried to catch as much of the breeze as I could. So much for not drinking. So much for controlling these fucking hangovers.

I could smell the coffee burning but waited a while longer on the balcony. Even the birds were silent and I wondered whether they were also drunk and disconnected from this dawn. I returned to the kitchen and poured most of the coffee into two mugs, the remainder splattered on my naked feet and I stood there watching the brown liquid run down my skin until it touched the tiles. I added the sugar and milk and took my mug into the front room. Sipping at my coffee, I turned the television on and proceeded to pay no attention to the people and faces and words and worlds. The noise was little more than a distraction for my unease and a method by which to try and diffuse the remaining alcohol. I felt like shit and deserved it. I couldn’t control myself. It was my fault. I didn’t have to keep drinking. I could’ve stopped. I could’ve had a Coke or a lime and soda water. I could’ve left. I could’ve done something else. But I didn’t want to do something else. I wanted to drink and the suffering was my reward. When my father was ill in hospital after having his leg amputated, I spent my time outside of the ward drinking and escaping the shit that was inside my head. The memories. The guilt. The fear. The hatred and regret. I got drunk and hoped to silence all the fucking if’s and but’s and why’s. Despite the fact that it was the drink that led to my father’s accident and poor health, it didn’t stop me, I kept drinking. I ran out of money and began to use his money to pay for my alcohol. For three weeks I got fucked every night. For three weeks I went to the hospital during the day and got fucked in the evening. It was during this time that I met my present girlfriend. She was the barmaid at the pub I chose to drink in, or whether it or her chose me is beyond my abilities to comprehend.

I wasn’t sure whether I drank because of my father or because she was there or because I wanted to or because of all of it, but I continued to drink. It wasn’t until I decided to stop that I realised just how much I had been drinking. My withdrawal symptoms were horrendous and I had the shakes and sweats for days. I didn’t want to stop but I knew I had to. The taste was still there but I was forced to suppress and ignore it. I knew things would change. My father had been in intensive care for a week and the weeks after that he began to regain some strength and health, he was still fragile and weak but I knew he was strong enough to survive. I knew he would return home and my life would change forever. The drinking had to stop. I wasn’t able to stop altogether, but my routines changed and a level of focus returned. I drank on weekends and week nights but managed to keep myself together for no other reason than the dependence of the man that gave me life, the life that led to this.

I looked up at the clock on the wall and realised it was half past eight. I was meant to be at work in half hour and I really couldn’t be fucked. The thought of sitting in the office made me nauseous, but as long as there were bills to pay I would continue to get up and go to work and think of nothing but the world beyond. They had me by the balls and they were almost empty. I managed to shower and dress in fifteen minutes, kissed my lady again, told her I loved her and walked to the bus stop. I smoked a cigarette while waiting, and though it only proceeded to make me feel worse, I finished it and threw it to the ground into the darkness of a drain. Once on the bus I removed Chump Change from my bag and tried to read but I couldn’t concentrate. My head was still pounding and I didn’t want to ruin the experience. I stared at the photo of Dan Fante. I wondered what he was doing. I wondered whether he was writing something new or whether he was fucking some bitch who came to ask for a signature and a smile. I wondered whether he was happy. I stared out of the window and began to wish the bus would never stop.

The day at work passed extremely slowly. By ten o’clock I had already drunk a bottle of lucozade and taken three shits. I was finishing off the minutes from a meeting I attended the previous week but progress was pretty much non-existent. I couldn’t be fucking arsed to do anything, and though I knew I was extremely lucky to have a job and felt guilty whenever I complained about it, I resented the fact that there was no alternative.

I took out the pad I had written in the night before and read over the scribbling’s. They were okay. Nothing special and nothing dramatic, but it was a good base and I opened a new word document and began typing. There was nothing else to do and I wanted to make sure I didn’t end up feeling as though I had wasted the entire day. I wasted enough and didn’t desire to add to the number of nights spent frustrated and forlorn. I typed up the contents of the pen and examined it. I thought it was okay, in fact, I liked it. I felt strange. It had been a long time since I had written something that made me think I could indeed write some more. I stared at it. I sat still and stared at it for hours, not moving or blinking, just breathing and repeating. My head was still pounding and no matter how much I tried, I couldn’t add to what was already there. I couldn’t think and focus and my brain was fucked. I couldn’t come up with any new ideas. I tried and tried but the effort was shit and pointless. The woman next to me began to talk on the phone and it began to really irritate the fuck out of me. I didn’t know whether it was because she was talking or because she had someone to talk to. In the year and a half I’d been working in the office, I had only ever received about six phone calls, and though I knew this wasn’t an altogether bad thing, it made me miserable and lethargic.

I went for another shit and decided to leave the office on my lunch break. I didn’t want to eat but I knew I should, particularly in hope of restoring some form of stability within my stomach. There was something strange about the day after a booze filled evening that made me feel like a cripple. I couldn’t comprehend motions and notions and everything seemed to come to pass beyond me. It was all a waste of time and energy and the only thing that persisted with little comprehensive pitch were all the bastard verses coursing through my veins. I couldn’t see how I could ever succeed. It made me think of all the things I tried to do and all the things that failed. I thought about all the previous writing. I thought about the band I once played in. I thought about the short films and trailers. I thought about the football and rugby teams I once belonged to. I thought about everything that ceased to exist, all the endeavours that led to nothing, passions that merely devoured me and left me alone and withered and frail. I didn’t belong. No matter what I tried and how hard I tried, nothing ever changed.

I looked at all the people around me and wondered whether any of them felt the same. I wondered whether I was the only one that felt lost and afraid. I wondered whether their homes were filled with love and devotion immeasurable in presence. I wondered where they walked to and what or who was waiting. I studied their faces and tried to locate a smile or pleasure in their eyes, but I couldn’t look at them for long and so I proceeded with my head pointed towards the ground. None of it made sense. I didn’t know whether I felt like this because of the drink or because it was me or because of what it drowned. Thinking about it made me realise I couldn’t remember the last time I felt comfortable and free. I couldn’t remember the last time I wasn’t bothered by something or someone. Most of the time it was me and that was something I didn’t know how to change. I was my biggest problem and it fucking angered me. It was my head. My brain. All the paranoid and pathetic shit that fucked me up. I couldn’t control it. I felt like I didn’t fit in and I couldn’t understand why. What was wrong with me? Why did I feel like this? Why couldn’t I just be happy? Why couldn’t I recognise and acknowledge the good things in my life? Why couldn’t I take and use them? I saw people laughing and having fun and doing shit that made them happy and I didn’t know why I couldn’t do the same. Was I really crazy? Is that why I was unable to penetrate this plain? Is that why I was beyond the borders and way beyond anything sane and rational? It was all so intensely confusing. Life was full of complexities and I had no plausible way to conjure up a meaning. What the fuck did it all stand for? And why couldn’t I stand it? Did any of these people know? Is that why they smiled? No matter how many questions ran through my head I couldn’t come up with a single answer. Nothing.

I bought a sandwich and got the fuck out of the shop as quickly as I could. Walking back to work I passed a pub and wanted to go in. I wanted to sit down at a table in the corner and try and make some sense of all the shit that confounded and surrounded me. I wanted to try and work it out. If I could even give a reason for the present day, I could work from there, but it wasn’t that simple and it frustrated the fuck out of me. Why was it so difficult? Why was everything always so fucking difficult? So they said something about difficulty and effort being worth the prize, but to me that was bullshit. Taking a dump wasn’t difficult. Grabbing my dick out and bashing one out wasn’t difficult. Sex was a little more difficult, but that was simply due to the introduction of another fucker. So what happened when you introduced another hundred thousand million fuckers? It all went to shit. I needed a drink but I knew that my current mood would not gain positive effects so I continued back to work. I wanted to get it over with.

The rest of the day past much like the morning. I couldn’t write any more and spent all my time reading about Arsenal and wondering when the fuck we were finally gonna buy some players. I read various other articles and checked out what was going on in the film industry. I read about new books and new writers and new testaments to skill and artistry, but nothing interested me and I spent most of the time staring at the little clock in the bottom right of the monitor. I was beginning to feel tired and my brain was shutting off at various intervals. I was set to meet my uncle after work as it was the second anniversary of my father’s death. I couldn’t believe how quickly two years had passed. In those two years since his death we had sold the family home and it all seemed so distant and distorted. For twenty seven years the bricks sheltered us from growing old and moving on beyond its aged foundations. It was full of memories and emotions, images of birthdays and Christmases past, Easter, New Year, party’s friends and fun. It had been a good house and a loving home and a friend of solid structure. I remembered building the brick wall in the garden with my father. I remembered him teaching me how to apply the cement evenly and lay the bricks. I remembered him teaching me how to ride a bike and kick a ball and cut a plank of wood without a piece of flesh. I thought of all the little things he taught me, none of which I could now remember. He tried to show me how to be a man. He tried to teach and guide me. He tried, and so did I, but to date I couldn’t be sure if any of it had worked. Yet despite all the fond memories, despite every single act of love that made me thankful for my youth, there were painful memories too. Nursing our grandmother on her deathbed in the living room that betrayed its name, caring for our father after he left hospital, finding him dead in the kitchen, arguments, shouting, fighting cursing beating and smashing. They were all so intertwined and fucked up, co-existing and shifting strength of presence as the years seemed to pass. But eventually, it had to go. Time was spent decorating and making it nothing like the house of old and soon it was sold to a new family full of happiness and hope. I fucking missed it. I missed the broken extractor fan and knobs atop the oven. I missed the cellar and leaky roof and creaky stairs amid the night. I missed the house my father built and my mother made a home, and I fucking missed them more.

Work finally finished and I left as fast as I could. My stomach was fucking raw and all I could feel was tension twisting at my nerves. I made my way to the station and sat down on the train. As soon as I was settled I took out my copy of Chump Change and started reading. For the brief time that Dan occupied my mind I felt all okay. He wasn’t having the best time himself and I felt for him. I knew the pain he was going through. I recognised his torment and wondered whether in another time we could’ve been friends. Despite the fact he was a bit of a fuck up, so was I and it was somewhat soothing to know that I wasn’t alone. I looked up and realised I was almost there. I didn’t want to stop reading, I didn’t want to leave him, so I read another couple of pages and closed the book but not the story as it stayed with me and mine.

Outside the station the sun was still out and I knew my uncle wouldn’t arrive for another hour or two so I decided to head to the park. I entered a shop and bought myself a bottle of Lucozade and a packet of crisps. My girlfriend always said it was the crisps that fucked my stomach up. She said that I ate too much shit and it wasn’t doing my stomach any good. She was probably right. I knew the cigarettes didn’t help either, but having given up weed I needed something that I liked and something that offered brief escapes from work and tedious conversations. It gave me a companion to the beer and rest amid the boredom. It gave me dirty fingers and shitty teeth and for all the things it gave, I wondered when it would claim something back. It was strange. I wasn’t sure if I actually liked smoking any more. I knew it was killing me, but then I knew almost everything else was too. I knew that if I got sick from all the smoke I would be forced to listen to family members telling me I should’ve listened to their warnings and I would not argue, I would recognise their truth, but I was listening out for other warnings. I was searching for advice on things that mattered more.

My mind drifted and when it returned I realised I had rolled a fag and was walking down a path inside the park. There were people sat on the grass in all directions, taking what pleasure they could from the sun and using it up before it left. It was a good idea and so I tread on the uneven turf and found a spot further in. Sitting down and placing my bag and bits beside me, I noticed a young child fall over onto the hard concrete path. He began to wail and cry and from behind a man appeared and picked him up off the ground. He rolled up the child’s trouser leg and inspected the surface of his skin. The child eased his tears with the touch of his father’s hand on his cheek and soon he was lifted onto shoulders high above and laughing as they ran off towards a waiting woman and her pram. I sat and watched as they disappeared. Taking my book out from my bag, I placed it beside and without purpose or intent, I began to think about my father. He was the kindest and most generous man I had ever met. There wasn’t a single person he wouldn’t help as strangers family and friends were welcome in our house. He gave them jobs. He gave them beds. He gave them the keys to his house and never asked for anything in return. He was led by love and nothing came between it, but he grew sad and tired and when the last of his parents died, his heart shattered and all he was began to slowly disappear. The alcohol took over and all the people he helped were nowhere to be found. He was left with nothing but his mind, and as his body deteriorated, his thoughts became darker and infected all before and behind his weary eyes. Following his death, I spent the greatest time hating him. I hated the way he continued to drink and fall out of his wheel chair into pools of piss on the floor. I hated the way he treated my mother and persisted in treating us. I hated his eyes. I hated his mouth. I hated the way he smelt. I hated the hands that built our home and held me as a child. I hated all of it. It made me angry and confused. I was angry with myself because I failed. I gave up on him and told him to fuck off and the next time I saw him he was lying dead on the kitchen floor. I abandoned the man who gave me life. I left him alone when it was the one thing that frightened him the most. I killed him. It was my fault and I could not get away from the disgust and guilt and pain. I fucked up, like he told me, and it haunted me every time I thought about it, so I tried to find things to distract and disable all this shit that fucked me up, but I couldn’t. I wasn’t reliable. I wasn’t responsible. I wasn’t the person I should’ve been. I couldn’t cope and I proved it. The only thing I was good at was fucking things up. I seemed to do it better and with more finesse than anything else, but I was trying to change, only I wasn’t sure I could. I wasn’t sure it was something I wanted. I was scared to fail again and so thoughts of loneliness seemed a better solution. I couldn’t fuck things up if there was no one to depend on me. The only person I could let down would be myself, and I was used to it, so it appeared to be the safest option.

I decided to read some more of the book to try and lose myself to Fante. I wanted him to save me, I wanted him to let me live a little without thinking, and it worked. For an hour I read and nothing else mattered, but I stopped to have a cigarette and my father returned with greater clarity and conviction. The anger I felt towards him was now almost gone and I began to remember the good things more. I remembered him helping with my maths homework even though I’m sure it was the last thing he wanted to do. I remembered him laughing so much he spilt his tea all over the table. I remembered him eating all the burnt popcorn and asking for more. I remembered his stories and the way it took him ages to tell them. I remembered the strength of his hands which I knew would protect me. I remembered his smile and the humanity within his eyes. I remembered him more for all the greatness he possessed. I didn’t want to remember the tears and the anger and arguments and shouting and threats of violence. I didn’t want to remember the lies. I didn’t want to remember the bad shit anymore. It was useless. It didn’t help. He had been a great father and provided me with everything I ever wanted. There was nothing he would not have done, but in the end, his strength suffered vast exhaustion and there remained one thing he could not do. There was one thing he could not surrender. The alcohol numbed his pain and he was not strong enough to face his fears alone. He had aged beyond his years and there was nothing more he craved or awoke dormant passions deep within. Not his sons or brother or his soon to be born granddaughter could help. He didn’t want help. Enough was enough and he wanted out. He lost the one person he truly loved and nothing remained but misery and sorrow. No one could replace her measure in his heart and all he recognised was regret and guilt and grief. All he wanted was to be with her again, to lie beside her and make her happy like they were in earlier years. He wanted love and friendship and all the things of beauty he no longer recognised. I hoped they were together. I hoped they were joined again and all they could feel was love and happiness. As much as I needed them, as much as I missed them and hurt so bad inside, my consolation lay in the hope they were together once again. I wasn’t religious but this thought calmed me. I prayed for their re-union in the stars and moon above. I prayed to them and thanked them for everything they gave me. Thank you, I whispered, thank you.

My uncle phoned and said he would be an hour late due to traffic so I got up and decided to change location. I sat on a bench beside a small pond in the middle of the park. The ducks were swimming lazily and random passersby stopped to throw bread to them. I watched as people walked their dogs and children and lovers. I could feel my mind beginning to turn towards my father, so I picked up the book and resumed reading, but it was of no help, I couldn’t switch off. Before long I was back to memories of my dad. I sat there and watched a father walk by with his son as he kicked a ball along the uneven path. I remembered playing football with my father. I remembered him going in goal and saving almost all my shots despite the fact he held a fag between his fingers and barely seemed to move. I remembered him telling me that being left-footed was a bad thing. I remembered when he came to watch me play for some shit team in the Sunday league. I remembered how after the game he never said anything, we just walked home and that was that, but despite his silence, I was glad he was there. I remembered watching the Poland national team games with him in the kitchen, both of us swearing and shouting even though we never expected them to actually win. We sat together drinking beer and eating and talking and forgetting about everything else but the small men and their ball. I would watch my father spend hours making the most incredible sandwiches as he sat there slicing and piling ingredients on slices of French bread; Polish Krakowska or some other meat or pâté, cheese, tomato, onions, gherkins, radishes, cucumbers, mustard, horseradish, salt and pepper, and other bits that might be found in the fridge. Once the ritual was finished, you could barely fit the thing in your mouth, but they were the best sandwiches in the world. They were worth the wait, only my patience began to grow thin. After he started back on the drink I found it harder and harder to be around him. For a short while it looked like he might get better. It looked like he wanted to quit and try and sort himself out. He went to physio and regular appointments at the hospital to monitor his progress. I remembered the first time he showed me that he could stand again. I sat there and felt my face shift into a smile. I felt my heart jolt. Maybe things would be all right. Maybe I’d have a proper family again. Maybe we would make it. But it didn’t happen like that. It rarely does. The drink took hold again and the football and conversations and sandwiches became less and less frequent. We began to spend more time arguing and ignoring each other. He resented me because I didn’t let him drink and stole it from him when I discovered it, and I resented him because he continued to do it. There was a small part of me that admired his resolve and determination and the manner in which he would wheel himself to the shops to buy his spirit. Thinking about it now, I realised I would’ve been just as pissed off had I made the same effort only to find someone hiding behind the door waiting to take it all. Fuck, I’d sigh, and wheel myself out again, like he did, back to the shop. After a while he got an electric wheel chair and I remembered having a go on it. I turned it up to top speed and sped down the pavement. Watch me fly motherfucker. Even my dad laughed as I giggled like a fucking idiot and disappeared from view.

The times we smiled together was something I wanted to remember more. The laughter and jokes and banter. Yet the memories came to me out of the blue triggered by the most unusual of objects or instances and I could not control them. They had me beat. But I was learning to lose the hatred and somehow sooth the pain. I was learning to focus on better times and rouse long silent sections of my heart. It wasn’t easy, but I was learning to love once more.

I got up and began to walk towards the church. My uncle had rung and told me that he was five minutes away so I decided to make a move. I exited the park and crossed the street. Outside the church I lit up a cigarette and waited, watching nothing but the occasional person pass my tired eyes. Just as I finished smoking my uncle appeared and we hugged and greeted each other. We entered the small area within the gates of the church where rows of the deceased rested, each containing the cremated remains of countless lost and loved ones. We passed several rows before we came to where my father was. We stopped and stared down at the plaque. I read his name and the dates embossed below. He was dead. I knew it. I had long since known it, but I tried to forget, I tried to ignore the facts and consider nothing but forms of present time, but standing before his date of departure, looking at the small and simple numbers, I could not escape the truth of his death. He was gone. Forever. Inside some urn inside some box outside everything I knew I could never touch and share again. I could feel my eyes beginning to water and I felt stupid. I knew he was dead, of course he was, but not thinking about him meant not thinking about the hurt and pain and grief and guilt. I didn’t want to be reminded of how much I missed him. I didn’t want to be reminded of all the things I would never have and experience again. I didn’t want any of it. But sometimes it could not be helped and perhaps it was necessary for me to experience such intense loneliness and loss. Perhaps I needed it. Perhaps I needed to be reminded how short life is. Perhaps I needed a kick up the arse, even if only to remind me I still had one that could breath. We stood there for a moment longer and I said a prayer even though I was unsure whether I believed it. Without looking at my uncle, I walked past him and missed a few rows until I came to stop before my mother and grandmother’s plot. I looked at the dates and tried to commit them to memory. I knew I should know but something about my brain didn’t want to register the digits and their importance. I closed my eyes and pictured my mum and her mother sat at the table during Christmas dinner. My Gran wearing a green cracker hat and smiling. I remembered drinking Babysham with her when I was too young to drink properly. Images began flashing through my mind, my Gran frail and sick in bed in our front room and my mother crying inside but trying to hide it. The fear, anger and pain and fractured promises of health’s return. Then the visions of my Gran were soon emulated by my mother as she lay dying in a bed devoid of any recognisable features. The breathing apparatus beeping and bouncing off the walls. The moans. The tears. The pauses in inhalation that sent panic through every cell. The nurses and their disinterest. The smell of wilting flesh. Then two began to mix together. The dry lips and mouth. The pale skin. The same fucking pink swab. The eyes that never opened and looked with love again. The pain. The hurt. The anguish and anxiety. The weakness and unbearable sense of helplessness in the face of futile hope and prayers. Then my dad unconscious with his amputated leg. The sound of the vac pump. The panic when it seized or clogged. The wound and grafted skin. The weight loss and empty faces. The face of my family, sick and soon to perish. My head was out of control. I tried to focus. I tried to lose the images. I began to feel dizzy. I breathed slowly. I thought about my mother’s embrace. I thought about her arms tightly wrapped around me. I smelt her perfume. I felt the warmth of her living loving flesh. I was with her again. I kept my eyes closed. I didn’t want her to let go. I didn’t want to return to the church where they were buried behind some brick and boards, together with portions of my sanity and soul. I didn’t want to leave her. I wanted to stay like that forever. I felt the tears running down my face. Fuck. I held her tighter with whatever strength remained within. Then it all disappeared. There was nothing left. I looked around and saw my uncle still at my father’s grave. I wiped my eyes on the sleeve of my jacket and stared at the plaque. I reached towards it and touched it with my fingers.

My uncle came up behind me and we remained there for a moment longer to say another prayer. Without a word we began to walk out and away from our family, once again stepping carefully on cracked pavement and the present time and place endured without them. As we passed my father, I glanced at his plaque again and noticed the space left for my uncle’s name, but I looked away and tried to force the empty space to translate inside my head. I didn’t want to think about it any further. The possibility of losing further family members was not something I wanted to contemplate, not today, not ever.

As we stepped out, I closed the gate behind me and immediately began rolling a cigarette. My uncle looked at me,

‘Do you want to go for a pint?’ He asked.

‘Yeah.’ I replied.

‘Where?’

‘The same place we went last time?’ I suggested whilst raising the cigarette to my mouth.

‘All right.’ He said, and smiled weakly.

I lit the cigarette and we continued to walk towards the pub, neither of us speaking, simply walking side by side in search of an alleviation to our sorrow. After ordering our pints we took a seat outside in the beer garden. The sun was still out and there was a breeze in the air that was greatly welcomed. I looked at my pint. It seemed strange to be drinking on the anniversary of my father’s death, a death directly caused by drink, but then what else was there to do. He didn’t like Venti Peppermint Java Chip Frappuccino’s or Organic Ginger and Mandarin tea. He liked beer. And so did we. ‘Cheers.’ I said to my uncle and raised my glass.

‘Cheers.’ He replied and we clinked glasses and gulped at our beers.

We sat in silence for most of the time we shared. There was not much to it. Our minds were heavy with other matters, and though we occasionally spoke of work and other things of little import, they were merely distractions and we soon fell back to quiet questions. There was no need to talk. It seemed pointless and somewhat unnecessary. I rolled another cigarette and smoked it slowly as kids played in the garden and chased a drunk adult around the grass. He had stamina and I contemplated mine as I finished my beer and looked at the empty glass.

‘You want another one?’ I asked.

‘Na, I should probably get going.’ My uncle answered.

‘Are you sure?’

‘Yeah, I have to work tomorrow.’

‘So do I.’

‘But I have to drive home.’

‘No you don’t.’

‘Of course I do. Are you going to drive me home?’

‘No, but I can walk you home.’

‘That will take a whole day.’

‘Na.’

‘What do you mean na?’

‘I mean no.’

‘Oh.’

‘Not oh, no.’

‘I know.’ He smiled. ‘I think you’ve had too much to drink already.’

‘Never.’

I wanted another drink. Whenever we met up for a drink it was always a messy affair. He was an old style drinker who liked whiskey and coke chasers with his pints. I couldn’t handle the whiskey due to drinking too much of the shit as a teenager and now the mere smell of it made me wretch. He was good company and we shared certain interests, but more importantly, he made me laugh. He made me forget about the little things that ate away inside my head. We pissed each other off some times but I guess that was what families were for, he was the oldest member of what remained and I loved him more than he knew. His life had not been easy but he somehow managed to keep it all together. He was a strong man despite his calm nature and I vowed to make a greater effort to drink with him more often. It was the least I could do. We rose to our feet and walked out of the pub.

‘Do you want a lift home?’ he asked.

‘Na, I’m all right. I’ll just jump on the train.’

‘Are you sure?’

‘Yeah, it doesn’t take long and if you drop me off then you’ll just be going well outta your way, it’s all right, thanks anyway.’

‘All right.’ He said and we walked to his parked car, neither of us talking much. ‘So when we going to see each other next?’ He asked.

‘The weekend?’ I replied.

‘I can’t this weekend, what about next weekend?’

‘Yeah definitely, we’ll stay in touch in the week and just let me know.’

‘Okay.’

We gave each other a strong hug, stronger than usual, and he got in his car and drove away. I watched as his car disappeared and then made my way to the train station. On the train I dug out Fante’s book and continued discovering more about his dangerous days and nights. Despite the fact the writers I chose to read appeared to be a little fucked up, I liked them, perhaps even more so due to this apparent fact. Their lives were existences wrought with addiction and their writing was a reflection of this. Reading their work became addictive and it wasn’t long before one craved more. Once one experienced it, it was over. You were hooked. They gave you a bit and you wanted the rest. What the fuck happened next? Did they find peace? Did they sort themselves out and find some form of stability? Did they make it? Or did they go back to addiction and all that came with it? I admired and enjoyed the way they wrote, it was intelligent and intense and brutal and I questioned whether I could ever write as well as them. Could I do it? Was it possible? This self doubt and fear had crippled me for years. It burdened me beyond my knowledge of repair. It made me question everything that I was and wanted to be. But then it dawned on me. From nowhere I had an idea. A feeling. A sense of something that forced me into acknowledgement. Their writing was real. Their life was real. They were real. They wrote about things apart from the norm if you questioned nothing but the words, but it was their reality, their experiences, their broken hearts and fucked up minds. It was all theirs and individual to each and every one of them. A profoundness of the norm they knew too well with all its flaws and failings. Yet, I wasn’t an alchi. I didn’t have ex-crack-heads to suck my dick. I didn’t have fist fights with cunts over twats and rats. I didn’t know anything about their life and its existence. It was interesting because of the variation of differences and deviations. It was exciting and horrific and addictive and fucked up. I couldn’t write like them. I didn’t have the tools. But I wondered whether that was a bad thing. I wanted to write as good as they did but I didn’t want to write like them. I didn’t want to copy them. I didn’t want to pretend to be something that I wasn’t. Despite my love of beer and fags and my fucked up stomach, my life was pretty normal. I had a job. I had a flat. I had a woman I loved and friends that meant a great deal to me. I had an uncle and a brother and a sister-in-law and the most beautiful niece in what I knew of the world. I had DVD’s and comics and books and models and guitars and rings that hid my warts. I didn’t live in run-down rooms in the stench of piss and shit and vomit. I didn’t have clever conversations and dialogue that burnt the eyes and ears. My prose wasn’t the poetry of the damned and a reflection of people painted into plaster. I didn’t argue and scream at those that pissed me off whilst holding out for one more night and waking to vibrations of the flesh. I didn’t have what made them great. I was beginning to see I had something else. I had something they didn’t. Something strange and secret. Something peculiar yet unspectacular. Something different. Me. Everything I was and failed to be. Everything I wanted. Everything I hated. Everything that churned the brain and blended chemicals with the spirit. Every hope. Every dream. Every fear and doubt and pain. All of it. Everything. But I wasn’t anything special or something of particular interest. I had little to offer and more to squander. I knew it. I was just a small insignificant pulse in the process of life and death and everything in between. I was but a man among the many with no redeeming features and not a taste of grander measure. There was nothing good or bad or worse or better. All there was, was me. It was all I knew. There was more to learn and more to forget and like those before I’d win and lose and waste and choose, but now I knew a little, a tiny hint of where to try and why. I knew my place. At last.

*

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