A fat ant wandered along the pavement. It followed some unseen path, some odour, some trail only it could make out; it had purpose, but its intent was as beyond me as I beneath all resolve… all intent was beyond me. The pavement flowed in the smallest sharp ridges. Where it flowed seemed a sign, a clue of some sort; the very chaos of their directions and distinctions screamed a message at me, tugged desperately at the ragged remains of curiosity, but their claws lacked traction, and I wandered away, deaf and oblivious to the urgent missive.
With effort I refocused on the ant. For a moment its meandering path changed; with decisive direction it charged me. What had I done to deserve such animosity? As quickly as its rage had been brought to bear it forgot me, some other vital mission overwhelmed its control – I could relate – and in moments it was gone, ducking away into one of the many abysmal chasms, leading into its dark underworld.
I couldn’t tell you how long I’d been obsessed by my observation; the concentration alone was probably all that’d got me through the early hours of consciousness. I dragged my head back on a neck all but lacking in the tension required to lift its massive weight. The sun was well up into the sky – perhaps four hours had passed since I had woken, but I couldn’t notice any slackening to my suffering.
I knew what would help, I had the money; more than enough left from yesterday, and from the glint in my ragged old tin I guessed I might even have enough for tomorrow; the people who travelled my street were generous today, only I couldn’t gather myself sufficiently to stumble my way into the supermarket not five metres from where I collapsed in upon myself every day.
Sweat dripped into my eyes; it was difficult to tell which was more unpleasant, the blistering heat of mid-summer, or the bitter cold of winter, but none of that would matter when I managed to get to my feet.
I slowly became aware of a growing pain in my hip and thigh, and gradually realised I must have been leaning all my weight on the fleshless bones for more hours than I could any longer imagine. The process of shifting my weight was almost unimaginable; I had to think through the problem for a while, then get myself into some determined sort of mindset, then tell my wasted, sore muscles to make the effort, and then, some protracted time after all that had simply failed, just sort of flailed my way into another position.
That was the beginning… How long it takes to move is always an unknown variable; when alcohol permeates your whole body these things are impossible to predict, impossible to control and impossible to initiate; they are more like a knee-jerk reactions, and always signal the beginning of the return… There aren’t many who understand what I mean when I talk about alcohol ‘permeating’ your whole body… it’s not like you had a few too many drinks the night before and now feel a little rough. It’s not like you drank until you were properly wasted and now suffer a killer hangover. It’s nothing like coming down from drugs or going without something you’ve been taking regularly. When you have been drinking constantly for days, weeks, perhaps even months, during every waking moment, the alcohol just sort of soaks into your atoms and you’re broken in the strangest way, but moving is the beginning of an unwelcome return to this ironic universe.
It’s strange but when you drink as a full time job you pass-out throughout the day (you can only manage to drink for a few hours at a time, sleep something more like a sweaty swoon, and wake to drink again…); it’s impossible to sleep properly, but it’s only in the morning you feel nauseous, and the feeling is just poised, hidden and waiting until you move, but when you move it just gives you a little scare; it jumps out from behind cover with a rather pathetic ‘boo!’, but when you have your first drink of the day… that’s when he makes his real move, but drink for long enough, determinedly enough, devoutly enough, and you begin to no longer even notice the disgusted look on the faces of passersby as you wretch acid onto the pavement; acid is about all there is remaining to come… If you’re too far gone two things will happen… either, you’ll just drool the acidic bile down the front of your clothes, maybe cough a little into the wide empty space around you, or you’ll manage to lean too far forward and the acid will fill your nose and wedge there – that’s when the real coughing begins!
I know I’m a mess… you think I don’t know, you think I don’t have my reasons… you think I care for your speculations and disgust; I have my own oceans to deal with…
It was maybe midday when I managed to focus on anything beyond my immediate myopic surroundings. Stinging boozy sweat cut its way down my face, my back, my chest, and my legs felt attached by hot, itchy glue to the insides of my trousers. I thought about wiping the sweat from my eyes, thought about pulling my sweaty clothes free from my body, even thought about dragging myself to the local toilets for a wash-down, but hacking some sort of giggle I knew I wouldn’t; these things were just no longer of any consequence, these things were as far beyond me now as my naïve dreams had once been to my younger optimistic self...
The world began to intrude…
Cars revved engines, chatting voices twittered in my background, birds sang, music played, somewhere from a window across the street a man was shouting, a baby was crying from inside the supermarket, bikes rang and knockers irritated. Where did it all come from; just moments ago I lived in deathly silence? Now the world not only filled with cacophonic clutter, but began to squeeze into my field of sight… and my understanding.
The world was filled with things which no longer mattered!
They mattered once, a little, but that was more than a few lifetimes ago…
Everywhere I saw haircuts – beautiful hair, washed and trimmed, conditioned and styled, and absolutely no one carried a mirror…? Their cuts are on display; their purpose as obvious as a strutting peacock. Designer names were freely sported on almost every garment – the poor man’s Ferrari (needlework coming a close second in excuses to engineering)… Just opposite was a café, with chairs and tables protruding halfway into the pedestrian, shopping part of my street, and all through the day I could hear the lives of those not present being chipped away into terms so simplified you’d think they were two-dimensional caricatures; gasps of surprise, tittering laughter, malicious derision and jealousy inspired chatter for the most.
Tourists and newcomers noticed me, but everyone who knew my street well I’d been here so long I was almost part of the scenery. The usual souls gave me money, and a few others here and there. Those that thought they were doing me a favour gave me water, milk, juice and some food like a sandwich… if only they knew all they did was prolong my torment, but they were kind in their own ways, meant well, and I loved them while I despised them for their pitiful charity – let their souls feel lighter; I’d take their weight, I’d take all the weight if I could, if I thought it might help, but even this action would be nothing related to giving, sacrifice, altruism… it would be a torture of my own design, my own desire, my own… need…
My bladder told me however sick I felt – sick isn’t the right word… overwhelmed by a clinging blanket of vampiric poison is more fitting, but reeks of hyperbole and while there, in truth, is nothing of deception in the phrase, still doesn’t come close to being usefully descriptive – and I don’t recommend to do any serious research into the subject… however sick I felt, I had to pop to the trees round the corner or I’d spend another half day sitting in my own urine.
Getting up was much the same as moving – a sort of reaction occurring long after all the times for all the other actions coming, had left me in their well-intended wake; I sort of jerked my way into a hunched, standing position – all that kept me standing was the wall and a great deal of practice. I coughed and hacked a little, drooled something thick and yellow into a straggly mat of hair only loosely appellated: beard, and gathering what remained of necessity in the aching joints of my knees, stumbled around the corner to pee.
I was up now; time to venture past all the judging eyes and buy enough drink to get me through till tomorrow…