My second piece written specifically to go on this site.
|No man is an island|
When Bill was a boy he worked in a bar. He had always liked talking to the old hands; who stuck like stale beer to the counter; slumped over it; as if life had torn out their spines and left them there- to contemplate the big money questions. He had been told by them, on many occasions, that this particular whisky- “was the best blended whisky a workingman could afford”. And seeing as how that very price range was now his price range, it was also his whisky.
Martha started coughing in the kitchen- the kind of coughs Bill didn’t like to think about for too long. He had felt the elegance of the whisky draining away over the years. And the aurora of “pre-dinner aperitif” had been tarnished by the morning light, that often refracted through the bottles murky contents, as its first drops passed through his lips.
The chipboard door was nudged open more violently than planned by Martha, who sat down on the sofa opposite him. She hunched over her ready meal and fixed her eyes on the TV. It was not that she did not acknowledge his being there. She just accepted it. In the same way she accepted the pot plant in the corner or the slightly burnt lamp shade or the peeling floral wall paper. Bill burped and then coughed in a valiant attempt to cover up the burp.
Bill was at the stage in his evening routine where the room was swimming serenely around him at exactly “The right pace”. The right pace (he had decided after much trial and deliberation) was the point at which the rigmarole of the evening routine could be found amusing. And at which the petty considerations of everyday life could be brushed aside, in favor of the misty delusions of a more libertine lifestyle. It was also, on the other hand, the stage at which he was still able to get up and walk to the bathroom; without having to worry about if he would be able to maintain his sober façade.
Martha looked at Bill and neither said anything. They had a conversation about the burp Bill had just let out all the same, and after a few seconds they both looked away again. This Bill thought, would be the major mistake the fly on the wall would make about their relationship. It was not that they did not communicate with one another or that they had “lost touch” (to use the language of the insipid talk show programs that he was often forced to watch by Martha- because of the lack of a second television). It was more that words were no longer really necessary in their relationship, as both knew how the basic conversations would play out. Words were saved for special occasions like birthdays and unforeseen events like anniversaries.
Bill finished his glass and poured himself another one feeling the fluid warm his insides with its descent. It made him think about having a conversation and (as is often the case when the room is swimming) little deliberation was given about this idea before it was acted upon. In the dull half-light of the morning, in which Bill would try and pickup the fragments of the night before, he would remember the conversation going something to the effect of:
Martha: No Bill.
Martha: Because you are already drunk, my dear."
At this point the two enigmatic, black and white characters (who were having the conversation in Bill’s memory) would blur and stutter to a halt, as if the end of a reel of film had been reached. This would leave Bill to gather the rest of the evening’s events from his immediate surroundings, and the objects left within it. Of course, as Bill sat in his chair and finished another glass, he knew this would be the case. It was always the case.
Martha picked up her packet of cigarettes from on top of her knitting on the coffee table and replaced them with her ready meal. She had received a knitting kit from her daughter a few Christmas’s ago. But, after creating a sleeve and placing it on the coffee table (to have a cigarette) she had never picked it up again. Both of them had fallen in love with products people only advertised the good effects of. And both of them were suckers for a good commercial and a thorzine smile. Bill had decided this was the common ground in their relationship. The no-man’s land, separating two vast entrenched armies, that (in-between the bloody battles) both sides played football on at Christmas.
Bill watched Martha light a cigarette and take a drag. The smell of the tobacco mingled with the taste of the whisky in the back of his throat, and made the silence that had followed his attempt at conversation less brutal. Martha coughed and lay back on the sofa. The tobacco smoldered.
“Martha” Bill said, his eyes opening wide, making his forehead crinkle like expensive leather. He faltered and then regained his composure. “The plant’s making me work extra hours. And they say they can’t pay me anymore than they are already. They say if I don’t accept they’ll have to let me go. There’s nothing I can do. It’s out of my hands now. The men upstairs have decided and that’s that, as far as they’re concerned.
Martha gazed vacantly ahead, her eyes glazed, like life had slowly seeped out of them over the years. “We need to get some new curtains these ones are so faded and tatty”. She paused looking at the carpet before the pyre at the end of her cigarette forced her to lean for the ash tray. Connecting with the rest of the world she continued talking.
“That’s fine, just try and get home as early as you can.”
“I can’t promise that will be very early anymore. I might not be back in time for tea sometimes.”
“Bill it’s really not a problem. I’ll cook stews more often, so you can have them when you get back. We might even save some money.” Martha picked up her ready meal and walked into the kitchen.
Bill took another sip of his whisky and swallowed hard. The drunker he was the thinner Martha made the stew. She thought that Bill didn’t notice but he just didn’t say anything. The silence dragged its feet across the room refusing to leave the couple alone. Bill itched for a reason to leave before it. He could tell when things were going to kick off and he hated being around to be proved right. He looked at his watch. He knew he had to leave anyway. He knew he needed a reason.
Suddenly the idea hit him and he quietly eased himself out of his chair and grabbed the half full bottle of whisky from the side table. He looked up and stared at the green haze that was the pot plant at the other side of the room. With the grace of an elephant in heat, he gingerly steered himself towards it. Upon arrival, he jettisoned the remaining contents of the whisky bottle into the pot, taking the occasional swig as he went. After placing the bottle carefully back on the table he tiptoed to the door.
“I’m just going to pop out and get another bottle, I’ll be back soon” He slurred quickly shutting the door after he had spoken, to make sure no counter-attack could be mounted.
Martha watched his figure disappear down the street; weaving the fabric of the curtain between her fingers; gripping it tighter and tighter; until he had rounded the corner. Mechanically she moved herself back down on to the edge of the sofa. Instinctively she adopted her finishing school posture, making herself look out of place in the darkening room. She sat rigid, like a taut rope being pulled with almighty force in different directions. The ash from her cigarette fell on the sofa beside her.
Outside the night smothered the dying embers of the day; and enveloped Martha in its folds of dark, deceptive, safety. Its leaden blanket started to ease over her weary eyes. The bedroom light across the street turned on. It shone like Apollo through the beat curtains. Martha’s silhouette hit the opposite wall. Along side it two shadows drew closer.