The introduction of the protagonist in my new work-in-progress. (updated Jan 19th)
|I sat with my eyes closed and my head in my hands, as if the emotional weight in my mind was too much for my neck to bear. My fingers covering my ears, giving silence to the prison of my own tortured thoughts. My mind cataloguing events already in the past and every permutation leading to their passing, desperately searching for that one detail that would make me responsible… but nothing ever came. I knew this; no matter how hard I tried to blame myself, I just couldn’t find a reason… Lord knows I had tried. For the last 4 months I had done this, sat here on this couch still sweet with her perfume, in this flat still vibrating with echoes of her presence. My only company the constant oblivious din of the television and a brain numbing bottle of cheap vodka… the T.V. never off, the vodka always replenished.
The flat hadn’t changed. I had spent an hour every morning cleaning it out of some misplaced sense of duty to her memory. And although I tried my best to keep it how she liked it, like some cheap facsimile of a forgotten memory, it never felt how it should. She found my obsessive levels of cleanliness amusing, and now any shared joke seemed amplified by her passing, as if living the details would somehow keep her close… they never did. And so I sat, and the more my mind dwelt on thoughts of the accident, the more I plunged further and further into a dark abyss of self-loathing. If only I could find some forgotten detail, some way I could apportion blame, then I could then give meaning to the meaningless. To know that someone I loved was taken from me as the result of a “tragic accident” was too much to bear… there is no rectitude in chance.
I took my hands from my head and took in my surroundings, my eyelids protesting like rusty, unopened zips. The skin of my cheeks tingled as the cool air teased the heat from them, the red marks left by my palms slowly fading. Although tidy the flat felt sterile. Apart from two cushions on the couch nothing much had been moved in some time. Being a modest 2 bedroom there wasn’t much space for furniture at all, mainly owing to the middle class English location, and our limited budget, but for now it seemed like a soulless fabrication in a furniture shop.
The wall directly in front was supported by a large cabinet, a scattering of DVD’s and books were split by cavities that once housed pictures of her and I, the spaces mocking me and my efforts at concealment. In an earlier fit of grief I had removed all photos from the walls, only a painting of two men in trilbies hung above the couch, and only because she hated it.
The room was bathed in constant darkness, the quiet walls leering at me from all sides. The only light came from passing cars throwing geometric shapes onto the ceiling. I watched their form silently reach across the room until-spooked by my attention-they quickly retreating, chasing their engine noise into the distance. I grimaced through the last of a glass of vodka sat on the bare mahogany table at my knees. The heavy liquid settling in my stomach, I clumsily half-tossed the glass back onto the table. This wasn’t the first glass I had drunk today and the build-up was already beginning to blight my co-ordination. It gracefully danced in circles on its edge, proudly emphasising its now empty state: I drenched its enthusiasm with another top up.
I stood and moved to the sideboard, and with knees complaining at the burden moved to where I had stood many times before, opening the drawer I opened every single night. Removing the two bottles of pills I moved to the large mirror beside the door and took in my reflection. As much as I had looked after the flat I certainly hadn’t done the same for myself. My mid-length dark brown hair was greasy and unkempt, and I had sat for so long with my head in my hands that a tuft was sticking up above each ear like an oriental rooftop. My looks, boyish for my 38 years, were something I had once been so proud of, now looked weathered and withdrawn…. my eyes those of a stranger lacking the shining charisma that plagued my youth. My constantly pursed lips were dry and cracked and were only eclipsed in squalor by the dirty footprints of dried tears lining my cheeks. Wisps of hair crowded my chin and top lip, if I was able to grow a beard I’m sure by now I would have one. I took some sadistic satisfaction with my appearance, feeling that I had finally hit rock-bottom. There was only one last step.
Sinking back into the couch I carefully reached out for the tumbler on the table, aware that I couldn’t fully trust my own co-ordination. Nursing the fresh glass I attempted to let my mind wander, trying to focus on anything else. I had spent so long in mourning that any interest or hobby had fallen by the wayside. I hadn’t seen a movie in months, and would only allow myself to listen to music that complimented my grief. The last time I had interacted with social media was just after Sarah’s death with the now customary, ghoulish Facebook status. I had sat for hours trying to find the best approach, the best way to let people know she had passed away. Although frivolous it had helped to focus my thoughts, in the hope that the sharing of condolences would ease my pain. I did eventually, and possibly a little selfishly, decide that if they were important to her they would already know, settling for a simple “RIP Sarah”. An immediate barrage of “what happened?” emails and texts told me that this wasn’t the best idea, and in my fractured state the alternative of ignoring everyone became the best escape. Truth be told I wasn’t a fan of Facebook as it always managed to complicate life; it seemed it did much the same in death. Ironically Sarah would always complain that I spent too much time in front of the PC, now lurking on a desk behind the sofa. The lonely screen now waited in constant darkness, enthusiastically springing into life every-time the table or mouse was accidentally nudged, like an excited dog happy at the attention. Irrespective the keyboard was left useless as a result of a recent outburst of rage, the missing keys complimenting my own personal lack of words.
Glancing at the television I noticed strangers laughing in silence beside a giant Christmas tree.
“Fuck… it’s nearly Christmas.” I blurted the words out loud, the sound of my own voice filling the room like a firework. The following
silence was just as harsh, hurting my ears and filling my head with static.
I felt anger rise at the strangers in their attempt to pull me into the present, but a large mouthful of the acerbic alcohol marshalled me back into a sense of indifference. It burned the back of my throat and I fought the urge to wretch. Fumes swept up the back of my nose embracing my consciousness with grubby hands, as warmth spread across my chest, chasing the liquid down into my stomach. With a flick of my thumb I popped open a packet of the pills and spilled some onto the mahogany table-top. They scattered excitedly, some balancing proudly on their edge. Looking at them I felt no fear, the weight of the action dulled by the act of repetition. The same pills had spilled out in front of me on 4 or 5 occasions, their numbers slightly diminishing each time owing to the worsening hangovers that greeted me every morning. Twenty? Thirty? How many would it take? I had no idea; this was now uncharted territory for me. Previously I had sat as I am now, pondering my own bravery, then eventually cursing my cowardice I’d throw myself into the lonely double bed, hoping that my heart would give out in my sleep out of sheer sympathy to my selfish plight.
I pushed out my arms above my head, in an attempt stretch out the alcohol induced lethargy from my muscles. The pleasant sensation of my tight muscles straining beneath my skin, gave me a brief reprieve from the heavy drunken fog slowly drowning my mind.
Was I sure I wanted to do this? Would I die in agony? How long would it take someone to find me?
Questions whirled in my mind jostling for position, but buoyed by the Vodka I pushed them aside with indifference. Slowly a voice in my subconscious drifted in volume above the clamour, becoming louder than all the rest, drowning out indecision and fear.
“Do it, nobody cares about you here.”
It wasn’t my voice.
“Only I care, come with me… we can be together again.”
It was Sarah’s.
“No!” I slammed the whisky glass down onto the table, some of the cool liquid landed on the back of my hand in reply. The edge caught a Paracetamol, bursting its chalky innards in a dusty splash across the table towards me.
My minds imitation of Sarah’s love disgusted me. She would not be waiting for me on the other side, for there was no other side, only oblivion. There was a time that I was absolutely positive that life continued after death. I had researched it, spent hours convincing myself that common-place occurrences had no natural explanation and where therefore by definition paranormal. I had sat around tables trying to convince others, that the garbled static I had picked up on a recorder was a message from an afterlife. I had pointed at TV monitors incredulous that no-one else could see the dust particles caught in a halo of light were in fact “orbs,” signs from the beyond the grave. The fear of my own mortality manifested itself into an archaic search for truth, my loud well practised rhetoric more an effort at convincing myself that anyone else.
The day my world collapsed around me was oddly enough the day I also managed to get my strongest grasp on reality. As complex as life is, at its purest form it’s also one of the simplest truths in existence, death is far simpler. You either exist, or you don’t. You either are, or you aren’t. Alive or dead. Dead or alive. There is no in-between, there is no before and there is no after. My wife was taken from me at the mercy of an accident. I realised the universe has no care for the will of man, and by default there was no meaning to life and thus no after-life.
“The meaning of life is death, everything else is optional.” I had read that somewhere, but the vodka wouldn’t tell me where.
I didn’t want an ethereal eternity of existence in a blissful state with my wife, humans are flawed, why would their existence in an afterlife be any less flawed? If I spent an eternity with her, would she not remind me of the pain I felt when I first lost her. The façade of the hereafter disintegrated like sand through my fingers.
I didn’t yearn to see her, I yearned to forget. The oblivion I knew waited would be a welcome release.
You have the courage… do it.
I wondered if it was courage or cowardice. Was it cowardice in taking the easy way out? how could anyone who was about to face death possibly be a coward. How could I be a coward for not wanting to face life, for surely death is a more terrifying proposal? From birth at a genetic level we are programmed to fear death, to avoid disease, to pursue health and eventually give life, procreation our sole destiny. Death of course is final, but to brave the darkness of death instead of facing life is not cowardice, how can it be. Suicide, although a decision helped by depression and distress, shows courage. Selfish, absolutely, but what do I have to live for? The one person who made life worth living is gone.
As the gusto of self-affirmation increased I gathered a small pyramid of tablets on the table. I had no idea how many was there but I would keep going until I could manage no more. Sloshing the glass in my hand I wondered if this would be enough, there was enough in my system to send me into a deep sleep, but how much is enough?
Pondering suicide etiquette, wondering whether or not it would be polite to first remove my shoes, my mind was intruded upon by what sounded like someone singing with a mouth full of marshmallows. I looked about the room my head lagging far behind my eyes owing to the 38% vodka. Looking to my right a pillow on the couch was vibrating gently in time to its pulsating glowing belly, I starred at it longer than I would like to admit, inebriation wrestling with logic. Batting the pillow to the floor I revealed my mobile ringing with Sarah’s favourite song… “Avalon”. I checked the screen:
My brother… Damn. I could ignore him, but thinking something was wrong he’d come to the flat, in any case he’d be right. I would need to answer this… drunk or not.
“It’s Paul, why weren’t you answering? You scared me shitless.”
“I was watching a programme on the television” I was desperately trying to sound sober inadvertently, over-enunciating every word like a children’s entertainer.
“You’ve been drinking, haven’t you?”
“I’m allowed little brother.” I didn’t bother hiding it now, the sentence was a long string of lazy syllables.
“I’ll be over in an hour, get a cup of coffee down your throat for God’s sake.”
“Why are you coming over? It’s late.”
“It’s not late, it’s just gone 6. I just want to see you and have a chat. Please get your head straight, you’re an obnoxious drunk and I’ve had enough trouble for one day.”
“Whatever you say bro.” I heard him begin to curse to himself on the other side but the dialling tone finished his sentence as he hung up.
He was no-doubt working tonight, which meant he would be here in 30 minutes not 60.
I clumsily shovelled up the pills and put them safely back into their container, then with comically exaggerated carefulness placed them back into their drawer. I sat back down on the coach and then began to feel the bizarre and painful sensation of my lips cracking and the skin across my face tightening, only then realising that for the first time over 4 months I was smiling. Through the miasma of alcohol I knew that I did have the courage to do what needed to be done, and although it wouldn’t be tonight the time would come soon enough. My triumphant thoughts melted into gossamer memories of her face, as my eyelids eased over my pained reality and sent me into another restless dream.