A young man is on his way to visit an old friend of his, someone he hasn’t seen for a long time and he’s been looking forward to seeing his friend James again. But today he’s not feeling his best, in fact he’s conscious that behind the morning splash of deodorant there’s a hangover coming, Stella Artois, Marlboro and fried food. There’s a sweat patch growing under his arms and he wishes he had more clothes on. He takes a moment to pause on the stairs and thinks about making a call, excusing himself from the rendezvous, maybe they could try again this time tomorrow? Time to get off to McDonald’s . Time to deal with the nausea. Maybe lunchtime and a drink? Three hours to kill. Seems like a long time to wait.
He keeps walking. This is what he does. He keeps going. He tells himself that this is good, this is dealing with it. Make the meeting, get out of the meeting. Make McDonalds. Make McDonalds before 11 – before sausage egg McMuffin gets taken off the menu. Make the pub on the way to the train station. Make the first pint quick. Ring the office, tell them the meeting this afternoon, it’s starting earlier. May not be back. Won’t be back. See you tomorrow. Free all afternoon. Relief. Keep walking. It’s the first door at the top. Knock. James’s face appears. You look terrible. It’s 9am. The sweat patch has moved round to the front now and his forehead’s dripping.
This is normal.
James used to be his boss. They drank together. James drank wine he drank anything but. No he tried wine, he tried switching to wine when he gave up lager. He drank large white wine in a beaker but it was expensive. He drank in gulps, so it was better sticking to lager.
James stopped drinking two years ago. It was a public meltdown that made the tabloids. Fashionable editor throws champagne out of window was a headline. Drink and drug fuelled office tales of… you could fill in the blanks.
How are things? When did you last have a drink? I thought we were going to reminisce? James has moved on. When did I last have a drink? Not for a while, not recently, certainly not last night. Last night? Why last night?
James goes to meetings and sits with footballers, actors and pop stars. There are people on the dole with lives more interesting than the celebrated. Young women with children. Toothless old women. The homeless and the hungry. Fashionable and desperate. Everyone has a drinking story.
You should come he says. You should think about the possibility that you are an alcoholic. What? You should come. Just think about it.
An alcoholic. A old man on a bench. A wino. A meths man. No, no. An alcoholic.
An hour goes by and it’s done. Call the number he says.
He leaves and walks a little taller. Thoughts of McDonalds’s and the pub and the afternoon out of the office – those thoughts are gone. He is excited. He wants to make the call. He wants to connect. He can’t stop thinking about their conversation. Not the details as such, just the suggestion. It’s like a revelation. He’s been granted permission.
Consideration of a possibility.
He feels a freedom he hasn’t experienced, well, he can’t say since when. Like ordering the first drink. Lip smacking freedom. From responsibility. The secret to a freedom from everything. Like flying above the day.
But this is different. This is, what? Freedom with responsibility. Taking action. He feels lighter. He feels. Honesty.
An alcoholic. Can it be this simple? Searching for answers. Making excuses. A square peg in a round hole. Out of sorts.
He breathes easy and makes the call. His hand is trembling. He’s looking for a way out. Hello, says a voice. Hello, he says. Can I help you, says the voice.