The walk home passes by in a blur. I rest my chin on Tink’s shoulder as I cling to his back. Every now and then I mutter some half remembered Star Wars quote in a very poor Yoda accent and giggle to myself. Tink suffers me in silence. It’s close to the dinnertime rush, so the streets are packed with people who cast glances at us ranging from amusement to disgust. It’s only when he drops me on my doorstep that I become remotely aware of where I am.
Tink moves to knock on the door and I quickly manage to grab his arm. He looks at me, sighs, then steps back.
“Steph’ll kill me if she sees me like this again,” I say as I fumble for my keys. “I’ve got to stealth this. Be real sneaky. Quiet like a ninja.”
“She’s watching you from the window, you know?”
I squint at Tink, then at the window where my sister’s face is glaring at me like the visage of God’s wrath through the clouds. My mind immediately thinks of Monty Python’s Holy Grail and I laugh before remembering that I was a ninja. I put a finger to my mouth and shush Tink loudly. The keys are finally in my hand. Fuck knows how. I put them in the lock on my eighth or so attempt, still shushing dramatically the entire time. The door swings open and I pat Tink’s face clumsily as a way of goodbye. Closing it slowly behind me, I tiptoe down the corridor and crash straight into the coat rack, knocking it over.
Steph storms into the corridor, her face red. Part of it is anger, the other a blotchy redness from a heavy cold that’s keeping her out of work. She is wearing a bathrobe and clings to her hot water bottle, swaying as she confronts me.
“You’re drunk again.”
“Excellent deduction, Sherlock. Ten points to Gryffindor!”
“You can’t keep doing this. I said you could stay here if you tried to get your shit together. Being drunk before twelve isn’t getting your shit together.”
I know she’s right, but that just makes me angry.
“What’s the point? I’ve spent years trying and look where that’s got me. Unemployed and living with my sister. Maybe, just maybe, I wouldn’t be like this if things went my way for once.”
“You can’t just keep blaming everything on the world. Everyone else seems to get by as a functioning member of society.”
Her words sting. I grit my teeth. Steph is an accountant, a studious sort of person with a friendly charm and a slightly plump figure that gets called ‘full-bodied’ rather than fat. She has always done well at anything she tried. Then there’s me, the black sheep of the family. Scrawny, cynical, and easily bored. At best I can be called plain looking, and no matter how hard I’d tried as a kid, I found that other people were just more effort than they were worth. If something or someone bored me, I found something else to do. How else do you stay sane? Still, it was a recipe for failure, and everyone knew it.
I don’t answer her. Even in my drunken state I know that I have nothing good to say. All the fight leaves me in a wave and I can feel myself sagging, being pulled down into the blackness of my inner thoughts. I stagger past her and she doesn’t stop me. I can’t bear to see the look on her face, so I keep my head down and stare at my shoes as I open the door to my room.
It’s little more than a cupboard with a bed, but it’s mine. Well, technically it’s Steph’s, so I don’t even have that. The walls are a sickly lime colour, a holdover from the granny who lived here before, and the bedsheets haven’t been changed in months. The back wall is barely visible through a swarm of sticky notes that have been built up over time, each one covered in my messy scrawl. I call them my lost futures. Each one recalls a moment in my life that could have been pivotal, then explores what could have been if I had done things differently. There are hundreds now. Every time I look at them I feel sick. So many points of failure…
I fall onto the bed without bothering to change. This is my life. I exist. Sometimes though, I get the distinct feeling that things would be much better if I didn’t.
Steph’s words haunt me. Does everyone else get by as a functioning member of society? Does Corgi get by on his failed apprenticeship and current unemployment? The old ex-miners and steelworkers that became the detritus of drinking holes? The ever increasing number of homeless on the streets? The food banks buckling under demand? Are we all victims of our own arrogance, or is the world just increasingly filled with fuckups? More likely, the world always had fuckups, but with an exploding population and diminishing job market, the fuckups just can’t coast by anymore.
These thoughts echo around my head, driving any thoughts of sleep away. I can’t even close my eyes without feeling like the room is spinning. So instead, I stare at the sheets of paper on the wall and try my best not to think about them. I, of course, proceed to do nothing but think about them.
I trace a finger across the paper threads of my life, wondering what decisions could have been made differently to not be laid drunk in my sister’s house on a Tuesday morning, alone, jobless, and miserable. Could I have tried harder? Set more realistic goals for myself?
Having optimism, that was where it all went wrong. Everybody you’re told to trust as a child sells you on grand dreams. They all say ‘Work hard and you can achieve anything’, and ‘Follow your dreams’. Only, the truth is, that’s not how the world works. Everyone dreams of being an astronaut, a famous band member, or a footballer. You can’t have a society of rich and famous celebrities, even if every last one of us had the pure talent and dedication. For ninety nine percent of us, those words of encouragement are the world’s biggest lie. We believe, but can never live up to those beliefs, so are instantly shackled with self-doubt and feelings of failure right from the starting line.
When do you give up? How are you supposed to know when you should pick yourself up and try again or give up and move on to something new? I asked that question a lot, but nobody ever had an answer, so I stopped asking.
I’m so tired. My body runs through cycles where it’s either too tired to sleep, or sleeps too much and never feels awake. Opposing sides of the same coin. I reach for the box of sleeping tablets on the bedside table and fumble with it until two pills rest in the centre of my palm. Vaguely, I wonder how many of those tiny capsules it would take to kill a man, then pop them into my mouth. My hand paws at the table until I feel a can still half-filled with liquid. Several empty cans and bottles clatter to the floor. I wash the pills down with Monster that has become flat.
My head hits the pillow and I stare at the poorly plastered ceiling above without any real semblance of thought drifting through my mind. My curtains haven’t been opened for a long time, but light still filters into the room, stealing even the darkness from me. The light seems to highlight the sheets of paper on the tiny corner desk. I roll over, then roll over again. I’m pretty sure I could generate enough power to run a small commune with the amount of restless spinning I go through.
My pocket starts vibrating. I immediately assume it’s a spam call, so am surprised to see that it’s actually an alarm. It was, ironically, alarming. Somehow, it’s already six in the evening. I double check the time then glance at the grey glow that spilled out from the curtains just to be sure that it wasn’t an elaborate prank. I’m pretty sure that I didn’t get any sleep. I certainly don’t feel rested.
Sitting up feels like a Herculean task, so instead I just roll off the bed and slam into the floor with a dull thud. I’m out of bed now, but the downside is that standing up from the floor is even more effort than from the bed. It’s the thought that counts.
Like the evolution of man, I slowly rise from the primal dirt of the carpet and stand upright on my own two feet. I don’t feel up to leaving the house, but when do I ever? As I shuffle past the desk I pause and study the small chess board that occupied the back corner. Nobody ever plays it with me. Most either don’t know how, or simply don’t care. Still, I enjoy playing, so have set up a long running game against myself. It was the match of the century: drunk me versus hungover me. Occasionally, the impartial sober me would observe the progress of the board and wonder what the Hell the other mes were thinking. Somehow it was the drunk who was currently winning after some creative maneuvers that my cripplingly hanging self had been too groggy to comprehend.
I examine the board for longer than is needed. I’m well aware that I’m stalling for time. Having another confrontation with Steph is the last thing that I want right now. I’m smart enough to know not to get caught in a battle I can’t win, and any battle that revolved around my personal failings was certainly something I would lose. I just need to get ready and leave without crossing her path. What happens when I get back afterwards is drunk me’s problem, and that guy was a dick who frankly deserves it.
Wasting time is getting me nowhere, so after a quick check at the door to listen for any sign of Steph, I slip out of my room and make a better attempt at sneaking through the corridor towards the bathroom. From here I can hear the supposedly gentle noise of a chainsaw mowing through a family of piglets that was my sister’s snoring, somehow made more demonic by her blocked nose. I could drive a lorry straight through the house and still be the quieter of the two of us.
The bathroom is clean and clinical, all in spotless white, but it’s still little more than a cupboard. Not even room for a bathtub. That said a lot really. Work yourself to the bone and just maybe you’ll be able to afford paying rent to some rich prick for the use of a property that I can stand pissing at the front door and hit the back door.
I quickly shower then lather myself in enough deodorant to suffocate a small gas chamber’s worth of your chosen minority. Using toothpaste isn’t an option, so I brush my teeth with only water. Alcohol tastes awful after toothpaste, and the way I see it, the alcohol itself is a disinfectant, so will probably kill any bacteria that’s in my mouth. I certainly hope it does, because I’m fairly sure that nothing short of medical grade disinfectant is suitable for washing away the sins of late night kebabs made from questionable meats in even more questionable conditions.
Steph’s snores still reverberate through the house, so I cross back into my room without bothering with a towel. Dressing probably takes me less time than brushing my teeth took. The heap of clothes that are clean has no sense of order, but then neither does my style. I put on the first things that look remotely suitable. That’s the beauty of men’s clothes: almost everything is universal. Jeans and a shirt. Lounging around the house? Cool. Going to a party? Still perfect. I throw on a coat and I’m ready.
I don’t bother taking my wallet. There’s no money in there, or in my bank account. The food and drinks this morning used the last of my limited funds. Luckily, it’s a house party tonight, so I plan to be a liquor leech and rely on other drunken fucks providing the drinks. It takes me a moment to even remember whose party it was. Tink’s brother’s girlfriend’s cousin. That’s the one.
There’s a bottle of Jack in the kitchen that I take a swig from on my way out. I need it to prepare myself for the pre-drinks. Any conversation with Corgi requires a healthy level of alcohol in your system to tolerate. Happy that I had nothing worth remembering, I take a sweeping look over the house that will never be a home, then step out the door.
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