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Another Day

by Thomjack 

Posted: 31 July 2003
Word Count: 2414
Summary: The morning after...

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Vague, muffled noises seeped through the thick, comforting fog surrounding my brain. Wheezing and spluttering, a reluctant car was being coaxed into life somewhere nearby. A dog grumbled and whined eager to get on with the business of the day. One particularly loud and irritatingly insistent bird seemed to be winning the battle to out-sing the competition. In the distance an empty bus on an empty road crunched its gears and chugged up a small incline and away. Inside my head there was the sound of a steady drip, drip, drip which seemed to be growing louder. No, it was outside, a blocked gutter channelling the soft rain into a steady stream plop plopping on the windowsill.

My watch was on my wrist but I couldn’t focus that well yet. The curtains were carelessly pulled across the bedroom window and grey, watery light was creeping in around the folds. It was still early. Slowly my body started to wake up as the pain in my head intensified and started to spread. My bones hurt; it was like having raging toothache all over. The slightest movement caused a wave of nausea to crash over me as I lay, a useless lump of blubber, stranded on the shore of self-inflicted misery.

I felt as if I had been trampled by elephants and someone had washed my stomach out with industrial strength bleach. My mouth felt grubby and my eyes heavy and gummy. The sticky spiders of last night’s mascara made blinking a two stage process; stage one to open my eyes, stage two to untangle the spiders’ legs. I wanted to chisel off the remnants of yesterday’s make-up, set like quick-drying cement, and scrape away the foul smelling fur luxuriously covering my teeth and tongue.

Squinting through one eye I gingerly turned my head to look around. The pain in my head hummed and tiny flashbulbs popped and pinged but eventually I started to focus. The room looked familiar. Relief. I was at home in my own bed, dishevelled but still dressed. One shoe had obviously resisted attempts at removal and my foot was now firmly trapped by a sheet twirled and snarled around the slim heel. I prised open my other eye and took a better look around. No, I wasn’t home but it was somewhere I had been before. There was a warm shape in the bed beside me, tousled male hair peeking out from under a stranger’s duvet. Who was he? The shape grunted and sighed and I caught sight of enough of his face to recognise him. It was David. Not the best news first thing in the morning but at least I was safe.

Last night, what was it all about? Oh yes, my friend Liz leaving the company for six months to go on maternity leave. The party had started in the large meeting room with gifts, good wishes and a lot of frank, sometimes frankly gruesome jokes from the women who already had children. The men had been awkward, hanging on to the table with the drinks like an island refuge, not knowing quite what to say, scared of saying something inappropriate. It would be strange to go in to the office now and see an unfamiliar face peering over the top of the high reception desk.

When the guest of honour left clutching a bin bag full of gifts and a colourful, sweet-smelling bouquet, the rest of us decided to go to the pub for a Friday night, thank God it’s the end of the week drink. Ties loosened and so did tongues and a hard-core of six stayed until closing time. Our corner table was cluttered with empty bottles of red wine, unnoticed spills forming dark pools and rivers amongst the crumpled crisp packets and stray dry-roasted peanuts, and glasses cloudy with greasy, greedy fingerprints

Oh no. Along with the increasing pain in my head and body was the awful realisation that I had told Alison, the spiteful, vindictive office gossip, about Jack. Jack - beautiful, charming, fickle - would never forgive my plunge into self-pity and confession. I would never forgive myself. How could I have been so stupid? How could I have been so drunk? Easy. As soon as Jack’s face swam into focus in my mind’s eye the devastating loneliness returned, made all the more acute by the noisy, Friday night crowds around me. I tried to drown it in a vat of red wine but Alison noticed I had gone quiet and tucked herself in beside me on the bench seat. She was so full of concern and sympathy that soon the tears started to slosh over the brim of my carefully constructed, carefully maintained façade. It was downhill from there and it all came out in an incoherent torrent of self-pity. But Alison, who wasn’t as drunk as the rest of us, would make sense of it all. Alison squeezed my hand in mock sympathy as she left but the triumph in her eyes blazed. I was the last one to fall, the last one to crumble, the last one in the office to let Alison see I was human. Big mistake. How many meetings could I schedule outside the office in the next couple of weeks?

David muttered something and turned to lie on his back. He seemed so peaceful and serene I began to doubt whether he really had been singing obscene rugby songs outside the pub as we all waited for taxis. He then proceeded to throw up in the gutter and it had taken another 20 minutes and a half-mile trek to find a taxi driver willing to believe that David, grey-tinged and sweaty, had already evacuated the entire contents of his stomach. I remember being so tired, thinking that if I didn’t get into bed soon I would just lie down in the street. It began to look amazingly comfortable.

The pain in my head seemed to be finding its focus behind my left eye. I had heard of lobotomies being performed by popping out an eyeball, doing whatever they did to the brain, and popping the eyeball back in place leaving no trace of the procedure. My brain felt so traumatised I started to believe that someone had been in there wielding a metal probe. But if I had been lobotomised would I be able to consider the idea? It was too painful to continue this line of thought. I shivered. Sorely lacking water and oxygen my body seemed to be using pure alcohol to fuel its own nuclear meltdown. Paralysed by pain, I lay on my back watching the progress of a fug of smoke hanging over the room. Cancer in a cloud. Where was the silver lining? In the empty cigarette packet lying on the floor next to the pyramid of cigarette ends and ash.

Thank God the project I had been working on with Jack was finished and I would be the sole target of Alison’s snide remarks. What had I told her? Everything? The chances of Jack coming back to the office were slight. It was a fling that had lasted as long as the project. Fun with a finishing line. No more lame excuses to drop by my office and suggest we continue our discussion over lunch or, after a few meetings, a discreet dinner. The unspoken but acknowledged attraction crackled between us over our first dinner and we ate without appetite but with indecent haste. At the earliest opportunity I casually suggested coffee at my place. I did make Jack a coffee that night, but not until many, many hours later.

I pretended to be terribly disappointed but not surprised when he told me it was over, time to move on. I swallowed the rising tide of despair and hoped he didn’t see my hands tremble as I lit a cigarette. I smiled prettily and made a joke, just as he expected. But the fragile flicker of hope that this time would be different was gone, disappearing into the ether along with my brittle, grown-up laughter.

If I could control the nausea long enough I would make a dash to the toilet in search of paracetamol, aspirin, anything that might make a dent in the pain. I needed to pull myself together before David woke. Why had I ended up at David’s again, drunk and despondent? David is always there, somewhere in the background of my life, like the muzak they play in supermarkets and lifts. Sometimes you don’t notice it, sometimes it is soothing, but most times it drives you mad.

Last night we had been too drunk to do anything other than fumble and fail to unravel the complex puzzles that comprised the fastenings of our clothing before giving ourselves up to blessed oblivion. There had been other times when alcohol had failed to blur the edges, failed to dull the sharp, lonely pain and we had indulged in incompetent, and frequently incomplete, sex, retreating from ourselves if not from each other. There was some small comfort and a surprising lack of embarrassment between us afterwards. Perhaps we both knew, recognised ourselves in the other. It takes one to know one. It takes one damaged, frightened soul to recognise the same wounds in another, no matter how well disguised. At least Jack would never know that about me, never know how desperate and needy I was.

When we fell out of the taxi and stumbled into David’s flat, we started arguing. What was it about? David was lecturing me, using the skewed logic of one drunk trying to score points with another. It was about Jack. David knew, of course, that something was going on. He doesn’t work in the same department as me but it hadn’t taken him long to figure out that I was spending a lot of time with Jack, not all of it discussing work.

“Does anyone else know?” I whispered, my cheeks burning with the fear of being found out, the fear of everyone knowing I had been duped and dumped by the beautiful Jack.

“No,” David said, “People have noticed that you have perked up lately but they didn’t click that it was Jack. They thought you were just enjoying working on such a big, prestigious project after working on dross for so long. When you stopped going to The Green Man after work, I guessed something must be going on. I missed you, you know.”

He paused then, weighing up his words carefully, uncertain for a moment before bravado, the false courage of the inebriated kicked in. “You know he’s done this before, don’t you? He has affairs with women he is working with and drops them as soon as the project finishes. He’ll dump you soon, he always does.”

“What do you mean, `he always does’?” I said angrily. “How do you know what Jack does and doesn’t do? Have you been spying on him? On me?”

“I spoke to Jim who works over at Roberts & Collins. He worked on a project with Jack last year. He had an affair with their legal executive and then dumped her when the project finished. Seemingly she wasn’t the first. I just wanted to warn you, let you know that he’s a selfish bastard. He’s just using you.”

“How dare you butt into my life,” I shouted. “Just because you see me happy you have to find some way to spoil it. Just because you are a sad bastard who can’t keep a relationship going with anything other than a wine bottle, don’t think we’re all like you.”

“I’m sorry…you were so happy…I couldn’t bear to see you hurt…when you found out…I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

“You’re pathetic, you know that, pathetic,” I raged over his pleading, conciliatory response. “I’m the only person who bothers to give you the time of day and that’s only because I feel sorry for you. You’ve got nothing. Absolutely nothing. Your family doesn’t want to know you anymore, you only keep your job because old Gordon can’t bring himself to get rid of you. You can’t keep a relationship going for more than a couple of months and any friends you have ever had you drive away because you only phone them when you are drunk and depressed. Don’t you dare sit there and tell me how to live my life. Don’t you dare.” I realised I was crying and my voice was hoarse and hysterical. Through the sobs I continued to rant, “ For your information, I dumped Jack. Me. I dumped him…it was my decision…I’d had enough…me… are you listening? ” The words continued in my head but the will to speak was absorbed by the tears and sobs which I tried but failed to control.

David stopped arguing then and opened another bottle of wine. As the sobs subsided into tears and the tears into sniffs and hiccups, I blew my nose into a crumpled paper napkin I found lurking in David’s jacket pocket. We sat on the couch drinking in miserable, silent companionship; me picking open the scabs of yet another glorious failure and David bowed under the weight of my unreasonable, unwarranted attack. I suddenly felt very old and tired and utterly alone. I must have dozed off for a bit. When I woke I was cold and unconsciously seeking warmth had snuggled into David who had also dozed off. With great difficulty and without saying a word, we manoeuvred ourselves from the couch all the way to the bedroom, weaving our way through the dark in slow motion using the walls and furniture as buffers. Another cigarette, an aborted attempt to undress, then drifting off to a place where there was no pain, no humiliation, nothing.

David groaned. He reached over to the cabinet beside the bed. Without opening his eyes or moving more than necessary, he opened the cupboard door and withdrew a bottle of Lucozade and a sheet of foil-wrapped paracetamol capsules. With enviable dexterity, he popped two out of the plastic and placed them in his mouth. Several glugs of liquid later and they were gone. With a grunt he passed the bottle and paracetamol capsules on to me. I grunted in reply and repeated the process, feeling the liquid seeping into my dehydrated body. We both remained perfectly still for a long time afterwards, letting the medication take its course. Another day, another hangover.


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Comments by other Members

Nell at 21:01 on 31 July 2003  Report this post
Hi Shirley,

I was disappointed when this ended, hoping to read on to a happy ending, but I guess life's not like that. The piece was well written, the dialogue convincing and the description of the hangover painful. An air of awful sadness and almost despair too, but somehow you feel they'll always have each other in spite of everything that happens and maybe one day...

Some wonderful descriptions too, I especially liked the following:

'...a useless lump of blubber, stranded on the shore of self-inflicted misery...'

'But the fragile flicker of hope that this time would be different was gone, disappearing into the ether along with my brittle, grown-up laughter.'

Thanks for posting this, look forward to more.

Best, Nell

Nell at 21:04 on 31 July 2003  Report this post
This would be a good opening chapter for a novel - you've already created a strong interest in the characters - why not carry on?

Thomjack at 21:36 on 31 July 2003  Report this post
Thanks for you comments Nell. I am trying to use this as the opening to a novel but will probably have to change it to third person as this viewpoint is too bleak for a longer work. It's good that you think it is a good opening...now to work on the rest.

stephanieE at 10:58 on 01 August 2003  Report this post
You've been there haven't you? A great description of that period when you really don't want to be inside your own body.

Yes, it was a bit bleak, but it rang very true for me. I'm sure it would ring a note of sympathy for many professional women who struggle to balance career with social with meaningful relationships. I'd be rooting for a happy ending as the two of them gradually work out that mutual support can mutate into... well, that's up to you.

Well-written, with some wonderfully choice phrases.

Thomjack at 11:03 on 01 August 2003  Report this post
Thanks, Stephanie, for your positive and supportive comments. I'm at that daunting stage where I know I have to continue this story but the thought of turning it into a novel is scary. Getting positive feedback has given me quite a lift.

JohnK at 04:07 on 03 August 2003  Report this post
Shirley -
It rings true. The office gossip, the serial heartbreaker, the not-so-tough girl and the understanding but dull reliable friend. I think you have the start of s novel that will capture and retain a great deal of interest. All the best with the rest of it. JohnK.

Thomjack at 08:53 on 03 August 2003  Report this post
Thanks John, for your comments. As you can probably guess, the office part of the story is based on a place I once worked. It is good to know that it rings true. Onwards and upwards. Cheers.

Zigeroon at 08:23 on 12 January 2006  Report this post


Came late to this on a random read. It was great, really enjoyed the slow roll out of the story from the hangover and then into the 'cure'.


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