The shakes make moving difficult, but I struggle on, the need to leave the hospital more pressing than the pain. I’m on the brink, the doctor says, risking ruin and extinction, but I’m still here, somehow. I don’t need doctors or nurses or charts and graphs to show me what’s wrong. I can feel it, deep inside, beyond any scientific remedy. Even God himself has left me to it. He didn’t give up, I did. Not that there was much to renounce. When you have nothing, there is nothing to lose. Many ask for grace and good health, but for me, it’s all in vain. What is the point of praying if words are worn beyond repair? If minds and muscles are withered and weak, why stick around and sulk? Life without the drink is dull and listless. I no longer remember how I used to live before the booze. I know there were particulars which must have existed, such as parents and brothers and lovers and friends, but that was then. I realised long ago that remembering didn’t help. Memories were muddled, deformed by years of disciplined avoidance. Thinking about how things used to be was corrosive, more than the whiskey which appeased the past. Now, I’m on my own. But it’s all right. I’m okay with that. It’s the way things are. I don’t want you to feel sorry for me. I’m not interested in your sympathy. I don’t need it. Save it for someone else. Me, I just want a drink.
I leave Charing Cross Hospital and wait at the traffic lights. I watch people pass and vehicles vanish as vital signs flash and flicker. Everyone has a place to be, eventually. An old woman stands beside me, breathing heavily and holding a flaming cigarette between her fingers. Her eyes are sunken and her skin is loose and wrinkled. She looks tired and frail. Exhausted. I try to light a cigarette of my own but my shakes are still too strong and I can’t work the flint properly. I consider asking for the use of her cigarette, but I figure she deserves to be left alone. She’s done her bit, and now it’s up to Him. I notice the hospital tag on her left wrist and wonder whether she’s been officially discharged. She takes a long drag of her cigarette and coughs violently, ash falling from the smouldering end and disintegrating in the humid air. Leaning on the lamppost she steadies herself, until she catches her breath and sucks on the filter again. She has her crutch, and I have mine. We all have something which makes the world a more bearable place to live, or makes us better suited to live within it. We all have the hope of happiness, however strong or out of reach we think or feel it is. It pushes us on, even if we don’t know where we’re going, or if we’ll ever get there. Me, I don’t drink because I hate myself, or you, or anyone else. I drink because I like it. Similar to the way you like your infant child which soils itself, or your lover who disagrees, or the job which underpays. It’s the kind of ‘like’ which debilitates and invigorates in uneven measures, though mine are generally 60ml and frosty. I’m not a bad person. I’m not a thief or cheat or murderer. I’m not a man of ill intent. I’m just a man, a person, me. So here I am, and there you are. Different sides of the road, waiting together.
Inside the shop the air is thick with incense, indiscernible scents circling between the narrow aisles and laden shelves. Whilst I wait behind the customer in front of me I examine the gleaming bottles of alcohol which line the wall. I look at the reflection on each bottle, a mirror of the world beyond, contorted and bent and out of shape, perhaps the way it really is. I finally reach the guy behind the till and point at the small bottles of own brand whiskey which I know won’t taste great, but will at least take the edge off till I get home. I pay the man and exit back onto Fulham Palace Road where everything moves on, like it always does. I take the first turning on the left and let a mother and child pass me by before unscrewing the bottle and taking a hit. I expect my brain to shut down, but it doesn’t. The doctor was wrong, this time. I know the wet brain will come eventually, but not yet, it seems, so I finish the bottle and throw it in the nearest bin.
Now that the hospital appointment is over and I’ve got a couple of miniatures in my pocket, I’m in no rush to go home, so I make my way to the park not far ahead. Once I pass through the gates I look for a bench on which to sit. Choosing one situated away from the main path, I lower myself onto the weathered wood and feel for one of the miniatures in my pocket. I take it out and examine the tiny bottle fixed within the folds of my open palm. My fingers trace the lettering on the label until my dirty nails work at the corners, peeling and pulling and rubbing the bottle clean. I look at my reflection in the glass, my eyes staring back at me, searching. Long ago, this man inside the bottle was a husband, a lover, a friend. He was a father too, and by definition still is, somewhere.
There’s a group of kids playing football and I watch them run around and let loose with their fluorescent orange boots. I remember my first visit to a youth centre my parents encouraged me to get involved in back when I was young and healthy. Once they’d dropped me off and satisfied themselves that everything was all right, they departed for the other things they wanted, often more than me. I spent a while looking at the other kids playing table tennis or darts or five-a-side football, until I found a quiet corner and awaited my parents return. It was at this moment that another kid sat down next to me. I looked at him and smiled. He didn’t. ‘You don’t belong here.’ He said. Looking around I knew he was right. ‘Where do I belong?’ I asked. He shrugged his shoulders and looked away. Forty seven years later, I continue to ask the question, the answer waiting, still.
The Soundtrack for ‘Wet Brain’ is Radio Moscow’s ‘Sweet Little Thing’