It’s the smell that wakes Alfie. It smells of petrol and garlic. And something else. Tooth decay maybe? Or burning tyres? It’s difficult to pinpoint – the overall note is that it’s unpleasant. The light is the second thing he notices. It’s so bright, his pale blue eyes have to remain in a perpetual squint, which doesn’t help with the headache. Oh how his head hurts.
Where is he? He tries to call for help but no sounds come from his mouth. Where the hell is he? He can make out white walls around him. He’s lying on the floor in a rather disorderly fashion. His neck is jarred to one side; his right leg is bent under his left one at what seems to be an odd angle; his left foot still sports a shoe, the right one only a sock. So the assumption would be that he took his left shoe off but passed out before being able to take the right one off. Or that he lost his right shoe at some stage last night and finished the evening without it.
This must have been a hell of a night.
They went for curry, which he remembers. He had king prawns and chicken vindaloo. Well at least that’s the garlic smell explained. After that? God knows – nothing comes to mind, not a single blurry memory, just a greyish colour like a fog obstructing his brain. Plenty of grey. And The Who. The Who’s ‘Pinball Wizard’ plays over and over in his head. Maybe they went to dokaraoke? To a club? But what sort of club plays ‘Pinball Wizard’? That’s not right – Alfie is generally good at remembering parties, even after a few drinks. He’s the one that remembers drunken conversations, who knows where the cab rank is, how to go home. He never woke up with women he couldn’t remember bringing home, woke up in the tub because he couldn’t remember where his bedroom was, or in his shed because he couldn’t find his keys.
This is all very new, and very strange. Where is he? This clinical room is starting to put him on edge. Why is it so bright? Why is it so quiet? And what time is it? And why is no-one coming?
He has to try to remember again, retrace his steps to this room. Is he in an asylum? Or prison? Maybe he killed someone. Maybe he burned down the curry place? Could this be what the petrol smell is about? He HAS to remember.
So they went to the bar, had a few beers, watched the match. Smithy was on fine form – he’d finally left that bitch of a girlfriend and celebrated the recovery of his freedom and balls by treating them to a couple of shots. Then they went for their usual curry. A normal Friday night with the lads. Drinks and banter and food. Then what? Probably another bar. Definitely another bar. He wouldn’t feel as rough as he did if they’d called it a night after the curry. That headache is like nothing he’s ever had before. His brain throbs in his head, his neck hurts, even his face hurts. Actually, thinking of it, most of his body hurts. Even the abundance of hairs on his torso hurt. It feels like someone has been pulling it.
So far only his right arm doesn’t seem to hurt in one way or another. But this absence of pain is no relief, it fills him with panic. Why can’t he feel his right arm? It’s like it’s not there at all. Is it there? If only he could turn his neck slightly to the right to check. But his neck won’t move, it’s just too stiff. It’s difficult to make out his surroundings with only his eyes being able to move.
He makes out a shape to his left. His watch lies smashed, a foot away from him. The hands are stuck on 2. Something must have happened at 2am. He’ll have to call the guys and ask. It might be wise to have a sleep first, maybe the rest would help him recover his voice and memory. But it’s so bright, and so uncomfortable, what is this room? And why isn’t he in a bed? And why is no-one coming? Something must have happened at 2am. But what?
“It happened 10 minutes ago. Yeah. Yeah. 2am. At the crossing between New Street and London Road,” Officer Carr blares in his walkie-talkie while a few feet away from him young officer Langdon struggles not to vomit on his shoes and attempts to hold back the rise of bile by breathing deeply. Carr looks with amusement at the subtle changes of colour in Langdon’s skin tone. It gradually goes from his usual pinkish complexion to ghostly white, jaundiced yellow and finally settles on a lovely shade of pastel green. Something Dulux would probably describe as ‘almond green’. The poor guy needs to man up. He’s a good officer but definitely too sensitive. Carr doesn’t have time for pansies. He’s all muscles and jaws. He doesn’t do pity, or tears, or sorry.
His usual reaction would be to ask Langdon to go on the scene and get as close to the body as possible. Just to toughen him up. Also because Langdon reports to him and has to do as he says. It’s nice to have some power. Yes, Carr is a man of simple pleasures. But he is in a mellow mood tonight. Marcia had let him have her earlier on, and she even seemed to enjoy parts of their tepid 12 minute lovemaking. So he is feeling good, charitable, his usual pettiness replaced by something akin to mightiness; and his usual exasperation at Langdon’s sensitivity turned into some gruff affection for the young lad. “Langdon, go sit in the car and get started on the paperwork, I’ll deal with the paras.”
Too grateful for words, and also too worried about opening his mouth in such a nauseated moment, Langdon nods, scurries to the police car and hurriedly closes the door. As if the police car door could protect him from what’s out there, the man lying by his motorbike, in a pool of blood and petrol. As if it would shield him from theunnaturally bent leg, the grossly dislocated arm and the objects scattered all around the dismantled body, little testifiers of the violence of the crash, little reminders of how hopeless this probably is – helmet, iPhone, wallet, shoe and a slowly drowning wristwatch.
The ambulance turns up, its blue light revealing the scene in all its gloom. The paramedics jump out, their movements brisk, their voices loud. One of them leaves the passenger door open and fragments of ‘Pinball Wizard’ fill the still night. In seconds, the man’s torso is stripped and the CPR machine wired. For a couple of minutes Langdon watches the body tense up and fall back down, lifeless. Then one of the paramedics shakes his head.
“There’s no use, John, he’s gone.” John turns the machine off and starts pulling off the pads, wincing slightly at the clumps of thick black hair stuck to them. Man that guy is hairy.
Barbara is French and moved to London in 2002 after studying for a BA in French literature and linguistics. She currently works as a digital content manager in the city and lives in Surrey with her husband and 4-year-old daughter. In her spare time she loves running, cooking, watching movies, reading and writing. Barbara has a few short stories on the go (She is trying her hand at a few different genres and styles).
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