We had moved from Brighton to Edinburgh on the first of April. Sean and I arrived at the plane still pissed, still drinking, as the brazen-blue-eyed Sara looked on with her hands on her hips, doubting her decision to move up north, to move in with me. Our flat lay in wait at 52 Elm Row at the top of Leith Walk. I had been assured by G. – whose estate agent mother had arranged things – that it had a capacity for 150 people on a Friday or Saturday night, but he refrained from mentioning how many patrons we could accept on weeknights, or anything else for that matter. He was right: it was spacious and brightly lit with high Victorian ceilings and large window panes peering gracefully over the cosmopolitan shopping street, an array of outlets catering to the palates and coat hangers of a hundred languages, most of them Scottish and Indian dialects. The clocks had just gone forward and there was the smell of freshly cut flowers in the air.
Sara and I took the larger room and Sean the other. We settled in quickly, stayed relatively sober and began to apply for jobs. Within a couple of weeks I was a travel agent, Sara took a receptionist’s job, and Sean sat burning holes in the sofa between 15-hour power naps. I had tried to tell Sara but she refused to be thrown off track, she had very definite plans as to how things would turn out, the kind of plans which never work. She told me she knew Sean was a good guy deep down and that was enough for her, she’d put up with his bad habits and they’d develop a mutual respect. I told her that he wouldn’t do any cleaning and he’d get stoned all day and she wouldn’t be able to cope with it. I also added that a couple of years earlier I had walked into flat I shared with Sean and that the kitchen had been engulfed in flames as he sat watching TV only metres away, a lengthy reefer in hand, completely unaware.
And so it wasn’t long before Sara had the first of many teary breakdowns and started to voice her distaste for all things Sean. Less than two months later a well developed mutual hatred had formed between them, and for more than just that reason alone, Sean headed back to Brighton to be with the future mother of his children. As a piss-kiss-and-make-up farewell, Sean, under my supervision, stole Sara’s Polo Sport luggage with which to make his escape. She wasn’t the kind to forgive and forget.
My career in travel was quickly thwarted by paranoid hangovers and a depressed apathy towards work in general. I would fill my day trying to avoid the phone as much as possible, which in a telesales job, would prove difficult.
‘Hi, Five Star Travel, Hill speaking. How can I help you?’
‘Aye son, I was just lookin’ at yon paper there,’ an aging man announced in a deep and slow, Glaswegian brogue.
‘A—y—e,’ he continued with a lengthy exhalation, likely from a cigarette.
‘So sir, how can I help you?’ I probed impatiently, patiently, where was the line?
‘Well son, it says here thit me and the wife can fly tae Europe withoot piein.’
‘Okay Sir, what company is that referring to?’
‘E—m—m. Easy Jet.’
‘Right, well, Easy Jet being a low-cost airline is not affiliated to any travel agents, so you’d have to contact them directly. I’d also let you know that Easy Jet generally only fly to provincial airports in Europe so if you had a more municipal destination in mind you may want to look at another airline. Also, the free fare thing is usually just applicable to a certain small number of seats so I’d expect that it may be difficult to fly for free,’ I blurted out like a soulless rule-abiding fuckwit.
‘Right you are son,’ the slumbered voice retorted lethargically as if dozing off.
‘Okay then,’ which was my usual lead up to adios!
‘Okay … So do you have those free flights?’
‘No Mr. … sorry, what’s your name sir?
‘No, Mr. Humphries, we don’t.’
‘So there isnae any free flights?’
‘No there’s not,’ I replied bluntly, hoping to get him off the phone.
‘So how much is it goanae be then?’
‘Well, where do you want to go?’ I asked with increasing impatience.
‘I telt yae. Europe.’
‘Right … well, whereabouts in Europe? Any countries in mind?’
‘Well which wans dae yae huv?’
‘We can fly you anywhere Mr. Humphries,’ I told him matter-of-factly as I checked the clock, raising eyebrows and shaking my head towards the bowed plump head of Rose who was pretending not to listen.
‘Well me and the wife went tae Malaga a few years back and it was awerite but the wife didnae like those Spanish eggs and all that Patella nonsense so no there again son.’
‘Alright, so not Spain. What about Italy?’
‘No I cannae be daen wae those funny languages son.’
‘Emm …’ he stopped me.
‘And we dinnae want any camels leapin’ aboot the place neither.’
‘Right, well … if you give me an idea of a country you would be interested in going to, I might be able to help you a bit better Mr. Humphries.’
‘Well what aboot Japan?’ he asked with easy sincerity.
‘So, you’d be interested in Japan but not countries in Europe?’
‘Well, how much is it?’
‘Emm … well when would you like to go?’
‘Does that matter like?’
‘Yeah, it does. Some times are more expensive.’
‘So when’s the cheapest?’
‘The winter season is the cheapest, but you’re still looking at around 600 pounds for a return ticket.’
‘An’ does that include a hotel and food, drinks ‘n that?’
‘No, you’d have to book that separately,’ I told him wearily, almost ready to hang up and sit on the toilet for a few minutes to avoid receiving his call again. Fuck it, I thought, I hung up, stood up, lifted my jacket from the coat stand and walked out the shop to smoke a cigarette in the rain.
Mary opened a window, the extra two metres to the door obviously too much trouble.
‘Hill, there’s a Mr. Humphries calling from Japan on the line. Leave your smoke break for later, it’ll be costing him a fortune.’
‘Jeezuz … fuuck.’
‘Hi, Mr. Humphries, sorry about that, you got cut off there.’
‘Aye, this bloody British Telecom just steal yer money and cut yae oaf these days son.
I’m thinking aboot changing tae that company a saw in the paper the other day.’
‘Is that the one with the free calls,’ I said mockingly, foolishly.
‘Free calls? Which one’s that?’
‘Oh, Telewest or something I think.’ Fuck it fuck it I may as well enjoy it, my mind began to sing.
‘What and it’s completely free?’
‘I’m no sure Mr Humphries, you’d huv to give them a call yersel,’ I answered, relaxing into a more Scottish laze of pronunciation.
‘Dae yae huv their number?’
‘No, I’ve no got it here, but if yae huv a look in the paper yae might find it there.’
‘Right son, but oanyway, this Japan thing. Is it goanae happen or no?’
I took a deep breath and smiled inwardly, chuckled into the handset and questioned the point in my being there and moreover the point in this gentleman going anywhere for his holidays. I wondered whether it was just better to do away with old folks at 60 if they can’t pass the basic What the Fuck is Going On? test which should be repeated annually thereafter: What day is it? Do you know where you are? President of Togo? Just a few basic questions.
‘Mr Humphries. Are you sure yer wife would be interested in goin to Japan?’
‘Oh she’s no goin son. She’s deed … Two years noo … ovarian cancer.’
‘Well … I’m sorry about that Mr Humphries … Emm … it’s just you mentioned that you’d be goin’ with your wife.’
‘Aye, it took two years tae finally nail her doon son. She was a fighter that one. 40 years thegither and then yae get telt that she’s got ovarian cancer. Yae just wonder what’s goin’ on in this world when that happens. Aye sorry son, it’s just I keep thinking she’ll come back and we can go on these free flights thegither tae Japan. All these pills yae huv tae take nooadays son, it’s hard tae keep track, yae ken whit a mean?’
I did indeed know what he meant and empathized with selfish slant of mind. All the pills and bottles and lines were catching up with me too and I needed to escape this bullshit before it was me babbling down the other end of the phone. There was a vice on my temples and it was tightening with every second I stayed in this miserable country which served only to make me work for a mortgage to tie me to a bank to keep me here until I surrendered to convention and boredom and got married to Sara and had a kid, and everything else I wasn’t even close to being ready for. I began typing words into the search engine. Work abroad, work in South America, Asia, South East Asia, Thailand. Teach English in Thailand. Teach? Thailand. Thailand. Hmmm.
Sara’s ex was a guy from South Africa called Carl. He was six-foot-nine and spent most of his time at the gym. I was better looking than him, but shorter by a foot – my legs, his arms sort of thing. It took around six months of our relationship before I began to analyse the possibility that Sara had had her best sexual encounter with this guy. This coincided with Sean’s departure and G.’s arrival, at first just occasional and brief ponderings, but it didn’t take long before it was daily, several times a day, that my mind was consumed by these bizarre and destructive thoughts. As a result my mood would oscillate between bad and worse as the jealousy took more focus and began to dominate my now inferior existence. To counter these thoughts I began drinking more, taking more drugs, Sunday afternoons spent with magnums of sparkling wine and lines of cocaine while everybody else was sleeping off the weekend. The weekend: usually this began on Thursday with an innocuous pint which turned into ten and was followed by a chemical and liquid frenzy for the next 72 hours. I began to have a few on Wednesdays, Tuesdays, and before long I was drinking during the day at work, in the toilets. I had also worked a fictitious correlation that his dick must have been about nine-inches-long erect. There was no sweet science or voyeuristic knowledge involved, but there at that time they were, the facts, the tormenting pictures on my mental wall. I had measured my own appendage to be a mere six-and-a-half inches fully erect, meaning that I was a almost a third less satisfying, and more than likely with a similar girth deficit. Sara usually needed more than just penetrative stimulation to come but I suspected that with Carl there was no such difficulty. My relationship was over. How could a girl cheat me into believing that she was interested in someone a third less satisfying? Fuck, his dick was almost twice as big as mine, I would tell myself. I started to hate Carl and more so Sara for being such a lying slut, convincing me that I was ever man enough to take her on. I was slowly becoming mentally insane.
There were periods where I could grasp the fact that she genuinely cared for me and had honestly fallen in love with me and that she had more depth than this, but words like depth just connoted with the depth to where his penis would reach and mine wouldn’t and it was only a matter of time before my invented rationale would become verbal reality. My initial outburst was one which came from not washing the dishes.
‘Fuck H., Am I gonna have to clean these every day?’ she complained, ill-at-ease with the hangover of her own relative excesses.
‘Fuck H., Fuck H., why don’t you go and fuck Carl, I obviously can’t compete with him so what’s the fucking point?’ I asked with vehemence to a stunned and flustered rose-cheeked face which went as white as our newly-painted kitchen walls.
‘What … did you say?’ she asked, mouth open in disbelief. Christ, even then I saw his cock being stuffed in, her sucking, gagging…
‘You fucking heard me you slag,’ I spat out, immediately regretting the last word I spoke, but strangely – for the fiery girl she could be – it was as if she hadn’t heard the word.
‘Are you fucking insane?’ she asked in her home-counties English accent which served well to inflect and emphasise the final word in her own less scathing insult. She went on… ‘You actually think I give a shit about him? I hate him because he was a bigoted, racist, selfish wanker and he was the most boring person I’ve ever been with. And I love you because you’re all the things he isn’t,’ she said quietly, beginning to break down, tears folding out of her eyes and rolling helplessly down her those soft-skinned cheeks, her styled blonde hair ruffled all of a sudden, her cold blue eyes reddening. Seeing her genuine discomfort I almost recoiled, almost, but instead stabbed a defenceless verbal blow for which I’ll always regret.
‘But it’s not about love is it? It’s about sex. And who was better? Who was fucking better hey?’
‘You, fucking you, you wanker, you bastard. I’ve never felt love from sex like I have with you,’ she pleaded in a frenzied, half-muted, intermittent scream.
‘Yeah, but he made you come easily, didn’t he? Didn’t he, admit it you cunt,’ I raged at her, beside myself with my own blazing selfish anger, still unable to see the full extent of the pain I was inflicting.
She ran out of the kitchen and into our bedroom, falling face down on the deep red pillows, crying hysterically for a good five minutes until her cries became sobs and I entered the room as if apologising for not cleaning the dishes.
‘I’m sorry,’ I said with a shot-down half-drunk, nonchalant, idiotic swagger.
She didn’t turn, she just lay there with her head in the pillow as the wind blew the leaves from the trees outside onto the Sunday-evening city-centre street, the sun and the temperature descending slowly and serenely into early-summer twilight.