‘So, I’m going to prescribe you three month’s Fluoxitine and recommend that you speak to a counselor to try and make some headway in getting yourself back on track,’ the bespectacled, relatively young – forty maybe – doctor told me while scrolling the same details on a pad atop a solid-oak desk. She reminded me of … … Adrian, Adrian from the Rocky films, that was it.
‘Thanks, Adr… eh… fck … erm, can, can you possibly justify my absence from work these, erm, last three days?’ I eventually stammered out.
‘Yes, I don’t see that as a problem,’ she replied, kissing my inner demons as she spoke. ‘And what I won’t mention is that, on this occasion at least, the origin of your problem rests with alcohol and other harmful chemicals, and the depression is merely a consequence of the consumption. Of course that doesn’t mean you don’t suffer from depression and other problems while in a sober period, but these are things which you’d be better to talk about with your counselor so you can find the root of what’s getting you so down. The Fluoxitine takes about two weeks to have an effect.’
I found the address just off Dublin Street and gazed up and down at the four floors of what appeared to be another affluent nineteenth-century urban residence. The old, grey-haired woman greeted me with a soft-spoken and formal ‘hello’ like a nun would greet a brother of the parish. She looked like a nun too, but for the bright red jumper and long grey skirt. It seemed like I was visiting a friend’s grandmother. Maybe she’d half listen to my tale, smile warmly, and tell me everything would be fine before handing me fifty pence to go and get some sweets. I didn’t expect much anyway.
She led me downstairs to a quiet and unadorned basement room which had a small window at street level, at a level to view passing legs, feet, and car wheels. She sat me down in an armchair which opposed another high-backed, cushioned leather chair, these the only two items of furniture in the room. The woman introduced herself as Mrs. Carter and told me that about the procedure. I would take on eight hours as a starter and be billed twenty-eight pounds per hour. I agreed, pretended to read one side of an A4 document, and scribbled my name on a black line. The old woman lay down the sheet and stared into my eyes silently for an unnerving amount of time until I was unable to maintain eye contact.
‘So, would you like to tell me what’s bothering you?’ she eventually whispered with the sincerity of a well-schooled method actress.
‘Well, I just seem to have broken down, and I’m filled with hatred and jealousy which is, emm, well, destroying my relationship and making me feel completely depressed. I’ve got to the point where I don’t know what to do anymore,’ I told her, half believing the words which fell from my mouth, simultaneously aware of my own subtle histrionics. She paused again in contemplative pose before proceeding with her next question.
‘So what is it you hate?’
‘Just … everything and everyone… I’ve just broken down,’ I said again, not knowing what else to say.
‘And what are you jealous of? Is it the same as your hatred or do you distinguish between the two?’
‘No, it’s the same, but with more focus on an inferiority complex I have. I’ve lost all my self-esteem, maybe I never had any. The jealousy tends to hone in on my girlfriend’s ex-boyfriends. I visualize films in my mind of her with other guys and them making love to her, and, that’s, that’s what the jealousy is mainly about. And it’s very difficult for me to tell you that,’ I concluded, honestly.
‘Tell me about your family,’ she appeared to digress with, but I was waiting for that all-encompassing inter-connection to crop up. It was the one thing I was sure I’d be talking about there.
‘Emm, well, what do you think is relevant? That my parents divorced when I was twelve?’
‘No. Tell me about your family,’ she repeated with a gentle-but-firm, practiced tone. I was already beginning to get bored.
‘Happy family, otherwise, whatever that means,’ I launched her way.
‘So why is it that you drink so much?’ she surprised me with.
‘What do you mean?’
‘Well, you drink a lot, don’t you?
‘I guess so, and I’m aware that it doesn’t help, but even when I don’t drink, I have the same problems.’
‘But do you think that the reason you drink has something to do with your parents’ divorce?’
‘No, not really. I’ve made my own choices in life up until now. And, you know, if anything I’ve manipulated and used my parents’ separation as an excuse for my own behaviour.’
‘And how do you feel about your mother?’ she asked, immediately aware of my distaste for the question.
‘I’m aware of where you’re going with this but I really don’t see the relevance. I love my mother and I love my father, for all their shortcomings and successes and for carrying me through my youth … giving me an excellent basic moral and intellectual education,’ I lied.
‘Hill, it’s very important for me to get a clear picture of your background in order for me to help you as best I can,’ she stressed.
‘Well, okay. Here goes… I have a father and a step-father, a mother, two brothers and one sister. All of them are happy and successful and I would take a bullet for all of them such is my intrinsic notion of love towards them. My sister is a doctor, my brothers are both university graduates, one working for the Royal Air Force, and one as a hotel manager. My father flew in the R.A.F. was shot down in the war and spent time in a prisoner of war camp – which might explain more about him than me. After that he became a school teacher at the school I attended. My mother has been primarily a loving mother, bringing up four kids as well as assisting to bring up my father’s three kids from a previous marriage. She also worked in the Civil Service and had other administrative jobs.’
‘So how would you describe the way you feel about your mother’s life?’
I shook my head and sighed, this was going nowhere.
‘Just try to tell me how you feel about it,’ she patiently asked again.
‘Right … erm … proud, I guess. She’s brought up seven children from a time when she was only eighteen. She’s been through shit with my father, and she’s managed to find true love in the autumn of life with my step-father who’s a great guy. She has my absolute respect and unconditional love,’ I said, feeling a momentary tear of emotion rouse in the back of my eye. Yet I didn’t always feel like this, it was a bullshit question. I should have said: ‘Sometimes my mother pisses me off and at other times she doesn’t. Her life is hers, mine is mine.’ But I couldn’t just say that.
‘O.K. Hill … Tell me about your drinking.’
Fuck, Give me a job. 28 quid an hour! Tell me about your favourite pizza topping? Tell me about last Friday night? This is fucking easy. All I need is a room and a monthly subscription to Psychology Today.
‘I drink too much. I don’t often crave alcohol but that and drugs are the source of basically, well, all the problems I have and have had in life. It’s my trampoline pad away from reality,’ I said tiredly, unsure about the metaphor.
She sat there for a moment looking at the piece of paper I signed. Again, it appeared like she was going to ask how my mother played some kind of protagonist’s role in my rebellion, but finally, she just sighed and nodded slowly.
‘I agree,’ she said. I think you have an alcohol problem and that is the cause of your hatred and jealousy, so if you like I can refer you to the appropriate organization for treatment, but I don’t believe I can be of any use to you.’
Alchie! Fucking alcoholic. That’s what she’s saying. Rehabilitation clinics, 12 step programs. I don’t fuckin’ think so.
‘No, that won’t be necessary, but thanks anyway. I’ll find my own way out,’ I said, collecting my bag and walking towards the door.
‘OK,’ was all she said.
G. had fallen asleep on our sofa with Jeff Buckley singing his heart out through the speakers at full volume, the CD on ‘repeat all’. It had been doing this for several hours. Sara was at her mother’s. I lay in bed, my head spinning within a depraved chemical howling, thinking that if I got up, I’d either be sick, or start drinking. There was what sounded like someone hammering the front door with their fist although I wasn’t sure because of the volume of the music. My bedroom door looked out over the hall. As I slanted my head towards the open door, a short, stocky, black-haired man in his 30s came hurtling through the locked door with a flying karate kick, landing beside the telephone table a small black club in his hand. The front door clattered against the wall behind it and then back against the Yale lock which amazingly gripped the door again, unbroken. He picked himself up and strode to where the music was coming from. The music stopped. The man then came back through the hall walked out the flat, gently closing the front door behind him. I no longer felt sick. I got up immediately and wandered through to the living room bemoaning with a twist of face the bright Sunday morning light from the gaping windows, still trying to take in what I’d just witnessed.
‘Did you fucking see that?’ I said, nudging the fully-clothed, slavering specimen on the blue leather sofa.
‘Whoa. Whoat. Whoat is it?’ he grunted, shut-eyed and dry-mouthed.
‘Hey, asshole, wake up,’ I said, kicking him softly in the stomach.
‘What the fuck is it Hill?’ he groaned, looking at me through one half-open, slanted red eye.
‘Some bloke just kicked our fucking door in and turned the stereo off!!’
‘Aye. I know. He did it a couple of weeks ago as well. So let me sleep, eh?’
‘What? Who the fuck is he?’ I demanded to know while leaning down to open the beer lying next to G.’s danced-on brown moccasins.
‘Cunt fae doonstairs,’ he said finally, before rolling his face into a cushion to blind out the sunlight.
I saw the ‘cunt fae doonstairs’ on the way to work that Tuesday. I wasn’t sure who was more in the wrong, us or him, but I wondered what he’d do if I kicked down his door and turned his stereo off. Then again, I never heard anything from his stereo so it would be somewhat motiveless. Sara told me he had been up complaining about the parties and the music before:
‘Alright boys, I know yer just having a bit of fun and that but emm … I cannae even hear ma TV, you know? Any chance of just turning it doon a notch or two,’ was the initial complaint, before a couple of weeks later:
‘Honestly noo lads, I’m at the end of my tether. I’ve no had any sleep for the last three weekends and I’m losing the plot down there listening tae yae. I’m gonnae huv tae call the polis or do something masel if yae dinnae sort it oot.’
‘Aye what the fuck are you gonnae dae like?’ was allegedly Sean’s mature approach to dealing with the situation. Apparently the guy just walked away.
So, weighing it up, it was fair play. We had noised him up, literally, and he had come into our house uninvited and played the role of noise pollution officer. I let it go. I had other things to think about.
A couple of weeks later, Sean had been filling the bath with water but was sidetracked by a spliff and a Playstation game, completely forgetting about the running bath. I had cried off work at midday citing a lame stomachache excuse for a booming wine and whisky hangover. All I wanted to do was hit the sack for a few hours, fantasizing that Sean was out looking for a job. Yet, perhaps of course, the antithesis of this delusion was what awaited me, that inconsiderate bastard – reality.
‘First things first,’ I said, remembering to remember, ‘stop fucking using my facecloth to clean your balls.’
‘I dinnae, I, well, I can’t anymore, the fucking bath’s just fell through the floor,’ Sean announced from the middle of the hall with an excitedly stunned look on his face.
‘Have a look. The bath’s just fallen through the floor,’ Sean again enthused, as if he had just witnessed an act of divine intervention.
I walked to the edge of the bathroom to view one of the strangest most disturbing pictures I had ever seen. He wasn’t joking. There was a huge hole in the floor and our bath was now hanging by threads of plaster above another bath in the flat below. Half of the floor had been taken with it and water from a broken pipe shot down to overflow the other bath.
‘How the fuck did that happen?’ I asked in a deliberately accusatory tone.
‘Fucking deathtrap that’s what it is. Lucky that I didn’t get into bath or I’d be down there kayoed in that fucker’s flat. He’s got a better bathroom than us though eh?’ Sean said smiling, trying to humour me. This was his idea of fun.
‘So, what? You were just running a bath and it just caved in? I asked, knowing Sean well enough to see that he was aware of some internal guilt, and also knowing that he would distance himself completely from anything incriminating.
‘Aye, pretty much,’ he said.
‘So where did all this fucking water come from all over the carpet?’ I asked him as I trudged on a sodden hall floor.
‘Fuck knows. Must have been when it fell.’
‘You fucking overflowed the bath.’
‘Na, na doubt it. I just sat down for a bit and played Fifa while it was running.’
‘What’s a while? An hour? Two?’
‘It’s no ma fucking fault Hill. Bath’s shouldnae just collapse through the floor,’ he claimed defensively, not without some credence.
‘Sean, I dinnae really gee a fuck if it’s your fault or no, but the fucking landlords will, and it’s me that’ll huv tae take the shit fur it.’ I said as a man appeared in the bathroom below, Sean wrinkling his brow, unaware of the guy.
‘Well fucking tell them that they rented us a fucking deathtrap,’ he went on. ‘Even if I did overflow it, it shouldnae be falling through the fuckin’ floor,’ he reiterated.
‘So yae’ve fucking melted the floor and dropped a bath intae ma fuckin’ apartment ya wee cunts,’ a voice from below snarled angrily. ‘Well that’s the fuckin’ final straw ae? You better be fuckin’ ready when I get back cause yer gonnae get a fuckin’ hidin’,’ the guy shouted up, enraged.
Although little could have been done at that point to resolve the situation peacefully, Sean decided to make it much worse. I was already in the realms of inconceivability, questioning whether all this was really happening, when Sean, who didn’t react well to threats, cleared his throat and launched a thick and heavy greaser which landed just below the guy’s hairline.
‘Aye, I’ll be fuckin’ ready and you’ll be the one gettin’ done over,’ Sean shouted down, sniggering as he spoke.
The guy, now beside himself with rage, grabbed the first thing to hand which was a deodorant can, and threw it full pelt at Sean’s head, missing by a few inches, but serving as a motive for the surreal events which followed. Sean leaped forwards and steadied himself on the hanging bath before jumping the three-metres-or-so down to the bathroom below, taking the guy down with himself, the two of them laid out on the wet ceramic floor. The guy got to his feet quicker and swiped at Sean’s face with a shaving razor he grabbed, Sean punching it away as he got to his feet. The two of them then stood toe to toe in a frenzied embrace, Sean managing to trip the guy up and send him back down to the tiling. The guy was no match for Sean one-on-one. Besides his fearlessness, Sean was half-a-foot taller and a good twenty kilos heavier. The guy managed one more grazing left cross as he tried to get up, but after that it was all one sided as Sean locked up the guy’s arms and shoulders with his legs, and let rip into his face with crushing left and right hooks. The guy’s nose burst open, and three punches later he was knocked out cold.
‘Fuckin’ leave him Sean,’ I yelled from the floor above. ‘That’s fucking enough.’
‘Aye, who’s getting the fucking hiding now ya cunt,’ Sean shouted to the closed eyelids before one last heavy right sent his unconscious head on a lifeless sideways tilt.
So what the fuck can you possibly do in that situation? Sean clambered his way back up through the ceiling, his clothes seeping, his knuckles bleeding as he slowly released the adrenalin of the moment. He just shrugged as he walked past me, his eyes still feral, still in the fight. I was shocked, I didn’t know what to do or say, it seemed we were fucked whatever approach was taken. Sean had an idea though, and he also had outstanding warrants, so when he reappeared a whole thirty seconds later with fresh clothes on, we both only needed to look at each other and the door to know we were doing a runner. And so we set off, out the door and down the winding old stone staircase, down onto Leith Walk, the number 12 bus waiting with doors open as if especially for us. We jumped on and clambered to the top deck and the bus pulled away slowly, passing our flat, looking into our living room. And there he was, at our fucking window, staring wild-eyed up and down the street, a meat cleaver in his hand.
‘Could a been messy,’ Sean offered.
‘Could a been? … What fuckin’ planet are you on?’
‘Well, I was just sayin’ … Could a been worse.’
‘Shut up… Just shut the fuck up.’