22 November 2005

3am - Almost Home

I was so certain I had posted this before, but I can't find it - it would have been about a year ago anyway. So, for lack of anything remotely creative erupting from my few officially functioning braincells, and in honour of the weather, have (a reprise of) a story like what I wrote, about the snow. Now. Before it comes true and becomes crass and inappropriate.

3am Almost Home

Freezing cold and drunk as a skunk, I am doing the sensible thing and ploughing forward through the snowy city streets toward home, as if I have a purpose. It is bitterly, viciously cold and the glower I wear is only half affected, although it helps to complete the image and keep me safe.

Indoors, at John's house, I only knew that the evening was mellow, that I was in good spirits and that the port was delicious. Now, out here in the frost, I realise I am thoroughly pickled because my limbs are fluid and flexible. My face, though frosted with new snow, has a warmth in the cheeks that defends the bone. Hat? Yes, I could probably have done with a hat, but I'll live.

This is getting me far too many concerned glances from couples taking their time after cosy nights out, but the task now, alone as I am on the seedier edge of London, is to stride forward with a purpose. It helps to be viewed as someone local and streetwise and therefore discarded as potential victim by the con-artists, gigolos and druggies looking for the price of a McDonald's hot chocolate, or maybe a score or a fumble.

The scowl of deep thought is my saviour, although the most I can manage is to concentrate on walking in a straight line fast, on making sure I am still heading in the right direction. There are snowflakes on my teeth; that's annoying.

Thank God for this Crombie overcoat, solid ancient wool, the pride of an old man's wardrobe consigned to the back of a second hand shop and spotted and claimed by frugal, clever me. The lining, pure silk, may be dropping off out of old age, but the thick, weathered wool still does its job. My toes are numb, my bare calves also, but my chest is warm and safe, my throat protected from the scorching ravages of evil weather.

Oh God, why won't my tear ducts work? I am grateful for this steadfast, bulldog attitude, but the child, the woman inside me wants to cry, so hard. So far to walk, six or seven miles, in this damned snow storm. Every bench I pass, every warm and welcoming light from long closed stores, all make me want to stop a while, but I dare not. It will be 3am before I reach home even at this rate. I don't ever want to see him again, but can't believe he hasn't got into his car to make sure I am all right. I am sticking to the longer, safer main-road route, why hasn't he come looking? I hope he's OK.

An hour ago now, just when the last bus had gone, when the train station was locked up, tucked up for the night, he had told me it was all over. He timed it, I think, to try and guarantee 'one for the road', or a snuggle and a cuddle and 'good vibes' in the morning, I don't know.

I don't care, either, damn him. I suspect he wanted to force the break-up into civility, into the path of minimum guilt, where he could convince himself it was mutual, darned sleaze ball coward, he wanted to have his cake and eat it. Then again, if he is so intent on saving face, on keeping his gentlemanly reputation, why isn't he here? Where is the warmth of his car? Where is the brotherly affection he swore, like some booby prize, always to hold for me?

My legs are not so cold now, though they probably ought to be. They don't feel assaulted like they did when I set out, more like lead. I dare not stop walking, nor even change my pace because I doubt anything keeps me moving forward any longer, other than momentum.

I have crossed the river. Two towns to go, and the tourist traps all behind me. No more pretty street lights, no fancy shops and restaurants. The dregs of humanity are mercifully absent, for if they were here, they would not be the last drunken revellers, well dressed and in couples, heading home to continue the romance of an exotic meal. They would be something else; the drunks and drug addicts, woken at last from alfresco slumber, or moved on from their corners; the disavowed and disappointed; people like me. Gutter trash.

Right now the gutter looks good, warm somehow, perhaps half a degree safer than the blast of icy wind at head height. Dirty nooks between phone boxes and office walls, where dust and grunge have settled and combined because the wind cannot sweep them, these look inviting. They make me hanker.

My God, but I downed that port. I must have known that something wasn't right, that I was losing my grip on reality no matter what, because I hid in its intoxicating fumes, guzzled them like a defence, or a suicide. How many glasses had I drunk after he told me? Why didn't he stop me? He was smiling. Bastard. I am paying for it now. I'm not entirely sure I should feel this woozy, just on port, when all's said and done. It's a silly thought, I have only known him two or three weeks, but no, he wouldn't have, I'm certain.

I am just so tired. I don't want this any more, and I doubt I can do it, either. Even as my rational mind is fired onward through fury and indignation, through hurt and surprise, my strength is so completely used that I want to cry again. The five-year-old side of me is winning now, cold beyond cold and out the other side, into stiff but warm incapacity and wailing, teeth-gritting defiance. She wants to stop, demands to shut these eyes and sleep, until this weather is all gone away. Better to take the shortcut, across the fields; sticking to the roads I just know I won't make it.

Willing my legs to keep moving doesn't seem to work so well any more, this is painful. There are no doorways here, no bus shelters or phone booths. In fact there's only half a mile or so to go, I can see the lights of the houses, but near enough is good enough, it will have to be. The hedge seems a good enough shelter, yes, it is, it rocks and cajoles me like a mother to its child; I swear that as we meet and meld, I do not stoop. Simply the world revolves around me and there is no up or down. This is peace, this is comfort.

I don't need to close my eyes any more. The snow is so pretty, settling on my legs and on my tongue. This is warmth, and this is home; this is as far as I go.

I think there must have been something else, back at John's, something more than the alcohol, to make it impossible to leave. But I did it, oh yes, I walked out on him and that is my triumph. Shame my temper only carried me so far, but that's life. I wonder if he'll ever know, or care?

4 comments:

zilla said...

oooooooh, reminds me of the Gish still. Very well done, Cheryl.

fineartist said...

Some men are just no damn good.

I raced through this piece in order to know what would happen next, and then re read it again, twice.

Damn fine writing.

ella m. said...

Only you could make something that was both emotionally and physically painful sound that elegant. Fine stuff.

Astryngia said...

That's a very intelligent piece, full of complexity. Certainly deserves and merits re-reading twice. Nice one!! (And...did he?)