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Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Alcoholic Lawyer: FTMT short story No5



Alcoholic lawyer

John awoke in the doorway of his flat, he looked at the scratched watch face and saw in the early morning blur that it was 6:25. His throat was dry, his head was sore, he was damp and sweaty and still in yesterday’s shirt and business suit, though the tie had been discarded somewhere en-route. Last night and what may have happened was a blank, as it generally was most nights, and that was how he liked it. He felt for his wallet, it was there, the quick check of its contents revealed less money than he remembered but it was always this way, money gone, headache or pain from somewhere and a vacant mind. Blank and sanitised, keep the short term memory away, reality would dawn quickly enough when he returned to his desk and papers a little after nine.

He never ate breakfast, some instant coffee, a shower, a clean set of clothes and a bundle of dirty ones to be handed into the cleaners and he was back on track. He expected the headache to lift at about 9:30, probably as he was about to meet his first legal client. Elevenses would see him dip into the initial bottle of vodka for the day, the one he’d picked up along with his Glasgow Herald at the Spar. Jane his secretary faithfully guided him through the mail, stabbing at letters with a Loch Lomond paper knife, making piles, sorting and compiling folders and suggesting possible replies or actions. He would argue weakly and then sort through the piles in accordance with her guidance in between seeing clients. Jane sat outside his office typing and parrying phone calls maintaining a thin and pressured smile. Her hair was highlighted and in a French Roll, her spectacle frames were black and heavy, her make up light but applied with artistic purpose and her cardigan and skirt were tight and fitted almost to the point of a polite fetishism. Occasionally she would think back to when John had first joined the firm and how she’d fallen in love with him on that first day seventeen years ago. It was a dull pain she had become accustomed to and secretly enjoyed.

She was twenty then, had already been married criminally young to a carpet and soft furnishings salesman and was already bored and unhappy, she’d longed for a child, it had never come, the marriage fizzled out and now somehow, after numerous false starts and misadventures she was still here at the same desk and office working for him. John’s legal secretary, still loving him and hating him and still with her aching breasts fighting a losing battle to escape from the clutches of that smothering tight cardigan to rub warmly against his bare chest. Sex with him had never happened, he noticed her she knew, but the measure of his feelings was a dark secret he hid well, his problem drinking was not. These thoughts made her sweat and her mouth dry and she needed to pull her mind away from them and distract herself with more work. Work piled up and she was happy, she corrected his mistakes and slips, checked his voicemail and smoothed out his sometimes abrasive language and occasionally substituted a weaker standard letter if she felt he had misjudged a case. John of course had no idea she was working for him continually and so faithfully controlling things in the background

At lunchtime John strode out the office sharp at one, already fuelled up he said cheerio to Jane and headed for the Queen’s Head fifty yards down the road. Jane ate a sandwich at her desk and wondered if she should nip out to Boots for that bottle of conditioner and some hair spray or stay put. There was city drizzle spattered on the window as she looked out and through the glass into some where beyond. Somewhere else, even another office or shop where she might be, away from this daily grind and this slow pleasurable torture. She stayed at her desk and read a magazine, fiddled with her nails and phoned an old friend for a quick chat. The conversation wound round weather and weekends crunching eventually into relationships. “It’s just so difficult to meet people these days, there are so many nut cases around and I’ve never been a club or society person”. The concerned friend on the other ended spoke for a while in agreement then Jane continued. “He’s out again for his lunchtime top up, he just drives himself down and away, I should never have let it happen, never”. Jane listened unimpressed as her friend told her (for the ninetieth time) not to blame herself and to move on. “I just wish” began Jane, and then stopped herself and returned the conversation to a safer tack, dry-cleaning and bus times were the next topics.

John came back in, lilac faced and smoky smelling at about two-thirty, he was cheery “Nice lunch Janey?” he sang out as without eye contact he entered his office closing the door firmly behind him. Jane sorted and bundled more papers, then rose and knocked on his door, went in and dropped them in the middle of John’s desk. “You need to sign these, check those and read through these and advise,” she said tartly. “Nice work Janey!” John didn’t look up. Jane suddenly felt a surge of anger and frustration in her middle. “He didn’t even, can’t even look straight at me the bastard”, she thought, “he’s a pig, a drunk, ignorant pig”. John lazily lifted half an eyelid and wondered why Jane was still standing in front of his desk, saying nothing and staring down at him. “Ahem”, John cleared his throat, “are you alright Janey?” There was a slight blur right now at the edge of his vision and Jane was framed by it, slightly reminding him of Bottecelli’s Venus, that was if her hair had been down and her glasses and clothes removed and her pose different. He smiled “You can tell me, work can wait”.

Jane suddenly picked up the plastic out-tray on the corner of the desk, spilled the papers from it and hit John flatly over the head with it. “You don’t care!” she screamed, “you drunk useless bastard!” John spun backwards on the axis of his chair, clasped his hands over his head and fell sideways from the chair and onto the floor. The blur that was his vision was momentarily worse with the shock and the sharp pain of the tray attack, then quickly better than normal as he adjusted to a new perspective gazing along the office floor looking under the desk and at the radiator on the far away wall. He heard his own voice moan “oh Jane, oh Jane, what’s so wrong?” He could see her heels under the desk, she was rocking slightly on her ankles and more papers were dropping onto the floor. He was expecting another blow, maybe his PC or a book or some other missile would fly down at him from the other side of the desk, and so he remained low and concentrated on her ankles.

Jane was shocked and silenced following the outburst and was rapidly trying to think of what to say or do next. Part of her was already in denial as she imagined saying, “it slipped, it wasn’t me, it was your drunken fault” and other forms of nonsense. She swayed thinking and trembling in what was she knew to be a pivotal moment, she though she might pee herself, she though she should run and be sick, or go sobbing and lock herself in the ladies, she could feel her hair working loose with the effort of the blow. Her knees (with a mind of their own it appeared) gave way and caved in first. The angry tears in her eyes were now half way down her cheeks as she collapsed in a controlled and almost engineered motion onto her knees and onto her side and found herself staring under the desk at John as they unconsciously mirrored body positions.

John was smirking now and holding his head with one hand, Jane’s glasses were squint on her face, she straightened them and feebly smiled back at her boss, though in this odd face-to-face position and from these angles the roles were currently insignificant anyway. So a fresh, odd angled conversation began, “I take it you’ve no further plans to hit me” began John. “No” said Jane “though that does depend on how you behave and how you treat me”. “Understood!” John barked “and will there be anything else?” Jane sucked in a fresh breath enjoying the eye-to-eye concentration and the line of questioning. “I could give you a list” said Jane “but now is not the time nor the place, so you’ll get it in good time”. Jane felt relieved at providing the hint of other things to come, “I hope your head is ok”. She began to giggle in an unfamiliar unofficial way that John considered almost musical and found hypnotizing. “I don’t think I’ve seen you so happy” he said and began creeping across the carpet towards her.

He could smell her now, he was breathing her in and out, she was still giggling quietly and all he wanted to do now was touch her and clinch her as tightly as he could. When the contact came and the two, still on the carpet collided and oozed together her giggling stopped abruptly and they found each other’s open mouths, ramming lips together. It was a long kiss, he tasted her lipstick and breath for the first time and it was all nicely familiar and smooth and comfortable. She tasted his rough mouth, a pub smell and a tinge of illness, hunger and disappointment but it’s overwhelming maleness and power was like a strong drug she had to have. Hands and fingers suddenly were everywhere as their lips remained fastened and they rolled together across the carpet, pelvises and knees caps rubbing each other like hot machine parts. Her skirt began to ride up and his hand slapped onto her thigh and held it as they both burned with the warmth that told them that even there on the office carpet so much was still to happen.

“BRINNNG! BRINNNG!” The effect of the ringing phone was like that of John’s bedroom alarm clock crashing through his drunken sleep bidding him to return to the real and painful world from the other world of dreamy numbness. As it’s demanding ring continued above them from the desk and filled the room, they sat up slowly and looked at each other, neither answered it as they were still holding onto each another. As it stopped ringing they drew back from one another letting the embrace and the moment slip. They looked into and at each other, she was drunk now and he was sober, she was dishevelled and he was injured, both were being born into a fresh start and clumsy break from their pasts, unsure what to do as such times are unscripted and unrehearsed. She was the first to stand, happy and confused. Happy that the truth was out and that her heart was burning again and confused at not knowing what or where the next step in things might be.

He sat cross-legged for a few seconds as if to make a staged distinction between lying down and standing up and then stood up alongside her. She enjoyed seeing again that beside him she was small and that despite years of serious drinking he still appeared to be in decent and potent shape. Only the mottled patterns of his complexion and greasy hair suggested the deeper problems and she believed, as all good loving partners do, that her influence and continued presence with him would change his self-destructive behaviour. They touched fingertips and he brushed a hand across her buttocks while she was straightening her skirt and picking up the escaping strands of hair from the back of her head. She pushed her feet into her shoes as he watched, visually drilling through her from toe to head scanning her back into his memory. ”I’m not sorry I hit you” she began, quickly he stopped her, butting in with “I suppose you had to get my attention some way, and that certainly worked”. He was now picking and toying with her hair strands, gently with the touch and ease of a man who had just lost the friendship of the demon riding on his back. Then as if assuming his former role returned to behind the desk, restored the seat and sat down gesturing to Jane to do the same from her side. He pulled open his bottom desk drawer and from it produced a half empty vodka bottle. He waved it in front of her for a moment and then slammed it down upright in the middle of the desk, like a drunken Irish priest at the end of a wake.

“This” he began pointing at the bottle, “Is my lover and friend, it’s there for me and never let’s me down, works every time, cures every ache, hurt and pain”. Of course it’s also wreaked havoc with my life and health, destroyed relationships and grounded my career and finances for the foreseeable future, but it remains and this is what you are up against if you have any feelings for me!” Jane was staring at the bottle as if it was her worst enemy, she continued to stare after John had stopped speaking and then silently stood up, backed away from the chair and left the room closing the door behind her. The door clicked shut and John looked at the bottle standing making a ring on an official letter in the middle of his desk. He unscrewed the top and poured a three-finger measure into his dirty coffee cup. He tossed the bottle cap into the bin; sure that this bottle was not going to require resealing this time around. The vodka in the cup clouded with the coffee remains and John watched the patterns swirl and form across the surface of the liquid. He held himself back from drinking and watched the door handle move from the other side as Jane turned it, came in and sat down facing him once again.

She was clutching a large brown leather handbag and quickly produced from it a half-empty vodka bottle. With all the dramatic skill she could summon and an almost comic flourish with her hands plonked it onto the desk next to the other. “This!” she began pointing at the bottle, “Is my lover and friend, it’s there for me and never let’s me down, works every..” at this point she broke away as a large sob began to form in her throat temporarily striking her dumb. Her eyes filled and more tears came as she wobbled and tipped forward losing her composure completely. The two bottles sat together on the desk, different brands and shaped bottles containing slightly different amounts of poison and pleasure, but both coming with the common bond of dependence. ”I would never have known” John whispered across the desk, “ you’ve always been so, so perfect”. Jane had still to regain the power of speech and was trembling more than before, angry with him and herself for their blindness and their self induced slavery and weakness.

The held each other for a long time, she was crying, he was trying to, wishing he could but knowing the hugging and holding was a genuine and healing experience for both. At four o’clock John made a few quick phone calls, desks and files were hastily tidied and together they locked up and left the office. The staff in the outer office stared as the pair, seldom seen together left for the day now side by side. Once on the street they automatically fell into holding hands and oblivious of how the grey drizzle had turned to a full downpour walked in the wet to the taxi rank. They only noticed the rain pelting against the taxi windscreen as the wipers beat a scratchy acid jazz rhythm across the glass and the driver moaned into the gloom. Wisely they had decided to go to Jane’s flat, further out of town but in better order and warmer. She had been building this nest in a mixture of hope and despair for longer than she cared to remember and now its time had come. Once out of the car, up the steps and in the door they pulled their coats off and hung them on the stand next to the radiator. Jane turned round to John looked up at him and gestured towards the buttons on her cardigan, “can you get these for me please?” she whispered.

They stumbled and fumbled together and then sailed as if steered by a hungover yacht crew erratically into the bedroom. Continuous mouth contact was required to cement the still forming and stretching relationship, laughing and talking was difficult but occurred between gulps for air and explanations as they fell onto her bed. John felt beads of sweat on his brow and a thumping in his chest; he pulled at the remains of her clothes exposing her nakedness on the bedcover and adjusted to seeing her for the first time. He was trying to take it all in, this sensory overload, this thick feeling of power and fulfilment and the desire to plough straight into her. Meanwhile she had pulled off his shirt and was quickly unbuckling his belt as if speed-typing a letter before slamming her hands down the inside of his trousers and pulling at his bottom. They slid under the sheets and kissed more, felt more, consumed their shared electricity and touched more. Then at the peak of her excitement John rolled over and away from her like some beached sea lion as they fell apart ending with him sitting up in bed as she pulled tightly on the duvet shaken by the emergency stop.

Years of alcohol abuse and stress had done more damage than either realised. In what should have been the moment of connection and consummation it appeared that John had lost all of the sexual power ever in him. The physics of sex are complex and the male system once weakened by toxins and neglect may struggle to perform at critical times and so it was that John found himself with a cruel new problem to deal with. Jane’s first reaction was anger, passions had built up in her and now this golden time was spoiled by his unexpected failure, she still wanted him, she wanted him to hold her and take her and it all hurt like hell. It was another rejection, another slap in the face like those before with her first husband and the other part time lovers she had known and lost. Words are seldom chosen carefully at these times and she made her feelings clear to her visibly shrinking and suffering partner.

John couldn’t find the correct technical language to explain but begged her for time and a chance to recover. The stress of all this was winding up the time bomb within both of them that required a drink for its fuel, and then another and then much more. Under the covers their naked bodies creaked together, both dreamed of his sudden arousal and the coupling that would occur, so they simply tried to relax with each another and chat. This was a new and unexpected situation for both find themselves in and there was a lot to try to say and explain. Relax they did but nothing more was going to happen and only a bitter need for vodka grew. After an hour of talking and stroking they got up and dressed, their backs toward each other. “I never signed any pledge,” said John, “Nor me” said Jane. She brushed her hair quickly and fixed her face, he looked out of the window as if studying the passing traffic. He turned round and saw how good she looked and thought how addictive her smile now was to him, how he had to see it and be the one to make her smile. He wished he didn’t burn so for a drink and he wished that she didn’t either but it was the master and they were the slaves. Other passions had suffered so much neglect for so long and were well educated in their place in the pecking order of physical needs, so John and Jane went down to the pub.

Jane started with a white wine and a double vodka and coke; John had a double whisky and a pint of best. He smoked six cigarettes one after the other listening to Jane’s potted life story accompanied by an extra drink for them both. His story took three cigarettes, another pint and a double, while she had a bottle of the house white. Their common drunken bond was an unexpected bonus and discovery, a shared secret world of blurred vision and elastic time. It was like stepping into a delicious and spongy parallel universe where life could be lived with little pricking of the conscious or tedious explanation. It was a comfortable state that like some misty Brig o’ Doon lasted for about an hour on any given evening. Of course this perfect place was a complete illusion because the more you drink the more the seesaw tips until it overbalances and new and stranger more dangerous world opens up as the cosy one is eclipsed. By nine that evening the full eclipse had happened, though both remained upright, speech clear and coordination almost normal, but inside each one’s head a mad merry go round was racing out of control.

Somehow, at some unknown place in the drinking and talking they discovered each other again like refugees crossing an unclear border, and the left the pub and whoever’s company they had been in. The journey back to Jane’s flat appeared to take a lot less time than the other way. They seemed to crash into the front door, then the inner door, then the bedroom door and then onto the bed. Clothes fell from them and their touching and holding together was refreshingly cold and clean after the smoke and heat and noise of the bar. A wave of relaxation washed over John, a wave of forgiveness and acceptance washed over Jane and the intoxication of a deep love replaced the cheap intoxication of booze. Their bodies were exhausted already and their senses in orbit but they knew their need of one another. Tensions gone they made love desperately and fully and slept on together like animals hiding from hunters. This was the special time, bedded down in an addictive lifestyle, the formula was confused, the mix was chaos but in the highs and lows of the time spent apart they were now finally close to one another and at rest.

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