As hangovers go, this felt pretty bad.
It wasn't a feeling of pain, more an emotional, deep scarring.
Nausea, headaches, the shaking hands. All these could be dealt with by the usual plop-plop-fizz and a quick trip to the local at lunch time. What I was more concerned with was the wiping of my memory from the night before.
I went through the events leading up to my system shut-down.
There was a pub after work. Then a taxi to the party. Then a few glasses of white wine, followed by being shown to a table, being served a starter followed by more glasses of wine. Then I recall dancing. Then - nothing.
What I knew would happen - having killed off several thousand brain cells on nights out like this before - was that the memory would return. Not in full, never totally, but in bright blue flashbacks. Excruciating sparks of snatched conversations that had led on to situations and that will have orgasmed into one huge fuckoff course of action that some bastard of a sober colleague would no doubt fill me in with on Monday.
I had until Monday then. To work out a reason for my behaviour. Or did I?
Did I really have to explain myself?
Wasn't everyone else as ratted as me?
It was a comforting thought that saw me through until that first pint was being sipped at lunchtime. Just me on my own. Losing myself in the Saturday papers, subconsciously searching for real life situations in the Daily Mirror where some berk of a soap star had ridiculed himself worse than me. It had to be a male. Whenever females manage to attain drunken stature that leads to their photographs splashed across page eight (always page 8) - there's usually a good reason. They are upset due to a broken relationship or it is part of their job whereby their partner is a rock star. It sort of fades into insignificance. Society caters for drunken felines. Crowds will part and taxis will be called. Onlookers will show concern. However, females aren't renowned for becoming violent or fighting when drunk (They save that for when their partners are drunk). Mostly it's smudged makeup or the unconcerned flashing of underwear at worst.
Blokes don't normally wear makeup and flashing of underwear involves unbuttoning of clothing which just isn't part of the plan after ten pints.
Nope - the genes kick in and things kind of happen, that are totally out of our control. Usually though, there is a sober woman somewhere on the drunken horizon.
The worst I could find however was a story concerning several drunken skiers who had managed to ski through a plate glass window at four in the morning. Pretty bad that, especially as a hospital was involved and scars that would no doubt remind them in the future that it wasn't really that funny, although at the time . . . . Well I'd have laughed if I had been there.
The first sign that all was not fine was when I purchased pint number two. In amongst the scrunched up wad of ten pound notes that I dragged from my front pocket was a business card which had scribbled on the back, in red ink, a name and number.
It was time for blue flashback number one.
The card. A meeting planned for next week, Thursday sprang to mind for some reason - and I recalled that it wasn't with a girl. Why I remembered this wasn't clear, only that it didn't feel right. Why would I accept a phone number and arrange a meeting with someone I had just met? Several things went through my mind. Had I been chatted up and in my stupor finally recognised some deep felt latent homosexuality? Had I finally embarked on a crusade where my evenings would be spent gazing into a face adorned by a handlebar moustache along with tattoos on buttocks? This wasn't me, surely?
I flipped the card over and read:
"Paul Fillini - Call me"
The scribbled name on the other side was different.
"Jim - 0181 786 4567"
Fuck, there was two of them. A gang bang.
This was how it would work - I ring the number, Paul answers and immediately knows who I am because Jim has confessed his undying love for me.
I stared at my empty beer glass. Five minutes earlier it had been full.
I am overreacting - the mind skipping down streets of fantasy where anything can, and does happen. Christ if I allowed it to, soon I'd be involved in murder, or rape, or worse, a three in a bed session with moaning, oiled up bikers, who not only knew where I lived, they knew my boss.
The best form of action was to contact someone who had been at the same party and ask them what I had got up to.
I unfolded another ten pound note and decided to order a double this time.
The ten pound note had blood on it, you see.
When I left the Crown my mind was suitably chilled out. Amazing how two pints and a few shorts can help you confront situations that sober, would have you stammering and wishing for days of old when your only concern was sucking your thumb. Home was where I was headed and for one reason only. To check my body for any cuts, or unseen blood stains. I was staring at my finger nails checking for any foreign bits of skin or hair, when I bumped into Sean from next door.
"Nasty bump mate"
"Above your eye, you been fighting again?"
"Sean, I never fight. I get pissed and fall over."
"I heard you last night, sounded like you were pretty happy. Pretty emotional too."
"Yeah well, that's the drink."
"Erm, better not, a cold shower for me I think. To wake up and all that."
Sean carried on and I got back to examining the fingers.
Nothing so far.
Standing in front of the bathroom mirror in the grey daylight, bollock naked on a Saturday afternoon is not my usual practice. But today I figured it was necessary.
I felt like shit and as a result noted all the un-redeeming features of my 30-something body.
The fast-approaching iguana tits. The pot belly. The dangling toolkit between my legs that I was convinced no female actually found attractive and who secretly had a good laugh about with her friends. Years ago a Health Education teacher had lectured us on what he thought we would be most hung up about with regards to our newly sprouting bodies. One comment always stuck in my mind regarding how he - who was potentially the ugliest teacher we had at our school - told us blokes not to be concerned that after a hot shower we might resemble skinned lobsters. So ever since then . . . .
Still, no cuts or abrasions and a quick bend over in front of the mirror showed no signs of a forced entry.
But there was the bump above my right eye to worry about. Now it had been pointed out, I was convinced I had been involved in a fight of some sort.
But about what and with whom?
It was right what I said to Sean.
I don't fight. I fall over or get beaten up.
The abrasion above my eye could have been caused by a kerb or a fist.
I squinted into the mirror and re-enacted a fist coming at my face and glancing off at an angle. It was very possible, but I would have expected to be in possession of a few more wounds. Bruised ribs perhaps. A cut on the elbow or palm of the hand where I attempted to break my fall. If I was still conscious at this point that is. No, it was more likely I had bumped it on the taxi door or on the edge of my bed.
It was time to ring Tony.
I had left, Tony informed me, about midnight. Without a word of goodbye and I was not alone. Two women and three blokes. And I was 'hammered' in his own words. Before the exit I had danced the night away, sometimes on my own on the dance floor and I had been pretty abusive towards any fellow dancers - hence the reason for me dancing (pretty badly according to Tony) on my own for half the night.
No, he didn't know who the people were who I left with but they were well dressed and he reckoned that two of the blokes were with the two women.
It was looking bad.
"Did I fall over?"
Tony then went on to explain that he wasn't looking at me for the whole evening and that there had been this girl and that he was actually quite drunk and anyway, he had to go. Chelsea were playing at home today.
There was nothing for it. I would have to ring the number.
Then another blue flash back.
It was while I was staring at the bookcase and I saw the book by Hanif Kureishi.
"With My Tongue Down Your Throat".
And my tongue had indeed been down someone's throat.
And she was a she.
And I recalled she was from New Zealand and that we hadn't said much. Just snogged. For ages. Fuck, I couldn't even remember her name.
But who was Paul and Jim.
And where had the blood come from?
Why hadn't Tony been watching me all night?
The taxi. There had been a taxi. And I had been on my own, but for the whole journey home?
At least this meant that it was unlikely that anything untoward had occurred on the trip home.
The taxi driver would have intervened wouldn't he? Or she.
The room was dark. Intimidating. Darkness is deliberate and in this situation it made the point. She was surrounded by fear . . . . Sometimes the eyes get used to the dark, it is natural, spurning back to when we were hunters. Allowing us to see our prey. Not in this room. Black meant black. No room for shadows. She waited. How long?
All she had was touch and the sound of her breathing. Her legs were pulled up underneath her, defining her space. Any movement out from this mentally chalked outline didn't feel right. She felt compelled to return to this form. It was what she knew.
The door must have been sealed she reasoned. How else could no light enter the room?
She felt again for a covering to her eyes. No blindfold. Again an unanswered question. Why couldn't she see?
She listened. Her breath. Short and panicked but nothing else. No comfort of the sound of traffic or a water pipe. How long before something would happen?
So I didn't ring the number. Not yet. First, I tried Robert. An old mate who I had lost touch with several years ago - when I, or he, had decided the other was a wanker. The feeling was mutual I was sure.
CID. Or Special Branch. What were they called today?
Robert was part of a police family. Proud of it. The worst type I felt, but there again, what was wrong with being proud of your work. Stephen Lawrence was a good start but probably not a good conversation opener.
"Ian, from Surrey?"
"Ian. How are you?"
"Fine mate. Long time and sorry I haven't been in touch."
"Yeah well. Things OK?"
"I need your help, Rob. I have a telephone number that I wondered if you can check for me. For, erm, any dodgy business if you know what I mean?"
"Ian, I work for the police. I am not a private ring-me-up-when-the-fuck-you-feel-like. I'm busy. Have you heard of Data Protection?"
"Yeah, sorry. Just a stab in the dark."
It was a sorry attempt. When you feel you still have all these friends you can keep in touch with and suddenly realise that their lives have progressed as well. Time does not stand still. Metaphorical pints standing in forlorn public houses waiting for long lost friends to meet up and drink - and discuss subjects that just aren't relevant anymore.
"Wanker" I thought.
I still left him details of the business card though.
Some wankers come through after all.
I thought back to the taxi. There had been six of us. Two women, three blokes and me. The taxi would have only taken five. I would have had to take another taxi. It distanced me from them. Unless I was knocked out at this point and placed under their legs in the taxi. I had done as much attempting to get from Chiswick to Ealing. Five upright and chatting to the driver, the smallest shoved under a shower of legs. It was the done thing. But this smacked of normality. I was getting paranoid again.
Jenny pissed herself. It wasn't just that she was cold and scared. She badly needed to piss and saw no immediate way out. It confirmed her situation. That it was dirty, her surroundings, her emotions. It paved what was to happen. She allowed her hand to delve into the warm wetness around her legs. Smelt her fingers, remembered her scent. It was empowering. She even shifted her position slightly. Subconsciously she had marked a territory. Anyone who entered did so at her beckoning, agreed to become covered in her smell. She stood up and held her hands in front of her. Nothing, then brick. Now she could work out how large her prison was. 14 paces in front and 4 either side and she couldn't feel above her. A picture built in her mind. How she would confront her attacker. She checked her body, anything sharp would do. It was at this point she realised.
She wasn't even cold.
Even though she was naked.
Tony lived in Ham. A small village outside of Richmond.
I caught a train to Richmond and decided to taxi the rest of the way.
There was a potential problem though.
The last time I had visited Tony's abode both of us had been so pissed neither of us knew where he lived. Not even him. Life puts things like this in your way, it's just up to us to quietly work a path through. This was what I was telling the taxi driver anyway, who was about as interested as I was in his explanation as to the reason of rising house prices. I faced facts. We weren't going to be of any benefit to each other.
My phone rang.
"Cheers mate, just drop me here."
"Ian. Rob. Your number pulled nothing. I have to be going. Next time."
And he was gone.
Great. In the middle of Ham, a detective fantasy blown and the likelihood that I wouldn't locate Tony's house.
Unless I phoned him, of course - but I so wanted the element of surprise.
In the end I gave up and phoned him.
"Tony you cunt, Chelsea aren't at home."
"And nor are you presumably?"
"Nope. Fancy a pint, at the, hang on, Piper's Peace?"
So I found myself in a strange pub, full of what? Normal couples, the odd local and a pleasant barman who was just, kind of normal.
I shook Tony's hand. It had been a while.
"Hello dick brain."
And I left it at that.
Sometimes people don't want to meet up with you.
Timing is everything.
OK, Chelsea weren't playing at home, but his girlfriend was at home and certainly didn't want me around on a Saturday - just as I wouldn't want him turning up at mine on a Sunday - as he pointed out.
We talked about the evening before and I did the usual apology thing. It was a nice afternoon and we chatted about life and where we were going and who we were seeing and what our future plans were. It was a good Saturday banter and I left slightly elated. Glad to know a friend.
Tomorrow was another day and I felt happy to be on my way home. I wanted familiarity. Just for now.
The evening sun was burning orange, the irregular brightness forcing me to frown, shading my eyes from its powerful force. Its message there for all to see, only blinding those who want to know.
Memory is a funny thing. It holds back information, I guess. Protecting us from the horror of truth.
Only allowing us edited versions of events.
Yet the mind knows. It has to, in order to know what to hold back.
And that's what troubles me.