Women Under the Influence
By Mark Burrow
WOMEN UNDER THE INFLUENCE
Helen isn't home. I knew she'd stay until last orders but this
is&;#8230;well&;#8230;it's what I expected, that's what it
"I'll only have a couple," she said.
A couple was never on the cards as she went to Canary Wharf to meet her
cousin Morag, a drinker.
Helen doesn't own a mobile. Neither do I. A rarity in this city, so I'm
told. Morag does. I phoned at twelve thirty and at last the call
connected and Morag answered and said, -Hiiiiiii Keith, how are you?
Glad you phoned.
I asked for Helen. As the phone was given to Helen I heard Morag say,
-He sounds angry.
The reception on the phone was erratic. It kept breaking up.
-Hello sweetie, she said.
I asked her where she was and she didn't know. I could hear Morag
giggling after a man had spoken to her. Helen interrupted Morag to find
out where they were and I heard Morag holler: -Tell him to go and get a
Helen didn't know where they were.
-What do you mean, I said, -you don't know where you are?
Morag shouted, -WE'RE IN THE COUNTRYSIDE.
There were men with them. I could hear Morag telling one of them: -He's
such a fucking twat, that bloke. He really is. I don't know what she's
doing with him. I really don't.
-When, I said, -are you coming home?
-Come and have drinks with us, said Helen.
The phone line broke up. One second I could hear her, the next she was
gone. I banged the phone against the coffee table. I hung up and
redialled and like before the connection was non-existent.
I go to the fridge and open a can of lager.
I head upstairs and switch on the bathroom light. The cat, Timmy, is
sat on the side of the bath, watching the ceiling, tracking the scratch
and scamper noise of running mice. I look at Timmy while pissing and he
meows, wanting to be up there above the ceiling, hunting.
-Sorry pal, I say, -can't help you.
He meows again, jumps off the bath and walks into the spare room. I
flush and look at myself in the mirror. I want to trust Helen but when
she's drunk anything is possible. If she cheats on me then it wouldn't
be the first time.
In the lounge I sit on the floor. I look at the phone and call Morag's
number every 15 minutes. Between each call, I stand and walk about the
flat, I switch on the television and try to watch a documentary on
Channel Four about teenage midgets. One of the midgets, from Leicester,
says to the camera, -I'm perfectly normal, the only difference is I'm
There was a cut to him dancing, swinging his hips, making shapes, going
for it in a night club. I switched off the t.v. at the point when the
midget walked hand in hand to the bar with a woman two and half times
the size of him.
If Helen did the dirty on me then that would be it. No second
I was lying on the covers of the bed when the phone rang. By now it was
two in the morning. I ran down the stairs and answered. I found myself
speaking to a man called Tony. It turned out that Tony was the head of
security at the Holiday Inn hotel in Canary Wharf and he asked if I
could come and collect two ladies who went by the names of Helen and
Morag. Both ladies were extremely drunk. One of them was offensive and
the other was asleep. They didn't seem to know how to get home.
Obviously, the ladies could not stay at the hotel and phoning the
police would be the last option.
-Twenty minutes, I say, -half hour tops.
-Thank you, Keith.
-That's okay, Tony.
Morag came on the line and says: -Helen is completely off her face,
Keith. She's fucking out of it.
I tell her I'm coming to pick them up. She's grateful. She says I'm
Needing a pair of socks, I walk to the bedroom. I sit on the bed and
wonder how "the ladies" ended up at the Holiday Inn hotel. I pull on
the second sock, stand up and kick the bedroom door. I punch it
repeatedly. I kick it harder and the centre of the door crumples,
pushed out at the other side.
I put on my jacket and trainers.
The night is cool and damp. I let the cat out and lock the door. The
mini-cab office I thought was open is shut down, a for sale sign is
nailed above the large front window. A few cars pass by. I'm trying to
think where the nearest cab office could be when I see a black taxi
with the hire light on. The driver agrees to take me to Canary Wharf.
The heavy diesel engine rolls as the taxi starts to move. Flecks of
rain mark the glass. It's colder in the cab than outside. I begin to
notice a dull pain in my hand, then a stinging. My knuckles are
scratched and cut. I lick the blood, sucking my knuckles. Helen was
sincere in the morning when she said she was going for a couple of
drinks with Morag. She thought she was telling truth. If she then
decided she wanted to get pissed then I was fine with that, it was the
not phoning that annoyed me. She should've called.
The taxi moves up the driveway of the Holiday Inn and parks outside the
main doors. I ask the driver if he'll wait for me to get the ladies and
drive us back. He says he will.
A security guard says, -Are you Keith?
I use my undamaged left hand to shake hands with Tony (he virtually
crushes it in the process) and briskly he leads me into the hotel. The
bar area and foyer are huge and, where it's late into the night, it's
-There they are, says Tony. -If you want a hand, let me know.
Morag sees me and jumps up.
She shrieks, -KEITH. KEITH.
Her voice carries and another one of the security guards looks at me as
if to say, Get her out of here now.
I raise a finger to my lips and Morag takes offence saying, -Don't tell
me to shoosh. I don't give a shit what these meat-head-wankers
I spot Helen. She's lying flat on a sofa.
Morag says, -You should've come with us tonight. We've had a great
I shake Helen.
I raise her right arm and watch it fall straight by her side.
The security guard says, -We would've put her in a cab ourselves but
we're not allowed any physical contact with female guests.
-Right, I say.
-You're lovely, you are, says Morag. -It's so thoughtful of you to come
and pick us up. I like you, Keith. I like you. I don't hold it against
you, all that stuff with my father. I don't hold that against you,
I grab Helen, bend my legs and hoist her up and over my shoulder. Her
short skirt rises up and I think the arse of her knickers is visible.
The security man picks up her handbag and I head for the door. Helen is
mumbling. She stinks of wine. Morag is going on about the row I had
with her father, saying, -I know it was a misunderstanding. I know
that. He does too. The funny thing is, you'd get on, the two of you
would like each other if you met.
Helen's skirt is rising higher and I wonder if she's a wearing a
g-string. She's heavy. I'm struggling to carry her weight. I don't want
to give the security guards permission to carry my girlfriend. I can do
it myself. She's heavy, though. She stinks. She's been drinking with a
bunch of other men. The cab fare for this trip will cost me thirty
quid. To Morag, I say, -Your old man's a fucking arsehole.
-What? she says. -WHAT?
-Your dad, I say, -is a complete cunt.
-YOU BASTARD, she shrieks, punching my arm, my back. The security man
asks Morag to keep calm. She tells him to fuck off, her voice carrying
across the foyer, and to me she says, -HELEN IS TOO GOOD FOR YOU.
YOU'RE A WANKER, KEITH. A USELESS FUCKING WANKER. I'LL LET YOU KNOW
THAT I HAVE A LOVELY FATHER. MY FATHER IS A LOVELY
The security man holds the door open for me and Tony is holding open
the door of the cab. I'm royalty. I'm a star at the Holiday Inn. These
are my women. Helen is still unconscious and I can't think of a
comfortable way to put her in the taxi. No solution comes to mind and I
half lower her gently and half throw her onto the floor of the taxi.
The security men show a bit of emotion by smiling, amused, I think, at
the lack of strength shown. I step over Helen and sit on the back seat.
I expect the taxi driver to tell us to leave his cab. I wouldn't have
blamed him if he did.
Morag was about to join me in the taxi.
-Hold on a minute, I say, grabbing the door.
-You're not, says Morag.
I reach for the handle and say, -You can make your own way home.
Tony says, -Couldn't you drop the lady off?
-Nah, fuck her, I say, pulling the door shut. To the driver, I say,
Morag punches the glass.
-LET'S GO, I say to the driver.
-YOU FUCKING TOSSER, yells Morag, punching the window with enough force
to make the pane of glass shake. She chases the cab. Tony and a second
security man feel they have to restrain her. I watch from the rear
window, seeing the three of them wrestling in the road.
I open a window, letting in some air. I light a cigarette. Raindrops
are blown into the cab. The streetlights make the wet concrete and
tarmac seem laminated, shiny. To the driver, I say, -What a
He pushes open the partition and says, -You what?
I say, -What a night.
-Yeah, he says, -you never know where you are when it's like this but I
say, it's good for business.
-Right, I say, -right, it must be.
He's talking about the weather.