In the half-light the crumpled mound of blankets lifted then subsided, as the embracing toxin of sleep temporarily shelved the inevitable for its prisoner. The movements took on a more erratic motion as the incumbent looked to free its fetters. Eventually a face could be distinguished, its lines echoing the folds of the blankets, grey, drab, bleak and unyielding. The flabby face with its tributaries of age criss-crossing it , moved on the pillow and began to twitch. Eyelids began to flutter then open. They were opaque, dull, unseeing. They remained that way for a few minutes before moving involuntarily.
Ethel began to search the room for a brief moment of solace, she found in that nether world we all think of as reality. She squinted at the neon alarm clock on the bedside table, its brightness so succinct and precise. 8.15am. There was a time with the old alarm clock that she would not know whether it was am. or pm. She wondered why every morning her head felt as if it were inside a plastic bag several sizes to small, and the life force was then being drained from it. She wondered whether it was safe to move her head yet. It was just then that the gentle rhythmic rocking of her son's bed could be heard from across the hallway. She immediately pulled the pillow over her head and tried to drown out the sound. She began to rock gently and hum at the same time, anything to drown out that sound. I wish he wouldn't do that. She rocked harder and harder, trying not think of what he was doing. This had the effect of making her feel sick.. I wish he would find a nice young girl and settle down. They could live here there's plenty of space. They could have a room of their own. I wouldn't mind ' really.
Ten minutes later the noise had stopped. Ethel tried to recall the events of last night. Where had she gone? She knew she had gone out, but where? Oh yes, there had been a large Irish man, where was that? It didn't really matter, the fact that she could remember at all was a minor triumph. Am I supposed to meet him again? Where did he go? It suddenly dawned on her that he might actually be in bed with her at this very moment. She slowly put a hand behind her just in case but felt nothing. A feeling of immense relief flooded over her. She wanted no complications this morning.
She lay there for another ten minutes before attempting to move. She dared lifting her head from under the pillow, nothing but the faint sound of traffic could be heard. She turned over dispatching a half eaten bag of crisps to the floor. It joined many other items of food: a half eaten hamburger, a quarter of spicy pizza beginning to sprout fungus, and an as yet unopened packet of digestive biscuits. Her head was throbbing and she knew she have to have something to ease it if she were to face the day. She raised her head slightly, it felt as if the back of her head had been chopped off with a machete and the contents left on the pillow. She didn't want to put on the light for fear of jeopardising her sanity, so she contented herself with fumbling in the half-light until she found a bottle with something in it. She deftly unscrewed the top and in the same instant put it to her lips. She gulped and gulped as a drowning woman gulps for air. The familiar sensation that alls well with the world began to encompass her. Ahh, sherry, I wonder what that was doing down there.
After a few minutes she heard the bedroom door slam shut, then the rat tat tat of his feet on the stairs, the front door open and slam, and he was gone. There was a deathly silence. Ethel lifted the bottle and tried to drink it away.
Later when she felt the sense of ease dissipate, she swung her legs to the floor dispatching another item of food from the bed. She sat for awhile, her legs apart, her forearms resting on the tops of her knees, in turn her head resting on her forearms. She still clutched the bottle that was her saviour. She sat for a long while like this, and her mind inevitably went back to the days with Bill, her long suffering and long gone husband. Not a word since that note she found on the kitchen table on her arrival home from work. Just another one of his jokes she thought at the time. But he was true to the notes words: 'Goodbye, I won't be coming back.' She had read it with no real regard and assumed he would roll up later that evening, or the next with some incredible tale to tell, and they would laugh and drink on the stories for weeks to come. But by the third day she knew something was amiss, and went through his clothes and realised that a lot of them were missing. She began to ring around to his friends but no one had seen him for ages. When the full realisation hit her she just sat in her room and cried and drank and drank until she could feel nothing at all.
Ethel awoke at the urgent knocking at the front door. She was not about to respond. She slowly turned her head to the clock: 11.30am. The knocking stopped but the pounding in her head continued. She had to get up! She had to have a drink! She forced her self to her feet and somewhat unsteadily leaned forward and opened the door. She stood swaying at the top of the stairs hoping that she could make the descent in one piece. Two broken ankles and a fractured wrist paid testimony to her
very real fears. After the last incident, merely bruised ribs, she promised her son faithfully that she would cut down. She would be alright for a week or two, but then sooner rather than later she would be off and running again.
She began the descent making sure to avoid the obstacles that her son insisted leaving on the stairs on purpose, 'hopes I'll break me bleedin' neck' she thought. 'I bet he wouldn't even notice me lying here, probably think I was just another pile of old rags he'd left lying around. He'd get a bloody shock if he tried to use me for a bit of old oil rag.' She tittered as she negotiated a carburettor from an old motorbike that he'd bought from a friend but had never ridden. 'Bloody useless! What a waste of money, typical.' She conveniently had forgotten the haranguing she had given her son when he first brought the bike home. Threatening to put sugar in the petrol tank, that he would only ride it over her dead body etc etc. She had put the fear of God into him.
He only made half-hearted attempts at fixing it up and it eventually ended up in pieces around the house and in the garden shed. Thank God for that she had thought, he might have been killed or worse still been completely crippled, and I would have had to have nursed him and he knows how much I hate any kind of sickness. She continually nagged him about the mess but he would just grunt and ignore her.
Ethel made it to the bottom with just a slight graze to her left leg from an engine block in the hallway. I suppose a scratch is pretty small beer in comparison to some of her accidents she thought. She giggled at the unintended pun. What remained of the carpet in the hall gave way to the greasy stickiness of the lino in the kitchen. Even drunk she hated that sensation on her bare feet. "FUCK! she hollered as she stepped on something sharp. "Christ almighty she muttered under her breath, "I bet the little bleeder left that there on purpose. She hobbled to the sink and leant against it and lifted her heel. 'No mean feat in my condition' she thought. She lifted her head back and guffawed at the savagery of the pun. She examined her heel and found a screw still stuck to it. She pulled it off, the damage to her foot was superficial but painful none the less.
Ethel leant against the kitchen sink for a while not really thinking of anything in particular, just gathering strength in mind and body. She eventually hobbled over to the fridge in search of sustenance. She swung the door open and a six-pack of life giving ambrosia glinted in the full light of the refrigerator. She hastily grabbed the six-pack and a mouldering sandwich and aimed her bulk at the door and the sanctuary of the sofa in the living room. She very nearly made it. The sudden surge of energy had drained her and the room began to spin suddenly. The remains of a fried egg on the kitchen floor proved her undoing. Her right foot shot forward and her left leg crumpled under her, and as she fell backwards her right hand grabbed at anything that might break her fall. Unfortunately her arm caught the handle of the frying pan, catapulting the remains of her son's previous night's supper all over her.. She hit the floor with a sickening thud.
She came round a few moments later and stared at the ceiling not sure of what had happened. Eventually sense ' of a kind ' and feeling came back and her immediate thought was the beer. Her head was splitting and the only corrective measure for this condition was a drink. She raised herself up and looked around for the life saving elixir. She spotted them in the corner and crawled over to them on all fours. She eased herself into a sitting position against the wall and grabbed at a can and tore off the ring-pull. She drank it down in one go and sat there belching for a while. The alcohol did its job and she began to feel better. God she was hungry, where was that sandwich? She spotted it by the cooker and crawled over to it and wolfed it down, then got unsteadily to her feet. She went back to the rest of the beer picked them up and went into the living room.
She flopped down onto the sofa with the cans between her legs. Ethel tore off another can and took a large gulp. She sat for awhile and surveyed the debris of the living room. God that boy's untidy she thought, I must clear up in here. She wondered what might be on tele and began to look around for the remote control. She began to ferret around on the sofa, amongst all the old newspapers, sweet wrappings and general junk. It was nowhere to be found. She felt down the sides of the sofa lifted up the cushions and still couldn't find it. By this time Ethel was beginning to get a little frantic. "Where is that fucking thing? "If he's taken it out of this house I'll fucking brain 'im Ethel muttered. She was by this time on all fours looking under the sofa.
This proved extremely difficult due to her size. "If he's taken that thing for one of his hair-brained schemes I'll fuckin' brain 'im, she continued muttering as her arm made a trawler like sweep under the sofa. This only had the effect of unearthing more junk but no remote control. At no stage did it cross her mind to get up and go over to the television and switch it on manually. "He'll need a bloody remote control if I catch 'old of 'im, I'll give 'im permanent brain damage, 'e won't be able to get any pills from the doc to cure 'im that's for sure. She eventually spotted it on top of the television partly covered by a newspaper. She retrieved it and flopped down onto the sofa. She fingered the button with practised ease and the television sprang to life.
Ethel immediately switched to children's t.v. where she knew they'd be showing cartoons. She found them funny and cackled continuously. The mounds of flesh
beneath the week old clothing resembled tripe being shaken vigorously. As she drank more and more the cartoons got funnier and funnier. She continued laughing through the adverts and found a 'double entendre' in almost everything . But she almost laughed herself into a seizure when the newscaster came on and intoned in that oh so serious voice, that several hundred people were missing presumed drowned when a ferry in the English Channel capsized. "They've probably gone back for more duty frees you dopey sod! She guffawed at this so much that she fell off the sofa. \she continued laughing. Tears of septic mirth flowed down her cheeks cutting miniscule rivulets through the grime in her face.
"Wos up mum? She turned her head slightly to see her son standing over her. "Oh it's just the news she hadn't heard him come in. "Did you hear what's happened? said Ethel clambering back on to the sofa. "Yeh it's terrible innit said her son.
"Godennydinnah? he intoned. "Only what's out there, there's loads in the fridge she replied lifting her head slightly, a trail of gossamer fine spittle hanging from her mouth and trailing into the mire in the carpet. She heard him mumble something about there being no room in the fridge for food what with all the booze in there.
He slammed the door shut and she heard him rooting around for something to eat, like a cat scavenging in a dustbin for scraps. She manoeuvred herself back on to the sofa and took another slug of beer. The familiar smell of burning fat began to permeate the air, as if some pagan ritual was being conducted involving the burning of human flesh. Which was often the case. He had been known to fry together, pizza, shepherds pie and tandoori chicken, all remnants of other meals in one unholy culinary alliance. Poor dear he can't cook to save his life. What will he do when I'm gone?