Friday, 20 April 2012

Boiling Point
Philip Mallinson

Espresso


My new dress is on the floor at the side of the bed, ripped and stained. I feel an enormous sense of loss, much more than a dress warrants but it took so much to get that dress, and then it gets ruined in one night. Not that I will have the chance to wear it again. I had to beg this time. I slept in my mismatched underwear; I was in too much of a state to remove it. My head spins as I make my way across the bedroom, I grab my faded pink towelling dressing gown from behind the door and go downstairs, not knowing what to expect.
            Michael is at the kitchen table. He doesn’t say anything. I cringe seeing my bottle of vodka in front of him, he has a glass poured. He doesn’t look up. I don’t acknowledge it, I haven’t touched it in weeks but I couldn’t part with it yet. I can tell from the amount left in the bottle he hasn’t drunk any, I will always know how much is left in that bottle. I wonder how long he’s known about it, how he found it. He would have had to have really rummaged to find it, and I hate him for that. I hate that I can have nothing private, nothing is out of bounds. I remember at first how he used to burst in on me in the bathroom just checking he would say and it’s for your own good, I would sit there crying on the toilet afterwards more desperate for a drink than before. The fact the vodka is still around means it was another of his tests. I guess he wants me to think he’s sat there all night tempted to turn to drink by my actions but I can see through to the living room and the cushions on the couch are crumpled. I risk a muffled ‘morning’ as I head for the kettle.
            ‘Is it?’ he retorts.
            ‘I never said it was good.’ An ache in my arm reminds me to be careful when he swears in return. The winter sun is trying to force its way through the blinds threatening my already sensitive head. ‘Do you want a coffee?’
            ‘A coffee, don’t you want to join me with a vodka? You like vodka for breakfast don’t you?’
            I am surprised as my stomach lurches at the thought. The words come slowly. ‘I don’t drink anymore.’ I realise I mean them even after last night. Especially after last night. I grab two chipped cups off the mug tree and put a spoon of Nescafe in each. The kettle starts to vibrate a little on the worktop as it reaches boiling point. ‘Last night was a mistake.’
            ‘Damn right it was a mistake, your biggest one yet’.
            I want to say no that’s you, you’re my biggest mistake but I don’t. Last night was a mistake, it was my fault and I did go too far. I wonder what is going to happen, he is angry, justifiably this time but not as angry as he can get over trivial things. Starting with his thumbs then working through each finger in turn he cracks his knuckles. Sometimes, like the kettle it is a while before he reaches boiling point. Even after all his lies and games, his mind games to mess with my head I know he is genuinely hurt this time, but then who wouldn’t be?
            I look at him as I carry the cups across the kitchen. His receding hair in a greasy quiff; his large glasses magnify his beady little eyes; his beard does not manage to hide the acne underneath it.  He’s wearing a lemon coloured t-shirt tucked into stonewash jeans that stop short of his dirty white trainers. He’s sat up straight in his chair with his arms dangling down by his sides. I try to swallow a lump in my throat. I put the coffee down and sit opposite him. ‘I guess we better talk,’ I say.
            ‘What about you getting drunk; you cheating on me; getting me assaulted - or...or...nearly getting me arrested? You’re paying those bloody fines by the way it was your bloody fault!’
            I’m surprised he isn’t angrier; I’m also surprised he’s more bothered by the police and the fines than me cheating on him. ‘Fine, I’ll pay the fines’ I say, something is niggling at me as I sit familiarly at the table being reprimanded like a teenager.
            ‘Who’s your boyfriend anyway?’
            I fight the urge to smile. ‘Just some kid with a crush.’
            ‘Ha. A crush. You idiot. You think he has a crush on you, who the hell would fancy you? He was taking the piss, he thought you would be easy, and he was right. A couple of drinks are all it takes you drunken filthy slapper.’
            His words cut through me, touching on the truth. I know when I look in the mirror now: the drink has aged me, my face is gaunt, I’m almost skeletal, my clothes hang from my body.
            ‘We didn’t do anything.’ Again I feel like a child.
            ‘You were all over him, I saw you. What you didn’t see was his face; he was laughing at you.’
            His words cut even deeper and my eyes start to burn. This niggling feeling is getting stronger like a word on the tip of your tongue or a memory trying to fight its way through.
            ‘Yeah, well he was laughing at you too, right after he threw you to the floor. Not used to someone fighting back are you?’ He slams his fists on the table and I shudder. The tears are coming now, I pull a tissue from the pocket of my dressing gown. It’s an old tissue, nearly a solid egg shape but I manage to unravel it. Michael’s face is crimson, he’s almost shaking as he glares at me.
            He slides the glass of vodka across the table towards me.
            ‘Drink it.’
            I look at it and for a second, just a second I am tempted. I shake my head.
            ‘Drink it.’
            ‘No.’
            ‘Drink it.’
            ‘Stick it up your arse,’ I say and grab the glass of vodka intending to throw it at him but he quickly seizes my arm, he squeezes and twists it as he takes the vodka off me then he throws the glass across the kitchen, it smashes against the fridge putting a dent in the door. I see a look of pleasure in his eyes at my distress but like the dress I find myself upset because the fridge is now spoilt not because of any pain he is inflicting. There was a time I would have been more distressed about the wasted vodka, material things didn’t matter then. Money was for alcohol nothing else mattered. Then I met Michael. I’ve often tried to remember how I met him, racked my brains how we got together but I can’t remember. Our relationship just seemed to materialise as the haze lifted. He lets go of my arm and I go to clean up the broken glass, the smell of the vodka is as strong to me as ammonia and I know I really don’t want it anymore.
            A piece of glass slices my toe and blood smears the lino. It reminds me of last night; Michael’s hand was covered in blood after John pushed him to the ground in the car park. I was clinging onto John when Michael arrived, okay it was a bit more than that and Michael dragged me off of him ripping my dress. He took a swing at John, but John easily dodged it. Michael kept trying to hit him and on one attempt he really over swung and John gave him a little shove and he went sprawling. John was laughing I can’t hit a guy with glasses, not that he even needed to; Michael was no threat to him. Michael may have been right about John or partly right at least, he did get me drunk, deliberately or not I don’t know. He asked me if I wanted a drink and stupidly I said yes. I honestly didn’t go to the party intending to drink, I had rehearsed answers in case anybody asked me, polite declines, but they all went out of the window I was so nervous. I went to the party hoping to get to know my new workmates, break the ice, hopefully make friends but it was like I didn’t exist until John came over to me. Of course the fact he was young and good looking didn’t help my nerves any. We talked for hours, he introduced me to people, I laughed, and I can’t remember the last time I laughed. He did keep buying me drinks but maybe he was just being nice. We ended up outside, I was in a bit of a state, maybe that’s why John took me outside, I can thank him for saving me from making a fool of myself in front of everybody. No doubt Michael would have come inside looking for me too like a father picking up his daughter from a party. Only a small crowd witnessed what happened outside. I can get over that, again that niggling feeling rises; I can get over being drunk in front of those people but I am ashamed of Michael, what they must think of him. Why am I with him? He is the pathetic one; I look over at him scowling like a child.
            I look around the flat, it’s barren, wasted. Nothing like a home. Anything of value I sold when I was drinking, anything of sentimental value Michael had removed. I had bought the fridge since I started working. That was the first thing, with the fridge I could get proper food in again, start to live normally.
            That is the hard thing; I do have Michael to thank for stopping me drinking even if I hated his tactics. I do have Michael to thank for pushing me back into employment. Yes he helped me but as I think about it I begin to realise is he didn’t do it for me, he did it for him. He wanted someone he could control, that’s how he gets off, but his schemes have started to backfire a little. With the return to sobriety and now the job my senses are starting to return, my independence, my common sense and more importantly my strength. He knows it too, last night was his Pièce de résistance, his planned proposal and that backfired too. His last hope I guess was to control me through marriage.
            Michael was raging in the car on the way home, screaming at me that he knew I would mess up. If only you hadn’t messed up Sue, I was going to propose to you tonight he said and pulled a ring out of his pocket. I told him I wouldn’t marry him anyway and I grabbed the ring off of him and threw it out of the window. He screeched to a halt on the hard shoulder, he went ballistic, it was his mothers ring. I was being sick in the grass when the police showed up, Michael was frantic, and he can’t handle authority so his bad attitude made them come down on him like a ton of bricks. They breathalysed him; they checked his car from top to bottom finding a few things to fine him for and after giving him a severe dressing down made him leave without his ring. I smiled as he stood there like a naughty boy, squirming frustrated as they reprimanded him. They were nice to me at least.
            I drop the bits of broken glass and the dishcloth in the sink and opening the blinds look out of the window. It is a clear crisp day. A boy is riding up the road on a motorbike, he has no helmet and probably isn’t even old enough to be on it. Two girls push prams towards the shops, both young; both smoking over their half dressed baby’s heads, while they are in large coats, one of the girls is still wearing her pyjamas underneath it. I look down at my dressing gown, and then back out of the window, I decide it’s time for change.
            I walk across the kitchen, Michael stares at me. I go upstairs and get washed and dressed quickly. When I go back downstairs Michael hasn’t moved. I walk up to the kitchen table and slap Michael across the face sending his glasses flying, he sits there stunned. I pick up the bottle of vodka and pour it down the sink. ‘I’m going to buy a new dress,’ I say calmly, ‘when I get back I want you gone, if you haven’t I’ll go to the police, I’ve even got fresh bruises I can show them.’ I don’t even give him chance to reply. I’ve pulled his cord. No doubt he will trash the flat but I don’t care.
 
Philip Mallinson lives in West Yorkshire. He is currently (2012) studying Creative Writing with The Open University. He has a blog following his writing journey @
 

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