The case worker ran the arse end of his biro down the checklist; the sound of it scraping against paper and clipboard was deafening.
“So,” said the case worker.
Ray began to inhale nasally in anticipation, and then stopped, worried the sound of it would be scrutinized, analysed… anal eyes? … my god, Ray thought, the horrors you would see with eyes in your…
“Let’s see,” said the case worker, interrupting Ray’s deranged free association, “in the last month, maximum 5 units in a week, you didn’t exceed four standard drinks once, zero blackouts, zero cases of withdrawal syndrome, zero seizures, zero instances of suicidal ideation, zero instances of self-harm… quality of life, you’ve put eight?”
He dumped the clipboard on a coffee table cluttered with flyers adorned with pictures of the recovered, the “liberated”: sunlit faces beholding life-affirming futures, which of course, although arbitrary, always exist somewhere skyward. Up: good. Down: bad. Downers: bad. Uppers: good? White always led to brown though, and he did give it a fair go to avoid the brown, especially after what he put Zoe, his missus, through; too pissed to know how much gear he was tipping onto the kitchen foil; the cancerous Irishman ignoring Zoe’s desperate pleas to call an ambulance; Ray’s lips turning blue, his eyeballs rotating backwards 180° to see the thing he hated most: his defective brain, contoured like a gelatinous orgy of earthworms.
“Eight,” he said, again.
The Irishman, Dom was his name; he never even had cancer. He was a pathological con artist working in every medium; lied about it in some pathetic bid for sympathy; love; money? Three things Ray knew nothing of.
“Yes, that’s right,” said Ray. “Eight.”
A sparrow landed on the windowsill and joined the case worker in staring at Ray, who was starting to feel his sweat pores open as if he were some sort of deep sea sponge. He looked at the sparrow, back at the case worker, back at the sparrow. Why were they doing this to him?
Back at the case worker.
This was beyond the fucking pale.
Back at the sparrow.
Just seconds short of a meltdown the case worker said, “I must say, Ray, you’re looking the part, and that’s what’s most important.”
Ray’s nerve endings were dunked into cool water.
“Patients can put any old numbers down and if it doesn’t reflect what’s sitting in front of me, I can only call them out on it; but the proof is in the pudding, and today, Ray, you look like my grandmother’s apple crumble. Last week’s score was great, but this week’s is just fantastic.”
“Well, numbers don’t lie,” said Ray.
“Tell me, Ray, where do you see yourself?”
“Where do I see myself?”
“Where do you see yourself?”
The sparrow had gone, the cunt.
“I see myself.”
The case worker crossed his legs and put a contemplative index finger to his lips.
Ray’s blue lips returned to their normal booze-cracked brown once they’d pumped enough Naloxone into him; lips that would never touch Zoe’s again, because although he promised never to touch the shit again, he did. Of course he did; because he was Ray. And that was excuse enough.
“I see myself… getting through each day better than I did the last. I see myself as more confident, more driven. I see myself going back and righting all the things and people I’ve wronged. I see myself… I see myself chasing all the things I couldn’t when I was drinking. I see myself being good. Doing good. I see myself changing, I really do.”
“That’s really great, Ray, really positive, but…”
Here it fucking came.
“Where do you see yourself, physically?”
“In… Europe… China?… all the continents, exploring the world. I can really see it.”
“Yes! Zoe, of course. I see us in the best place we’ve ever been, moving our relationship to the next level.”
“Yes… I see myself proposing to her… in the little Greek place in Dulwich where we met. I see it all.”
The case worker uncrossed his legs and smiled. The cunt had done his job.
“I’ll see you next Thursday, Ray,” he said, and extended a hand.
Ray had no time to wipe the sweat off of his palm before they shook. Hyperhidrosis: probably not even drink-related.
“Sorry, just so excited.”
“It’s okay, Ray, I’m excited for you too.”
Outside, Ray felt the cool air hit his forehead. He inhaled deeply, exhaled, and looked skyward. He heard some avian chirps to his left. Thesparrow: perched on a bush, cocking its head back and forth in stop-motion. Ray lunged and booted the bush, sending the fucker fluttering.
He strolled down to the corner shop and bought three bottles of Guinness Extra, went outside and did each one in no more than two gulps.
Fucking see yourself; where the fuck do you see your fucking self.
He went back in and bought three more. The fucker behind the till: “My friend, I don’t mind you drink out front, you know for me it’s okay, but please, always leaving the bottles on the floor, it’s not nice.”
“Okay,” said Ray, “so maybe I’ll stop coming here and you can lose business, shut down shop and go back to Cuntistan or Wankladesh or wherever the fuck it is you swam from.”
He cracked one of the bottles with his teeth, spat the cap at the cunt and left before he could respond. He walked quickly down the road, hearing the dickhead come outside, shouting after him in his gutter language. He pulled out his phone and texted Zoe.
enjoying your jailbait boytoy you fucking slut? I hope he gets lost spelunking in that fucking cave you call a cunt. good luck to the fucking rescue team they’ll need god on their side if they ever wanna make it out alive
That felt good. He downed another.
See yourself. Where do you see yourself?
The 468 bus flew by and he saw himself on it. Right on the fucking front of it, strapped to it, Jesus Christ pose, on a space odyssey: Bowman’s red-faced stargate voyage; Willy Wonka’s tunnel of horror; launch him into a psychotropical cuntisphere where every fucker who ever wronged him would fly by, leng tche’d, their guts fluttering out of their arseholes, orbiting the immeasurable cuntscape in infinite purgatorial agony.
He hit the next offy and bought 35cl of cheap whiskey; came out, sat on a bench, rolled a fag, and started doing the bastard.
So weird to think, every car that passed was being driven by an absolute cunt.
Zoe hadn’t texted back. He squeezed his phone hard until his fingers felt numb.
Where do you see yourself?
At the clocktower, five minutes down the road from his shithole of a flat. Everyone at the clocktower was a real fuck-up; the real down-and-outs, the lost fucking causes. He could go down and watch the people he wasn’t quite. Stacey was there, the 60-something ex-whore, rambling about beauty standards and her fag son and the landlord. Muhammed, the only rockstar in a 10-mile radius that somehow always kept himself looking six out of ten apart from his teeth. The rock had gnawed those away years ago. Ray sat with them, not speaking, just rolling fags, glugging his bottle, grimacing at them, pitying them, seeing himself.
“You never talk much, do you, love?” said Stacey.
“And what would I say to you, exactly?”
“Well, I dunno… sorry I asked!” Stacy laughed. Muhammed tried to join in, but his facial muscles were working overtime from the rock so he just ended up sneering dementedly. These really were the scum of the earth. Ray threw his roll-up on the dirt and headed home. He pulled a bottle of white cider out of the desolate kitchen cupboard, opened it slowly, well-practiced, so it didn’t fizz over. He put on the telly and downed half of it. There was a reality show on about retards dating each other. It was perfect. He wasn’t retarded. He was so much better than them. Zoe still hadn’t texted him back so he chucked her another one.
I just saw on the news that there’s a retard epidemic. maybe if you stopped letting spastics blow their tard beans up your cunt we’d have a chance of seeing the other side of it
He downed the other half and went into the bathroom and looked in the mirror.
Where do you see yourself?
This was a fucking cliché. He punched the mirror to smash it but just hurt his hand. He went out to the offy again, bought a litre of cheap vodka and came home. He popped it open and watched more of the retard dating show. Then he had a flick through and found a show about a 600-pound whale-woman who was so big she hadn’t been able to leave her bed in three years.
There were so many people that he was so much better than.
He went for a piss and saw the mirror was smashed.
Try and see yourself.
He hadn’t smashed it, he was certain of it; he’d tried for sure, but it didn’t happen. Must be a sign; must be the Gods; must be a reason to wake up tomorrow and do the same thing again; see himself through and do it worse, do it worse each day; become more and more what he despised.
Where do you see yourself?
Here, every day, like this, reflected in the scattered shards of a mirror that was broken when I got there, I promise.