Read by Jim Cogan
My name is Dionysus, and I’m an alcoholic.
I’ve been sober, um … maybe three weeks now? To be honest, I can’t remember much of yesterday. West End’s crazy on a Saturday night, ain’t it?
I’m pulling your leg! Christ, keep your hair on, it was a joke. We’re not allowed to have a sense of humour in here, or what?
OK, I’ll keep it “appropriate”. Sorry. Sorry about that, didn’t mean to offend anyone. I know it’s hard. Harder than a fucking Welsh crossword.
What? How is that racist? You ever tried doing a crossword in Welsh? No? Then you bleeding shut it.
Sorry, the swearing. I’ll cut it out. And the shouting, yeah, I know ...
You know there’s a home-brewing class next door? Did you know that? I didn’t. Just saw the sign when I came in today, nearly turned right instead of left.
No, but I turned left, and that’s a victory, yeah. I’m taking it one day at a time. Thanks for reminding me. I only mentioned it cos it seemed funny. What numpty programmed that? AA in one room, ooh, let’s put beer-making opposite on the same night! Like they’re laughing at us. Daring us or something.
Seriously, am I the only person thinks that’s weird? OK, whatever, moving on. Yeah, three weeks sober. Good for me.
How am I feeling? Um.
Well, I’m feeling … not bad. I mean, I don’t have the DTs any more, and that’s definitely a good thing, but I didn’t have the DTs when I was drinking either and I felt a hell of a lot better then. I know it’s an illusion caused by alcohol, yeah, but I liked the illusion. Not bad’s the best I can say about how I feel at the moment, to be honest.
Thing is, it’s not like they say, you know? It just isn’t. You hear all this bullshit from people who’ve quit, like losing the booze is the fast track to fucking eternal life; they’re all like, oh I have so much energy now, and my skin’s glowing, and I feel so free now alcohol’s not holding me back, keeping me down …
But that’s just not true – not for me anyhow. You know something? Brace yourselves: I miss drinking. Sue me. I’m telling it like it is. Not drinking is shit. I’ve been drinking since I can remember, it’s like losing a limb for fuck’s sake. How can I not miss it? Answer me that, how can I pretend I’m fine and dandy when my bleeding leg’s been cut off?
What exactly do I miss? That’s a trick question, isn’t it? I miss the drink. I miss beer and whisky and lager and ale and vodka and gin and tequila and rum and wine and fucking liqueur chocolates, can you believe we can’t have them, and red-wine sauce on my steak, it takes the piss! Like I’ll get blasted on bloody steak sauce! I miss the pubs too, something awful. The old-man pubs and the student pubs and the tourist pubs off Oxford Circus. Merlot in Soho, a cheeky pint on the Embankment as the sun goes down. Do you know how much a part of life booze is?
Yeah, stupid question, I’m sorry. We all do, don’t we? That’s why it’s so hard to give it up. But drink … drink was my life. It was my job, my whole bleeding purpose and that’s a very difficult thing to abandon, my friends, especially after you’ve been doing it as long as I have.
Thing is, you say you understand, you say you do, and yet I have a nasty feeling that in fact you bunch of ex-soaks and quitaholics sitting in a badly-painted community hall on a Tuesday night do not have the slightest fucking clue.
I told you my name, right? I did mention that. Dionysus? No? Not ringing any bells? Ah, call me Donny if it’s easier. Why the fuck not, I’ve been called worse. Sabazios, Enorches, Bacchus … still nothing? No such thing as a classical education any more, eh?
No, I never wanted to go on the wagon, where’d you get that idea? Who the hell wants to quit? Let’s just say pressure was applied. My dad was a pretty wild guy in his youth, shagging and partying, downing it by the amphora, banging anything that moved, so he couldn’t exactly take the moral high ground with me. (I’ve got six half-brothers and sisters. Six, all by different mums. Beat that!)
Be that as it may, Zeus and Hera sat me down, face-to-serious-face. Said they were “staging an intervention”. That in the past it was all very well, chaos and drunkenness and orgies, maenads and satyrs and sacrifices and party, party, party, but now we all had to live in the real world, and that world doesn’t see alcohol the same way any more. I wanted to punch the old hypocrite, believe me, but I held back. Not in front of Mum, I thought, not when she was looking so sad.
And yeah, deep down I thought hey, you know what, the old man’s right. I can’t keep on going the way I’ve been going because fuck, look around Donny, wake up and smell the Starbucks, not the vino, not the ouzo any more: the world has moved on, son, and if you don’t change your ways you’ll get left behind.
The upshot was, basically, that if I didn’t shape up I’d have to ship out, leave Olympus and sort out my own gaff, and frankly that was the last thing I needed, especially with a crippling hangover.
So yeah, some pressure. From every direction except one. That’s who I miss most, but I can’t really blame Silenus for hating me. Let’s not beat about the bush: I screwed him over, my best friend. I lied to him, through my teeth, in his face, and I feel shit about it. We never had any secrets from each other, me and Silenus; not till the day I stopped drinking.
I know he’s still a drunk, ‘course I do, but he’s my mate too, and I miss him.
Thing is, I just … couldn’t tell him. Not about the intervention, getting sober, coming to these meetings: I just couldn’t find the words. Not cos I thought he wouldn’t support me (though, OK, it’d be a long-shot). I never told him because I felt like I was letting him down. You all had drinking-buddies once, course you did. Right? Those guys, you know, that’s a special relationship. You’ve seen each other at your worst and lowest and craziest and you still don’t run away screaming. It’s a sacred bond: your mate’s always there for you. He’ll buy your drinks, give you a place to doss, bail you out … well, you know the score. Some people’ve got tons of drinking-pals. Hell, I used to be one of ‘em. But you know, the world turns and times change and suddenly it’s orange juice at weddings and you only got one friend who even drinks, let alone one drinking-buddy.
He was more my dad than my dad, Silenus. He’s kinda like … you seen photos of Charles Bukowski, the poet? Face like the back-end of a bus that’s been in a lot of fights? Silenus looks a bit like him. Bit fatter, bit Greeker, but basically that’s your visual reference. Like, you know, that Shakespeare guy, Falstaff. No? I forgot, education cuts … But he was the loyalest guy in the world. A really stand-up fella. He’d sell his kidney for a mate, not that anyone would want it, and I was his friend – his only friend who still drank, and I just couldn’t leave him to do it alone.
So I lied. Like a coward. Like a priest. Spun him some bollocks about easing my hangovers by switching from wine to vodka, and I just drank nothing but mixers. I had an arrangement with the landlord at the Bunch of Grapes, our favourite dive: he’d fill an old Smirnoff bottle with water and pour from that whenever I asked for a double vodka-tonic, vodka-Coke, on the rocks or whatever. I’d sit there drinking, Si with his Cabernet or Chianti or whatever, me with my watered-down water, and I’d pretend to get drunk. Nearly convinced myself a few times. We’d go out on the town, hit the pubs, me always on the vodka-orange, vodka-lime, vodka-Coke. I’d give the barman a wad of cash then whisper when Silenus’s back was turned to keep them coming, but hold the vodka for mine.
Course I felt like shit. You don’t lie to a mate and feel all right about it. But then you don’t lie to a mate at all if you ain’t a pussy coward like me.
I’m sorry, you’re right. That kind of language is misogynistic. I apologise. Spose I’m more of a knob arsehole coward anyway.
When did he realise? Oh, today, the worst way: I didn’t tell him, he found out. I thought I could get away with it, I really did. Hide the shakes and the sweats, hold myself back, grit my teeth and sit through the twenty-four-hour drunks, the mad benders we went on every other night. It wasn’t the not drinking that really fucked with my head, these last few weeks: it was the not telling him.
It was this morning. Well, technically. Three a.m., four maybe. We hadn’t slept, just pinballed from bar to club till everywhere kicked us out and we ended up back at the Grapes. We kept banging on the door till Zorba opened up; we knew he lived above the pub, we knew if we made enough noise he’d let us in, and give us a hair of the dog, let us sleep on the benches till he opened around 11.
Zorba’s not his real name. We just call him that cos he’s Greek too.
So he comes down, sees it’s us, opens up. Wine for Si, vodka-rocks for me. I swear I never drank so much water in my life. My skin cleared right up, just like they say. Anyway, I down mine, tell Zorba to hit me again, big Billy Bollocks boozer that I am. He slops a shot into my glass when Silenus grabs the bottle off him.
“Your wine’s shite, Zorba,” he says, “I could do wi’ some mouthwash,” and he winks at me. I just stare in horror as he raises the bottle to his lips. He must’ve swallowed about a half-pint of Evian before he realised. His eyes bulge. He starts to cough. He splutters it out, explodes it all over the bar. Water, water everywhere – but not a drop of drink.
He looks at me. He knows, but he don’t know why. Why I quit, why I lied. He doesn’t know me any more. I’ll never forget that look he gave me. Made me think of a dog I had once, I dunno why.
I miss him. I miss him like hell.
You know what’s the worst thing about not drinking? The boredom. That’s how I’m feeling. That’s the word I wanted before. I’m sober, I’m sad, I’m lonely as fuck sitting in my empty bedroom, yeah, but most of all I am bored. Bored out of my fucking skull, staring down the barrel of lime-and-fucking-soda for the rest of my life. And don’t pretend you don’t all feel that way too, ‘cause I know for a fact you do. Bored, bored, BORED.
One day at time, I know. It’s hard though. God is it hard. That’s all I’m trying to say. But I’m trying. Hanging in there. One day at a time.
(c) Abigail Lee, 2016
Abigail Lee writes a lot, and crosses out even more. Her story One Thousand Rupees was read at the Liars’ League’s 100th event in April and she has also published flash fiction in Noun and X+1. She is shirking on a novel.
Jim Cogan is a scriptwriter, documentary maker and occasional voiceover artist based in Oxford. After far too much acting at university, he studied Creative Writing at Birkbeck and jointly won the Liars’ League Most Valuable Player writers’ award 2015.