The Mother has woken up on the bathroom floor, and it appears that this is where she slept last night. She has attempted to fashion some kind of makeshift bed around the toilet using a towel and her coat. She has made a pillow using her T-shirt – clever Mummy. The Mother is still wearing her jeans and a bra. Wow, she’s like a rock star! Waking up half-dressed is good, it means she at least attempted to get ready for bed the night before. “When you feel this messed up in the morning, it’s always best to focus on the positive,” thinks the Mother. Sadly, nothing else feels even remotely hopeful.
She aches from limb to limb, her tongue feels like sandpaper coated in a layer of bile-infused tarmac. Her throat is red raw and sore from being sick all night. Her stomach is already churning and bubbling again, although it may never have actually stopped since last night. An overwhelming desire to relieve herself in the toilet hits her, but she also senses she is about to be sick again. She is in no condition to multitask. Luckily, she manages both, but it isn’t pretty. She’ll have to look for the Cif later.
The Mother is desperate for water – a glass of the stuff would be nice, several gallons would be better. Maybe submerging herself in a vast lake of volcanic spring water might help. Yeah, right, and if it has been blessed by angels then it might cleanse the toxins, nicotine, poison, and grime from her carcass.
Although everything hurts, the pain in her limbs and internal organs is nothing compared to the torment in her head. She doesn’t think she was hit in the head with a pickaxe last night, but she can’t rule it out either.
Then, coming out of her trance and the depths of self-pity, the Mother can hear some movement in the kitchen. It is her partner making a cup of tea. “What time did you get in last night?” he enquires. He is speaking in a weird voice; he is not shouting, but he is definitely very angry.
The last time he’d used this tone with her was when she smashed the cooker hob with a heavy-bottomed Le Creuset saucepan after an argument. On that occasion, there had been mitigating circumstances – she had been severely sleep-deprived following the birth of her second child. This time, it is different.
She can’t blame else for this, for crashing through the doors at 3.00am and then retching for most of the night. This is a bed entirely of her own making. And in case she is not already coming to this conclusion, her partner helpfully reminds her while he is busy not making her a cup of tea. He also reminds her that she is not actually ill, and this is all self-inflicted. “What self-respecting drunk doesn’t know that?” thinks the Mother.
After taking a deep breath, the Mother manages to get herself upright. Everything is a bit swirly, but she is able to take a few steps. She catches a glimpse of herself in the full-length mirror and stares blankly at her reflection. If she’d been aiming for the middle-aged stripper who’d slept in a ditch look, she has certainly pulled it off. Her mum, however, would have a different take on the state the Mother is in. She’d say she looks like something the cat dragged in, but that is rubbish. The cat would take one sniff of her and then leave her in the gutter.
What time did she get in? It is hard to remember, both thinking and speaking require a great deal of effort. In fact, trying to function at all is a struggle. She can’t recall what time she got in. To be honest, the Mother can’t remember much of last night at all. She knows that this temporary amnesia is her body’s way of coping. When the skull-splitting headache retreats and the nausea stops, then the memories will regrettably return. She drags her body up the stairs to the safety of her bed. But even the nice soft quilt and plump pillows offer no protection from the oncoming storm, and her memories, like the sickness, assail her in waves.
For several hours, the Mother drifts in and out of sleep. Not a pleasant kind of drifting, like a little boat across a calm turquoise ocean, that would have been lovely. But more like the drifting you experience when recovering from an operation after the anaesthetic wears off and the pain begins to kick in. Perhaps drifting is the wrong word. If she had to use an ocean-based simile, she would say this is more like a stormy and violent sea. The waters are filled with rocks, into which the Mother keeps crashing. For several hours, she slips from sleep to waking wretchedness and back again, and between these two states, she remembers fragments of the night before.
The Mother had gone out for a drink in Camberwell with her friend. She’d had a couple of pints, and that would’ve been enough for her. And that’s where the evening should have ended. But no, she’d had a drinking head on, and in her alcohol-induced wisdom, she’d suggested another drink.
“Come on, let’s go somewhere else for a drink, it’s only 10, the night is young.” Have more fatal words even been spoken? Before they knew it, they were heading to King’s Cross and a place named Club Couture. Before that night, the Mother had never even heard of it. But still, when they got there, it was loud, it was packed, and it was buzzing.
The Mother does remember talking to an Italian lesbian who she had meet in the smoking area. She never realised that deep down she was a smoker, but hey, it turned out she was. She discovered this new desire after about her fifth drink. She can remember talking at length to her new-found friend about work, travel, politics and the outrageous cost of renting in London. The conversation then moved on, as these things do, to Pope John Paul II and his disdain for homosexuals.
Although, had it not been for this former Pope’s attitude to the gays, the Italian would not have left Italy. And as a result would not be now entertaining the Mother in a grotty toilet of a smoking area at a debauched club in north London. Swings and roundabouts.
The Mother has having a fantastic time. The music was good, the company great. But that’s how it always starts, isn’t it? By the stroke of midnight, she’d probably had four or five pints, which was her absolute limit. She’d made up her mind that she definitely would not consume any more beer, and that’s when she switched to Jägerbombs. The Jägerbombs had not been her idea, she wasn’t even sure what they were. In fact, when the Italian convinced her to have one, she thought she’d agreed to a pill or powder of some sort. But then she remembered they’d both pushed their way to the bar and, well, that’s definitely not the place to be if you wanna experience drugs. It turned out Jägerbombs were some kind of alcoholic cough medicine fused with fizzy caffeine. Their impact on her senses was amazing, but the bill was horrific; a couple of lines would probably have been cheaper.
Fortunately, or maybe unfortunately, her new friend reciprocated and bought the next round. After that, everything was a bit patchy. By that time, the Mother had long since stopped worrying about her limit and the outrageous cost of her new favourite drink.
She could remember heading to the dance floor to the sound of Rhythm Is A Dancer, which was quickly followed by Jump Around by the House Of Pain, and although she almost lost her balance a couple times, she managed to stay upright and moving. She held her own on the dance floor for quite a while, until they played Firestarter by the Prodigy; even sober, she’d struggle to dance to that. At that point, she realised she needed to get some fresh air and, as it turned out, throw up into a bin.
After that, she felt a bit better. The Mother can remember talking a lot, but to whom and about what remains a mystery. Whatever the subject, she’d been particularly animated about it. Whether her new drinking companions had been too, she’d never know. At 3.00am, she left the club, amazingly still clutching her drink. She has a vague memory of getting on a bus home, which is weird because she also remembers getting out of a cab. In-between, there is nothing, an abyss. That is it, that is all she remembers about the evening, and for that, she will be eternally grateful.
She closes her eyes and tries to get back to sleep. This is a day best spent asleep or otherwise unconscious. She thinks of sheep, she counts backwards. She counts sheep jumping backwards. She imagines she is lying on a warm sandy beach and eventually she sleeps. Hours pass, the morning turns into the afternoon. At last, she is feeling slightly better. She has stopped feeling sick, and if she closes her eyes and keeps completely still, the headache is bearable. It is time to get up and face the day, at least what is left of it. Climbing out of her bed is the hardest part, but once free of the crumpled quilt and dribble-stained pillow, she feels a little bit more alive.
But after a couple of tentative steps down the stairs, she realises things aren’t quite as rosy as she thought. Lying in bed with a hangover was a relatively simple albeit gruesome activity. Moving around the house, however, is a totally different ball game.
As she begins her descent of the stairs, she also begins to feel unsteady on her feet. Her hands shake, and the blood which once flowed through her veins seems to have been replaced with some kind of toxic, corrosive liquid.
Every step she takes causes tiny vibrations to run all through her body. She feels like her skull might crack open like a walnut at any moment. And, Christ, why does she ache so much? Not just the ache of a stomach subjected to prolonged and wretched vomiting, but an ache in every limb which causes her to move like some kind of robotic children’s toy at the end of its life. This is accompanied by the sounds of everyday life – a child laughing, the cat purring – and it is unbearable.
Reaching the bottom of the stairs, she is greeted by a stream of sunlight breaking through the thin gap between the curtains. It is like the final scene from Raiders Of The Lost Ark. But she hasn’t had the sense to close her eyes like Harrison Ford did when the golden ark was opened. No, she is like one those stupid Nazis who looked into the light, causing their eyes and head to melt. Fortunately, her bloodshot eyeballs don’t melt, which she considers to be a bonus at this point. However, if they had, at least she would not have had to face the devastation which is to greet her in the kitchen.
Dirty plates, cups and spoons cover every work surface. Empty cereal boxes, milk cartons and yogurt pots are strewn around the room. A sticky spoon balances precariously on a jam pot. A tub of margarine has been left on the side with a butter knife, fancying itself as Excalibur, sticking right out of the middle of it.
Rice Krispies are sprinkled all over the floor, sideboards and sink like confetti. Some of them had even made it into the cat’s bowl. The poor creature will have to make do with a breakfast which combines meat gravy with Snap, Crackle and Pop. Christ only knows what she will make of that, she has a delicate stomach at the best of times.
All the Mother wants is a cup of coffee. What previously seemed possible now seems out of the question. Washing up a spoon and a cup are simply beyond her reach, even if she can actually find these things. She half-heartedly looks in the cupboard under the sink, and miraculously she is rewarded. Just next to the U-bend, she spots a mug, of sorts.
Technically, it is mug; whether she is capable of drinking from this vessel is another matter. On the front of this lurid pink mug, written in huge black capital letters, are the words “I LOVE COCK.” The mug was bought for the Mother years ago by a friend; well, a former friend. Now, with every other cup and mug in the house dirty, it will have to do; it is her darkest hour. She will simply have to ignore the giant erection in the middle of the mug, which reveals more and more of itself as she drinks her coffee. On another day, it might have made her laugh, but not today.
After consuming some strong coffee and forcing down almost a litre of water without being sick, she feels better. She also feels capable of venturing into the medicine cabinet. Well, technically, it isn’t a cabinet at all, merely a corner cupboard in the kitchen. The bathroom is so pokey and small, there is barely room in it for a person, let alone a big cupboard full of drugs.
In the cupboard, she finds cat worming tablets, Rizlas, nit shampoo, Oust multipurpose descaler, superglue, three boxes of herbal tea, an unopened jar of decaffeinated coffee, tampons, several hair products and a long abandoned breast pump. Then finally, success. Just behind the headlice shampoo she finds some Nurofen Express. “Quality pain relief,” thinks the Mother.
“Works in 15 minutes, heals the sick, raises the dead, cleanses lepers and casts out demons. Christ, if that doesn’t do the trick, nothing will,” she thinks, swallowing three just to be on the safe side.