Helen - Saturday
It was dark when Helen woke up, her mouth was dryer than Ghandi’s flip flop and her eyes were crusted together with sleep and lash glue. Her head was banging and her nose was about as useful as a soup fork. She stretched out her arm for the glass of water she’d had the foresight to put on the bedside table. It didn’t help, she needed painkillers or a gun, the latter feeling like the better option.
“I’m dying,” she moaned into her make up stained pillow. Her stomach cramped from its emptiness and the amount of vodka and orange, wine and ‘bugle’ it had processed in the last week.
“Arrgghh,” she moaned again as she tried to go back to sleep. The iPod was on loop in the front room and she knew herself well enough to know that she must have been pretty mangled if she had been listening to Lou Reed again. She had a horrible recollection of phoning Ken, more than once, and she could vaguely recall sobbing on his voicemail. She cringed as she pulled the duvet up and hoped for a quick death.
Hunger drove her from the bed a few hours later and after a rummage in her poorly appointed kitchen she settled for a bowl of instant noodles with a side order of baked beans and a sugar filled black tea. It wasn’t the feast she wanted but it would give her enough strength to think about phoning for a pizza. She settled on the sofa to see what Saturday night TV had to offer with her eclectic pre-dinner starter on a tray on her knees. Mid way through the noodles her home phone rang, which naturally she filtered, she waited to see who it was.
“You’ve bloody well done it this time,” came her father’s voice over the answering machine.
Helen felt no inclination to pick up the receiver to ask her father precisely what she had bloody well done, instead she picked up her mobile and looked at her call history for any clues. Oh Jesus, there were eleven calls to Ken, right up until 4am, she was glad she couldn’t remember what she had said, she could see no record of her calling home and upsetting ’The Parents’ though.
Helen had no missed calls but numerous notifications that she had been tagged in Facebook pictures.
“Brilliant, just what I need, some div from school rifling through their loft and uploading moody old pictures.” She tapped on the first link, and there it was for all the world to see.
When Helen had stopped being sick, and had discovered that she had no toilet paper or cotton wool left, and had used an old sock instead, she sat in silence on her cold bathroom floor and tried to think. She knew she had got the tube home but honestly had no recollection of the journey, she watched the footage again just trying to squeeze her brain into remembering anything. She drew a blank. It was like she was watching someone else, someone familiar but not her. The person on the small screen was clearly a loon, an ugly twisted lunatic. Helen was pretty, she knew that and had been told as much since she was a small child. Helen was not the poisoned dwarf she saw. The tears erupted from her like a melon dropped from height. For the second time in two days she scrolled through her phone for a friend to call.
“Hi Sunny,” she squeaked as her chin trembled uncontrollably.
“Helen,” said Sunny warmly, “are you ok?”
“I don’t know.”
“Oh you silly prat,” she said affectionately, “you’ve got yourself in a real muddle this time.”
“Have you seen it?”
“It’s on the telly now.”
“Oh my God, what am I going to do? I’ve got death threats from the Asians and messages of support from ‘Keep England English’ on my twitter feed, everyone hates me…”she sobbed.
“Oh Helen, you are a menace. I know you didn’t mean it, that you were just hammered again. Maybe you need to publicly say sorry and admit to your problems?”
“I haven’t got any problems, well I didn’t have until now. Can I come and stay at your house for a while?”
“Helen, you know you can’t. Simon won’t have you in the house after last time.”
“You offered him a line off of one of our dinner plates, added to the fact that our children were upstairs. It’s not normal behaviour, and besides it’s highly illegal, not everyone does it.”
“Yeah they do, and those that don’t, would if they could, and anyway the children were in bed.”
“No you’re absolutely right he’s just over reacting. You’ve no problems at all have you? I bet you can’t even remember it.”
“I can. Sort of.”
“Helen, go home. Turn off all your social media and go home.”
“I’m at home.”
“Home to your parents.”
“I can’t, they hate me too,” she started to cry silently.
“I’m sure they don’t, but you haven’t really given them much to work with have you?”
“What do you mean?”
“Nothing. Helen, I know you don’t want to hear it, but it’s because I am your friend that I’m telling you to get some help, professional help.”
“Ok, do you bet me you can not drink for one whole week?”
“Of course I can.”
“Ok let me know how you get on. I’ve got to go now, but Helen, be careful and please think about what I’ve said.”
“Bye,” said Helen. She pulled her knees up to her chin and cried onto them.
The first stone hit her window at around 10pm. By 11 there was a small angry mob yelling abuse up to her. By 12 she had called the police who had taken her into custody for her own protection. By 1.30am she had been charged under The Public Order Act 1986, and told that further charges could be expected to follow.
“Dad, can you come and pick me up?” she cried into the phone.
“It’s 5 o’clock in the morning.”
“I’m sorry Dad,” she started to cry again, “I’m at the police station, they are throwing rocks at my house, I can’t go back there. I need to hide.”
“Who are throwing rocks? Not the police surely?”
“No, people, some people are throwing rocks and bottles of piss.”
“Urine Helen. Ladies say urine.”
“Piss, urine, whatever. It’s being thrown at my house.”
“I can hardly say I’m surprised after what you’ve done.”
“Thanks for the pep talk Dad, are you coming or not?”
“Yes, I’ll come, but it will take me a while to get there, and your mother is doing a reading in this morning’s service, it’ll be a shame to miss it.”
“She doesn’t have to miss it, you could come and get me on your own.”
“I wasn’t talking about her missing it. Has it ever occurred to you that I might want to see my wife, your mother, doing a very nice reading for Reverend Hall? No I don’t suppose you’ve given it even the tiniest thought because it doesn’t affect you.”
“Please Dad, you can have a go at me later, can you just come and get me. Please.”
A black policewoman directed Helen to the canteen to wait for her father to arrive, she even gave her a sandwich and a cup of tea.
“Thank you,” smiled Helen desperately trying to indicate she hadn’t noticed she was black.
“It’s my job to look after you, it’s not that I like what you have done,” she turned and left leaving Helen feeling like she had been put in the naughty corner. Helen flopped her head onto the desk and stayed there for a while, leaving the tea to go cold. Helen’s father was driving up from Bristol so she knew it would be ages until he arrived, he drove at 50mph everywhere: country lanes, car parks, up the driveway and in the outside lane of the motorway, his standard speed never varied.
“We need to take you to a service station to meet your father, do you have a mobile number for him?”
“Er yes, why?”
“There are reporters and a mob out the front, he’ll never get in. It would also be helpful to keep your whereabouts under wraps, we don’t want him seen, or we’d have to get you out again.”
“Is it really that bad?”
“Inciting a riot on a tube train, racially abusing an innocent man and getting two people assaulted is pretty serious wouldn’t you say?”
“You make it sound so bad.”
“It is so bad.”
“I’m not sure if he’ll answer if he’s driving.”
The services at South Mimms were busy, but no one noticed as an unmarked police car dropped Helen into her father’s care in the far corner of the car park.
“Hi Dad,” said Helen.
She wanted to punch his annoying pinched up face with its right angled nose, and she wanted to tell him he looked a prize prat with his hands free headset on.
“I bet you wear that all the time don’t you? How many calls have you had to answer when wearing that Dad?”
“Enough to be collecting you.”
Helen felt suitable put in her place. God, she needed a fag. “can I smoke if I open the window?” she already knew the answer as she looked at the immaculate burgundy velour seats and the tin of sugar dusted travel sweets neatly stowed next to the handbrake.
He didn’t even answer, just looked at her with nothing short of venom.
“Nice of you to remember. My mother is doing fine. We have told her you are backpacking in Australia and that’s why she hasn’t seen you for nearly four years.”
“I’m a bit old for backpacking.”
“And you’re a bit old to be bailed out by your parents, what’s your point?”
“Why don’t you just come out and say it instead of sniping at me Dad?”
“There’s nothing to say is there, I think you have said enough for the entire family. I don’t know how I’m going to face them at the bowls club.”
“I couldn’t give a tuppenny fuck about your bowls club, I have just had a mob of people trying to kill me, throwing rocks and piss, sorry urine, at my house and you’re worried about what Flossy and Divvy at bowls might say.”
“I can drop you here if you’d rather?”
He pulled the car over and stared at her, at a stranger, no longer the pretty blonde girl he remembered, replaced by a … he couldn’t bring himself to finish.
They pulled off the M4 into a picturesque village to get something to eat.
“The tea rooms look nice,” said her father pointing at a white washed café with lace curtains and a few tables out the front for smokers and dog owners.
“Na, the pub looks better,” said Helen.
“Let’s hope no one recognises you. Put these on,” he said handing over his driving sunglasses, “I’ve got a hat in the boot in case of emergencies.”
Helen reluctantly took the hat and wondered what sort of incident her father expected would require emergency tweed. She was too tired to argue and a bit afraid that he’d get back in the car and drive off. Helen knew if she could just have a hair of the dog that she would feel better.
“I’ll get them,” said Helen as they entered The George and Dragon.
“You will do no such thing, you go and sit quietly in that corner and keep your head down.”
“I’ll have large Sauvignon then please.”
A short while later her father returned with two cokes and a wooden spoon with a number on it.
“Are they bringing my wine with the food Dad?”
“I got us both pop, I think you’ve had enough wine don’t you?”
“Fine. I’m going for a fag then,” she wanted to smash his face in, how fucking dare he dictate to her. On the way back out to the front she picked up the remains of someone else’s drink, she just needed to wet her whistle to ensure she didn’t actually batter him. As she polished off the ale, she thought of Sunny and her challenge, and just as quickly she pushed Sunny and her challenge to the far recesses of her mind, where she kept GCSE French.
Her parents house smelt of rose air freshener and pot pourri, until she reached the kitchen which smelled of her favourite, homemade chicken pie. Helen burst into tears.
“You silly, silly girl,” soothed her mother as she stroked the back of Helen’s hair. “Sssshh, you’re safe now. It’ll be alright you’ll see. By next weekend a footballer will have raped someone and you’ll be off the hook.”
“Jesus, you know you’re life is bad when only a footballer raping someone is worse.”
“You’ll see, they’re all over paid perverts,” she soothed gently.
Helen started to laugh as well as cry, a large snot bubble ballooned out of her left nostril, popped, then her nose started to bleed heavily.
“It’ll be the stress. You used to get nosebleeds when you were a little girl, before something important, like class assembly.”
Helen laughed more as he mother pressed frozen peas into the back of her head and squeezed her nose until Helen thought her mother’s thumb might actually be embedded.
“Have you got any wine Mum?” she asked once the bleeding had stopped.
“No we don’t drink anymore dear, not since your father had that high blood sugar.”
“How would she know about that Marg? She doesn’t call home to find out how we’re doing, and I don’t know why you’re being so nice to her after all the worry she’s caused you.”
“Sssh Ted, she’s home now. I’ll make us a nice cuppa before I get the pie out.”
Helen lay in her bedroom, long since decorated from the room of her teenage years, into something from a Laura Ashley catalogue circa 1992; a heavy floral border around the top of the walls made the room feel decidedly smaller than Helen remembered it. As she lay there, the room started to close in on her, she felt hot and panicky. Outside was silent and dark, the sort of dark than renders you blind if you want a night time wee, the sort of dark your eyes can’t adjust to. Blackness was a more appropriate phrase, Helen felt lost in blackness. She got up and crept past her parents bedroom using the light from her phone, she paused and listened to the sound of them sleeping, she crept downstairs and went to the kitchen and opened the fridge. Nothing, just as her mother had said, there was no booze in the fridge. She poured herself a glass of water and left it on the kitchen table, her alibi should she be caught out of bed. She went into the lounge and opened the drinks cabinet, there wasn’t anything she would choose, but the Amaretto looked the better bet over the Martini Rosso. She took a sip and exhaled as the taste of almonds engulfed her senses and relaxed her.
“As soon as they open I’m taking you down to the doctors,” came her father’s voice from the darkness behind the armchair she was sitting in.
“Do one, will you,” slurred Helen before she drank the last dregs of the Martini and dropped the empty bottle next to the already finished Amaretto lying on the carpet, “I’ve had a shit day.”
Before Helen was even out of the bed she knew what kind of day it was going to be, she could hear her mum sobbing at the kitchen table and her father pacing up and down. She entered the kitchen and stood, feet planted ready to take the verbal assault. She waited, she looked at them both, and her stomach dropped when nothing happened. Her father spoke first,
“They are your mother’s bulbs in that pot of soil you have used as an ashtray. Have you no respect at all?” his eyes looked moist.
Her mother quietly wept, “Mum I’m sorry about the bulbs, really I am. Give me a bag and I’ll fish out all the fag butts.”
“I’ve done it,” she squeaked. “I’m hardly going to leave fag butts in Craig’s bowl am I?”
“Oh Mum, I didn’t know, I promise I didn’t know.”
“You were too pie eyed to notice,” snapped her father. “That bowl grows a different flower every season, and every morning we look out of this window and say good morning to Craig, and you get drunk and put your filthy cigarettes out in it. How very dare you?”
“I didn’t know. I didn’t see the plaque, I swear. Mum, Dad I really am sorry, I loved him too,” her voice broke.
“He was my boy,” said her father.
“And, my big brother,” screamed Helen, “he was my brother and he died because he came to pick me up. Don’t worry I haven’t forgotten, and I know you’re thinking it, and I agree, we’d all rather it was me.”
“Don’t ever say that again,” said her mother rising to her feet. “You were both loved the same, and it wasn’t your fault, it was an accident, plain and simple. Now, Ted have you booked the doctor’s because if you think I’m going to bury my other child you can think again young lady. You need some help and I am going to see to it that you get it. Understood?”
“I can’t go out of the house, I’ll get lynched, don’t forget.”
“Fine. Get the doctor to come here, tell him Helen is suicidal.”
“I am no such thing,” said Helen affronted.
“OK, so I tell him that Helen is an alcoholic that has been charged with racially abusing a man on the train, is currently Britain’s most hated woman, and is here needing some help.”
“OK. Tell him I’m suicidal then,” said Helen looking at the ground.