As God Is My Author

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27


I knew where to look the moment I walked in, towards the gambling machine. A man stood, leaning his elbow against a ledge, causing the shoulder to hunch up almost to his jaw, the hand of the other arm in a pocket, ready to lift up and clasp the drink nearby. I went to the bar and ordered two pints, looking across to the Irish corner. Their voices occasionally erupted into shouts, with fingers jabbing against the wood of the bar to emphasise a point made, cursing and disagreeing with one another. They seemed oblivious to all within the half-empty room, the alcohol enclosing them tighter into their own society.

I walked over to Garbutt and placed the pint next to his half-full one and found an easy introduction to start the conversation.

‘Would you say that drink is half full or half empty?’ I asked as amiably as I could. He gave me a wary look.

‘It’s fifty percent its total volume.’ he replied, familiar with the query. ‘Save me your amateur psychology. And I like to know who buys me my drinks.’

I smiled and offered my hand but it wasn’t taken.

‘My name’s Leen.’ I told him. ‘I’m a friend of Dorsett’s. He told me to come and see how you were doing.’

‘I don’t need a babysitter, thank you all the same.’

‘I’m not here to look after you.’

He studied my face, looking for clues.

‘So why are you here?’

‘Dorsett was interested to find out how you came to those conclusions about the questions he asked. He said they came to you when you were almost drunk.’

‘You know about that?’

‘Yes.’

‘For a start, I’m not drunk.’ he said, slightly annoyed.

‘I know you’re not. That’s why I’m asking you now. If you were drunk you wouldn’t be able to tell me.’

‘I would. But you probably wouldn’t understand me.’

‘Can’t you rely on memory?’

‘I could try,’ he reasoned. ‘But it would be half speculation.’

I tried again.

‘What about describing it as you begin to fall under its influence?’

‘That would only be an explanation given from that particular state.’ said Garbutt. ‘Besides, how do you expect me to relax and get drunk if I have to describe the process? The whole idea of drinking is to be careless of it. Have you never been drunk yourself?’

‘I have. But I’m curious as to how your drunkenness affects you in particular. How many have you had so far?’

Garbutt looked upward. ‘Two; no, three. Plus with the one you’ve just bought me, which would be four. I think.’

‘It’s not even late and you’re unsure. How much money do you have left when you get home?’

‘Do I look like a bloody accountant? I always have money left. Dorsett made me a rich man, remember. I just grab a handful of notes and leave.’

‘Can’t you give an estimate?’

‘I drink between eight and nine pints. As long as I don’t meet anyone.’

‘You never meet anyone. You’re always on your own.’

‘So then what are you doing here?’

‘Oh, fuck it.’

‘Good idea. Stop analysing and drink up.’

Before we emptied our glasses he pointed a finger at me.

‘I can tell you the obvious, however. It’s true what they say. Women do get more attractive the more you drink. They’re not fat but curvaceous: They don’t talk too much, they’re gregarious. And a fly walking on a pub wall is a fascinating thing to see. On any other wall, they’re just a nuisance.’

He took our glasses away to the bar as I held a mouthful of lager momentarily stored in my cheeks so that I could swallow it in measured gulps at leisure. When I breathed normally again, I felt the first warm glow in my stomach as my body adapted to a new state of inebriation. Something in me had changed already even though I wouldn’t have been able to describe it. Not as tense as I was before, even though I never realised I was tense. Maybe feeling in a better condition than the condition I was in before, even though I wasn’t aware I was in any particular condition. But I was aware that I was happy to see another full shining gold glass come towards me, and gripped it gratefully.

‘So I suppose the only way to try and understand it is from a distance, from some point after the experience.’ I told him. He thought about it.

‘Maybe.’ he acknowledged. ‘Though like I said, it would be half speculation.’

‘What if I wrote down notes?’ I proposed.

He shook his head. ‘You’d look like a reporter giving an interview. And if you did manage to keep up with me, you’d be in no condition to write down anything anyway. Put your pen away. Let’s just drink and take what comes.’

‘You’re not much of a talker when you’re drunk, either.’ I reminded him.’

‘If you are who I think you are, then we’ll have plenty to talk about.’ He said. ‘Are you?’

‘You must know otherwise you wouldn’t have asked.’

He gave a dismissive grin.

‘Confirmation, if ever it was needed. So tell me: what did you do to Mason, the eye thief?’

‘I’m having an affair with his wife. Believe it or not, he asked to do it as a favour.’

’You’re all heart. Remind me not to make you the best man at my wedding. How did you leave him?

‘Looking at the stars.’

‘But not in the same way as he did Dorsett, I’ll bet, burning two holes in his head to find some dumb answer about the secret of life or whatever he called it. And while we’re on the subject: how is Dorsett going to finish me?’

‘I thought you didn’t want to know.’

‘I don’t need the small print. I just want to know if he’s going to leave me alone to the future or if he’s planning a closer, more devious end.’

‘You’re going to live on and he won’t be returning. That’s why I’m here instead.’

‘Good.’ he said, drinking to celebrate the knowledge. ‘I grew to tolerate him, I have to say. And he gave me my pot of gold like he said he would. But how can any man feel comfortable with his own maker constantly at his shoulder?’

We took another long drink until a forgettable thread, leading to an unrelated topic, wandered us along a talk of little importance. And as the hands on the clock turned, the night went forward. The more they revolved around the dial, the more hours that passed and the more we drank. Just before he became too inebriated to be coherent, he volunteered a monologue of information.

’You have to understand alcohol as a drug, something as potent as cocaine, heroin, or any other substance that alters your mindset.

You feel careless. Troubles disappear because they seem trivial in the whole picture of things. Every nerve cell is an inch out from your skin, sensing everything around you. The crowds, the noise, the music, the lights, everything. All things are meaningless and crucial. Tomorrow is already a unique day to be lived but nothing matters but the present. If you died now you’d not be concerned because you went happy and brave, or certainly stupidly. Existence is greatly magnified, the future a potential heaven of unexpected events.

If you have that perception life is an unexplained freak of nonsense. Self-consciousness is a frightening realisation that almost blows your head off with the thoughts rebounding inside. Sleep will starve them to death later but you know it’s a necessary process. You feel an essential part of humanity and at the same time invisible. Just being alive is the greatest puzzle. Knowing you will inevitably die is a knowledge that astounds yet you don’t panic. And it’s always a long way away. It’s not meant for you. Not yet. So you celebrate the next day even though it will be lived like any other day that’s gone before.

Then you slip into that bottomless hole of recollection, those directionless avenues of memory, regrets and bad choices, and all the terrors they brought. People say you can’t predict the future but they’re wrong. The past shows you your old footprints as clear as trodden snow and it makes sense that if you want to know where you’re going, then you have to look back to see where you’ve been. But the scariest thing about being alive is that you can end it all in one moment. Consciousness gone in the mess of a corpse at the bottom of a tall building or staring at an empty bottle of pills. You have the ability to interrupt your own relentless advance.

I think about it all the time. Not to do it, but just the thought of it. And when you wake the next day you stare at the ceiling and wonder what makes you breathe, what makes you live on another day in a week, in a month, in a year. And you drink coffee. And you see ten and twenty-pound notes littered on the floor and walk over them to the sink to wash and know that there’s nothing else for you to do but return to the place that held all those gifts of curious questions and imaginary conclusions. You know there is no barrier that prevents you from returning to that state because even though poverty is something you’d never recommend, it can keep you away from the booze. Then you see the money at your feet and there’s nothing to stop you. It’s legal. No one can stop you from drowning because you’re not shouting for help. You’re screaming in a different way, in silence with mute characters misshapen over the years by forgetfulness, bullies made more vicious, ex-lovers made more beautiful.

And Skelly gets younger as I get older, day by day. He’ll never change because he died way back and so will hold that look forever, never aging, while I advance past him dragging my body along like an overweight tumour. Nothingness. Think about that. Think about nothing. It’s impossible to imagine because no one can think about nothing because nothing is a thought that demands consideration. Empty your mind, they say, my mind went blank, they say. Impossible.

It amazes me that every man and woman alive has these thoughts and yet they’re locked in with them with only language for expression, a language so limited we have to invent words all the time just to keep up. But we can’t do it. That great big truth that soars above us, that great big ant’s nest disturber looks at us every day and leaves us with our own guesses. So we settle for the best one: The universe is too big to travel and we live too briefly. We can’t travel fast enough. Infinity is the answer, we’re told, but infinity is a lie. It doesn’t make sense. An insect walking on a ball. It’s on an endless journey, it might think, but we can see it isn’t. But we have no way of telling it. It can’t hear us; it can’t see us or understand us. So it keeps walking until it dies. Maybe that’s what Dorsett can see now. Maybe he’s that tiny insect walking round and round that stupid ball and he sees himself from a distance, and he’s looking down at himself from the eyes of his maker, his teaser. Through the eyes of God. But it’s a God he can’t describe because words can’t give the message. He can see with his mind and he just knows.’

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