The alarm wakes me. It stabs into my sleep and prises my eyelids apart. Horrendous thoughts thump against the walls of my head. On this, the first day of my death. The air is thick and solid. Time has slowed, each second stretched out agonisingly. I’m not sure I can hear anything. Nothing moves not even the dust. This can’t be right. Surely, on such an auspicious occasion as my demise, loads of things should be happening. Where is the sombre gathering, the mournful music, the wreaths and the sad gentle sobbing?
Of course, when I say death I mean I feel like death. Warmed up. Big party last night. My birthday. Three cheers for me! And now the pain. Plus the mess. Oh my god, the pain and the mess. Both inside and out. I’m lying face down on my bed the wrong way around. Still dressed. I notice all the things scattered across the floor. Books, CDs, clothes, pens and paper. I recall people in my room. I must have been showing off. Juggling, maybe? All these things and their shame-faced possibilities are a bad sign. I flush at the very thought.
I consider a course of action – lie here on my comfy raft and let everything pass me by. Bad idea. There are things to do and the inevitable people to see. Plan B then. Cast the hangover aside and jump to it! That is so much easier said than done. Maybe something in the middle. Stagger about the house moaning and groaning whilst making feeble attempts to tidy up. That’ll probably be it.
The thing that weighs heaviest on my mind is that I have to join the rest of the family this afternoon at my parents’ place. The official birthday party. Put on a brave face. Eat cake and sip tea. Discuss marriage and property with mum and dad; sport and politics with my brothers. While young nephews and nieces run around poking me with toys and generally creating not only a nuisance but also a racket. I must be brave. I must be strong. If they detect a weakness they will pounce like panthers.
I make the big decision and painstakingly roll off my bed. Muscles ache and joints creak as I stand up. The room starts to spin. I reach out for a wall to steady myself. I focus on the doorway. If I can make that stay still I can at least get out of my room. A tide of vomit starts to rise from the toxic dumping ground of my stomach.
At the top of the stairs, I sit down heavily. The steepeness of the stairs makes me swoon. I decide that the only way of making sure I don’t fall is to bottom-shuffle all the way down. Each bum-bump causing a head-thump.
Eventually I make it to the foot of the stairs and I am confronted with another horrorshow. The house is a complete shambles. Too much for my poor brain to handle at first. My housemates went elsewhere leaving me as the custodian of this terraced castle. I am alone and alone I must face this. The air is dank; the smell pub-like. The furniture looks exhausted; the cushions assaulted. The curtains hang indignantly as if they have been violated. Cups and glasses, cans and bottles invade spaces like locusts. The stereo is humming quietly to itself. I groan silently and close my eyes hoping that when I open them again it won’t be so bad. But of course it is even worse. The vomit begins to rise again. I take a deep breath and convince myself that I can do it. I can do it.
I need coffee. I follow the walls to the kitchen. Fumbling fingers find the necessary ingredients. My stomach grumbles incoherently. I nibble on last night’s stale nibbles. They taste horrible but trick my tummy that it’s getting food. The wave of nausea wanes. The dark nutty aroma of the percolated coffee tantalises my nose. Carefully I pour the rich brew into the cleanest mug I can find. I lift the mug to my cracked dry lips. The first sip invigorates my soul. My lungs release a thankful sigh.
Sufficiently renourished, I potter about the kitchen emptying things in the bin and putting others in the sink. I wonder what sort of animal can make such a mess and just leave it. We humans are purveyors of pollution, merchants of mess. We create. We destroy. Burdened by these negative notions the whole task of cleaning up seems beyond my strength. My lungs struggle to draw breath. I shake my head and groan quietly. The stench of flat drinks and overflowing ashtrays brings back the nausea.
A few minutes later I have a relapse. The filth and foulness get to me. I need air. I scramble and stumble upstairs and out onto my balcony. I brace myself against the railings and take another series of deep breaths.
It’s a sunny summer’s day and the sky is an unerring blue. The local birds are chirpy and chat with each other from their branches and perches. Across the rooftops of the inner city streets, I can see the fluttering flags of a distant shopping centre. A tiny aeroplane leaves a thin white trail. The occasional car rumbles by on its morning errand.
As I suck in the cleaner air I console myself that, at least, the outside world is its normal self. A gentle breeze wipes itself against my cheek. I sigh at its gentle caress. The sun warms my face. I start to feel better. I repeat to myslef that I can do it. I can do it.
Then I notice them. My underwear. All over the pavement below. I stare down at them, wide-eyed and numbed with the shock. I remember it was windy last night. The little makeshift clothesline must have lost its struggle to restrain them. Plastic pegs lay twisted and broken amongst the boxers, briefs and bike pants.
There are people passing by, looking at them. Strewn and helpless. All my favourites spreadeagled on the footpath or slumped in the gutter. There they lay soiled with leaves and cigarette butts. Oh no, I cringe. What do I do? Pretend I don’t know them? Never seen them before in my life, Officer! No, I can’t abandon them. Besides I need them. They’re all I have.
Some passers-by are putting two and two together. They survey the stricken smalls and look up at the sad creature gazing forlornly down at the footpath. I give a furtive glance. They turn away, silently snickering.
The situation deteriorates. The neighbours two doors down emerge. All bright and vibrant. Dressed for the day with the kiddies darting about. The parents observe the scene disdainfully. Horrorstricken as the little boy pokes at the red silk boxers with his toy gladiator sword. As if the noise wasn’t enough. Now this! They call him away. I offer them a sickly grin. They return a look of disgust.
My trusty undies! My faithful servants! I was going hard last night. Loud and undoubtedly obnoxious. Perhaps they saw a side of me they didn’t like. Possibly they’d had enough. Maybe they didn’t fall. Maybe they jumped.