I Want to Walk in Sunniside
Today’s my sixtieth and I want to go out of the house today. I’ve been building up to this. I decided ten months ago that I’d go today. I promised myself. I’m not a man who breaks promises, even the ones that I make to myself. That’s why I never said I’d kick the habit when she begged me to: I’m honest if I’m nothing else. But I don’t kid myself that it’s going to be easy. It’s been nine years since the last time I walked down the road.
I wasn’t always like this, not at all. I used to work on the trains, a ticket collector, meeting folk all day long and I loved it. Back in the day I had a good life. Karen was at home, the kids too. I haven’t seen them since I messed up. It all started with the odd pint after work but I didn’t keep an eye on how it had got hold of me. Natalie and Tom, they’ll be grown now. I hope I see them before I die; that’s why I’ve promised myself I’ll get out today. If I can leave the house I can kick the booze, I know that in my bones, I think. I hope I’m not deluded.
Two things led to me staying indoors, well three really. First I pissed my pants on the Metro going home. It was packed and I was mortified. Second, if I’m home no-one can see the state of me. Third, internet ordering for groceries, and that includes booze. Of course the links in the chain are kept together by fear, fear and depression; that lot is hard-boiled into dread now and I can’t swallow it. I’m a shaky mess, agoraphobia they call it. Not that I’ve had a diagnosis.
I’m going to start the day sensibly. No whiskey in my morning coffee and I’ll have a couple of poached eggs on toast. I did try, but I couldn’t swallow the food so it ended up in the bin. I went upstairs to shave to distract me from the Scotch that winked at me from the sideboard. Sod’s law, I managed to nick my chin, one cheek, and then the other one before I finished. I looked like I’d been in a punch up. I did the whole tissue paper thing, little pieces stuck on the blood to make it coagulate. I’d pick them off later when I was ready to go.
I tried on four different shirts, three pairs of trousers and doubled up on my pants, in case I had an accident. I was thinking flight or fight, for me if I freaked it’d be flight no question. In the end I went for a black jeans and a sage green polo top. My hands shook, I didn’t want to attract people’s attention – perhaps I should have a quick nip just to look near normal? No, that’s a bad idea, a very bad idea. I’m not a total idiot, no, no.
The goal for my outing was the corner shop. Old Rex who’d run it for years had died, I read about it in the local rag. The shop was a quarter of a mile up the road, the new owners wouldn’t know me from Adam. I opened the front door and a warm breeze fingered my face. It caught on the tissue scabs, I’d forgotten to peel them off. I went back inside and sorted my grazes out. Back at the door my neighbour, an arsey young lad, strutted past,
‘Hi ya, grandad,’ he said. ‘up and sober before midday. Wonders’ll never cease; you, you old pisshead.’
‘Shut your mouth,’ I said. ‘You know nothing.’
He put two fingers up in salute and ponced off down the lane. I retreated. I couldn’t do everything at once; today I’d get out, tomorrow I’d take on the drink for real. A quick one, or two – if it helped me keep my promise it’d be worth it. Half an hour later I was ready to go things; I opened the door with a firm hand and pulled my leaden legs, one after the other down the path that wound through my overgrown garden patch, sown with coke cans and chip wrappers. I made the mistake of raising my face to the sky. Everything began to spin and lights flashed behind my eyes. I knew the signs, a full blown panic attack. Nausea rose from my stomach, I couldn’t stay upright and sat down hard on the damp grass. I dry retched until my throat throbbed, then I shut my eyes tight and concentrated hard to steady my breath. When I’d calmed down a bit I staggered upright. My jeans were drenched from last night’s rain. At that moment next door’s lad returned. He looked at me and curled his lips in disgust,
”Bout time you wore a nappy. You’re a fucking disgrace,’ he said.
I didn’t answer back but went back inside and shot the bolt. Sunniside is as far away as ever.