The kitchen door was ajar. Light seeped through the gap and laid in a pencil-beam across the dark hallway. Leonard only had a small flat, with no upstairs that didn’t belong to someone else. The short, artfully clinical hallway had three low doorways, and opened onto a bedroom, a bathroom and a kitchen-cum-living space. Leonard threw the kitchen door open, and made a straight path to the freezer. He nodded sagely to the empty room; vodka is the most amazing liquid when below zero. It ebbs and throbs in the bottle like a silken gel.
Like a thin layer of civilization, covering a gaping, bottomless trap.
Of the four bottles he’d picked up last week, only these dregs remained. He’d sold the car three months ago. Didn’t get much for it, what with all the dents and knocks, but you know. He ruminated, turning the bottle around and around at eye level, watching the half-inch of clear liquid roll around the inside, clinging slightly to the glass. It was enough.
He necked it quickly. Warmth spread across his face and neck; that first flush was magic. He loved just smacking his numbed lips, rubbing a palm across the unfeeling skin on his face. That stage seemed to take longer and longer to arrive, but when it did it was like slipping into a pair of comfortable pyjamas.
There was a small, plasticy table in the corner of the kitchen, next to the fridge and surrounded by several slightly undersized chairs, also plasticy. Leonard dragged one across the linoleum, flopping onto it, arms and elbows across the table. He rested his face on the backs of his hands. He’d often found himself waking up here in a similar position, although he could never quite tell exactly when his head sank to touch the cracked surface. The next thing he knew he’d be peeling a cheek from the tabletop.
Leonard sat for a while at the table, thinking about where it all went wrong. Not for himself personally; he knew full well how that had come to pass. For everyone. For this whole sorry mess that everyone was suddenly in. Money by the barrowful – nothing to spend it on, mind. The debt mountain had finally come on top, hadn’t it? Something vague, about crop failures and economic disaster or something like that. To tell the truth, he’d been pretty steaming drunk for most of the time.
But now there was no more vodka. Probably none in the whole country.
What a shit-hole this place is.
Leonard eventually managed to convince himself to get up and take stock. He pulled his head up from the table quickly, and nearly screamed. Somehow a slimy, discarded fork had managed to stick his hair to the table during the night. He rushed to the hallway mirror to find that the fork was still attached to a huge hank of hair that had somehow wrapped around it like candyfloss on a stick. After yanking at it a few times, there was a quiet tearing sound and the fork at last came away. Leonard threw it to the floor and looked at himself in the mirror.
Sweaty, rumpled, creased.
He smoothed at the front of his shirt and then had to wipe his hands on his trousers to get rid of the greasy residue. Not perfect, but not too bad. A pair of misshapen black loafers sat balefully at the foot of the mirror like hollowed out sea-cucumbers. They were at least ten years old, covered in old stains. Beer, shit, cider, mud, vodka, sick. Better than fucking boot polish, Leonard mused, feeding them his swollen feet. Turning to the front door, he rediscovered the discarded hairy fork on the floor, and kicked it back towards the kitchen with a scowl.
The roads were empty. The house was fully out of sight. There were a few burned out cars here and there but most of them looked like they’d just been parked. The windows on most of the suburban semis were intact, and all the doors were locked. He knew because he’d tested most of them. The occupants were, judging by the variety of exotic plants in their front gardens, far too well-heeled to make a fuss. They’d calmly locked their doors, with every intention of returning from wherever it was they went. As if they were going on a holiday.
Leonard took shelter from the beating sun by crawling under a canopy of unidentifiable greenery in one of the front gardens. The smell stuck at the back of his throat and made his eyes water. There was a watery pink patch on his sock – bleeding from the popped blisters. Privet stood sentry on either side of the garden. There was a smeared, puffy plastic slide, visible through the hedge on the neighbouring side. Its shadow curled luxuriously across the lawn, merging into complicated swirls and clefs.
Eventually, the sun dipped and the music faded into oblique blobs. The sun was a slice of lemon dumped onto a sky made of red bar napkin, getting ready to vanish out of sight, and he needed a drink.