Fiction: Life Floors Neal

It was only later that Neal understood what had happened. At the time, as the events unfolded, he wasn’t fully aware of what was going on. Shit happens. Although this wasn’t just any shit, this was his shit. It wasn’t like this was a random set of circumstances where bad luck befalls some guy and we feel sorry for him. No, this was his own doing and if in the end anyone was to blame, it was Neal himself, nobody else.

Does that make things any easier? Knowing that it’s all your own fault; does that make it more palatable? Not really. Neal still felt sorry for himself. Yes, he could see that he and he alone was culpable but he still couldn’t help feeling sad about his situation.

The curious start to this was waking up on the floor. Now finding himself prostrate somewhere other than his bed was not unknown to Neal. However this particular return to the land of the living was different than the other times and he would from that moment on qualify it as both unique and one of the lowest points of his drinking career.

Neal became aware that he was conscious. However he wasn’t aware of his body. Exactly how long this moment lasted, he wasn’t sure but he would always remember the odd sensation of being conscious, of being aware that he was alive, that he was thinking but not knowing where he was or who he was. He was merely a brain without a body; some disembodied spirit floating around the netherworld . It was that famous saying of René Descartes brought to life: I think therefore I am.

Then it hit him and it hit him hard. It was like the conscious part of his brain was suddenly plugged back into his body. A wave of nausea came over him. No, it was a tsunami. His ears had this loud noise in them like the static of a radio turned up deafeningly loud. Somewhere his gut tied itself up in knots and there was this overwhelming alarm that at any second, his abdominal region would tighten up like a vice and spew out all the bad stuff. Slowly, Neal became aware of being horizontal. Yes, he was laid out face down. But where? Something somewhat rough was against his right cheek. What was it? Where was he? All parts of his body were now reporting into the brain telling it that they were none too pleased with the current state of affairs. Some trauma had been suffered and all parts wanted to lodge a formal complaint to the head of the company. Ears, stomach, even the heart was chiming in. Then the head. Oh yes, the head. A monstrous pounding had started and any conscious thought had become almost impossible with the ever-mounting pressure in his skull.

Neal was wondering just what the heck he had done to himself. For the moment, he had absolutely no recollection of anything. He still didn’t know where he was and he had no idea of how he had gotten here. Well, wherever here was. Everything was foggy. Well, his thinking was foggy. His brain was slowly trying to make sense of everything but unfortunately there was this huge hole in his memory. There was a blackness, a lack of memories and he couldn’t fill in the blanks.

The nausea abated somewhat. Neal shifted his head slightly and opened his eyes. It was semi-dark. There was a little light somewhere but where it was coming from was unknown. Suddenly Neal realised he was lying on the floor. His cheek was against the carpet. What the heck? What had happened? Neal felt ill. Was he going to be sick to his stomach? It was hard to tell at the moment but he felt really, really bad. Right now nothing seemed to want to come up but he knew that his guts were none too happy and could decide at any moment to let loose. However Neal as of yet was incapable of moving so if he did start chucking, he wasn’t going to make it to the wastepaper basket. Could he move?

Neal stirred. He moved his head a bit. Somehow the nausea washing over him didn’t seem to inspire him to move fast. In fact, he didn’t want to move at all thinking that would minimise any pain he was feeling. However this pain wasn’t the pain from being hurt. No, this was the pain from being sick and Neal was sick as a dog. He had thought about it. Why was he on the floor? Why couldn’t he remember how he had gotten there? Why was he nauseated to beat the band? There was only one explanation: he had drunk too much. But what exactly had happened?

Neal slowly righted himself and sat on the floor with his back against the bed. Oh God he felt bad. He couldn’t even say that he felt like shit because it was ten times, no a hundred times worse than that. Neal breathed slowly and looked around him. The one low wattage bulb beside the door was on. It wasn’t at all bright and barely lit the room. Neal’s eyes fell on an empty bottle of wine on the counter beside the sink. Yes, he remembered that. He had gotten off work at 8am that morning from his all night shift and had gone to McDonald’s for breakfast. He had ordered the big breakfast and took one of the complimentary newspapers from the rack beside the cash register. He browsed through the headlines as he used his plastic utensils to eat his eggs and sausage and hash browns being careful not to press too hard and poke a hole in the Styrofoam container. He had gotten back to the rooming house around nine o’clock. Since he didn’t have anything to drink, he had wasted some time listening to records while waiting for the liquor store to open at 10am. He left around nine thirty and went to a variety store to buy the latest copies of People magazine and US. They were mindless periodicals which in some way amused him while he was drinking. Oh yes, there was a special large format edition of a Superman comic so he bought that too. He loved comics when he was a kid and for some reason, the simplicity of a comic fit right in with his life style.

At ten o’clock on the dot, Neal was at the door of the liquor store and bought himself a regular size bottle of cheap wine. Over the months, he had managed to turn his drinking into a science. He knew that this one bottle of wine, accounting for the size of the bottle and the percentage of alcohol in the wine, would give him a nice buzz without incapacitating him. He might wake up a little fuzzy for his midnight shift but that fuzziness would dissipate over a couple of hours. No big deal.

Neal had come home with his stash and poured himself a glass of wine. He had put on a record then settled in to read his magazines. In order to not disturb any of the neighbours, he always wore headphones. This was sometimes a bit of a pain because of the cord but for the most part the cord was long enough to permit him to reach just about anything he needed in his room.

Neal had a small table and chair but had installed his record player and amplifier on the table leaving little or no room left on the table for anything else. Consequently Neal chose to sit on the floor with his back against his bed. Whether he was reading and drinking or even eating something he had heated up on his hot plate, he would ofttimes not use the chair. Odd to others, convenient to him. After all, how many people lived in a rooming house? How many people had a world which consisted of only four walls with a bed, a sink, a bar frig, a hot plate and a small table and chair? Having never lived like this before in his life, Neal was surprised to discover just what the essentials were to life. When you had no money and could only get a job for minimum wage, you learned to pare down your life style to what was absolutely essential. There were no nice to haves. Heck, you could barely afford a single room!

The throbbing in his head has calmed down a bit. Neal looked at the clock. It said 9:45pm. Thank God, he wouldn’t be late for work. A year prior to this when Neal first started to work the midnight shift, he had gotten really drunk during the day. He had forgotten to set his alarm and woke up at three o’clock in the morning, three hours after his start time of midnight. The evening guy had been obliged to fill in for the missing Neal. Apparently the evening guy had phoned his place but Neal had blacked out from drinking too much and never heard the ringing. Thankfully, Neal’s apologies to his boss were accepted and he wasn’t fired. Fortunately, it was in Neal’s favour that he was working the midnight shift. The boss had a bitch of a time getting anybody to work nights so when Neal volunteered to work the midnight shift permanently, it solved a big problem for the boss. It was a perfect arrangement for everybody involved. The boss had the night shift covered and Neal got to drink all day.

Neal noticed the earphones for his record player on the floor. In the dull light, he followed the cord to beside the table. It took a moment to comprehend what he was looking at but he realised his record player and the amplifier were no longer on the table, they were on the floor. What? How did that happen? Neal followed the cord back to the earphones. Oh, oh. The cord was pulled taunt. Oh God. Neal guessed that he had moved too far or had maybe fallen over with the earphones on. The cord had been stretched out to its maximum length and had pulled the record player right off the table onto the floor then ripped the earphones right off his head. Neal felt so ill at the moment, he couldn’t even get surprised or angry at possibly having broken his record player. He would have to be philosophical about it and if the player was busted, it was busted. He’d have to deal with it and get it fixed if necessary. When he felt better, maybe then he would get hopping mad and yell at himself about his stupidity while saying, ‘Shit! Shit! Shit!” But for now, oh God did he feel bad.

Neal sat on the floor not moving. He wasn’t thinking so much as patiently waiting for his metabolism to deal with the nausea which permeated his body. This was not the fun part about drinking. Being drunk was fun; sobering up was not. Of course drinking too much was always something to avoid but once you got started, you couldn’t stop. Or you didn’t appreciate that you should stop. Or your higher brain functions shut down and you become completely incapable of imagining the consequences of your actions. Whatever.

He looked up. His eyes fell on the hot plate which sat on top of the bar frig. There was a bottle on it. It was a almost empty mickey of liquor. Neal starred at it for a moment. He had no memory of buying it. He hadn’t bought a bottle of liquor this morning; he had only bought a bottle of wine. Where had the liquor come from? Neal furrowed his brow and tried to concentrate. Did he remember anything? Nope, there was this big hole in his memory. He remembered sitting on the floor drinking his wine and reading the magazines but then, nothing. He had no recollection of what he may have done afterwards. May have done? There was no doubt about it. Neal at some point had left his room and walked back to the liquor store and bought a bottle of liquor. He had blacked out. He had done this but couldn’t remember doing it. Fuck, all he did was drink a bottle of wine like he always does. Why would he black out? Did he drink it too fast? Why would the same quantity of wine he always drank affect him differently? Now he understood why he felt like death warmed over. After finishing the whole bottle of wine, he had then drunk an entire mickey of liquor. Crap, he was surprised to have woken up in time for work. It would have been more than likely he would have remained out of it until the next day and missed his shift. Why did he wake up in time?

Neal realised he hadn’t slept for the past 7 hours so much as having been unconscious. Oh God, what a grubby. A wave of shame swept over Neal. Yes he was an alcoholic. He knew it. He had known it for a long time. But for a long time there had been no reason not to drink. It wasn’t a question of why he drank; it was a question of why not. He was down so low; he had failed so miserably; he was so utterly ashamed of himself; it seemed that drinking was the only way of dealing with a set of circumstances one could only qualify as humiliating. Yes he was ashamed of his alcoholism but that shame paled in comparison to the shame he felt over his failure.

Neal began to cry. The sobs racked his body as an overwhelming sense of sadness overcame him and he could no longer contain the flood of emotions which welled up. Tears streamed down his cheeks as he wept uncontrollably. He felt a loss so profound, it was as if his life was over. Maybe he was still alive but there was no longer anything to live for. His hopes, his ambitions and his dreams had been dashed to pieces and there no longer was any sense of purpose to life. It was an ignominious end to a life unfulfilled.

The sobs began to peter out. The crying diminished and Neal became a little calmer. He sniffed a couple of times. He needed a Kleenex. He reached in his pocket, discovered one and blew his nose. Neal remembered that part of being hung over was due to being dehydrated. He should drink some water. Maybe he should drink a lot of water. The clock now said ten twenty so he around an hour before he had to leave for work. It took him about thirty minutes to walk to his job and he always stopped to pick up a sub for his beginning of the shift meal. Oh God, he was feeling so bad right at the moment, he wondered if he was going to be able to eat anything. Then again, what choice did he have? It was a long time until the end of his shift at 8am and it was a long time until he could get anything to eat. Consequently he had to eat something. It’s just that eating a sub somehow didn’t seem like the correct hair of a dog. Would he keep it down or would he see his five bucks spewed out on the sidewalk somewhere between the sub shop and work?

Neal got up and went to the sink. He dug out a glass from a cupboard and ran the water for a minute. He filled the glass to the brim then drank the whole thing. He filled the glass again and drank half of it before he had to stop. He waited a moment to catch his breath then managed to get the rest of it down. He stood at the sink waiting. Well, maybe he wasn’t waiting so much as being slightly zoned out from the nausea and the fatigue. When you pass out from drinking too much, Neal thought you didn’t really sleep. Not sleeping in the sense of resting. You woke up tired, very tired and probably because being out cold didn’t constitute the same thing as sleeping and giving your body a rest.

Feeling the urge, Neal found his toilet paper and left his room to go down the hall to the communal bathroom. If there was one thing he hated more than anything else, it was sharing the bathroom. The rooming house had a number of grubbies like Neal who drank or did drugs and led a life style which left much to be desired. Drunk or stoned people are not necessarily thoughtful about others who may sharing the facilities and ofttimes leave the premises in a sad state of repair.

Neal was lucky this time; the bathroom was half decent. He did his business and returned to his room. He drank another glass of water then sat on the floor. Oh my God, did he feel like crap. Was he going to make it through the shift? He knew he would; he just knew that he was going to have to grit his teeth and suffer through at least two hours of nausea until his body managed to right itself. He had succeeded in putting a lot, well, too much alcohol in his system and that system needed to do some pretty heavy lifting over the next eight hours to purge the body of all that evil booze he had poured down his gullet. What a fucking retard. Neal knew this was the moment when most alkies would take the pledge and swear on a stack of Bibles to not imbibe again but Neal knew better. He knew that he was going to drink again just as well as he knew the sun was going to come up in the morning. What else did he have at the moment? Nothing. So he returned to the question of not why he was drinking but why not. Get through the shift; let the body recoup and he’d be in shape to do it all again.

Was there a point of rationalising? There was nobody in his life so there was nobody to fool. Except himself that is. And why not just be honest with one’s self? About six months ago, he thought to make an effort to stop drinking. He went for a week. He felt good; he felt rested. Nevertheless something was missing. He lived in a single room. He had a shit job for minimum wage. He had no education, no opportunities and no money. There was little or no chance of getting out of this particular situation as to do so would require some sort of herculean effort. What was the point of not taking a drink? He couldn’t think of one so he went and bought his usual bottle of wine. He remembered sitting in his room and feeling this wonderful warmth spread through his body. There was a certain elation as if he had come home or at least come to some great place. He felt good, really, really good. There was no sense of loss; there was no sense of failure. There was definitely no sense of something lacking in his life or that he wasn’t doing something he should have been doing. There was no guilt, no shame about yesterday. There was merely the idea of now and at that moment now felt pretty damn good. Yes, Neal could recognise the absurdity of everything that had happened to him but oh that feeling the booze gave him made all the bad he had suffered just shrink to an insignificant pin prick. Now who the hell wouldn’t want to feel like that?

Neal walked to the sink. He unzipped and peed into it. When you lived in a single room and you were obliged to walk down the hall to a communal bathroom which sometimes required a cleaning before you could use it, you got inventive. Maybe it was laziness but peeing in the sink was a better option that leaving the room. Oh what would the neighbours think? Neal was a pig? Then again, who wouldn’t do the same if they were in the same position? It wasn’t laziness; it was just being practical.

The clock said ten fifty. Neal stripped off his clothes, wrapped himself in a towel and slipped on his slippers. He picked up a bar of soap and a can of Lysol and went back to the bathroom. He sprayed the tub with Lysol. Since everybody on the floor was using the tub, he thought it was a good idea to disinfect it before stepping into it. Would he avoid anything bad like athlete’s foot? Maybe, maybe not. If anything, it made him feel more comfortable stepping into a tub that was being used by strangers.

Neal finished his shower, towelled off and went back to his room. Ah, nothing like a shower to ease the pain of a hangover. God he had felt so grubby. Yeah, waking up on the floor was in itself pretty grubby but spending all that time in his clothes? A shower made him feel half human again. He still felt like shit but he now felt as though he was going to be able to make it. He was going to get through his shift. He was going to get through the next couple of hours when he knew he was going to feel his worst.

He got dressed. His last piece of clothing was his company jacket. You know you’ve arrived when you wear a jacket with your name sewn on the front. Okay, that was an arrogant thing to think. Neal had hoped to achieve greater things in life but ended up at the bottom of the barrel. Instead of succeeding like your average person, he had attempted the impossible and bombed royally. What folly. What idiocy. Thank God for liquor. At least he had found a way of dealing with his mess. Yeah, some may say not the best way but until the next brilliant solution came to mind, this would fit the bill quite nicely thank you very much.

Neal checked his wallet. Good, he still have fifty bucks cash so he had more than enough for his usual sub sandwich at the beginning of his shift. Plus he could visit the grocery store in the morning for something and while he hadn’t made a decision yet one way or another, he did have enough to buy something at the liquor store. Ha, he had just gone on a bender, blacked out and spent seven or eight hours unconscious on the floor and already he was planning his next trip to the bottle. Shouldn’t one be philosophical or something? Don’t they say you should always get right back up on the horse? Yep, if a bottle throws you for a loop, heck, just go get another one. They all can’t throw you to the ground, er, to the floor. Neal looked at the mickey of liquor. It looked like there was still a shot of liquor left. He poured it into a glass and held it up to the light. Yep, there was less than a mouthful. He turned on the tap and put in a little water. Neal gulped down the liquor. Would that be enough for a hair of a dog? He thought it wouldn’t hurt.

Neal turned out the light and opened the door. It was eleven twenty. In twelve hours, he should be well into a bottle of wine and feeling pretty good. Even a lousy job was easy to put up with if you knew there was a prize waiting for you at the end of the line. Life goes on. Maybe not the best of lives, but for the moment, it was all Neal had.

Click HERE to read more from William Belle

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