Henry’s head is pounding so hard he’s worried his eyes are going to start bleeding. It’s the kind of pain that disorients him so much that he can hardly tell up from down. He tries to prise open an eye, but that does not go well. He throws himself back onto the pillow and tries to think.
Pillow. A good sign. He made it to bed at least. And before that? He remembers laughing in the pub. Vodka shots, a pretty girl. A phone number scribbled on a serviette. He remembers a brief jolting taxi ride and trying not to vomit, but vomiting anyway out of the open window. The splatter of sick down the cab door. He grins.
He remembers how the keyhole kept moving when he tried to push the key in and how the door eventually clattered open. He remembered the very real terror of realising that he might wake old Mrs Bagshaw and be dragged inside for a cup of hellbrew with his ancient landlady. This must be avoided at all costs.
He tiptoed slowly, swaying and swallowing, carefully avoiding the creaky third step that had betrayed him so often in the past. Four steps to go now. Two, one. And he had made it. Victory!
He inched his way past her door. Just five more paces to his own door, the goal was in sight. He thought of his bed and ached for it.
Was that it? It didn’t feel like it. Was there more? Ye-e-es…
Just as he’d thought he’d made it, he’d heard the familiar rattle of Mrs Bagshaw’s front door. Fuck. The landing had filled with orange light, the smell of cat piss, and the long, crooked silhouette of his landlady. There was no escape.
He’d been ushered inside to a violently orange and purple sofa and found a large glass of creme de menthe in his hand. The smell in the room is incredible; a mixture of too many cats and boiled cabbage and dirty linen. And something sweeter, more sickly and cloying that he couldn’t place.
She was talking to him in that gravelly workman’s voice of hers, showing him photos and smoking fag after fag after fag, the front of her terrycloth robe slowly slipping further and further open as she talked to reveal yellowing lacy underthings and grey flesh.
That’s when his memory cut out completely. The next thing he knows he’s sick as a dog and wishing for death. Light seeps in through the cracks of Henry’s eyes, though it’s too bright for him to make out anything distinctive. How had he gotten out of there? How had he managed to drag his wretched, inebriated carcass back to his own flat, his own bed? He deserved a medal.
But even as he wonders this, a sickening sensation blossoms in the pit of his agonised guts and he suddenly realises that he is surrounded by a strong and very distinctive smell, something sickly that he can almost taste. A grope under the bedclothes reveals that he is stark bollock naked. Horror now, panic and nausea. Henry sits bolt upright and forces his eyes to open to the blinding pain and the strains of a gravelly voice singing tunelessly drifts in, just as the kettle begins to whistle.