‘To be honest’, he says, ‘I really can’t remember getting home last night ‘.
And there he is, standing in the doorway of my flat, and he’s saying this with what almost amounts to a hint of jubilation in his voice. It’s New Year’s Day. And he obviously did get home last night.
‘Didn’t your brother give you a lift?’
‘He might have done, yeah, but . . . You know, I’m never drinking again. Well, not for a bit. Time for a dry January’.
It’s four in the afternoon and he’s obviously just got up.
‘I must have had a bad pint or something’.
‘There’s no such thing as a bad pint. It’s just an urban myth’.
‘Mum used to say all the time, whenever I got like this, that it’s a bad pint. That’s what does it. Ask anyone’.
‘It’s a euphemism’.
‘A new what?’
‘They should get Health and Safety to look into these breweries. All these bad pints. Oh, my head!’
He comes in and sits down in my armchair.
‘Ohhh, I think I’m going to be . .’.
I hold the waste paper bin under his nose.
‘It’s ok’, he says. ‘I’ve swallowed it’.
I look at him, sitting there. He’s wearing his t-shirt and shorts, the clothes that he wears when he’s in bed. At least he had time to change out of the clothes that he had been wearing. I look at him, with his features that look like the face of a teenager has been grafted on to the frame of a sixty year old.
‘Can you remember midnight?’ I ask.
‘The fireworks woke me up’.
‘You were asleep?’
‘Jeez. You’re such a party animal’.
‘But you had a good time, though?’
‘I can’t remember’.
I look out of the window. It was a mild, overcast afternoon. I can see people walking past to the park at the end of the street. I live in the ground floor flat directly beneath his. I knew that he was asleep because I couldn’t hear him moving around. I couldn’t hear his television, either.
‘Do you want something to eat?’
He puts his hand right over his eyes.
‘Never drinking again. Too many bad pints’.
His brother also lives in the same building. When the fireworks had started at midnight, his brother had gone outside and started up his car, and then he had just sat there for a bit, watching the fireworks from behind his windscreen. His rear brake lights had lit up my flat an otherworldly red as the new year came in. I must have gone back to sleep just after he had driven away.
‘I think maybe it might be a good idea for you to go off the booze for a little while’, I say to him.
‘I told you! It was a bad pint! And anyway, I’m doing the dry January thing. Not that I need it. Don’t you listen?’
‘I know, but you’re never serious about these things’.
‘Bucket’, he says.
I reach for the waste paper bin again.
His mother had thought we were lovers. I’ve never told him this, because I knew he’d go off on one. And when I’d told her that we weren’t, at the time that she was seriously ill and only a few days away from dying, she had told me that I should look after him. Make sure that he was okay. And I’d said, yes, I will. And that’s why I’d had been relieved, the night before at midnight, when I’d heard his brother get in the car at midnight.
‘I was thinking of going for a walk’, I say.
He clamps his hand right over his eyes, tightly.
‘Work, tomorrow’, I whisper.
‘I know’, he says. ‘Bad pint . . .’.
He gets up and shuffles towards the door.
‘Let me know if you need any food’, I tell him.
‘Yeah’, he says.
‘Yeah, you do, or yeah, you don’t?’
And then he’s gone, and it’s a happy new year, and the kids are going past on their bicycles and skateboards to the park at the end of the road, and the sun is already beginning to set, and his brothers car is still there where he’s parked if the night before, after he had brought him home.