Never Again by Kate Maxwell

You know either you or your household vermin have a drinking problem when your first waking sight and smell is the almost empty wine glass on the bedside table. You stare at the fat, drunk cockroach, belly up, in the crimson sediment debris. There’s half a salami sandwich next to the glass. Stench of stale red wine, luncheon meat, and cigarette smoke, triggers your gag reflex as you lie still and wait for stomach acids to settle. Then you run a nervous palm across the other half of the double bed. Just in case. Oh, thank God. It’s empty.

Underwear, shoes, pants, and a blue silky garment you can’t recognize, are scattered across the room. You raise up to elbows in slow motion. Swing your legs out gently to the floor. Maybe you got away with it. But when you stand up the room spins. Dizzy, probably still drunk, you take one tentative step after another to the bathroom. A mantra starts repeating in your head, Never again. Never again. The same words you chant every morning, after somebody asks the night before, “One more?” and you’re having a laugh, having fun, and figure one more can’t hurt. Or two. Or four.

You’re always shocked that skin turns grey so quickly. Prodding your lumpy face at the mirror, you notice the pink ribbon tied to your wrist, dragging the remnants of a burst pink balloon. Flashes of dancing, toasting champagne to the bride with a laughing blonde, a raucous best man speech, and possibly a swim in the fountain. The last bit’s blurry. It could have been a movie you’d seen.

That’s when you notice her in the reflection. She’s on the toilet. Mascara-smeared face, hair standing up in all directions, like an electrocuted raccoon. She’s shy now apparently, and holds her arms about her naked body as she raises eyebrows and a weak smile. Stupidly, you give her a little wave, glance down at your own flaccid form and catch her embarrassment. Sarah? Sharon? Susan! It’s Susan. Cousin of the bride, same freckles, and blonde hair. You vaguely remember that she’s funny and works at the bank. Surely, that can’t be right. One of those facts must be wrong. So now you’ve had the bride and the bridesmaid. Just as you’re berating yourself for the thought of collecting women like a suit of cards, you cringe at another sudden playback scene: on your knees, snot drivelling undying love for the bride while she and her mother extricate her white gauzy veil you’re trying to use as a handkerchief, from your drunken hands. Oh, Fuck.

After a few awkward laughs and fumbling apologies, you, and the cousin both decide the morning cannot be faced. There’s no use even trying to be coherent or cool. You bring two glasses of water back to the bedroom, hand her the paracetamol box, as you both lie down, groaning. She’s found her pants but no bra. Semi naked woman beside you, and you just can’t be bothered. You both sleep.

Later, while you’re waiting for the cousin’s Uber, you share a tender moment: releasing the now thoroughly inebriated roach from its glass pleasure house into the courtyard. It’s dead. No wait, it’s managed to get a few legs working and zigzags into the weeds. You can almost hear it hiccupping and muttering, Never again.

 

Kate Maxwell is yet another teacher with writing aspirations. She’s been published and awarded in Australian and International literary magazines such as Cordite, Hecate, fourW, Meniscus, Blood and Bourbon, and Fiction Kitchen Berlin. Kate’s interests include film, wine, and sleeping. Her first poetry anthology, Never Good at Maths is published with Interactive Publications, Brisbane, 2021. She can be found at kateswritingplace.com.

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