© BM 2008
Chapter Eighteen – Episode 27
The invitations began coming in, from Neil and Julie, from Kate and from Richard up there in Yorkshire and from his relatives in Wales. Usually he did not accept, and when he did he knew that he was bad company, and couldn’t wait to get away again. He went to Wales once, and, with his brother and some friends, hiked over the Welsh hills in rain so heavy that they were all soaked to the skin.
“You know what, mate,” his brother informed him, standing on a gray slate hillside, staring at a gray slate landscape, “you are a miserable fucker.” And Alex knew that he was right. He shrugged, unable to justify himself, or to explain, and tramped on in the rain, his thoughts as bleak as the weather. After a few minutes, he turned to face his brother, rain streaming down their faces. “What would you know, mate? You support Manchester City.” It was not quite instant repartee.
The drinking continued. He obtained Francesca’s address and phone number in Sussex from a mutual friend, and tried phoning her. She screamed at him, and he did not try again. He wrote, sent Christmas and birthday cards and gifts, all of which she simply did not acknowledge. He suggested they talk, that they try to find some way out of their problems, anything but this emptiness. One day, however, to his surprise and pleasure, she phoned him, and suggested that they meet at the Little Chef in Dorking.
He waited for her, beard trimmed neatly, and smelling clean, dressed casually in jeans and a sweatshirt. She was late, as usual, and as she got out of her car, a Fiat of some description, he tried to hug her, but she shrugged him off. He ordered two teas, and before they had arrived, she spoke.
“I just wanted to tell you that it is all over. I will not change my mind, and I hate you more and more each day.” She got up and left. He never saw her again.
He drank to forget, to deaden his feelings, to calm his fears, but it didn’t work. One morning he awoke in bed to find that he had vomited all over the sheets and pillowcases. He had been so drunk that he had not even been aware of it. He could have choked to death. The thought sent him off on another dangerous tack. Maybe that wouldn’t be so bad. He lay among the soiled bedclothes and wept again, this time disgust and self loathing mingled with grief and pain.
The experience decided Alex, he had now been on the booze for six months, and was becoming dependent on it. He stopped drinking, totally and completely. A new set of demons appeared. Without the alcohol, he was deprived of what little assistance he had had previously in sleeping, and he lay awake night after night. Inevitably his mood and his health both deteriorated, increasing his depression. He developed a tooth abscess, which needed several visits to the dentist, all of which came to naught. In Copenhagen, on an assignment, the infection returned, and he spent two pain filled days, and two more sleepless nights before seeking a Danish dentist. The dentist was a charming, attractive and very competent female professional, who drilled into the offending tooth to relieve the pressure.
“My goodness, Mr. Millar,” she said in astonishment, “the poison is erupting like Mount Vesuvius. You must have been in a great deal of pain.”
Alex thought to himself. “You have a great talent for stating the bleeding obvious, love.” Instead he smiled, as best he could, with his mouth full of all kinds of medieval torture instruments, and nodded in agreement.
The Danish dentistry was but a pause in the problem, and shortly after returning to England, he had the offending tooth, and its next door neighbour removed. He was immensely depressed by this event, seeing in it his own mortality. For weeks, before having a small plate fitted, his tongue sought out the holes in his gums.
Increasingly Alex could see no purpose in life, at least, not his life. It seemed to him that the world was full of couples, or families, and he began to feel intrusive in their company. So he kept away, causing pain to his family, especially Kate. Richard, who had been down that road himself at one time, seemed to accept his father’s moods, and simply settled for a couple of beers and a chat about football, when they met. They both supported Manchester United, so continuing a Millar family tradition. Alex’s last conversation with his own father, on his deathbed, had been about Manchester United.
The lack of sleep, the problems with his teeth, the failure to eat properly all had their effect, and eventually Alex went to see his doctor, a former RAF medical officer.
“Major, good morning. What can I do for you?” It was the doctor’s usual ebullient method of greeting Alex, who, despite himself, smiled. He touched an imaginary cap with the fingers of his right hand, in mock salute.
“Morning, Squadron Leader.”
“And what is your problem today, Alex?”
“Woman trouble, I’m afraid, Doc.”
“The fucking bitches! Why do we bother with them?”
It was a rhetorical question, for which Alex was grateful, as he was unable to provide a sound answer at that time. The medical solution was to provide sleeping tablets in the form of Temazipan, and anti depressants in the shape of Prozac. It turned out to be a savage mixture.
Alex remained on this cocktail for twelve months, and his moods became darker and bleaker. He had contemplated suicide before, but now the idea came almost every day, in all forms, and some of them seemingly attractive. On one of the few occasions that he visited Julie and Neil, his blackness of spirit caused Neil to be worried about his friend, and Julie to be almost distraught.
“Life must go on, Alex.” Julie was at her brightest.
“Because it must.”
“No, it mustn’t.”
“Alex, we all have only one life, and we have to make the most of it.”
“And whose life is it you’re talking about, Julie?”
“My life, your life, anybody’s life.”
“So, you are including my life?”
“So, it is my life. To do with what I want?”
She floundered. “Alex you will get over this.”
“It has been over a year, and I haven’t got over it yet.”
“It’s still very early, you will.”
“And perhaps I won’t. It is my life, and I am not enjoying it much.”
“It will improve, I promise you, Alex. I do understand how you feel.”
He sat upright, anger in his voice. “You do not understand how I feel. You do not! How can you? You have been married to the same man for thirty years. How can you know how I feel?”
“Now, look, Alex”
He interrupted her. “If I had cancer, and it was terminal, and my quality of life was destroyed, would you argue with me if I said I wanted to top myself? No, you wouldn’t. There is no difference. The quality of my life is zero, and I do not see it improving. Why shouldn’t I kill myself if I want to? It is my bloody life, after all. You agreed on that.”
She looked at him, pain and dismay etched into her caring features.
Neil spoke for the first time. “I’ll make a cup of coffee, then.” He stopped on the way to the kitchen. “If you do decide to cut your throat, Alex, do it at your own place. I have just bought this carpet.”
The problem did not go away. On the contrary, it grew more persistent. He knew, in his rational mind, that suicide was not really an option, but his rational mind was not always in control. His emotional mind was in control, and it was passing out very different kinds of messages. He missed Francesca like he had never imagined he would. Thoughts of her filled most of his waking moments, and quite a few of his sleeping ones as well. His sleep patterns were wildly disturbed by dreams, none of them pleasant dreams. The mixture of tablets he was taking did very little to assist. The sleeping tablets did have the effect of knocking him out, for two or three hours, and then he was wide awake again, and any sleep after that was broken and strewn with alarming dreams.
The Prozac had the effect of slowing him down, physically as well as emotionally, and of dulling his ability to think. In his own mind, he was like a zombie, walking around, only half-alive, and a quarter awake. He was experiencing the worst of all worlds; he was still not achieving any worthwhile sleep, and during the day he stumbled around like a dullard. Worst of all, the thoughts about killing himself kept on returning, like a swirling wind which never ceased, just eased a little now and then. He stopped taking the Temazapan, but did not tell his doctor, who kept on prescribing them. It made no difference to his sleep, it was still bad. Soon he had a collection of fifty-six of the little white tablets, and he wondered how many it would take. Would fifty six do the job, or would it make him very ill? Worse still, would it give him brain damage, but not kill him. He had two little brown bottles of the dammed things now. Sometimes he poured them all out onto the kitchen table, and just looked at them. He tried to weigh up what he had and what he might have in the future. He always backed away, deciding to write to her, or send a card, usually with a lion or a deer on it. The tablets went back into the bottles. He wondered if he had the balls to take his own life.
Lots of other ideas occurred to him. Standing at the railway station one morning on his way to work, he listened as the public address system announced, “Stand well clear of Platform Four. Fast train approaching. Stand clear.”
He watched as the train thundered through the suburban station, rattling the windows in the waiting room, scattering the newspapers of the unwary, and blowing their hair over people’s eyes.
“What was that?” he asked a stout railway man standing next to him on the platform.
The man consulted his pocket watch, taking it out in an important, showy way. “That was the 8.13, from Horsham, sir. Fast train to Victoria.”
“Daily service, is it?”
“Yes, every weekday, sir. She doesn’t run at weekends. They’re all stoppers at weekends.”
“It would make a mess of you if you fell in front of it.”
“It surely would, sir. But please don’t do it on my station if you’re thinking about it. The paperwork is endless.” He laughed, and clapped Alex on the shoulder.
Alex grinned weakly, feeling suddenly foolish. “All right, then, the next station along.”
By one of those strange coincidences which life throws at people from time to time, he was returning from London a couple of evenings later when he was put off using Connex South East as a means of escape. He was idly looking at the easy crossword in the Daily Telegraph, and wondering why someone who made a living from words could not assemble enough of them to complete the damm thing in twenty-eight to thirty two minutes. The train stopped at a station two or three short of his own. A fattish man, a little older than Alex, who had been sitting opposite him, swaying slightly from time to time, and smelling of alcohol, heaved himself up and went to leave the train. Alex looked up as he passed, and smiled briefly, in response to his beery “Excuse me.”
As the man left the carriage, he disappeared from view and screamed. Alex got up and went to the open door. There was a wide gap between the carriage and the platform, and the drunken one had managed to fall down on to the track. He had seemed too fat to slip through that gap, but he had. Alex reached up and operated the emergency signal, and jumped off the train. Within seconds, the driver and the guard had run from their respective ends of the train, and several other passengers had joined him. They peered down through what now seemed to be a ridiculously small gap at the man laying still on the gravelly track, his arm across the metal train track.
The guard was the quickest to react. “Dick,” he instructed the driver, “go and switch off the power to this line. He turned to the others. “Anyone with a mobile?”
One young man said he had a mobile.
“Right,” said the guard, “phone for an ambulance, and for the police.” He turned to the others. “Right, lads, let’s see if we can get chummy out of this.”
It was done. It was not easy and it was not quick. A young woman, very slim and very lithe, volunteered to get down on to the platform to tend the injured man, who was beginning to stir.
“Turn around, boys,” she instructed her fellow rescuers, “I have just bought this skirt and I do not intend to have it ruined.” She whipped off her skirt, and stripped down to her knickers, before slithering down on to the track. The police and ambulance arrived, and very gently, very carefully, Eric, or so he said, was manoeuvred along the track to a gap between the carriages and lifted onto the platform. All the while he kept apologizing for making his fellow passengers late in getting home.
Eric had a broken arm and a fractured nose, as well as sundry cuts and bruises, and was still apologizing as he was lifted into the ambulance. He had now realized that he had even picked the wrong station, in his alcoholic confusion. Alex watched admiringly as Myra donned her skirt again and dusted herself down.
Mentally he crossed Connex South East off his list. If he was going to meet a young woman in her knickers, he preferred to be alive at the time.
His health continued to give Alex problems. In addition to his inability to sleep properly, and his ongoing dental problems, he developed infections of the bladder and liver, which made him get up three or four times a night to visit the toilet. He caught a cold, which lasted for weeks, and all of these ailments dragged him further and further down. He knew what his major problem was. It was Francesca, and the pain of missing here was always with him. The pain seemed to have a physical, almost tangible element to it, as if he could reach out each morning and touch it, like his swollen, abscessed mouth. It was like a growing cancer, outside his body, with a life of his own. It was coupled with a sense of his own responsibility for their break up. He could have handled the whole thing differently. Others pointed out that Francesca, too, could have handled things differently, but he was not in the mood to try to deflect the blame away from himself.
And still the feeling of failure, of uselessness never left him. He realized that he was not helping himself at all, and the advice of friends to climb out of the pit was well intentioned, but impossible to do. He played a lot of music, mostly by Sinatra, at his most melancholy brilliant, and usually it reduced him to tears. He had a great sense of his own inadequacy. He had failed with Anne, had failed with Charlie, and now, most importantly, he had failed with Daina.
Several times he paused in crossing Waterloo Bridge, or while waiting for the Tube in Holborn, but always dismissed the thought. He knew that he did not have the balls. He finally decided that the Prozac was not doing him any good, and stopped taking them. He told the doctor that he was no longer feeling suicidal, but he lied.
Julie, who never gave up on him, and Kate, arranged dinners or parties where there were other women, but Alex was not ready. In his own mind he would never be ready. His entire horizon was still filled by Francesca, and in his own mind, it would always be so. His first thought in the morning was of her, as was his last thought at night. He could not imagine she thought about him, at all, or was suffering in this way. Not being loved in return was not a barrier to loving another human being.
About a year after their split, he had bought his long desired Jaguar, not a new car, as he could not afford that. It was a 1990 XJS coupe, and he found immense pleasure in it. It did not fill the gap in his life. He believed that he knew how his father had felt when his mother had died. He had lost the will to live, and nothing could give it back to him. Dad had been almost happy to die two years after his beloved mate. Alex had not understood his father wanting to die, or more properly, not wanting to continue living. He understood now.
He went on holiday, to lie in the Croatian sun, and to eat and drink. The resort was full of couples, mostly male and female, but sometimes male and male, or female and female. He was very conscious of his singleness, and felt like some kind of pervert. He resolved not to do it again. He had become a solitary man, falling back increasingly on himself. He did not care too much for his own company, but preferred it to other people’s.
He renewed his interest in cricket, and joined Surrey County Cricket Club as a member. He spent a couple of days at both the Oval and at Lords during the Test Matches. In a desultory way he took up photography, and spent time at evening classes. He decided to improve his French, and signed up to more classes. None of these forced interests, or the Jaguar, lifted the depression which was a feature of his life. He knew now, with gathering certainty, that Francesca had been the major love of that life, and would remain so until he died. She had been the central core of his life, around which all the other parts of that life turned. Without her, the support structures did not work. He likened it to a wheel, with Francesca as the central hub, and all the others as spokes. Without the hub, the spokes had no purpose, nothing to support, and did not work. His relatives and friends did not want to listen to Alex’s tales of woe any more, so he stopped telling them, driving him further into himself.
Chapter 18 – Episode 28 – Part 3 Soon