One afternoon we all marched across Regents Circus to a wine bar between two amusement arcades. I had never seen the inside of a wine bar before but there we were, and just for today I could hold court in a comfortable bodega corner in a meaningless English small town, bullshitting away to my heart’s content and outlining these fantasies as reality, not thinking for a minute that anyone could possibly disbelieve my sincerity or my capabilities just so long as I kept on talking. A wine bar, it turned out, was really quite perfect for a farewell soiree. The booze was flowing freely, and when I looked at my watch I saw that it was almost a quarter to five. I made to stand up but my legs were not in agreement with my brain and after three attempts to lever myself upright I took a break from my exertions.
I couldn’t stand up straight but I could feel my bowels beginning to move around themselves like a nest of vipers. I attempted to use my elbows to force myself into a standing position. I was almost halfway there when I heard a guttural wail coming up at me from beneath the floorboards, and as I looked around I noticed that all of the eyes of the amateur imbibers were on me and me only. Why were they all staring at me? I began to open my mouth to set them straight, but when I started to do so I immediately noticed that my mouth was already hanging open and leaking drool, and that I was crying profusely. Instinctively, I flung my left arm around Penfold’s shoulders and leant into him. I managed to croak into his ear, “the bogs, the bogs”. He seemed to understand what I was getting at because he was kicking some recently vacated bar stools aside, whilst Tracey dragged a fashionable coffee table from our path, and then we were halfway across the bar floor and toward the stairs that led to the chromium plated lavatories below us. By the time that we got there I had acquired Ian Leighton on my other side, muttering words of comfort along the lines of “Tedski man, don’t panic, don’t panic, code red is over Tedski, we’ve got ya, we’ve gotcha man”. I remember treading air above the stairs themselves just before a greeny-orange mist descended, and then all of the darkness was with me. Somebody must have put something in my drink.
When I came to everything was still spinning slightly and I was on my side, foetal position engaged, on the floor of one of the restroom cubicles: I was half in and half out of it, so to speak, and Lynne was leaning over me. My combat trousers were around my ankles, my pants had disappeared and she was mopping at my rectum with a wad of soggy paper, cradling my forehead in her bosom. As she ran her fingers through my greasy hair I noticed that she wasn’t wearing a bra. She sniffed, cleared her throat, and tossed the slimy wad of used bogroll into the pan. Plop! Then she leaned across me to flush the toilet and gather another handful of paper, which she immediately dipped into the bog and began wiping around my anus afresh. I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced this, but it’s a really loving thing to do. I felt like a cross between a patient on a cancer ward and a newborn baby, totally helpless, but completely held and cared for, and it wasn’t something that I had ever felt before. She sniffed again and I managed to open my eyes enough to notice that she had been crying. My eyes stung and my throat was dry and sore, and the space behind my forehead was banging. I tried to say something but I found that I couldn’t, and Lynne immediately put her finger to her lips to quiet me up, and then she began to whisper something instead.
“Don’t say anything, Ted” she told me. “Just lie there, please, just try to just be for a moment. I’m so glad that you’re back, I had this idea that you were gone forever. You were ranting and raving and threatening, you were marching up and down, kicking in the doors and shouting, banging your head against the walls, and I thought that the manager was going to come down with his heavies and throw us all out properly. Then you just sort of collapsed. It took me ages to get your trousers cleaned up. I managed to kind of towel-dry them with lots of loo roll. Your pants were finished though, they had to go.” She made a hand gesture that must have been the international sign language for somebody pulling a toilet flush, whilst pinching her nose shut with her other hand and smiling. I liked that.
Again I tried to speak but my lips felt cracked, as though I had been walking through the desert for a week. Lynne put her finger to her lips again and went on.
“It was like an incident of demonic possession. One moment you were raving, really spewing bile and poison and speaking in tongues, and your eyes were completely blank and rolling back up into your head like one of those stupid toy dolls.” I didn’t know what she was talking about now but I let her go on, because I knew that she would make sense again eventually; because she always did, I thought to myself in my new dreamy hyper-reality. Everything was extremely calm and quiet in there and even my headache was beginning to fade.
“Do you think that you could manage to stand?” she asked as I zoned back into the moment. The walls breathed in and out for a second and I shook my head rapidly from side to side. My brain rattled about in its pod, clackety-clack, and then I was OK. “Well, I can try” I told her. I rolled slowly over onto my ass and hunched myself forward, reached for my breeks, slid their dampness up over my knees. My stomach cramped slightly and it made a little noise and Lynne caught my eye, smiled, beautifully concerned, and then it was gone and I was up on my heels and fastening the buttons. As she edged out of the cubicle I grabbed a hold of her hand and I squeezed it and she squeezed back. Then we made our way through the dull metal and porcelain of the empty space of the washroom, back toward the staircase.
When we got to the top of the stairs and into the bar there was sound again and then a sudden hush, like in that film about the werewolf, and the bar manager came out from behind his bar and he folded his arms and he stared at us. I looked past him and at the staff, three of them standing close to the till in their uniform turquoise polo shirts like slightly out of condition personal trainers from a downmarket gym, and they were frozen in the moment, two of them clutching a handful of change, and it was pretty clear that it was time for us to leave. Then he said into the silence, “just get out, all of you, and never come back here. You’re disgusting, you’re animals and you’re all barred!” I actually physically flinched at that. He was obviously playing to the galley, and speaking in a mockney accent that was before its time, although cardboard cockneys were ten a penny in Swindon all the time that I lived there. But that was Swindon in a nutshell. A small place where mediocrities could act out their impotent power fantasies, a cattle market town for hill-dwelling smock-wearing pig fuckers. I took a step toward him but Lynne gave my chest a gentle shove and I realised that I was done. Done for the night, and done with this whole damned place.
I slept better that night than I had for quite a while; partly it was the early night, and the cool air on the short walk home, but mostly it was the pure loving kindness that Lynne had shown me in that deserted subterranean bathroom – a pub toilet – while she cleaned me up and whispered soothing things into my sleeping ears and didn’t care what would happen had somebody walked in on us. When I woke the sun was streaming into the room around the tattered edges of the dirty pink blanket draped across the window, and it was 8:15 and a beautiful day. I didn’t feel sick and I didn’t have to go to work either. I crawled from under the sticky sheets and I made my way down the stairs through the languid flies for the instant coffee.