I woke with a stabbing in my head, a churning in my guts, and, as usual, you beside me. I opened my eyes and the glare from the TV burned sharply into my retinas, so I closed them again. I could hear the newsreader’s voice. “The time is ten minutes to nine on Wednesday morning.”
You jabbed me in the ribs. “You were some state last night.”
“Are you still here?” I snapped back.
You chuckled smugly. I turned over, feeling the damp of the sheets against me. I must have sweated out all the wine in the night. I tried to drift back off to the safety of sleep, but you wouldn’t keep quiet. “You need to sort your life out. I’m serious.”
“You’re the one who made me drink.”
“If I told you to jump off a cliff, would you?”
Yes, I thought to myself, I probably would, but I said nothing.
“You need to sort your life out.”
“Some other time. Let me sleep.”
“It’s late, get up.”
“It’s my day off. Shut up and let me enjoy it.”
“Fine, be a lazy bastard.”
I tried to sleep but it was too late. You had riled me, got under my skin again, and I couldn’t relax. Eventually I gave up, and sat up in the bed. You just lay there next to me, staring at the TV, watching some awful-sounding news report. I tried to roll out of bed but your body was in the way, heavy and unmoving. I had to climb across you, my hungover head spinning, my limbs weak and shaking, and as I was almost free from the bed, I felt your cold hand grip my arm.
“Come back to bed.”
Not this again. “I have to get up. You just said so.”
“Why? There’s no reason.”
“I have things I want to do.”
“There’s no point.”
With great effort I wrenched my arm free from your grasp, for now. Once again I wondered where things went wrong, what I did to get stuck with you.
I trudged downstairs and into the kitchen, zombie-like, the sunlight from outside mocking me with its brightness. As I put the kettle on, I heard your footsteps on the stairs, advancing closer and closer. Soon enough you were in the room. “You look like shit today.”
“You sound surprised.”
You just laughed again, that irritating chortle. As I drank my coffee and forced down a single piece of buttered toast, I did my best to ignore your incessant talking, the constant background noise of my day. I turned to you and sighed. “Don’t you ever get tired?”
As I showered, the warm water distracted me for a short while, clearing some of the weary haze from my head. I dressed myself in the bedroom, but with each item of clothing I tried on I could see you behind me in the mirror, sitting on the bed and looking at me with disapproval. After a while, you came and stood behind me, your head over my shoulder. “Is that what you’re wearing out?”
“Is that a problem?”
“Wear whatever you want. I just think you should make more of an effort, that’s all.”
“I’m only going to the shop.”
“People will laugh at you.”
“So what’s new?”
You laughed again.
I went to the shop but you followed me, as you were prone to do. I put my earphones in as we walked and listened to some music to drown out your chatter. For a glorious while, I forgot you were there, that I ever met you in the first place, but by the time we had finished the shopping and got back to the house, I was drained of energy. I decided that today was the final straw: you had to go. But how do I get rid of you?
I had a dinner party to go to that evening. I put on a smart shirt, combed my hair, put on a splash of aftershave. As I opened the door to leave, I heard your voice behind me.
“Where are you going?”
“To see some friends.”
“You don’t have any friends.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I know exactly what I’m talking about. They’re not your friends. They don’t even like you.”
“Shut up. I don’t have time for this.” I started to leave, but you came up behind me and grabbed my arm again and turned me around to face you.
“Listen to me. I’m telling you this for your own good. They don’t like you. They only invite you because they feel sorry for you.”
“You don’t even know my friends.”
“I know you.”
You had both of my arms then, and I was trapped. You had always been deceptively strong. “Leave me alone. I’m going out now, and you’re not invited. I don’t want to see you tonight.”
You reached out an arm and slammed the front door shut, then span me around into the hallway and gave me a powerful shove, sending me sprawling onto the carpet. There was fury and desperation in your eyes. “You don’t have a choice. You’re staying here with me.”
The light from the porch framed you, your figure suddenly imposing. You looked down at me with disgust. “Why are you dressed up so much? Are you trying to impress someone, is that it?”
“Fuck you. Let me out.”
Your red rage turned into a cruel smirk. “You are. I knew it. Well don’t even bother trying. No-one else would want you anyway. I’m the only one that will have you.”
I climbed to my feet, and tried to summon up the courage to push past you and flee out into the night, but a chill crept across my skin and I started to shake. I turned away from you and walked away. I heard you howl with laughter.
“Oh my God! I can’t believe you! I tell you to do something and you just do it! You don’t even stand up for yourself. What kind of a man are you? You’re pathetic!”
I stopped in my tracks. You were right. Why should I listen to you? I strode towards the door, and for a moment I saw a flash of fear on your face, and I reached out to push you aside, but you were too quick for me. I felt your fist collide with my jaw, and the floor hit me from behind. You loomed over me, hatred in your eyes. You stooped down and stared into my soul. “You’re nothing.”
That night, before I went to bed, I looked in the mirror. Once again, there was no bruise, no black eye, no mark for anyone to see. You were behind me, watching, always watching. I unscrewed the lid from my medicine bottle. You laughed again. “Take all the pills you want. I’m not going anywhere.”
I was too tired to argue with you. I swallowed my tablet with a swig of cheap supermarket vodka, straight from the bottle. I climbed into bed next to you, the bottle still in my hand. You put your arm around me and held me tight. “Just a little nightcap?” you asked.
“Just a little nightcap.”
I took a long swig from the bottle, just the amount for me to ignore you enough to fall asleep. I reached for the lamp and turned out the light. The last thing I heard that night was your voice, echoing around inside my head.
“See you in the morning.”