Consider the ‘philosophy of freedom’.
Which consists in being aware
that a choice made now, today,
projects itself backwards
and changes our past actions.
He rides the coach toward
his father’s alcohol.
He twitches and bleeds
like a mangled insect.
The bus is an imperilled submarine
maintaining radio silence.
Perhaps one wee green light
nipples the dashboard.
Pouring past outside,
a long black nowhere nothing.
Pouring past outside,
ton upon inky, analgesic ton
of time bought, of reckoning postponed.
In the early days of my sobriety, I made an intriguing discovery: if I simply pretended I’d downed a double gin, I could almost feel its sedative effects.
Abstinent for more than fifteen years, I’ve forgotten the magic of alcohol, forgotten its heat and radiance, forgotten why I followed its smoke-blackened banner for two long decades, my fealty unalloyed. Forgotten too my own capacity for exuberance. Forgotten how engrossing, HOW ABSORBINGLY INTERESTING IT IS TO BE DRUNK!
I was once a guest of the Salvation Army. They ran a camp for inebriates in the Akatarawa Valley.
A courtly old piss-artist and Faulkner look-alike, Joe used a tortoiseshell cigarette-holder. ‘I’d buy a case of whisky and send my wife to her sister’s. An understanding woman, my dear Cath.’
Logging trucks and misty stands of pine. Jehovah in the amber beams of noon.
Tania chewed her nails, admitting to nothing. ‘I miss my children. I don’t know what I’m doing here and I miss my children.’
His brain had been irradiated, seared.
The morning after. And the room in which he found himself was as cold as a quay, a bus stop. He lay on a couch in an unfamiliar room and tried to keep his mind at a semi-submerged level. Tried to maintain a negative buoyancy.
Odours of sebum and dust. The couch’s fabric had a bummy, sebaceous smell. His brain had been exposed to some bleaching flash, some obliterating power surge, but the tepid consciousness of a doomed mountaineeer was all he’d need today.
He heard a scritchy sleet paw a window. Grey grey grey. Cold cold cold. His dimly remembered ‘hostess’ was staying in bed, thank God. But he’d failed to hide a bottle and all the pubs were shut.
Sunday. The obdurate fact of it. A grey smeary fate he feared and hated. Each hour of which was itself a little Sunday — or even a Good Friday. For dolorous and bleak would surely be the stages by which his need for a drink would grow, becoming ever more shrill and urgent, ever more direly biochemical.
His brain had been washed by some obliterating flash. He knew himself to have been cancelled, deleted, rendered white. A Sunday in the very trough, the deepest pit of winter, and he knew himself to be incapable of his usual hustle.
There’d be no fix today. No medicine. He was all out of schemes and all out of fight. He was all out of fight and all out of options.
Geoff Cochrane lives in Wellington. 84 - 484, his sixth book of verse from Victoria University Press, will be published in July. He has also written novels and short stories.
Cochrane comments: ‘An alcoholic worries. An alcoholic frets, and not without good reason. Tomorrow morning’s alcohol is vital: without it, he’ll begin to die. Particularly if tomorrow is a Sunday in the 1970’s, with the pubs and bottle-stores shut up like tombs.
‘An inebriate’s life has importance. Importance, moment, weight — these words apply. And he himself embodies and enacts a kind of probity. Panics and emergencies beset him: he’s always having to encompass damage, rise to fraught occasions, put out lurid fires. And he tires of this, he tires. Tires of the responsibility of being an addict! Not that he’s ready yet to lower his sooty tatter of a flag.’