‘One day at a time, sweet Jesus. Whoever wrote that one hadn’t a clue. A day is a fuckin’ eternity.’ – Roddy Doyle, Paul Spencer
As she gazed out the window of the twentieth floor of St Mary Axe, watching the silver trickles of rain elucidate the kaleidoscope of city lights, Susanna Cromwell’s computer powered up, taking an unreasonable amount of time to initiate.
Just another day, really. For Susanna, it was just another cripplingly raw Monday morning. The alcohol had well and truly retreated from her bloodstream now, and with its departure came the waves of anxiety, the damning internal accusations and the harsh self-assessments.
Her stomach felt as though it had been bleached. Considering the cheap gin Susanna drank, it was probably not that dissimilar to bleach. Her head pounded, and every fibre of her nervous system was screaming for a drink.
Not yet, she told herself. She would at least make it to lunch, as gruelling as that four-hour saga would be. Off Sales wouldn’t be open until 10:30 anyway. Susanna had her rules. If she did not at least try to stick to what, to her, constituted as two steps shy of being a full-blown alcoholic, she could fly off the rails completely and never come back to lucidity.
Surely oblivion was preferable to how she felt right now though. She sat there, elbows on knees, cupping her face with both hands so that they would stop shaking and lost herself in a distant vacant stare as she began rethinking her approach to life.
‘Suze!’ Someone yelled out to her.
No one called her Suze. She hated being called Suze, and had made it clear to everyone in the office that it was Susanna, or Sue, and nothing short of that.
‘Well what do you know, she lives,’ the voice said. If only she had the power to immaterialise. It was Alfred Grimwade. Rising star, youngest executive of the firm, and complete dick snap. It could be said that this assessment lacked creativity, Susanna conceded. A voracious reader when she wasn’t getting drunk, (and sometimes when she was), she certainly had the ability to be eloquent when she wanted to be.
The truth was, dick snap resonated with such prominence in Susanna’s mind every time she heard Alfred’s voice that she stopped fighting the urge to give him a more thought-provoking title. She didn’t even know what a dick snap was. Something painful, she imagined.
‘Suze!’ Alfred repeated, ‘you with us? Or are you still fried from your absolutely cracking performance at office drinks on Friday night?’
A surge of heat crept over Susanna’s face. Bollocks. She would now be wearing a flash of rouge that would betray any attempt at indifference. She had forgotten all about Friday night. It had occurred to her that her weekend bender might have been a convenient way of pretending that she did not make a complete arse of herself at work drinks. She was blackout drunk, again, and whilst she was remembering it as a tame and innocent soiree, she knew that her recollection was prone to distortion. Particularly after the point where she stopped remembering.
‘Get off it, Alfie, how would you even know? You were in and out of the gents so often you’d think there was something wrong with your prostate,’ she replied.
This made Alfred noticeably uncomfortable. He stiffened, scanning the immediate area to ensure that no one important was within earshot.
Bravo, Sue. Calling out her manager’s penchant for coke was risky, but a fairly expeditious way to have the attention diverted from anything embarrassing she might have done Friday. Offence always was the best defence. She wondered if her complexion was still flushed.
Alfred leaned in closely, covering his face with the palm of his hand as he got a whiff of the potent fumes that were emanating from Susanna.
‘Listen here you little piss head,’ he muffled through his hand in a low murmur, ‘I could have you fired for your inappropriate behaviour on Friday. You were an absolute mess. You would do well to watch what you say. Stones. Glass houses. That kind of thing. You’re lucky Rach got you out of there when she did, or else, who knows?’ He leaned back, an omniscient grin on his face. He blew a bubble with the inside of his cheek as he turned and walked away.
Terror pulsated through Susanna. Had she been gloating about her blowjob prowess again? She couldn’t be certain of anything. After a blinder like that, there were a number of possible scenarios, two most likely. The first, was the Fylleangst hypothesis – a word only ever coined by the Norwegians due to their prolific drinking culture, used to describe an unhealthy and possibly unwarranted sense of anxiety after a heavy nights drinking. The second, was that her paranoia was completely justified, she spilled her darkest secrets, offended the majority of people at the work function and was so disgustingly drunk that her behaviour could only be likened to a train wreck. The most frightening thing was that her mind had a tendency to take advantage of this period of fog. Her mind was a tricky bastard, you see. It knew that there had been times when she had awoken with an overwhelming sense that she had done nothing wrong after a night out on the turps, only to find out later that she had thrown up on someone or called someone’s mother a cunt. In light of this, her mind had free reign to conjure the most outlandish possibilities of the things that she might have done, and ran with the worst of them, fuelling her perpetual anxiety and sending her into a spiral of apprehension. There was a saying that she vaguely remembered, just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean I wasn’t a complete fuck up the other night and just can’t remember it? – something like that.
As soon as Alfred had disappeared Susanna made her way directly to the ladies. She smashed the swinging door open, dived into a stall and flicked up the lid. She proceeded to dry reach, eyes watering, straining. After several heaves she gave up, conflicted as to whether an unproductive result was a good thing. This hangover was up there with the best of them, she admitted. A decent hangover came on in waves, and regardless of what the majority of the population believed, could last up to three days. Just when you thought it was on its way out, a sickening wave would wash over your body, a general malaise that settled on your skin like silt that was stubborn and hard to shake. In her opinion, if your personal experience was that the extent of a hangover started and ended with a headache, then you had never really done any serious drinking. The first day was always the worst of it, debilitating vibrations from your insides with overtures of sharp pain radiating from where one might estimate the vital organs would be. This could be something more sinister than a hangover, but was the sort of thing that was best not investigated, for fear of what may be uncovered. Then you had the nausea, gastronomical disturbances, not to mention the shakes, heart palpitations (affectionately known as Holiday Heart), insomnia and a general feeling of self-loathing. It was a gruelling, character building personal pilgrimage that should be avoided at all costs, preferably by way of another drink. Unfortunately, as was the case right now, her work tended to get in the way of the hair of the dog. To think those filthy sailor bastards used to drink a tonic made of the sweaty hair of some unfortunate animal. Wait, no, that etymology was an urban myth. The colloquial term was derived from archaic practices to combat rabies, she was pretty sure. Put a hair of the dog that bit you in the wound. Something like that. If this was the first wave, then she was in for a rough ride. It would not be the worst of it.
At least she had had the common sense not to smoke a joint this morning. Susanna had passed her neighbour, one of a very exclusive set of friends, on her way out the door. This set was now so exclusive, it consisted of three privileged members in total, if you counted the bar tender down at Balls Brothers, and she suspected that his motives for friendship were not entirely honourable.
‘Come on Sue, take the edge off. Looks like you could use it this morning.’ Danny had said with a wry smile, catching Susanna hopping down the hallway trying to get her heels on as he lazily popped his head out to grab his paper.
‘Really can’t today Danny. Always have a few eyes on me Monday morning. Raincheck? Have a movie marathon or something midweek?’ She’d offered.
Danny Carver was the closest thing to a boyfriend that Susanna had ever had. She wasn’t attracted to him, which was a shame really, because he ticked quite a few boxes. He was a kind, gentle soul, he lived directly next door in her apartment complex and he always had weed. Susanna actually quite admired him. She had never heard him have a judgemental word to say about anyone. She wished that she could be that genteel. He wasn’t unattractive either, he was a big boy, but she wouldn’t exactly describe him as ugly. She could do worse, had done worse. He looked like ‘The Dude’ out of The Big Lebowski, a bit extra around his midriff, long matted brown hair and fluffy, sandy stubble trailing from high on his cheeks, down his neck and connecting to his chest. He was perpetually wearing a dressing gown.
‘No stress Sue. Catch you then, don’t work too hard!’ There was no risk of that, she admitted to herself. The amount of work that she would do today, if any, would be negligible.
Susanna straightened up, smoothing out her black skirt and wiped her mouth and eyes with some toilet tissue. She flushed the toilet and walked out of the stall, finding her best friend, Rachael Ellerslie, methodically applying a deep red lipstick.
‘Rach…’ she wasn’t expecting to run into Rachael so abruptly. She cast her apologetic face; a button lipped neutral look that made her look as if she was going to offer condolences at a funeral.
‘How was the weekend? Absolute blinder Friday mate, thanks for looking after me,’ Susanna tried to conceal the desperation in her voice, but failed.
There was a long silence. It felt like the floor was falling out from under her.Susanna contemplated what to say next. She knew she had to tread carefully, drunken ignorance was not a defence, and not remembering how she offended someone usually outraged the shit out of them in her experience.
Rachael capped her lipstick, depositing it into a small clutch and snapped it shut. She looked up, staring at Susanna through the reflection of the mirror.
‘Don’t be daft Sue, you were fine! Bit out of it, but whatever. You eat the Tequila worm or something? Anyways, how was the rest of your weekend?’
Good old Rach. Enabler, kind of heart, and far too nice to call out a sloppy drunk. Susanna decided that now was probably not the best time to correct Rachael about the common misconception that there was a worm in Tequila. It was actually Mezcal that sometimes contained the caterpillar of the Comadia Redtenbacheri moth, and almost always only the crap bottles of Mezcal at that. She had used this little morsel of cocktail napkin trivia countless times in bars to impress other alcoholics, but that was not the reason it held such import for her. The reason, was that when she first heard about the practice, she couldn’t help but draw a very confronting, personal analogy from it – had that caterpillar not been completely soaked through with high grade ethanol to its very core, it could have made the transformation into a beautiful butterfly.
‘Quiet. Think I just needed to lay low and stay out of trouble, you know.’ Lies. Such bullshit.
‘Yeh, me too. Vegged out on the couch for two days straight eating Doritos and watching Netflix. Going to have to punish myself at the gym this week. See you in there?’
‘Yeh see you in there.’ Susanna smiled a fake smile, and watched as Rachael’s perfectly sculpted backside bounced from side to side as she exited the ladies with her exaggerated walk.
As if she eats Doritos, Susanna thought. How much easier would life be if she was someone like Rach. Someone that could fill their dance card with superficial distractions and feel satisfied with life; taking enough nourishment from designer clothes or the next episode of Younger to want to bounce out of bed every morning. Susanna wasn’t that basic. She cautioned herself. She had no right to be thinking bitchy thoughts about Rachael. Not only had she looked after her in the state she was in Friday night, but she also had just let her off lightly for ruining her night with yet another disastrous drunken performance.
And just because Rachael said she was fine, didn’t mean that she was fine. There was something about Rachael’s hesitation, her initial silence, the icy way that she spoke to her. It was forced. Susanna would never know exactly how Rachael felt, but she knew she was over it. Who could blame her? So was she.
Susanna splashed some water on her face, trying to perk up enough to walk back into the office with some semblance of confidence. She looked like shit. She had slapped foundation on so haphazardly that there was a clear line around her profile. The bloodshot branches that laced the whites of her eyes were congregating around the stark round edges of her contact lenses. Her pores were clogged and oily. She was slipping. Given an appropriate amount of sleep and a few days off the grog, Susanna could present as quite an attractive woman. That was what she had always told herself anyway, but it had been so long since she had abstained from the drink that she wondered if she could still pull it together enough to turn heads. She was still in reasonably good shape, but she knew that a predominantly liquid diet would not sustain as a maintenance regime. Her thoughts drifted back to life in her twenties, when she would attract the lingering stares of men and women alike with ease. The attention used to make her feel uncomfortable. What she would give to enter a room and have all eyes trained on her, burning with desire. You don’t know what you got till it’s gone, she supposed. The alcohol was aging her faster than her years on this earth, and the last of her good looks were evaporating; the hard living was taking its toll.
She took a deep breath. That was enough of the self-deprecating bullshit for now, she decided. Yes, she had fucked up on Friday, but she had a Monday to slink through and she wasn’t going to be able to spend the entire day in the ladies bathroom. She removed her barrette, fixing her hair with her other hand and repositioned it. She smoothed the blatant border of foundation with one finger, and pinched her cheeks in order to add a bit of colour to her now sullen pallor. She stared herself down with her big brown eyes and semi-satisfied, exited the ladies to face some more disapproving cold stares.
Susanna made it back to her desk to catch the last of her workstation’s initialisation sequence, and was finally able to log in. She didn’t know why the delay had frustrated her; she’d be fucked if she was actually going to do any work. One of the perks of her current job as a paralegal for one of the biggest law firms in London was the autonomy. The autonomy to do absolutely nothing until she felt like it. The pay was adequate, and luckily for her, due to the large corporate structure and increasing sensitivity to the possibility of reputational damage from human resource oversights, it was almost impossible to get fired. After a recent unfair dismissal case had brought their inclusion policy under close scrutiny, Wolff and Associates were so shit scared of letting go of female staff that she could practically take a dump on the CEO’s desk and still find herself gainfully employed. Susanna banished the thought as quickly as it entered her mind. Best not to dwell on such fantasies, she might get drunk and actually try and test the theory out.